Anyone who knows me knows that if I did not have a career in language services, I would have chosen a career in graphic design. When I signed up for the Desktop Publishing course this semester at MIIS, I did not expect that I would enjoy it as much as I did. It was by far my favorite course during my first year at the School.

Over the course of the semester, we learned many tools that would eventually allow us to successfully localize DTP projects into any language. The most interesting part about this course was that it was not language pair restrictive, by that I mean that I had the chance to try localizing and preparing DTP projects in languages other than Arabic.   

For my final project for this course, known to the MIIS TILM circle as Project Showcase, I chose to subtitle a 3-minute video suggested by my Professor Max Troyer. The video is part of Sesame Street’s 50th anniversary celebration, in which they launched their joint campaign with HBO, “Respect Brings Us Together,” to highlight the importance of respecting one another, even in disagreement.

Sesame Street’s “Respect Brings Us Together”


This project is intended as a “proof of concept” and in no way represents either HBO or Sesame Street.

Project Analysis and Workflow

This project was mainly about subtitling and video editing of on-screen text. I started off by analyzing the video and identifying what needed to be localized. Below is what I have identified and ended up working on:

  1. Running “Sesame Street” logo throughout the video.
  2. On-screen text (OST) that needed to be masked and replaced.
  3. Another “Sesame Street” logo celebrating its 50th anniversary which appears along with OST.
  4. Replacing the fonts for the OST with matching fonts that would work in Arabic.

I created a picture list for the OST using MS Word. The next step was spotting, subtitling and QA-ing which were fairly easy in VisualSubSync Enhanced. I put everything together in a memoQ project and translated it and kept the files aside for later. Next, was the video editing stage which I will discuss in full in the section on challenges.

VisualSubSync Enhanced


For this project, I had to use a total of 5 tools, not including basic tools like MS Word. I worked mainly in Adobe After Effects (AE) and Photoshop for video editing. For spotting and subtitling, I used VisualSubSync Enhanced. I translated the picture list and the .srt file in memoQ and the final QA was done in VLC Media Player.


On-Screen Text

When I first decided to work on this project, I had the new Content-Aware Fill feature in AE in mind. It is a newly added feature in the 2019 release of AE powered by Adobe Sensei which is said to be magical. It can remove unwanted objects from any video, such as logos, text objects and even people. Unfortunately, I did not have any luck with this tool. I tried multiple times to get it working, while following the same steps discussed in this tutorial, but all in vain. The process would stop in the middle, and I had to start over from the beginning each time. Honestly, the tool seems to be very promising, but based on my experience I can say that it is not functional yet.

How I went about the on-screen text needs a blog post on its own, but let’s just say that I had to create a reference frame for each video frame
— which looked more like a still image— that contained text using another new feature in AE called Create Reference Frame. This feature opened in Photoshop, then I used the quick selection tool to select the text that I wanted to get rid of. Then using the Content-Aware Fill feature in Photoshop, I was able to fill in the empty spaces with the same background texture surrounding them. Next, I would save the new .psd file which automatically saved and created a new reference frame in the AE project.

I had to create a total of 83 reference frames for the first sentence “Respect brings us together”, 101 reference frames for “A message from” and 108 reference frames for “Fifty Years and Counting.”

As for the logos, I used the Arabic version of the “Sesame Street” logo that I found online and placed it wherever I needed.

The below screenshots demonstrate how I handled one OST:

Creating a Reference Frame in Photoshop
Using the Quick Selection Tool to Remove the Unwanted Text
The Content-Aware Fill Feature in Photoshop
Final Reference Frame

Burning the Subtitles

During my coursework, I used HandBrake to burn-in any subtitles I created. Despite it being a handy tool, I was not quite happy about it because it does not support RTL languages, which just adds to my series of frustrations! But I did not stop there! By the time I discovered this technical issue with HandBrake, I was determined to find the one tool that has full support for Arabic and could burn-in AR subs, and potentially all RTL languages, without further technical problems.

I started my tool hunt as early as I started working on this project and even before. I tried a bunch of tools and none of them fixed the problem, including Format Factory, MeGUI, VobSub, and even Adobe Premiere Pro — I turned on the South Asian and Middle Eastern settings and tried to manually change the text direction and the text was still left aligned.

Just before I was about to give up, I found the tool I was looking for. Surprisingly, it is VLC Media Player. It is the same media player I have been using forever, and it never occurred to me that it has the feature to do this job. I was exploring some tutorials on YouTube when I accidentally came across this tutorial on how to hard-code subtitles in VLC. Since I have configured VLC to display Arabic subtitles correctly (right font and text direction), I was confident that it was going to work out, and it did!

Below are two screen shots from the localized video showing the AR burned-in subtitles:

Despite how frustrating the whole process felt, I was quite happy to finally know of a tool that would burn-in AR subtitles without further complexity.

Final Video

For all sorts of reasons, this was a complex project. I can say that I am quite happy with the final video even though it is not perfect. Despite that I was beyond my time budget, I am so grateful that I had the chance to try out so many tools and to get to experiment with each of them on my own. Now I have established my own workflow and I have the right tools to work with for any subtitling project. I am more aware of the limits and functionality of each tool I had to use and have definitely developed and honed my designing skills.

You can check out my final video here. I hope you enjoy it!