The Creativity of Audio Description

A man with a makeshift microphone that's actually a sandwhich

What is audio description, who does it serve, and how is it creative? Read more to find out!

To listen to the full audio version of this blog, narrated by Clare and the team, click here (4 mins long).

*A version of this blog was originally posted on able.co.nz as part of their online campaign celebrating 10 years of Audio Description in Aotearoa

July 2021 marks a decade of Audio Description in Aotearoa!

Here at Able, we’ve been providing audio-described content since the 1st March 2011. Over that time, our team has grown considerably, and after a significant funding increase from NZ on Air last year, we’re now able to audio-describe content for 80 hours of broadcast per week.

Audio description is an audio narrative that describes the on-screen action and plays in the gaps between the programme’s dialogue.

Designed to fill in the gaps, audio description provides important information for blind people so that they can enjoy television, movies and theatre. Creating audio description is a fantastic exercise in writing creatively within restrictions.

We work to broadcast deadlines, and must ensure that our descriptions fit into any ‘blank space’ of the media soundscape. So time and space are two big restrictions that we work to, and our overall goal is to ensure that our audience receives important visual information.

While we do have a general style regarding our audio description, it’s recognised as highly unlikely that any single audio describer will write a description identical to any other.

We describe visual elements of storytelling that are relevant to consumers of broadcast media, but we all emphasise things in slightly different ways.

So, I thought it’d be fun to offer you an insight into the surprisingly creative work that goes into Audio Description.

Here’s an example of a clip from New Zealand’s longest-running television series – Country Calendar, accompanied by a collection of audio descriptions written and voiced by members of our team.

None of our audio describers were privy to each other’s work, which gives us a glimpse into the variety of ways a person can describe an identical piece of visual media.

Rebekah:

A boat with a squared front sails across the surface, water sprays in its wake

A fog drenched marina.

A map of Aotearoa, New Zealand. A yellow dot at the top of the South Island.

Text reads Large As Life.

The sun’s reflection is disturbed by ripples as a boat moves through the grey water.

Paul:

A sheet of white water flies from the back of a fishing trawler.

A sepia-toned fog shrouds a marina where different boats are moored to tall dark posts.

A title next to an outline of New Zealand: Large as Life.

A yellow dot appears over Blenheim

A small boat makes its way through the glossy water of the misty marina.

Jennifer:

A catamaran leaves a crashing, foamy trail in its wake.

Text reads: large as life.

A map of Aotearoa with a lime-coloured marker placed in the Marlborough Sounds.

Through the gold-tinted mist, a rigid inflatable boat ripples the reflection of the sun

in the glistening, specular water by a marina.

Clare:

A silver vessel glides across water, leaving foamy white waves in its wake.

Low hanging mist shrouds docked boats in a long row, their shapes reflected in the water beneath.

A dot on a map of Aotearoa, New Zealand indicates the north east tip of the south island.

Text reads: Large as life.

A boat glides away from the docks.

Virginia:

A large white and grey boat powers through the water, sending up foamy spray.

Fog partially shrouds vessels docked in a marina.

A yellow dot on a map of Aotearoa New Zealand indicates the top of the South Island.

Text: Large As Life.

——————

As you can hear/see, whilst we’re all essentially describing the same thing, we go about it in a variety of ways, and all of these descriptions are equally valid (and rather evocative I reckon).

The AD team had a lot of fun recording these, and I hope you’ve found this example of audio description to be an interesting insight into the surprisingly creative work that we do here at Able.

Mā te wā,

Clare (Audio Describer, Able)

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