Sunday, January 09, 2011

how to float

of the three videos that i made in my 622: "experimental film" class, my "how to float" video is my least favorite yet seems to be the most crowd-pleasing.  of the three, it was the only one selected to be in the main showing at our fall show and afterward several people told me how much they enjoyed it.  i've got nothing against it and think it's just fine, i just think my txt mssg and person_a videos are more interesting.  (shows what the masses know....)

the assignment was on the topic of "pixelation", a term which i had never heard before nor since.  when trying to describe it to students not in the class, the common description was "it's like stop-motion but with people", and that seems to work.  using frame rates to manipulate time and space is a significant part of it, too.  this kind of seems to be a quintessential (and oscar-winning) example.

we were put into teams, a first-year with a second- or nth-year student, and my partner was pretty cool (i'll show you her video at the end.  or maybe i'll save it for its own post; we had to do a lot of work to pull it off and that was quite fun).
i tossed around different ideas that were either lame or too complex (the one i can still remember was both) until i threw them all out and remembered something from my freshman year at byu.  my roommate ryan showed me some goofy little video his younger brother and a friend had made (youtube was still about four or five years away, so posting videos online was a little more of a process).  it was just them playing around with a video camera, taking shots of his brother jumping, but only at the top of his jump.  they would then show all of those "top jump" shots together and it looked like he was floating around the hallway.  simple, silly, and perfect for my assignment.

once i had this basis, the rest of the concept evolved rather easily: a "how to float" video, done like a bad 1950s educational film, with stoic acting, bland set design, and hopefully some tinny music.  i really quite liked this.
i pitched the idea to my class and my teacher said this has the potential to really be quite humorous.
"yes," i said in deadpan, "humor is my goal."

as research in trying to nail the look of a low-budget black and white educational film, i turned to the only source i knew (or cared to find) and watched a lot of mst3k shorts on youtube. research is awesome.
when the day to shoot came, everything went really well.  i brought in a few volumes of the journal of discourses and set them on a table next to a silk flower i'd bought, trying make it look like the art direction was done by some cold war era guys with no sense of aesthetic.  i wore the most boring bow tie i have and my round "harry potter" glasses and bought some gel to slick down my hair.  i think i had the most fun wheeling the ladder around the studio and hanging the lights to get everything looking just "wrong": harsh toplighting, multiple shadows, and whatnot.  the hardest thing was actually the chalkboard.  the best we could find was a couple in the hallway on the third floor, so i enlisted a friend working the lab to come and help me steal it when there was no one around.  carrying that heavy sucker up the stairs was rather tricky, but we pulled it off.

 we filmed all of the live-action video parts using the movie-mode on the still camera, then shot all of the jumping stills and then moved the camera in for the few close-ups.  naturally, the stills were the trickiest part, as elizabeth had to push the button at just the right time to catch me.  sometimes she'd be too early and sometimes too late.  over the course of the night, i estimated that i jumped closed to 300 times.  still, the only part that really hurt was when i did my fall, because i couldn't think of any better way than to jump and move my legs out from under me.  we did three falls and the second one i landed hard on my knee.  it was sore for a few days after.
shooting the close-up shot at the end, i had elizabeth take some stills for me because they were just looking so dang awesome.  saith the tgs, "i look so good!"

from there, it was simply a matter of putting all of the still shots in sequence using after effects (which i really need to just take some time and learn the basics of) then bring everything in to final cut (which i know rather well and love) and slap everything together.  i shot some intertitles taped to the wall in the hallway one afternoon (still not happy with the fonts; they aren't bland and "period" enough for me, but it was the best i cared to find) and that was pretty much it.

i got an A on the project but wanted to play with it a little more.  one of the lab assistants helped me add scratches and flicker, i messed around and added a registration roll (maybe could have added a second one, but i already had an A, so really, why?), and cut out some frames to make it look like... some frames were cut out.  that effect doesn't really work as well as i'd like, and i'm not entirely sure why; i think i need two frames of splice tape to sell the effect.  bah.
and, once again, one night while i was animating in the lab, our insanely talented t.a. nesh created the music for me.

in the end, it pretty much came out exactly as i envisioned it.  maybe i should go into film making instead of animation?

1 comment:

The Former 786 said...

This post was triple awesome! I had not seen Neighbours (Best Documentary? Seriously?), I had not seen Snow Thrills (new MST3K!) and I really, really enjoyed the "How to Float" video.

Jeff, I don't want to overstate it or anything, but I think you have a future in filmmaking.

Excellent post!