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Bruce Baklarian | AMI Inc
Accessible content for 5 million Canadians
- Original article first appeared in TV Bay Magazine
Making Media Accessible with NUGEN Audio’s VisLM
By Bruce Baklarian, AMI
Accessible Media Inc. (AMI) is a not-for-profit multimedia organization with the mission to make all media accessible to all Canadians. AMI operates two broadcast services – AMI-audio and AMI-tv – and a website (www.ami.ca). By making print, broadcast, and online media accessible, AMI serves more than 5 million Canadians who are blind or partially sighted, deaf or hard of hearing, learning disabled, mobility- or print-restricted, or learning English as a second language.
For the television audience, we add audio description to between 50 and 60 percent of the video content that appears on Canadian TV screens so that people who are blind or low vision can enjoy the programming alongside fully sighted viewers. (We outsource the remainder to other agencies.) It’s an achievement that takes a great deal of effort.
In order to add the audio description, we ingest the source material and then remix the soundtrack to a specific level to allow space in the mix for the narration. We then record a voice actor reading from a script that describes the action. The final mix aims to combine the original soundtrack and the audio description as seamlessly as possible.
To ensure compliance with ATSC loudness standards and the highest audio quality for the audience, we began using NUGEN Audio’s VisLM visual loudness metering software as a mixing tool in four postproduction suites at our Toronto headquarters. The VisLM plug-in replaced our bulky analog hardware loudness meters. It offers a familiar and intuitive equivalent to a hardware meter, with both short- and long-term loudness readings, and, very importantly, a histogram.
When producing a mix that incorporates audio description, we measure the overall average loudness of incoming material and adjust it to allow space for the actor’s voice. As we mix, we increase or decrease the level accordingly, say +2 or -2 LKFS. VisLM’s display gives an instant confirmation that’s easy to read. It’s just like a standard meter display, but you also get a histogram that gives you an overview of the volume weight over time.
In addition to describing prerecorded material, we also do live description, and that’s where the histogram is especially helpful. With VisLM, you know where you are at a glance. Unlike some other loudness meters, VisLM’s layout is intuitive and easy to understand. You can calibrate it according to your needs, and there are options for customization. VisLM gives me the confidence that I've got everything I need in a live situation.
We had such success in Toronto that we expanded VisLM to all of our production centers across the country. Sometimes there's no time for us to do a full edit and mix in Toronto, so the video team uses VisLM to create a rough mix. (If there’s a second airing later, we will do a full edit and mix.) Because everyone is using VisLM, the content is ready to use when it gets to us, and that helps us cope with the volume of work. VisLM is cost-effective and much easier to use than the alternatives. Also, unlike the alternatives, it’s highly compatible with other tools we use.
Bruce Baklarian is an audio editor at Accessible Media Inc. in Toronto
Mix & Mastering