Roger Ebert’s recent appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show demonstrated two amazing technologies working in harmony with one another. Since 2006, Ebert has been unable to speak since his surgery to combat his thyroid cancer. Cruelly ironic since it was his voice on television that led him to be one of the most outspoken movie critics of our time.
The surgery may have silenced his voice box, but never the critic’s voice. Gone are the days when Roger Ebert can raise his voice and interrupt someone who is trying to make a point. But his voice can still be heard in real time thanks to some technology that Ebert stumbled upon when he was surfing the web, according to The Washington Post.
Apple’s OS X
With the help of Apple’s OS X operating system, Ebert can talk using the text to speech option that automatically comes with the software. He uses the “Alex” voice that allows him to vocalize whatever words he wants when he types them into the keyboard.
But there had to be a better way. Ebert consulted with CereProc, the company that created new voices on Mac’s OS X Leopard and Snow Leopard operating systems to get his old voice back, literally.
CereProc was given a directive by Steve Jobs at Apple: create text-to-speech voices that are more natural sounding and more emotional. The problem with many voices before CereProc’s programs was that they were too choppy and not evocative of any emotions. Now, you can purchase a voice from CereProc for $45.99.
What is amazing about what CereProc did was take some inflections on Ebert’s original voice that was recorded onto commentaries on DVD. Ebert asked permission from the studios who originally recorded his voice to work with CereProc and they created Ebert’s own voice again thanks to digital technology.
Now, the greatest voice for films has his voice back. Ebert found the company by chance one day when he was surfing the web and he contacted them. The vocal patterns in his own voice that CereProc produced aren’t complete so Ebert does sometimes have to revert back to his older voice on the Mac. But for now, the miracle of technology has allowed Roger Ebert to talk to his wife and grandkids.
I always knew it was hard to silence Roger Ebert and now it’s going to be impossible. Maybe after Ebert is gone, Mac can keep his voice on their computers so that the indelible voice for movies can live forever and say something about Spiderman 23 when it hits theaters in the summer of the year 2145.