Bidet! We’re excited to provide an update regarding the closed captioning of Critical Role, the status of the CR Transcript team, and more.
Now that things are up and running at Critical Role Land, we’ve reached a point where it’s high time to sunset the CR Transcript volunteer program — a talented group of transcribers that has dedicated countless time and energy to providing captions to the community — in favor of a paid transcription service. Here’s what you can expect:
- Starting with Campaign 2, Episode 54, each new episode of Critical Role will be transcribed by a professional transcription service.
- To ensure captions are persistently available for those that rely on them, we’ll be utilizing “automatic captions” as our closed captioning team edits the final versions for each episode.
- YouTube provides automatic captions for videos with a total run time of less than 4 hours. For episodes of Critical Role that run longer than 4 hours, we’ll be seeking the help of our professional transcription service to provide a “rough draft” of machine-assisted captions as soon as possible. We expect these captions to be available within a week or so of upload, and they’ll be more accurate than the auto-generated ones, but less accurate than our final transcriptions.
- Each new episode of Critical Role will ultimately be sent out to our professional transcription team, and then off for editing by our closed caption editors, some of whom served in the virtual trenches over the years with the volunteer CR Transcript team.
- This procedure should result in more timely updates to ongoing episodes, and strives to maintain the level of closed caption quality that Critters have come to know and love.
As we transition into this new process, we want to acknowledge the profound impact the dedicated and talented volunteer team at CR Transcript has made on the growth of the Critical Role community. We are eternally grateful for the amount and quality of service they’ve provided over the past few years! With curious minds and thankful hearts, we reached out to CR Transcript’s Danielle Fowler for some answers to our questions about how she began this group of volunteers that has brought joy to so many.
How long have you been transcribing, and how did CR Transcript first come to life?
Critters, remember that day when they knew that Critical Role wasn’t your average “watch it while I check my phone” entertainment? I’m no different. After watching 20, 30, 40 episodes of Critical Role, and seeing the amazing artists and craftspeople and composers and cosplayers creating and contributing to the CR community, I knew I wanted to give back too. Accessibility is part of my day job, and I noticed that the YouTube videos didn’t have closed captions. There was my opportunity!
So early in 2016 I did a quick Google search to see if anyone was doing/talking about closed captions for CR. As it turns out, Jennifer Stratichuk (@ThatOneAlice, a hard-of-hearing Critter) had started @CRTranscript late the year before. But transcribing an entire episode one-handed is a lot of work, especially for someone with hearing loss. So I sent her a message on Twitter, she graciously let me collaborate, I took up the mantle, and without a clue what I was doing, started captioning.
By February 2016 there were already over 40 episodes of Critical Role, so after captioning one or two episodes in the span of 3 months, I admitted to myself that I needed help. I set up a Google account, created some infrastructure and tracking documents in Google Docs, and set about recruiting volunteers. When we were just starting out I’d actually started a GoFundMe page to purchase closed captions from a vendor, thinking that our volunteers could edit it. There were two problems with that: it wasn’t sustainable, and it takes a very keen eye to edit a Critical Role transcript.
I switched gears, recruiting volunteers specifically for transcription. At least then some of the weight was off me! But even then, it was a lot of work to edit. So I asked some of the rockstar frequent transcribers if they’d like to be editors. From there the editor group was born, and those editors helped make the project the success it is today. They helped create style guides, schedules, tracking documents, templates, spelling lists, managed volunteers and provided editing feedback, all sorts of things you might not think goes into just typing out words and sounds from a show!
Once Critters realized who we were and what we were doing, we had volunteers aplenty—Critters are pretty amazing like that. Our volunteer transcribers are some of the best, most giving people not only in the Critter community, but in general life. In the last three years, we’ve gone from a 2-person operation to over 500 volunteers and a team of 11 dedicated editors.
What are some of the challenges of transcribing a tabletop RPG session (especially those as rambunctious as the Vox Machina or Mighty Nein sessions)?
There are four big challenges of transcribing a tabletop RPG session like VM or M9.
1: Crosstalk. There are eight or nine people on screen at once, and the entire game is talking. Especially in exciting moments, people talk over each other. It’s natural! It’s gotten less and less frequent as the show goes on (thanks cast, you’re the best), but getting that balance right is one of the most important things we tackle. When there are two conversations happening, and both can’t be on the screen because of time, which one do you choose? We even have a special placeholder—[JENGA]—for when our transcribers can’t understand what’s said. Our editors find them all and clarify, and when we can’t, we throw it to the group to solve!
2: Identifying who’s talking. Something we do that’s unusual in the closed captioning world is putting a speaker name (like MATT: or LAURA:) in front of every caption. With so many people on screen at once, it’s pretty impossible to read a caption and then look up and catch who’s talking, especially if it’s quick dialogue like reading out stealth rolls. Early on we wanted to differentiate between when a player is talking out-of-character and when a character is talking (SAM: verses SCANLAN: for example), but we had to ditch that idea quick when we started running into tons and tons of grey areas. We did stick with putting Matt’s NPC dialogue in quotation marks, though.
3: Half of the words are made up. Zhelezo? All the editors drank when we saw that one. (Obviously none of us speak Russian.)
4: Sam Riegel is always a challenge, but that should go without saying.
Why do you transcribe, and why is accessibility important to you (both as a fan and as a community leader)?
When able-bodied people hear “accessibility” we may think ramps, automatic doors, or parking spaces. But accessibility really means inclusion. None of us would make the conscious choice to exclude people, but we often make that choice by not thinking outside the box of our own experiences. By neglecting accessibility, we deny others access to this show, this world, this community that we all love. So accessibility isn’t an option, it’s a requirement.
Do you have a favorite quote or moment from your time as CR Transcript’s lead transcriber and organizer?
I kind of feel bad for everyone who doesn’t get to experience the CRTranscript editor chat group. Not only is there dedication, intelligence, and creativity oozing out of every pore, there are puzzle-solving sessions that are burned into my memory. “Did Sam say ‘trundle’ or ‘grundle’?” “How do we transcribe Liam rapping his knuckle on the table so the audience knows he’s implying he popped a boner?” “What the fuck noise did Matt just make? How are we supposed to write that down?”
In the last three years, we’ve learned too much about grammar, line lengths, punctuation, dirty limericks, and spell capitalization. But we’re beyond thrilled that Critical Role is going to be a leader not just in amazing storytelling and fostering a kind, generous, creative community, but also in inclusivity and accessibility. Bidet, indeed. <3
To the tens of thousands of people that have volunteered their time transcribing Critical Role, THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF OUR HEARTS! The amount of love each of you has dedicated into making our community more accessible is remarkable. We cannot thank you enough for your amazing work and wanted to do something a little bit special. We have made a donation to DOTS RPG Project, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated towards making tabletop roleplaying games accessible, to honor the CR Transcripts volunteer team and encourage you to join us. To donate or learn more, check out dotsrpg.com.