a bubbly beverage

"Seltzer" - 15 January 2012


visions of lovliness

"Christmas Eggs" - 24 December 2011

There is something about technical difficulties of a chosen format, and the manner in which they are solved. We often seem to go in the direction that is the most difficult solution, rather than the other way around.

For many large format photographers, because of the size of the "sensor" aka film, the challenge is to get enough DoF to have anything outside a very small area in focus. So we use camera movements to achieve something approaching complete focus within the image. If something is OoF, then we've failed. (Unless there was a conscious decision to limit focus severely, or there are elements in the composition from very near to very far that are very tall.)

On the other hand, for small sensor photographers using devices such as Point & Shoot or 4/3 or even 35mm, the challenge is to get an area that is OoF, since it's easy to get everything in focus. Instead we use fast lenses to achieve razor thin DoF, praising gorgeous bokeh in the blurred portions of the image.

I don't know what this says, other than that we seem to be technical contrarians. We're in search of something that not every technician can achieve.


5 x 5 break

Amidst my concerns with learning how to use software, and rotoscope accurately, has come this weekend's Vimeo project: 5 shots, each five seconds long = a twenty-five second movie. Even I can handle that. Which led to these initial entries:


No great investment to watch. In fact, watch 'em twice!


back to the beginning

Continuing my complaints with the bolted together components of EOL'ed Final Cut Studio 7, now I'm on to Color 1.5. Some time has been spent with this opaque interface previously. But it took me probably another 8 - 10 hours to finally uncover the undocumented means to zoom in on the image you're working with in the geometry window so that you can magnify the edges of a vignette being applied. BTW, Vignette = PS layer = PP lens. But the controls are nowhere near as diverse as they are in those two still image manipulation packages.

Work proceeded on a shot that's on screen for 5 sec. 23 frames. There were five Secondary Vignettes applied, using five different shapes, four of which changed as actors move through the shot. About 15 hours was spent on this 6 second shot, learning the software, how to apply shapes, how to move shapes, trying to fine tune the edges.

Finally, after sending the sequence back to FCP so that I could watch the six seconds that had been modified, I'm deciding to start over again and abandon the 15 hours of work. Some of it was software learning curve, so I'll be able to use it again. But the edge detection/drawing around a moving object is a serious challenge. On a still image this is not that much of a problem with these simple tools. But for moving images, where occasionally the edges of an adjustment need to be redrawn every frame, those edges flicker and waver mercilessly, totally unacceptably when all the frames are viewed together. No doubt it's a combination of tools and technique. I'm lacking in both.

Which leads me to realize that if I'm going to use Color - which those who use it seem to feel is a fabulous piece of software - it's going to have to be in a more general manner. If I'm going to pick objects out of a scene for specific adjustment, either they need to be small, or they don't move, or they don't change shape.

I was thinking I'd figured out how this video was done, with some elements colored while everything else in the image is b&w. But after watching it again, I can see that they're using something way more sophisticated than the Vignettes in Color 1.5.


Might As Well

get up and work on something, rather than lying in bed awake considering all the possibilities. Which leaves me sitting at a keyboard wondering which direction to take instead of reclining on a mattress. The last, likely alternative prior to becoming vertical, was a revisitation of the last topic of anguish immediately below: the barrier to entry into the software known as Soundtrack Pro.

Nearly a month after my last rant on the subject, during which I've chipped away at that wall, I think it can be reported that some progress has been made. Nonetheless, the functionality still appears erratic, limited, and mostly opaque.

A month ago, the primary frustration was not being able to uncover the means to utilize envelopes a.k.a. keyframes a.k.a. automation in the File Editor module. It's buried somewhere in the Help files, but that source didn't yield the information. Merely poking around the interface finally revealed the minute button that controls the envelope graph. But then it was another 8 - 10 hours of poking and probing that uncovered the logical necessity that Effects cannot be automated without first creating points on the envelopes. It was an hour or more before it became obvious that when automating five to eight variables at a time, all to coincide with one another, all the points on those different envelopes needed to be in line with one another. And the only way to do that is to zoom way in and then turn on the snap feature.


Apply a stored, user preset from one of the EQ effects? Oh yeh. It can be done. But it's going to take several hours to figure it out. Because I doubt I could explain it.

So my complaint? That the software gets in the way all too frequently.



"Man from Harlem" remix

In my attempts to learn Soundtrack Pro, part of the  Final Cut Studio package that Apple used to sell for sound editing, I've gone back to this video with friend Gary Lettan - who can really put on a performance. Some fun, basic effects have been added.

Oh my. STP as it's known on the message boards. What an annoying POS. Even after reading the Apple published "Sound Editing in Final Cut Studio", I still can barely find my way around. The only commands that it shares with Final Cut are use of the J, K, & L keys and the space bar. It's not even obvious where the focus is while working in various panes. Selection works nothing like it does in FCP. The functionality of the File Editor pane at the bottom of the screen is completely counter intuitive. As far as I can tell, envelopes cannot be applied to single files, but work only in the multi track window. Roundtripping to/from FCP works as it should, but the file saving process is about as obtuse as could be imagined. I'm only hanging on with this application because of the huge variety of effects that it has that cannot be done directly in FCP. Perhaps a few hundred more hours and I'll make it far enough up the curve to be able to do something productive. It's frustrating enough that the Adobe alternative begins to look like a wise choice, especially since Apple has abandoned the entire Final Cut suite.

But then it's starting all over again at the bottom of the hill.


"The Nature of Photographs"

A second submission to the Vimeo 1 minute movie.

 The rules:

  • exactly one minute long
  • no camera moves
  • no edits
  • no credits or music

Something I've been/not been working on for 10 - 11 months. Probably time to learn some lines. Am I repeating myself?


how many eggs?

Here's one of my submissions for last week's 1 Minute Movie. There was only a little cheating.

The rules:

  • exactly one minute long
  • no camera movement
  • no edits
  • no music or credits

Yet another example of the inordinate amount of time required to create images, especially of the moving variety. Not that I'm complaining, or that anyone really cares. But for the record, it was probably an hour and a half set up for one minute of screen time, although there were four takes, four eggs. I was told after that I would need to go buy some more if I was planning on continuing with more versions.

Too bad I haven't learned how to crack an egg yet.










Adrenaline Film Project 2011

For those who don't know about the Adrenaline Project at the Virginia Film Festival, watch this short. We documented this year's entrants and got our film into the running.

A lot of coffee - a lot of lost sleep.

An impressive effort from Brian Wimer, who edited this film, shot material about several of the participating groups, and wrote the script for the audience award winning Attack of the Trailer. I followed three teams during their shooting, and spent some time in the Digital Media Lab in Clemons Library at the University of Virginia where all the teams gathered Friday night/Saturday morning, til 5pm Saturday, for their editing.


never too many zombies

Here's the extended cut from all the cameras on the course, courtesy of Amoeba Films.


What I did for Halloween

A fun time was had by all: the Zombie 5k Run and fundraiser in downtown Charlottesville.



some real progress


Now that John Burns has composed some wonderful music for the film, it's time to release some of it to the world. This one's gotten the full treatment: full resolution original recaptured; color corrected; Motion created titles.


17th Annual Spirit Walk

Whoa - it's upon us already. Once more into the breeches.

This year I'll be playing the ex mayor of Charlottesville, VA accused of strangling, bludgeoning, and shooting his wife.



The fictional film work of the Dardenne brothers is a direct trajectory of their years of documentaries. Inheritors of the neo-realist stylings, they have become critically acclaimed at Cannes and other international festivals. Their new film, The Kid With A Bike, recently played the current New York Film Festival. Utilizing the sparest of production designs, no music, and mostly hand-held camera work that accompanies the protagonists wherever they go, their stories of morally compromised youth acutely observed in their quiet desperation are compelling and authentic.

L'enfant especially presents us with children playing, killing time, refusing to join a society that doesn't want to make room for them, but reluctantly assuming adult responsibilities of raising their own children. They sleep in abandoned garages or riverfront warehouses, and traverse a landscape of no mans land terrain between the places the privileged classes inhabit. Dardenne characters struggle to find their way in less than ideal circumstances, pushed by economic realities over which they have no real influence.



a little time - a whole lotta diggin'

Some time later...

The "jack it up" methodology was ill informed. But we got 'er dun.

When's it going to start sinking again?


a matter of timing

The internet is a fine place for the restatement of the obvious. Obviously. Consequently, mental midgetry is given vocalism:

Video editorial technology still has me in its thrall. The ability to simply duplicate a scene - without duplicating the original media on which it is based - and then recut the material with an adjustment for pauses between reactions of performers, or a different ordering of the pieces of imagery, is a fabulous advancement. This, possibly more than any other reason, is why the world of nonlinear editing has taken over the editorial world. Only archivists still use flatbed editing machines. Even large features shot on film originals have moved away from literally cutting work print film copies. Why would you when the tools to do this electronically are so ubiquitous, so subtle, and so relatively easy to use?

This adjustment to the timing of images is something that can't be attended to with still images, unless you're working with a slide show. But certainly not within the realm of a book or a gallery of online images. These media have their own aesthetic appeal, and rarely depend upon the performances of actors to impart their power of expression. Many recognize the importance of captions for still images, which becomes something of a narrative device. But there is still no way of shaping the meaning of a sequence of images through the prominence given by their timing, meaning the specific amount of time that each image is presented, and the pauses between vocal interactions.

As this pertains to my current editorial activity, as I create alternative versions of scenes, the earliest are the most leisurely, the most contemplative. The later versions are faster, more to the narrative point. But I feel nonetheless that I'm falling victim to the ever increasing insistence upon the need to sharpen and propel the narrative, something I'm decidedly conflicted about. The question becomes at what point to leave alone the awkward pauses and mispronunciations in order to impart a feeling of awkwardness.

The quest continues for the correct balance between the non linear animal brain gut feeling of here and now, and the delineation of a thematic concept. Wish me luck.


no easy way out

To those who believe there are easy fixes to life's problems, I offer these photos of a project that has been put aside for months, maybe even years. No big deal. Nothing some money and a little time can't solve.

Just jack it up, the optomists suggested. It's been sinking for ten years. What's to keep it from sinking again? Which is why we end up with this bathtub sized slab of concrete:

"Just jack it up!"


the contrarian

When I can't, that's when I want to. When I can, that's when I want to procrastinate.


storm passing

A walk in Earlysville Forest after the rain ended yesterday morning.


meanwhile, back at the ranch

Several days later, and we seem to have reboarded the roller coaster ride.

The final scene of "Roscoe" - who is going to get his named changed - was a brief period of agony at the completion of shooting. Instead of really relying upon my imagination, I got lost in details. Thinking that it could be saved in the edit, I stumbled through the performance hang-ups, and focused on a need to finish. As it turns out, the battle cry of editors 'round the world: Coverage! was not heeded, and I'm now left with limited options.

So from Thursday's peak of excitement, I'm now screaming down the steep slope of depression at my limited imagination. How noticeable is a forty-one second shot on one character in a thirteen minute piece? This is why I've been dreading working on this scene. All the words are covered, but in such a limited manner that the static nature of the scene really becomes obvious.

In fact I can make a case for leaving the scene as now cut: something about a need to see the uninterrupted emotionalism of the Professor, unmediated by editorial caprice. If only the visual wasn't so fucking static! Dare I leave it alone, in all its barren awkwardness? This would certainly be a bold decision - that still smacks of making pathetic excuses for what is lacking. OTOH, there are always little pieces of unused takes that can be dropped in at judicious moments to distract from the inherent awkwardness of this lengthy shot. Door #1 or Door #3? Or Door #2: get a few people together and reshoot the closeup of Roscoe. I need to make a decision about this fairly soon, before the leaves change and drop off.

What else is there to do at 4am, when sleep is nowhere to be found, other than obsess about the defective nature of the current work?