In our recent training video for the Canadian Navy, we were faced with the challenge of doing a French version.  We’d made the extra effort to record some of the content in French when we had a bilingual subject, but the majority was still in English and needed either subtitles or dubbing.

When faced with this issue, my personal instinct is ALWAYS to subtitle, unless you’re making something for kids who can’t read.   I always find dubbed movies cheap looking and unconvincing, while you can still get a real sense of the feel of a piece when subtitled.   While the Navy wasn’t sure which way they wanted to go, we decided to give them a subtitled demo to hopefully convince them it was the best solution.  This led to the next dilemma.  How do we do that quickly and effectively?  And. . . what should our subtitles look like?

Well, after much trial and error, seeing how it’s done on a few foreign language movies, and trying some ideas of our own, I believe we’ve come up with a pretty great solution for those using Final Cut Pro.  For anyone interested, here’s my advice:

1.    Use Boris: The Boris text editor comes bundled with FCP and allows you to do a lot with text right in Final Cut without having to render.  The Boris interface looks kind of archaic compared to Motion, but it does the job well.  It makes previewing your titles and making changes a snap.  You can add an outline, and smooth its edges to create text that stands out on any background, but still blends in with the video image, remaining unobtrusive.

For our video we decided to go with white text that had a black outline as well as a bit of a black glow to smooth the edges of the outline.  For “The Exchange,” a previous video requiring subtitles, we had used white text with a drop shadow, which worked pretty well, but didn’t stand out as well on white backgrounds.  We tried a lot of different ideas this time around, even having white text over a grey bar — which didn’t look too bad. But this outline AND black glow combination looked the best to our eye.

Here’s an example on some of our most challenging footage.

Subtitle Example

2.    Make a template and copy it.  In your sample clip you can add any fades that you want, create the text style, and place the text where you want it on the image.  Then, making each subtitle is as easy as copying this clip and pasting the text into it from your transcript.  Have the subtitle come on when the person starts the line, and make sure there is enough time to read it before the next one comes on.

That’s pretty much it.  Pretty straightforward.  The only downside of this method is that it isn’t designed to give you a separate subtitle stream when burning your DVD in DVD Studio Pro.  The subtitle becomes part of the movie, so you need to create two movies, one with and one without subtitles.  However, using a nifty piece of software called “Title Exchange” (, you can easily translate your FCP created subtitles into something DVD Studio Pro can use to create a subtitle stream, so that option is still available.

Well, that’s all the tricks I’ve got for today.  Let us know what you prefer: subtitles or dubbing?  Leave a comment below!



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