Behind the scenes: sign language interpreting for StorySign

sign language interpreting, storysign, huawei

Earlier this week Huawei Mobile’s new StorySign app launched, a project involving the acclaimed Aardman Animations team, who have created an avatar that uses sign language in 10 different languages.

The app is designed to enrich deaf children’s enjoyment of classic stories, enabling them to read storybooks with their families with sign language support from ‘Star’ – the StorySign avatar.

I have had great pleasure in being part of this exciting project, project managing a team of deaf actors, sign language interpreters and language interpreters! Here’s a behind-the-scenes insight into what we did:

Deaf actors and sign language interpreters needed urgently!

We were first contacted by creative agency FCB Inferno to see whether we could find 10 deaf actors to provide the motion capture footage for Star. With the studio already booked for the Aardman Aminations crew to shoot the actors wearing motion capture suits, we only had 2 ½ weeks to find the right people and coordinate this part of the project.

I started by contacting sign language interpreters in the target markets (UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands, Portugal, Eire, Belgium and Switzerland). They were an integral part of delivering this project, helping me and the production team find and communicate with the deaf actors.

They also needed to be qualified in sign language interpreting to a high standard to ensure smooth communication on the day, and so that they could assist with quality control: ensuring that the actors were correctly signing each word.

To get the right people I used a combination of contacting national deaf associations in each market, and our own market contacts. We were able to find a team of sign language interpreters within a few days. They quickly got to work recommending deaf actors and presenters who fitted the brief, female and petite so they could wear the motion capture suit, and were also available to be in London for the shoot days.

It was very important that the deaf actors were happy to work with the sign language interpreters, as they needed to have confidence that they could communicate precisely with each other. So onboarding the sign language interpreters first was an effective way to find and recruit professional actors and presenters in each market.

Using WhatsApp, Skype and email, and the support of in-house linguists and freelance translators to help with project management, we were able to cast the team for the motion capture shoot and support them in planning their overseas trips.

Capturing ‘Star’ – the sign language avatar

We were in London for the motion capture shoot days working with Aardman Animations, Wallace and Gromit’s creators! There were two books that required signing – Where’s Spot and Peter Rabbit – and we had just half a day allocated for each sign language.

As well as our invaluable sign language interpreters, who communicated the director’s instructions to the deaf actors, it was also necessary to recruit language interpreters for some markets. They interpreted the Aardman crew’s English directions into the sign language interpreter’s native language first – who then signed them to the actor – as well as interpreting other communications between the English speakers involved in the project and our sign language team.

Each sign language interpreter was essentially a co-producer on the day, checking that signs were correct and appropriate for a young audience of children. Along with the actors, they also time coded the footage so that each sign corresponded with the correct word in the script / book.

“Tanya and the Comtec team have been brilliant at recruiting for our project, finding us the best people, without very much notice! All communication with Comtec has been smooth and we appreciate that they have always made themselves available for us. Comtec worked hard to help us achieve our deadlines and we were really pleased with the high standard of all translators and interpreters that were sourced for us. We look forward to working with Comtec again!” Hannah Richmond, Senior Interactive Producer, Aardman Animations

To watch a video about how StorySign works and the difference it will make to deaf children and their families, click on this link.

StorySign’s Christmas launch advertisement

The next part of this project was to recruit sign language Santas for StorySign’s Christmas campaign advert. This time the brief was for older and more rotund actors (male of course) so we went back to our sign language interpreters and requested their help.

Fortunately most of our original sign language interpreting team were available for the shoot, in London over 3 days, and quickly recommended suitable Santas to play this important role. Again they were able to provide quality control, ensuring that the actor was correctly signing the script. The production team also verified this with national deaf associations in each market, no corrections were necessary!

Comtec was also asked to translate the script into 10 languages and subtitle each language version of the ad. We worked closely with our sign language interpreters to ensure the subtitles corresponded with the sign language.

The ads will appear on social media as part of Huawei’s Christmas campaign. Here’s the French version of the ad:

To Lapland to meet Santa!

Last month, Huawei invited two deaf families from each market and also journalists and bloggers (with their families) for a weekend away in Lapland. Comtec was asked to provide sign language interpreters so that all the families could get the most out of the experience. I went too and had a wonderful time!

Here’s what one of our sign language interpreters said about the trip:

“You were very pleasant to work with, I had the best time in Finland, the job did not felt like work at all! Nothing but compliments about you and Comtec. The project was so much fun to work on, it turned out to be one of the best experiences in my life! I found it all to be very good organised, even though everything was so last minute, you were open to any questions or remarks, no worries needed and you did try your best to find out the answers for us! In advance by phone or mail and on the site as well. Job well done!” Deborah, Flemish Sign Language Interpreter

On our first evening in Lapland everyone gathered for story time in the hotel with our team interpreting and signing the stories which were read in English. Not all families needed support, but the interpreters were on hand to help the families enjoy the various stories and communicate with each other.

The following day we set off to meet Santa with sign language interpreters available to ensure a truly magical experience. Santa gave both the parents and children presents: a Huawei mobile with the StorySign app installed for the parents, and a storybook in their native language for the children. Up until this point the families did not know anything about the new app.

That evening, after carol singing with a deaf choir, story time was held again, but this time using the app with the book. This was an opportunity to explore the app and the benefits of learning to read with StorySign. The video below shares the Lapland trip in more detail:

Comtec has also been involved in the production of this video, translating the script, providing the signers and sign language interpreters for the insert, and subtitling each language version of the video.

All this in just 8 weeks! It’s been a really exciting and inspiring project to work on and a magical Christmas experience for everyone involved.

If you would like to find out more about our sign language interpreting services, visit our page here.

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