Film critic Roger Ebert — who lost his ability to speak after surgery for jaw cancer nearly four years ago — now has a "voice," thanks to computer programmers.
In Sunday's Chicago Sun-Times, Ebert, 67, reveals that Scottish company CereProc now allows him to type what he wants to say and listeners can hear a voice that sounds like him.
Even his grandchildren can recognize the voice, he says.
Before he lost his voice, Ebert — whose face also was left contorted by all the surgery — says he recorded DVD commentary for several movies, including Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Floating Weeds, Dark City and the cult classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
"These tracks had been recorded separately from the movies, so they could be edited to fit scenes," he says. "They might be 'pure' audio."
Two pals managed to find the original digital recordings and sent them along to CereProc, which transcribed every recording with perfect accuracy so they could locate every word.
"CereProc didn't need to hear me speaking a specific word in order for my "voice" to say it," writes Ebert. "They needed lots of words to determine the general idea of how I might say a word. They transcribed and programmed and tweaked and fiddled, and early this February, sent me the files for a beta version of my voice. I played it for [my wife] Chaz, and she said, yes, she could tell it was me. For one thing it knew exactly how I said 'I.'"
You can hear Ebert's voice for yourself on Tuesday's Oprah Winfrey Show when he'll make Oscar predictions.
"Yes, 'Roger Jr.' needs to be smoother in tone and steadier in pacing, but the little rascal is good," says Ebert, who adds that he might use the voice for radio and Webcasts. "To hear him coming from my own computer made me ridiculously happy."
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