What can be imagined can be brought to life

December 13, 2009

Movie Tom.Com explores the limits of short movie-making for the classroom. The medium should serve the message. Digital methods now allow educators to quickly create custom sequences to suit their curriculum.

This is all recent enough not to have sunk in. For example, the old Hollywood technique of ‘rear projection’ only became possible when current computer screens no longer flickered. Combine this with puppetry, among the fastest methods because the actor can read the script off-camera in real time rather than memorize it.  This deceptively  ‘simple’  (rear projection  used to require huge sound stages) combination allows rapid production of movies with exotic and/or moving sets – and this is just one of the many techniques now enhanced and simplified with digital methods.

Rather than relying on canned avatars and sets, current and traditional tools can be combined to create scenes bounded only by the imagination. Characters and props differing in size, colouring and texture (for example an avatar, a paper cutout doll, clip art, an oil painting, a plastic doll, and a toy prop ..) might be brought to life together in scenes by using blue screen, voice-synch animation, natural media emulation, colour effects, and shadow puppetry. Voices and sounds can be matched or differentiated with pitch-shifting, multitracking, and vocoding. And text should not be forgotten.

The object of this site is to show by example how such things can now be done vastly more quickly than would have been possible a few years ago. The key point is that the curriculum no longer has to follow the resource.  If you need something specific there will now probably be some way to create it – and in minutes rather than days.

Research Cooperative Video Promotion

January 23, 2013

This video was donated to the international Research Cooperative.

It is a straightforward promo using a voice-over with royalty-free music, clip art, and images from the Coop web site. They welcome volunteers, learners, people with experience, professionals, and language-service companies. They are a non-profit voluntary organisation also attempting to raise funds by crowdsourcing at RocketHub

 

 

Samson and Delilah

May 3, 2012

Cecil B. DeMille eat your heart out.  This composite was made up from public domain archive.org footage.

The black  and white material was from  a 1922 Austrian silent film and washed-out coloured material was from 1960s Hercules films. The choice in matching them up, therefore, was either to try and colorize the black & white version or sepia-tint the coloured version. I chose to try colorizing.  Using Adobe’s ‘colorama’ effect the first step was to turn different levels of grey into a spectrum then rotate this until the faces looked maximally flesh-coloured. This resulted in a garish magenta and red. The total was then toned down with the blue cooling Adobe Photo filter. The resulting set of colours is not too different from the current vogue of orange against blue backgrounds seen in commercial films which makes the black & white origins less obvious.

The song has a very limited number of chords and these have been transposed to the ‘instant play’ (Guitar in 10 minutes) music education method found at www.oz-rock.com.

The sound track was based on the traditional tune, given a rock beat and horns from NY Brass (UK).  Multitracking gave 3-part vocal harmony backing. The entire project was done with basic podcast-level gear. Issues for discussion:

  • quickly-produced music video
  • blockbuster themes set to music
  • movie studio on a card table
  • copyright
  • multi-tracked audio
  • audio samples, Band in a Box
  • instant play guitar method

an mp3 version is available at www.radio-tom.com

Making a Ken Burns style documentary

June 9, 2011

War of the Machines is a Civil War documentary in the style of Ken Burns. It demonstrates Kahootz software developed by the Australian Children’s Television Foundation that can be used to create documentaries. It’s a free Creative Commons resource on a US Civil War topic intended primarily for K-12 teachers, students, researchers, and school staff to give ideas and to showcase what can be done with a netbook and pocket Dictaphone as a ‘studio’.

This video mainly uses the techniques made popular by Ken Burns of still images animated by pan movements and transitions. Another well-known video that uses still images and text is ‘Shift Happens’.  Points to discuss:

  • The ‘Ken Burns Effect’ in cinematography – how to take still shots through panning and movement beyond a simple slide show
  • use of open source and public domain archive resources
  • whether animation and music are essential, extraneous, and/or ought to be noticeable by absence in a purely documentary video
  • constructivist potential for this topic -ie- using such a documentary for classroom discussion, making puppet models of the boats; re-enactments of battle…
  • related discussion topics: slavery, why metal floats, future of machines …
  • Whether the multimedia justifies the massive extra time investment over audio-only and text-only versions.

A super-quick movie about how to make super-quick movies

July 30, 2010

Make a documentary with your netbook. The introductory scenes are to remind us that we now take for granted tools such as animation that used to require whole studios and big budgets. Now we can do the whole thing on a netbook.

This is intended to show how to use typical netbook-configured software to make a movie from the desktop -ie- no live shots. The end result can be very similar to the Ken Burns Effect: PowerPoint (or equivalent) can take clip art and still shots and zoom & move them around to a voice-over. This remains a powerful contemporary format highly suited to educational presentations. The advanatage of clip art is that it can be customized to make historical documentaries by changing costumes and scenes.

PowerPoint 2010 now can save directly to .wmv format.  For those using earlier versions this video used the sequence: PowerPoint > Audacity > Presenter >Captivate > Premiere

There are alternative ways to do this. Sound files can be attached either in Presenter (which then auto-adjusts slide length) as I did in this demo or in Premiere (which allows last-minute positioning, multi-track, and adjusment of volumes). There are dis/advantages to each.

I made heavy use of screen dumps (print screen) for the visuals assembled as elements in PowerPoint slides as an alternative to the more common capture of live action using Captivate. The PowerPoint method has the major advantage that the slides can be re-edited if the bits are too small or illegible. It’s hard to go back and edit a live demonstration.

Even without PowerPoint 2010 the whole PowerPoint > Audacity > Presenter >Captivate > Premiere cycle only takes a few minutes so can be done and re-done before finally publishing to the Web. This allows editing & fixing.

A .pdf of the movie which shows the screen shots more clearly can be found here:  Make a Movie

What you see is as good as it gets

April 20, 2010

Global Astronomy Month

You live in a galaxy. As you look beyond our galaxy you see – guess what? – other galaxies. This 4 minute video is about getting the most out of your telescope, binoculars and/or naked eye. It explains why the views you have from within our own Milky Way galaxy are probably as good as, and probably similar to, those anyone could get anywhere else in the Universe.

This video mainly uses the techniques made popular by Ken Burns of still images animated by pan movements and transitions. Another well-known video that uses still images and text is ‘Shift Happens’. Points to discuss:

  • The ‘Ken Burns Effect’ in cinematography – what can be done with still shots through panning and movement
  • use of text as in ‘Shift Happens’
  • whether music is essential, extraneous, and/or noticeable by its absence in a purely documentary video
  • constructivist potential for this topic -ie- using the web or real-life astronomy images to test the theme that things look pretty similar across the Universe
  • contrast with sci-fi concepts

How to Read a Star Map

April 15, 2010

For Global Astronomy Month or anytime. Telescopes have a narrow field of view. Without a map it is hard to find even famous objects in the sky. This 4 minute video overviews the most common star map/atlas legend symbols.

Unlike most of my videos this one focussed on content rather than media. It is intended as a stimulus for a school , club or scout/guide exercize. Star map reading tends not to be part of any curriculum.

Even those sophisticated in Earth maps may not have grasped the true layout of objects fading off into the Milky Way star clouds – Why would they? It took humankind until the 20th Century to work this out. It’s not obvious.

Participants can easily create the standard set of astro-symbols using PowerPoint and make up their own psuedo-starcharts. Instead of drawing the map an alternative could be to take the camera out under the night sky and film then map some bright area of the sky. But my video exercize is more practical for use during the school day as the Web provides countless examples, photos and drawings of the main map features such as globular clusters, galaxies etc. and all that is needed is some black paper. One good way of drawing astronomical images is with spattered white paint from a toothbrush. Some software also draws good star images and foggy nebulae.

Points to look for and discuss:

  • created in a PowerPoint as a slide show
  • NASA and Google animations inserted to give a bit of variety and speed production.
  • The main technique used here was fade-in overlays. These can be done in many ways but PowerPoint animation is easy to control when you want multiple elements entering at different speeds.

Below are still shots of the items needed to do the map drawing exercize. Make sure to use black & white drawings only:

legend

Legend for drawing exercize

task

sample pseudo-map on which to base drawing

Global Astronomy Month – April

April 12, 2010

The Best Views of the Universe are from our own Backyards

A 9-minute movie with a dual purpose: demonstrate quick movie-production techniques combining puppetry and 3D animation while offering food for thought about astronomy.

This script started life as a children’s book manuscript. However, I got a good response from an article on this theme:

http://www.cloudynights.com/item.php?item_id=1995 

So the challenge was to translate this into the much more band-intensive medium of a movie. Many techniques were employed. Puppets were not used to be ‘cute’ or to appeal to younger children. Rather, they were much easier to use with a one-man-&-a-laptop movie studio. A puppeteer can read the script off-camera in real-time, not needing to memorize it. Note, however that the bear in the TV scenes is an iClone animation using the puppet bear’s face and in the final scene is a voice-synched animation (CrazyTalk) of a still shot of the puppet (against a blue screen). Animations are even easier to use when there are potential edits, revisions, and re-uses of the script.

Points to consider and discuss:

  • use of spoof (puppet as “1st bear in outer space ..”) to parody the notion that ‘experts’ are needed to discuss what should be ‘general knowledge’ for the human race -ie- our wherebouts in space.
  • animal puppets and alternatives – whether live actors, picture cut-outs, avatars, clay models, dolls, clip art cartoons or other character portrayals would be equally or more effective.
  • ‘rear projection’ technique live-filming puppets in front of still image and moving image screens.
  • ‘chroma key’ with talking head in final scene.
  • ‘integrated media’ -ie- carrying a character (astronaut) across multiple media -ie- puppet > 3D avatar (iClone) > talking head (CrazyTalk) avatar.
  • 3D character’s ‘space suit’ created from iClone ‘hero’ armour with colour brightened and de-contrasted.
  • helmets created from CrazyTalk ‘fun messenger frame’. 
  • voices using falsetto rather than digital pitch-shifting.
  • archival public domain movie and NASA space footage.
  • home photos of stars using ‘night shot’ feature of standard videocamera.
  • interior of house from 3D iClone sets.
  • videoscreen created from animated .gif of movie laid over a powerpoint image of room and TV created from Win Media Player screen shot.
  • song created with software and multitrack harmonies.
  • alternative ways of presenting same message -ie- 4 page text version, podcast…etc.
  • alternatives to ‘preachy’ message -ie whether some discovery method might better convey this message

Dinosaurs visit the wizard of hollywood for a digital make-over

March 30, 2010

This sort of movie is termed a parody or spoof – a send-up of a common genre of movie.  The main purpose is to illustrate different types of characters that can be used -ie- clip art, miniatures, paper cutouts, and digital avatars, as well as use of sound clips for continuity. Particularly watch the dinosaur enter the ‘make-over chamber’.

A cross between The Wizard of Oz and Maynard G. Krebs and The Son of the Monster that Devoured Cleveland. The entire nonsense was filmed at my desk. The Hollywood sets are from LionHead Studios The Movies, which allows creation of your own movies. Flyover was done with camera filming still shot of  The Movies set. PowerPoint was used to animate the characters in still shots. Other shots used hand puppetry.  ‘Make-up’ was ‘natural media’ effects in Painter software (Van Gogh, cartoon, metallic .. etc) applied to still shot of hand puppet (similar effects are available with Photoshop). These still shots were then animated using CrazyTalk software and the sequences strung together.

The ‘make-over chamber’ scene illustrates the technique of ‘rear projection + puppetry” now made possible with non-flickering computer screens. A plastic dinosaur is bobbed up and down while the set itself (from The Movies) is ‘moved’ on screen using keyboard controls.  Because the chamber is a 3D set its walls appear to move past as the dinosaur ‘walks into it’. The exit from the chamber was an avatar dinosaur from Kahootz.  Such puppetry can be done with either real puppets or avatars. The opening credits scene looks similar but was actually done with still images of the dinosaurs and Hollywood background animated in PowerPoint. The latter method lends itself to re-use and editing.

Dinosaur as ‘Walk of Fame’ star was done with PowerPoint ‘fill’ effects. Cheesy end rolling credits done with stock Adobe Premiere ‘title’ effects. 

Instrumental sountracks were from Serif MoviePlus. Concluding song was composed and sung at my desk, hence the lame sound as I didn’t want others to hear me singing it. Points to consider and discuss:

  • Types of characters that can be created: clip art, miniatures, paper cutouts, and digital avatars .. etc
  • visual special effects
  • zooming of still shots for fly-over
  • animation of still shots to bring life to characters
  • editing and re-usability of PowerPoint animated scenes
  • rear projection + puppetry technique for moving scenes
  • audio: merits of commercial clips, compose-your-own etc.
  • embedding instructional media in a silly spoof rather than in a serious ‘now click on the red button …’ style of edu-demo
  • use of familiar and archetypal themes such as the Wizard of Oz, A Star is Born, make-over TV, monster movies

Bringing a character ‘to life’ with Morph and Animation

March 29, 2010

The scene below was created at the desktop with a tiny plastic toy Sphinx:

The purpose of such a movie is to create a character that can then talk ‘authoritatively’ about events long ago. The Sphinx would, of course be given a deep (pitch-shifted) voice. He’s seen it all!  The scene was created using a still image of the plastic sphinx. A sphinx face was also mapped to an avatar (dancing male figure) in iClone software. A still image of that was captured. A morph programme (many free ones on Web) then created a ‘transition morph’ between the two still shots. The movie was assembled from still shot #1, the morph sequence, the 3D animated iClone sequence, and a commercial sound clip I’d bought long ago. Morphing of still shots is essentially being used here as transition tool but the morph software has powerful mapping capability which allows a character to transform like Jekyll to Hyde before our eyes: Points to consider & discuss:

  • creating a character as a narrator
  • bringing a character to life
  • use of still shots v animations
  • complementary software: morph, 3D animation, audio, movie-making

The end of the Hero’s Journey: public recognition

March 29, 2010

In real life, winners of contests and adventures hope to receive public recognition. Animation allows us to create all sorts of fanciful ceremonies and rewards for a classroom. Re-use is inherent as each group seeks to follow in the last heroes’ footsteps -ie- no-one seems to be complaining about winning the ‘same old’ gold Oscar statues. Here is a gallery exhibition: 

This was adapted from some user-generated examples on the Australian Kahootz software site. I just put up some kids’ pictures as the exhibits to show the idea. The Microsoft text to speech voice with hall reverb was used to give the size illusion. Points to observe and discuss:

  • digital v tangible v symbolic rewards in the classroom
  • emulating real-life adventure outcomes
  • special effects: animation, reverb for realism
  • sharing and re-use of sets, scenes, user-generated sharing

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