13. Editing



The editor will combine shots and scenes into a understandable, coherent and attractive whole. Mainstream editing conventions that depend on the use of sound (e.g. background music, sound effects) will have to be replaced by or supported with visual means.

For many productions, the video of the signer has to be combined with visuals in a way that is both attractive and effective: the sign language always clearly visible for the viewer, the relationship between visuals and signer obvious, and signer and visuals seen as an integrated whole, not as two (or more) independent, unrelated channels.

Visuals and sign language can be combined sequentially (one after the other) or simultaneously, with both sharing the same screen. If signer and visuals are shown simultaneously, ChromaKey is preferred to the signer in a bubble or box. The size of the signer on the screen will depend on the size and content of the visuals, but must always be large enough for good visibility of all signs. The preferred location for the signer is to the right of visuals (viewer perspective). 

Transitions and other visual effects can be used to camouflage cuts in a signer's presentation, to indicate transitions between signer and visuals, and to visualise background sounds, background music and/or sound effects. These editing effects should be functional and should not distract from the sign language or interfere with the visibility of the sign language.

Visual editing 

Not all mainstream editing conventions are appropriate, without modification, for Deaf viewers. Length and order of shots and scenes, as well as transitions must be appropriate and understandable on the basis of the visual information alone. Without support music, scenes without action - e.g. shots of nature, scenery - may not hold the viewer's attention for very long.
In mainstream productions, background music is often used to support a video's mood and pace, to emphasise a build-up of tension, and to indicate transitions. The editor of a signing book will have to find ways to realise these same effects, using visual means. 
Special effects and animations can be used also to visualise environmental sounds (eg. a telephone ringing), and/or sound effects (see Chapter 14).

Visible signer

Many mainstream videos and television programmes have an invisible narrator; in sign language productions, the narrator always has to be visible somewhere on the screen. To indicate that a person is thinking, and not speaking or signing 'out loud', thinking clouds are sometimes used as in printed cartoons (see examples below). 


Shots of a signer can alternate with visuals. Both the signer and the visuals are then shown separately, full screen, and the timing of each can be independent of the other. The background of the signer can be varied or fixed, neutral or related to the visuals. 

Advantages of sequential presentation are: 

  • no information overload: the viewer watches the signer or the visuals;

  • the visuals can be used to camouflage editing cuts, to mark paragraphs and sections within the production, and to mark and support the rhythm and pace of the production;

  • the change-over from signer to visuals and back can be used as a visual attention getting strategy. 

  • visuals can be used as 'eye-pauses' for viewers. Hearing viewers often look away from a television screen; by listening to the soundtrack, they know when they have to look back at the screen. Deaf viewers have to watch a signer continuously if they want to understand what is being signed. Visuals alternating with the signer will give Deaf viewers the opportunity to briefly look away from the screen. 


  • Shots of a signer, without other visuals, may seem visually boring;
  • the signer cannot interact with the visuals;
  • the 'memory load' for the viewer may be higher, because the viewer may need to actively remember the visuals to be able to interpret the signer correctly, or vice versa. 


When signer and visuals are to be shown simultaneously, the editor will have to fit both the signer and the visuals together on the one screen.

Advantages of simultaneous presentation:

  • with simultaneous presentation the sign language and the visuals are more closely connected in space, and in time;
  • the signer will be able to directly refer to or interact with the visuals.
  • the visuals and the signer will have to be similar in content or at least related - or the viewer will be confused by two conflicting messages;
  • the signer and the visuals will be sharing the same screen - so either the visuals or the signer (or both) will be smaller and possibly less clearly visible;
  • the signer and the visuals will be sharing the same time, so visuals and signer will have to be carefully synchronised. 


Generally speaking, there are two ways in which the signer and the visuals can be shown simultaneously:
  • ChromaKey, with the signer totally or partially super-imposed on the visuals;
  • a 'box' ('bubble') or window in the main screen, with the box showing either the signer or the visuals. 
When given a choice, viewers prefer ChromaKey to a box or bubble.
When ChromaKey is used, the preferred location for (right-handed) signers is to the right (from the viewers' point of view) of the visuals. The size of the signer, relative to the visuals, varies between productions.
Generally speaking, viewers prefer the signer to be smaller than the main actors in the main screen.

Box or bubble

When a box (square or rectangle) or bubble (circle or egg-shape) is used, the box generally shows the signer. In some productions specifically made for Deaf viewers, the signer is in the main screen, with the visuals in a box or bubble. 
If a box or bubble is used, the size should be large enough for the signer to be clearly visible. The location should be fixed, not variable. The preferred location is in the top right corner of the screen, to the right of the visuals (viewer perspective).

Cuts and transitions

If subsequent shots of a signer are to be pasted into a longer shot, various transition effects can be used: hard-cuts (e.g. if the beginning and ending frame of the two subsequent shots are almost similar), fade-out and fade-in, and various 'fancy' transitions such as tiles breaking up, a page being turned, etc. Fancy transitions should be functional and should not distract from or interfere with the sign language.
During 'silent' periods (when there is nothing to be signed), a signer may remain visible on the screen, possibly turned towards and looking at the visuals to indicate that there is a signing pause (shorter pauses), or the signer is faded out (longer pauses).




Egg-shaped bubble: Channel IV production, Chase GB
Egg-shaped bubble, variable location, Sign-Toons,  Sign Enhancers USA
Fuzzy shaped bubble, Kuurojen Video, FI
ChromaKey, signer on the lefthand side, large. Baby’s First Book, Chase Video, GB
   ChromaKey, signer on the right, large.
Off Limits, Chase Video, GB
ChromaKey, signer on the right, small. 
 Soldaat van Oranje, OV-Amsterdam, NL

ChromaKey and subtitles.
Large signer on the right, overlapping with the main video. See Hear, GB

Size and location

Main video in box (a speaker), the sign language interpreter in the main screen. Kuurojen Video, FI

Main video (a signer) in the main screen. 

Three active windows, partially overlapping, each with moving video and signers. 
Visually interesting, but confusing for low-vision signers. Kuurojen Video, FI
The main video is the cartoon on the virtual tv-set. The signer interprets the voices of the cartoon characters.  The signer and the virtual scenery are visually very dominant, relative to the window with the main video: the cartoon. Sign Enhanced Arthur, WGBH, USA

Special Effects 

To indicate that the person is thinking, captions are shown in a thinking cloud. "Ich soll mich heute vorstellen",    Theodor  Schäfer Berufsbildunswerk, DE
To indicate that the boy is thinking,  the signer is shown in a thinking cloud. Het Zakmes, OV-Amsterdam, NL