Ripping a DVD & Adding Subtitles on the Mac

I don't normally post this kind of thing on the blog, but after working through a problem over a couple of days I figured some of you filmmakers out there (or just people who want to watch foreign DVDs) might find it useful. I had to read through a large number of blog & forum posts to get to this solution so I figured it might be handy to have it all in one place.

Leave a comment if you have any questions. I'll update the post with new info if I have any.

I'm in the middle of researching a new film project and I had to get my hands on a Japanese DVD. American versions are out of print and the only version I could find was produced by a French distribution company. I read some reviews saying it contained both French & English subtitles. After ordering it from I discovered, to my dismay, that there were no English subtitles on the disc. I don't speak French, and I only know about three words of Japanese so I was in quite the pickle.
After a couple of days of googling it turns out it's not the end of the world. It's just annoying. So if you ever want to get your hands on some anime or a foreign DVD that probably doesn't have subtitles in your native language, here's a possible solution.
To summarise, here's what I did. Firstly I ripped the film from the DVD (basically, just copied the movie off the disc and onto my computer). I then transcoded it (i.e. changed it) into a more palatable format (some of you may not have to do this depending on what you use to rip the DVD). I downloaded some English subtitles after a little bit of googling. And, finally, I used a great little piece of software called Subler to add the subtitles to my movie file.

Here's the hardware and software I used in the following instructions.
- PowerMac G5 (PPC, running Mac OS 10.4 Tiger)
- iMac 27" i7 (Intel, running Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard)
- Googling
0.1 Rip The DVD
There are a boatload of apps out there that will rip DVDs to your hard disk. I ended up going with Mac The Ripper 2.6.6.
I had to use my old PowerMac G5 to do the rip for a number of reasons. Firstly, the region locking on newer macs seems to be far more rigorous than on older ones. On my G5 I can play DVDs from any region. When I insert the disk the DVD Player application pops up asking me if I want to change region. I just quit the program from the dock and then I'm free to do as I please. I can watch it using VLC, or rip it using Handbrake or Mac the Ripper. For whatever reason my new iMac will not allow me to do this. I googled the reason why but I can't remember it right now.
If you have a newer mac and you're trying to rip a DVD from a different region I'm afraid I don't have a solution as of yet. I am considering looking into external DVD drives to see if I can get a multiregion one. I will update this if I get one. Please let me know if you have any solutions or ideas.
The second reason I'm using the old PowerMac is because apparently Mac The Ripper 2.6.6 doesn't work well on Snow Leopard (or maybe even on Leopard). I haven't tested it myself. There are higher versions but apparently they're hard to come by and you have to make a donation.
You could use Handbrake or another type of ripping software. Both Handbrake and Mac The Ripper are free. The reason I chose Mac The Ripper is because it ripped the video at full quality whereas the version of Handbrake I've got will not rip it at full resolution. (Maybe a newer version will, I'm not sure, but a newer version won't run on my G5).
If you don't particularly care about maintaing the best video quality then you can use handbrake to rip the movie straight to an mp4 file using the h264 codec and save yourself the next step.
Mac The Ripper 2.6.6 looks confusing but there's not that much to it. The instructional PDF that comes with it explains things very well. The main thing you have to do is just select whether you want to rip the entire disk, or just the main feature, etc. On my old Mac it only took around 11 minutes to rip an hour long feature which is much faster than what Handbrake was giving me (of course Mac The Ripper isn't doing the transcoding like Handbrake is, but still it's quite fast).
You will come out with a folder full of confusing gunk. You should see a "VIDEO_TS" folder. In there will be some different types of files (maybe some .BUPs & .IPOs). The files you need are .VOBs. You should be able to open those in VLC.
0.2 Transcode the VOB to an mp4
It's now time for you to open up your VOB file (or files) in MPEG Streamclip.
For the DVDs I've done so far the feature got spread across three VOB files. I'm not sure if this will happen with all disks, but don't be shocked if it does. There's nothing to worry about. Work out which file has the start of the movie and open it up in MPEG Streamclip. (You should be able to open the VOB files in VLC so you can check what's what.)
After dragging it into MPEG Streamclip in the dock I get a dialog saying "Do you want to open this stream as a DVD?". Click "Yes".
For the ones I've done so far it has then warned me that there are timecode breaks (the multiple VOB files). Click "Fix Now".
Another dialog pops up. Check "Do not skip any frame" and click "Proceed".
You should then be able to watch the file. You might want to scrub through the video to make sure that the whole movie is there. For some reason no sound plays when I do this. When converting other types of files I can hear sound when I play or scrub through the video at this point. But there's nothing to worry about, even though there didn't seem to be sound it was there in the final file.
In the menu bar select "File">"Export to MPEG-4..."
I set the compression to "H.264", frame size to "1024x576", and quality to maximum. I also selected "Interlaced Scaling", "Reinterlace Chroma", and "Deinterlace Video". The most important one here is "Deinterlace Video".
You can change the other settings if you like (and if you know what you're doing).
When you're done, click "Make MP4".
0.3 Add In the Subtitles
Once your MP4 file has been created, change the extension from "mp4" to "m4v".
Now you have to actually find the right subtitles for your film. I haven't had much trouble so far. Try googling [film name] + [subtitles] + [required language]. You're looking for an ".srt" file. Once you've downloaded a file you can open it up in text edit to see if it looks ok.
Now you should have one file for the video and one file for subtitles. Put them both in the same folder and name them the same thing. For example, "mymovie.m4v" and "".
You can test if the subtitles work by opening the m4v file in VLC. The subtitles should show up automatically.
If you're happy using VLC then you can stop here. However VLC doesn't always work perfectly, and you might want to play the file in Quicktime or iTunes, or on an iPod, iPad, etc.
Load up "Subler" and open up your m4v file. You should see that there is already a Video Track and an Audio track (assuming your clip has both audio and video). You now need to add a subtitles track.
Hit the "+" button and select the srt file. Here you can add a delay if you have to (if the subtitles come too early or late) and do a couple of other things. You can try and change the subtitle size but it hasn't made a difference for me so far, no matter what I put in.
Once you're done hit "Add". Now go "File">"Save".
0.4 It's Over!
That's it, it's all done. You can now watch the m4v file in Quicktime or iTunes etc with the subtitles on. In Quicktime just make you check "View">"Subtitles" to make sure they're turned on.
This type of subtitles are called "Soft Subtitles" as you can turn them on and off. If you want "Hard Subtitles" (or "Burnt In Subtitles") you can open your m4v in Quicktime Pro with the subtitles turned on and export it to another file. If you're using Snow Leopard you'll need to install Quicktime 7 and upgrade to Pro.
I hope some of that was useful (and coherent). If I find any more solutions or answers to the issues I brought up I will update this post. Feel free to leave any questions or other options/solutions in the comments.

Chris Pahlow

Chris Pahlow is an independent writer/director currently in post-production on his debut feature film PLAY IT SAFE. Chris has been fascinated with storytelling since he first earned his pen license and he’s spent the last ten years bringing stories to life through music videos, documentaries, and short films.