Roger Ebert gets computer voice culled from his DVD commentaries

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

CHICAGO -- Film critic Roger Ebert, who lost his ability to speak after surgery for cancer, says a Scottish company has helped him regain a voice his grandchildren can recognize.

Computer programmers at a company called CereProc captured the sound of Ebert's voice from DVD movie commentary tracks, Ebert wrote in Sunday's Chicago Sun-Times. He now can type what he wants to say and listeners hear a voice that sounds like him.

The new voice, which Ebert calls "Roger Jr.," will be heard predicting Oscar winners on a segment of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" airing today. One day, he may be able to use the voice for radio and Webcasts, Ebert wrote in the Sun-Times.

"Yes, 'Roger Jr.' needs to be smoother in tone and steadier in pacing, but the little rascal is good," Ebert wrote.

Ebert wrote that when CereProc programmers asked him for good audio, he first thought he could use sound from his TV movie review shows with Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune and with his Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper.

"They listened to the old shows, and discovered (1) somebody else was always interrupting me, (2) I sounded all worked up a lot of the time, and (3) you could kinda hear the soundtracks of movies playing in the background," Ebert wrote.

That's when they turned to DVD movie commentaries Ebert made before he lost his voice.

"CereProc is now blending in my audio snippets for 'Casablanca,' where I sound enthusiastic, and 'Floating Weeds,' where I sound calm and respectful," he wrote. "It's nice to think of all these great movies sloshing around and coming out as my voice."

Ebert had surgery to remove his cancerous thyroid in 2002. He had surgery on his salivary glands in 2003 and on his jaw in 2006. Complications in 2006 led to more surgery and months of recuperation.

Ebert said he and his wife Chaz are producing a new movie review program for television, "but I won't be one of the two critics." Viewers wouldn't want to watch him type, he wrote.

Ebert didn't rule out an occasional guest appearance though.

Ebert wrote that he's been using "off-the-shelf computer voices," including one named Alex.

"What will I use this voice for? I could talk with Chaz and our grandchildren and it would be me, not Alex."

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