Page last updated at 13:51 GMT, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

New voice for film critic Roger Ebert

By Hayley Millar
BBC Scotland business correspondent

film critic Roger Ebert is shown in the March 2010 issue of Esquire magazine, available on newsstands nationwide on Feb. 16. (AP Photo/Ethan Hill, Courtesy of Esquire)
Film critic Roger Ebert lost his voice after surgery for cancer

An Edinburgh technology firm has rebuilt the voice of a renowned American film critic, after four years of silence.

Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Roger Ebert lost his voice four years ago, after surgery for thyroid cancer went wrong.

It ended a 40-year broadcast career as a revered film critic and one half of the long running US movie series Siskel and Ebert.

Last year Ebert found Edinburgh speech synthesis company Cereproc on the internet.

The firm specialises in creating voices with accents for call centres.

But after working with hours' worth of recordings of Ebert's film reviews, Cereproc have created a prototype of his voice.

It is the first time the company has rebuilt an actual voice from original recordings.

Chief technical officer Matthew Aylett said it was a very exciting project for Cereproc.

He said: "People are used to synthesised voices being disembodied.

"It was very nice to work on a project where the voice actually was someone's voice. It shows you the power of this technology and what it can be used for."

'Sounds like me'

The recordings were painstakingly broken down into individual sounds, transcribed and put together again.

Roger Ebert's voice will be produced by typing what he wants to say on computer.

This week he used his new voice for the first time on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

"It still needs improvement, but at least it still sounds like me" he said.

"In first grade, they said I talked too much. And now I still can."

It is a remarkable turn of events for Ebert who made his name with his voice.

For Edinburgh-based Cereproc, the achievement could be transformational too.

Mr Aylett said: "We are looking forward to selling more voices in the States because of this, and also it raises the profile of the company and of the work that's done in this field in Edinburgh.

"It's great to have this on a world stage."

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