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Case Study: Captioning in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2018

How Adobe Premiere Pro's Caption panel helped save an otherwise-unsalvageable project.

Open Captions

Recalling the indelible late-'90s film Trainspotting, which (in its U.S. release) featured subtitles in a nightclub scene to compensate for the noisy atmosphere and the actors' thick Scottish burrs, I thought captioning might just give my promo the watchability it was missing. The solution I settled on was to use Adobe Premiere Pro’s Open Captions feature (captions always on) to add captions to the testimonials and give attentive viewers a fairly low-effort way of understanding what they were saying.

This was not an ideal solution, but a lot better than straining or replaying the video multiple times to make out what the speakers were saying, in a promoting/selling video where the onus of clear communication sits squarely on the shoulders of the promoter/seller.

I’d never used the captioning capabilities in Premiere Pro before, but I found them effective and easy to configure and apply.

Using Premiere Pro CC 2018 for Windows, the first step was to add a new caption to the Project panel by choosing New > Captions from the File menu (Figure 2, below).

Figure 2. Creating a new caption

This opens the New Captions dialog box (Figure 3, below). Because I wanted my captions on all the time, I chose Open Captions from the Standard pull-down. I also chose resolution and frame rate settings to match my 1080p30 video.

Figure 3. Choosing New Captions settings

A New Caption item appeared in the Project panel. When I clicked on it, it opened in the Source Monitor, along with a dialog for typing caption text (Figure 4, below).

Figure 4. Type caption text here.

The next step was to drag the caption into the timeline above the clip where I wanted the captions to run. Once the caption is in the timeline, you can stretch it to the length of the clip as you desire. All of the captions you’ll create will live within the caption item you created. To start creating individual captions within that caption item, preview the video, and type the first caption. Then, using the handles provided, stretch that caption within the timeline to match the time in which the speaker says the words. Then simply click the plus (+) button at the bottom of the Caption panel, as shown in Figure 4, to add your next caption at the playhead in the timeline, and repeat the previous step, again adjusting the caption to match the timing of the words as spoken by the speaker on screen.

Naturally, you’ll want to limit what you type in a single caption to words that can fit comfortably on screen (Figure 5, below). As with any other text element in Premiere Pro, you can choose the font, adjust the size, and position the text as you prefer. Premiere Pro defaults to text centered at the bottom of the screen, although you can change that too using the controls in the Caption panel. The other advantage to using shorter captions is not getting too far ahead of the speaker when a long caption appears on the screen, a problem many of us have encountered if we’ve ever watched a TV comedy with closed-captioning on and read a punch line too early.

Figure 5. Premiere Pro captions in action

As you can see in Figure 6 (below), I wanted to include some cutaways to maintain visual interest during the testimonial I was capturing, so I placed the captions on track V3, above both the main video (V1) and the cutaway video track (V2) so that the captions would continue to be visible during the cutaways.

Figure 6. Captions over cutaways

Finally, when it comes time to export the video using either Premiere Pro or Adobe Media Encoder, after choosing your video settings, click on the Captions tab, and choose Burn Captions into Video from the Export Options pull-down (Figure 7, below). This will ensure that the captions are on wherever you have captions in your video.

Figure 7. Choosing the Burn Captions into Video export option.

All in all, it wasn't the smoothest conference promo project ever, but the open captions were instrumental in salvaging material that would have been well-nigh useless without them. You can see the final clip here, captions, roadhouse-loud crowd noise and all:

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