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For my final project, I chose to tell the story of public health via Polly Public.

This was one of the ideas that came up over the course of the semester.  I work with clients in the public health field and I know how hard working they are, yet how little the general public knows about the field and what public health actually is.  In comments from fellow posters, the idea of a superhero came up as a way to tell the story.  Thus was born Polly Public.  I came up with a story and filled it out using the “story spine” format.  Briefly:

Once Upon a time, Public Health workers comprise a silent army…

Every day, Polly Public is out there…

But one day, The council of PH met at their headquarters…(this is the EVENT)

Because of that, Polly was scared- could she do this?…

Because of that, She encounters pitfalls along the way…

Because of that, she is resilient…

Until finally, even more join her!…

And ever since then, people begin to practice public health- in their own lives.

The End.

This is how I made this masterpiece:

Images:

I decided I wanted some public health images- kids getting vaccinated, healthy food, maybe some bikers wearing helmets (so they don’t crack open their skull if they crash), exercise, clean water. I went to Pixabay since I’ve had great luck there finding good images and found what I needed using a key word search.

Then I went to pixlr and used their collage option to create a five photo collage from my photos. I added a blue border and that was it- easy peasy.

Audio:

I wanted the message from HQ to sound like a missive from God. I went to SoundJay and downloaded a howling wind sound and also a church choir singing from Freesound to add some “holy” elements. I do not have an especially god-like voice, but I’m all I’ve got (and the vast majority of people working in public health are women so it would make sense that the leader is a woman too), so I recorded the message to Polly and lowered my voice using the pitch tool on audacity to add some “heft”. I then used audacity to combine the tracks. I had to repeat the wind sound several times and also lowered its and the church choir sounds so the voice wouldn’t get lost. I added echo to the last few seconds of my speech as well.  Here’s what my Audacity track looks like:

audacity screengrab

The top is my narration, followed by the howling wind, and then the choir music at the bottom.  I uploaded it to SoundCloud, and then embedded it in the post.

Video:

I tried some non-You Tube sources like Vimeo and ended up back at You Tube when I couldn’t find what I had in mind.  I did keyword searches for things like “bikers wearing helmets” “kids getting vaccinated”, etc.  to find my clips.  I ended up with four clips and about 30 minutes of footage.  I downloaded them using savefrom.net.  I imported them into Movie Maker Live and used the trim tool to cut them down to size.  I removed all the audio by simply muting the clips.  Then I added some music from the Free Music Archive over it.  I added a title, captions to provide some narration, and then noted my references using the credits tool.  I also added the “Fade” theme to the film.

moviemaker capture

I used the following references to create this page.

References:

Links:

Images:

Sounds:

Video:

Final Thoughts:  Getting the story down and mapping everything out helped a lot.  I developed the story a week ago and made tweaks to it over the next few days (to include up to the last  minute).  I mapped out where I wanted to use media and what I had in mind.  That helped tremendously when it came time to find media as I knew what I was looking for and how it would fit in  (seems obvious, but I did not do this for a few assignments and not surprisingly, was very frustrated!).  I mapped out the effects I wanted to use for sound and video.  All in all, it ended up being fairly painless and not as time consuming as I had feared.  I’m glad that I got to work with Audacity several times prior as I finally felt comfortable with it and only had to look up how to lower my pitch.  Movie Maker was also not as scary given that I had experience with it as well.  All in all, save for perhaps the images, I would not have believed it if I told myself back in March I would make my own audio and video track and post them to a blog!!

 

The good, the bad, the weeks 6 and 7 summary…

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This week was about finally getting (just a little) bit more used to Audacity, appreciating Movie Maker’s simplicity and then wishing it had more editing power when it came to audio (or that I knew more about audio editing in Movie Maker) and making peace with “good enough”.  First though, the fun stuff (at least for me)- viewing and analyzing movies.

First, we looked at a way to analyze film using Roger Ebert’s ideas about film.  I enjoyed finding a good clip to analyze and also exploring how different ways to shoot film really add to the story itself.   The way a video is shot can tell as much as the plot does if done well.  I think Ebert’s ideas are just one school of thought and don’t universally apply, but in general there is some truth there, and he acknowledged that there is no one size fits all.

Next, I experienced a movie a scene in three ways- audio, video, and then combined.  I chose a scene from “Casino”.  This assignment made me appreciate how much work goes into visual media (or what we think of as visual media).  There’s the sound that goes with the visuals, the visual object we are looking at and HOW we are looking at it and then the combined effect of them all.

Last, the crucible.  This is what taught me about “good enough” (even though I don’t like it).  I skipped the original Foley Chaplin assignment, so first had to reacquaint myself with what was first done (thank goodness for the kindness of fellow classmates and professor who posted their clips to soundcloud- I’ll repay the favor someway, I promise!).  Next, I had to meet my newest frenemy Audacity to lay down the audio, which included a new background song and the six 30-second clips from classmates.  Thankfully, things went a little bit better this time, although the selection tool and I don’t really get along.   Then Movie Maker.  At first I was pleased with its simplicity.  How hard can it be, right?  But I quickly became frustrated with the interaction of video and audio.  Why can’t I layer sounds in Movie Maker?  Why can’t I mute sound in Movie Maker?  (maybe I can and I just didn’t figure it out).    Why can’t I find any new media that conveys what I want it to?  I had originally budgeted 2 or 3 hours for this assignment and it took me literally all day.  Sounds like a case of misplaced expectations all the way around!!   But hey- let me look on the bright side.  I survived.  I know Audacity a little bit better now.  Movie Maker and I have become acquainted.  I even got to use Pixlr to doctor a photo I inserted into the video.

I did not do the two other assignments (more evidence for me to get kicked out of the honor society), for pure time management reasons.  My weekday nights are very busy for me and I struggle to find enough time to get in the “zone” to do work for school during the week.  I also have commitments next weekend that mean I will not be able to lock myself in my home office and do the final project.  I also work  better if I can leave some time for things to “marinate” rather than cranking out something all at once.  I have enjoyed doing the other assignments and they always teach me something, so I know by not doing it I am taking a risk in not giving myself more opportunities to widen and enhance my skills.  But I am taking the chance and devoting this day–Sunday May 4–to my final project to hopefully save myself some sanity later in the week.

One Man’s Trash…

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Rather than dig for one last idea for a story, I decided to look at other classmates stories this week.  I love seeing what my classmates come up with the little window it opens into our lives.  I think there are some good things here–even if the original poster wasn’t so sure.
The first idea was about the poster’s 20 year old car the memories it contains.  I was struck by how each previous commenter told their own story about a car–usually their first car.  Cars as inanimate objects are probably the closest “things” we have relationships with.  We spend so much time in them, they are so integral to many memories- vacations, high school (or whenever you first learned to drive), bringing home baby from the hospital, etc. I think they are also about the American dream.  In front of every house with a white Pickett fence there is a car!

The next story idea was about the different pedals that go along with playing an electric guitar.  This post very much illustrates how many technical concepts are out there that may or may not lend themselves to storifying.  This story would definetely be for a limited audience (those who play guitar), but there could be something there if the poster can find the right angle.

The final blog I looked at had this story idea about fonts.   This one could be a good one in that fonts are something most of us don’t’ give much thought to even though if you work a 9-5 you are working with them all the time.   The story could be a history of fonts/typography or best practices in using fonts.

Chaplin Foley Re-Boot (or just boot?)

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I saw the movie the Life of Pi not too long ago, and this Chaplin clip reminded me of the movie in that both characters are stuck in a confined space with a dangerous predator.  I only made it 1/3 of the way through the book when it came out several years ago.  The movie I did finish (Ang Lee is a real artiste, by the way- love the look of his films).  The story on the surface is about a young man from India whose family owns a zoo.  They are moving the zoo from India to Canada and the ship goes down in a storm; the protagonist is stuck on a lifeboat with a zebra, hyena, orangutan, and tiger, and the film chronicles his (and the animals–especially the tiger’s) fight to survive lost at sea.  The story is said to be heavily symbolic, with different characters representing different humans in the protagonist’s life.

That line of thinking somehow converged with thinking about the TV series “Lost” and the idea of living in purgatory or in some alternate reality.    So, I thought, maybe Chaplin could be in some kind of “purgatory” himself- fighting a demon or doing battle with something within him.  Maybe a self-destructive tendency or fear.   It isn’t until he faces his demon–or lion–and accepts help that he is able to be freed from himself.

The scene opens and we see Chaplin running (from success? from a healthy relationship?  from the Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting nearby? from whatever choice he SHOULD be making, but isn’t), right into the old, bad ways–the lion’s cage.  He didn’t mean to, but he’s done it again!   Realizing the error of his ways, he tries to let himself out (only to lock the door behind him), escape through the tiger’s cage, and wave a handkerchief to try to get someone’s attention, all to no avail.

It’s only when his real chance of help–the little dog–comes that he has some hope, even though he doesn’t see it. All he can think is how noisy the dog is and worries that the dog will wake the lion.  He is so adamant that he actually tries to kick the dog away from the cage.  He would rather be bound up in his “dark side” than accept help, especially if it’s in a form he doesn’t anticipate.   The dog, however, attracts the attention of the girl–his savior.  After a little back and forth–what’s some fainting among friends?–Chaplin allows her to free him.  He still has work to do however–his pride makes him act nonchalant when she offers him freedom, and then he has to run up the tent pole and act silly.  But hey- maybe this is a new start for our little tramp.  Maybe next time we see him careening around a corner, he will run past the lion cage (i.e., his bad old ways) rather than into it.

Now the technical stuff:

I downloaded the movie from YouTube using savefrom.net.  I opened the file in Movie Maker and then removed the audio by simply turning the volume all the way down.  I added a title and a caption in the opening scene and then credits to the end all using the Movie Maker tools.

I looked for some free tunes, but wasn’t really finding anything that fit.  Fitting with the bad boy theme I have made for this story, I thought about the music to the movie “Crazy Heart”, which is full of some great country songs that include a lot of down-and-out type woe.  So I used Buck Owen’s “Hello Trouble” from the soundtrack as the main music for the new video.  Inserting the audio was easy enough; since the song is very short (less than 2 mins), I used it twice.

Now came the rabbit-hole part- where I ran into trouble and ended up wasting a huge amount of time (Part 1).  I ended up with only a brief clip (from Cars 2), an image I doctored using Pixlr (of superhero dog) and a new recording I made using Audacity (me doing my best cartoon dog voice).

The hardest part of this assignment was a) figuring out what I wanted to convey, b) and then finding media to convey it.  I am guessing the difficulty in part “b” may have arisen from my general lack of media search “expertise”.  I used terms like “I’m here to save you”, and “I don’t need your help” both on YouTube and as image searches and I was not impressed with the results–maybe my key words weren’t getting me what I wanted, or I didn’t really know what I wanted, so nothing seemed to fit in the results.  I tried to think of specific clips/songs/images/anything I could think of and THEN go find, but I drew a blank.  So, hence my subpar results (or at the very least, not what I wanted).

Running into trouble and wasting huge amounts of time (Part 2).  I created what felt like eight thousand tracks in Audacity using everyone’s 30 second sound clips along with the music.  Then I spent what felt like eighteen hours trying to insert periods of silence into the portions where I had inserted the new clips, so all you would hear would be the new clip and not the music or the foley sound effects.  What seems so simple–selecting something–utterly confounds me in Audacity.  I would type in the seconds/milliseconds-wouldn’t work.  I would use the little hand thing- wouldn’t’ work.  I wish I knew what I was doing wrong, and what I actually did when I did it right by chance.

And the end result was that the sound was off, but at this point my patience and Saturday are all about used up.  Here’s a screen capture of the Audacity file:

audacitysnag

And the Movie Maker file:

moviemakersnag

You can see where the gaps in silence are on the audio and how they don’t match up.   If I had done it right, the silence in movie maker would have lined up with the new clips on the second row.  As you may have picked up on (ha!) this assignment was pretty frustrating for me.  I know that I’m learning a lot in the process–that’s what I’m trying to focus on and not so much as to what the end result will be.

 

 

 

 

Look, Listen, Analyze- Casino

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All this talk of film editing made me think of Martin Scorcese and his long-time partnership with film editor Thelma Schoonmaker.  I would venture to say that Scorcese is a master director and storyteller, so chances are Schoonmaker isn’t a bad film editor either.   One of my favorite Scorcese films is Casino, so off I went to look for a Casino clip after not finding anything that really stood out to me in the suggested YouTube playlists.

Here’s the clip I chose: “In Vegas, Everybody Watches Everybody Else”

Video only: Knowing that what the clip was titled, but not having seen this clip for several years, I dug in.  The shot opens with three men entering the frame, man 1 (stays left), man 2 (goes to the far right), and DeNiro (who fills center, which is just right of center in the frame).

The camera then zooms in closer to DeNiro’s face and then moves back left across until he is just left of center, framed in the foreground.

The camera then gets moving- from one person in the casino to the other.  In general it follows a rhythm: camera moves, settles on object, object moves.  Camera moves, object moves, repeat.  Often, but not always, the person’s eyes or body language will point the viewer to where the camera goes next.

Audio only:  Scene opens with blues-y, jazz-y, soul-y uptempo music.   The sound mimics the camera/object/camera/object rhythm:  music/narration/music/narration.  The music also has background noise as well- casino noises.  The sentences of dialogue are short and staccato so every bit of dialogue fits into the time the camera is on the object.

One Last time: It corresponds with the three men arriving on screen, pauses for a moment of narration, and then proceeds into the body of the song, just as the scene proceeds as well.   The camera and music rhythms match up; the result is a dynamic piece of film that conveys movement and the many parties involved in “watching” the casino.
I didn’t notice any overt Ebert principles here.  Yes DeNiro is just right of center in the opening frames, but then the clip moves on and the actors are in varying spots in the shots- left right, moving left, moving right.  There isn’t too much up/down angles- the majority of shots are from shoulder height, so a neutral stance.  What is striking about this clip is not the placement of actors–no shot actually features one actor actively interacting (not just standing next to) with the other–but the movement between them across the wide casino space.

Does a Tyrannosaurus Rex ever feel insecure? Reading movies

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On the surface, I agree with Roger Ebert’s idea of a film’s composition.  It is my sense that we as humans have a natural tendency for symmetry and balance.  We may not notice when something “works” but we probably do when it doesn’t.  It was difficult for me to think of this in the abstract so off to the internet I went and searched “famous movie stills”.  This was one of the top hits:

still 1

Shot from Jurassic Park

Eeek!  Let’s see how it matches up with what Ebert says:

Ebert

T-Rex

“…in general terms, in a two-shot, the person on the right will “seem” dominant over the person on the left” If we count T-Rex as a person, I would say Ebert’s principle may not apply here.   It all centers on what “dominant” means. Do we mean brute strength? In that case, clearly T-Rex wins. Do we mean dominates our attention, or with whom we most strongly identify? In that case, it would be (for me at least) the human.
“Right is more positive, left more negative” Yup. Bad dinosaur on left, scared human on right.
“Top is dominant over bottom” You could say that!
“Foreground stronger than background” Depends on what you mean by stronger.   Certainly the dinosaur is the “stronger” one but I as a viewer identify most with the human, so I feel more strongly drawn to the human in the shot and what he must be feeling.
“Brighter areas tend to be more dominant over darker areas, but far from always. Within the context, you can seek the “dominant contrast”, which is the area we are drawn toward. Sometimes it will be darker, further back, lower and so on.” The dinosaur is certainly brighter in this shot and he dominates the frame. Yet I am drawn to the human so perhaps it is a matter of the contrast that makes me feel drawn to him.

Verdict-in this one instance, Ebert’s principles loosely worked.  It all hinges on what we decide “dominant” or “stronger” mean- visually, emotionally or some mashup of the two.  Movies are intended to arouse emotion (at least I think good ones do)–to divorce the experience of WATCHING from the film itself doesn’t really work.

I watched the video “Hitchcock loves bikinis” for the filmmakers exposition on why cuts are so important in films- in this case, they either make the man in the film a nice guy or a lech.  This to me was a little bit simplistic-after all, a person could start at a neutral state, see something, and have a reaction to it for an almost infinite number of situations.  You don’t need film for that to happen.  It’s not the cut that changes things (the pieces of bread in a sandwich), it’s what comes between (the “meat” as it were).

I also watched the video “Zooms” on the  use of zoom-in and zoom-out in the Shining.  [If you are ever near Estes Park, CO, head to the Stanley hotel, which inspired King’s story, btw.]  God that movie is creepy.  The examples of zoom techniques used and being able to see them in such short succession really emphasized how they provide a sense of tension in the story.  If a zoom could talk it would say “AND THEN….get ready for this….” It’s almost a way of honing our focus on the shot- in the case of a zoom in, a magnifying glass, and in the case of a zoom out, a widening of our consciousness to include the larger world.

 

Week 5 Summary

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My main takeaway this week: working with sound is not as difficult as I thought, but still the most challenging I have found of the differing editing tasks we have done in this course.  I do feel completely at ease in recording, exporting, importing, and loading to SoundCloud, but the editing portion (splicing, fading, etc.) still cause me some angst.  Perhaps its because the visual medium isn’t there, i.e., I don’t know what part of the sound I’m looking at by just looking at the sound wave?

This week also marks the sad milestone of being the first week I did not complete all assignments.  My high school honor society self would be horrified.  Ultimately, I’ve decided to wrap this week up, incomplete, rather than push myself farther and farther behind into the Video editing portion of class.  Here’s what I was able to do:

  • Animal escape!  Getting acclimated with SoundCloud.  I made a SoundCloud account when we first started listening to audio in the first few weeks of class, but this week I was able to get comfortable with uploading, recording and embedding SoundCloud files into my blog posts.  I even ventured out into the main page and found some really cool music too.
  • Sound Effects Story: in this assignment I learned that I should have actually done some listening, viewing and reading on Audacity before just jumping in, because I did not and it almost pushed me to the edge.  Luckily, I have lived to tell the tale.  Finding and downloading the sounds on FreeSound was easy enough as was coming up with the idea.  It was doing this assignment that helped me see how valuable video can be, actually.  I rarely (that is, almost never) watch videos online.  That hilarious video that’s going around on the web?  Haven’t seen it.  I don’t know if it’s an attention span thing or a simple preference for reading, but I find watching video online to be boring and tedious.  HOWEVER- the written tutorials on Audacity just weren’t doing it for me, so in desperation I turned to the video and screencast.  Ah- much easier!  They were so helpful I bet I take to video over text the next time I am looking for help.
  • Audio Assignments: I chose Audio Assignment 942, in which we take a Craigslist “free stuff” ad and make it a spoken word piece complete with background music.  I learned that the “free” section of Craigslist is really just a way for people to try to get sometime very unpleasant things hauled away for free (Clean out my basement! For free!) – clever.  This post got me on better terms with Audacity.  After visiting the aforementioned screencast again I simply used the tools demonstrated to create my own file.  I went to Soundcloud for some music and was able to quickly find what I was looking for.  I even used my 1-month Noun Project membership to download an icon for the Soundcloud file.  Synergy!
  • To Be Storified Example I got some good feedback on my story idea, which was to tell the story of the importance of public health.  Public health is something that when it is working well, we don’t notice it.   So much work goes on behind the scenes by a mostly unassuming type of worker-a potentially fruitful story topic.
  • Comment Roundup: It finally (duh) occurred to me that I could comment on anyone’s blogs I want, not just my blog “team” (which has now shrunk to be just two of us).  The encouragement and pointers I get from commenters is immensely helpful.  I don’t know if I am as helpful especially in the tips department when it comes to commenting on others posts (as I frequently know only as much as, if not less, than the poster does) but I like to think I’m at least encouraging 🙂

What got left out this week was the Chaplin Foley assignment…sorry Charlie.