The Hardest Five Weeks of My Life

I took two online summer classes in this first five week semester. That was my first mistake. The first two to three weeks were stressful, especially because this class took up much more time every day than I had anticipated, more so at the beginning. I am grateful that this course has weekly due dates, or else I would have procrastinated, but it also made it hard to find time for my other course. I felt like I had to spend time every day on this course. However, after week three I found my footing and breezed through the rest of the course. This class moved much faster than I was prepared for. Each week’s assignments always seemed like too much to get done in one week. Obviously it can and has been done by many, but I had to experience the procrastination struggle for myself before I jumped into gear. Why would I listen to advice when I could just struggle?

I took this class to fulfill my last gen ed requirement, and I did not think about how much work it would actually be. Looking back I am really glad I got my last requirement out of the way in five weeks, but I don’t know if I would do it again. Luckily I was only working part time during this class, or I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do it, at least not well. I was surprised about how much my digital skills improved over the course of this class. Before I had only edited pictures using Instagram, but now I can use GIMP, which to be  honest was very difficult for me to get used to. The daily creates helped me a lot during this class to practice using tools like GIMP and making GIFs. At first I thought of them as dreaded daily activities, but at the end I really liked doing some of them. I think I liked them more at the end because I became proficient at using the tools I needed. I also taught myself how to use GarageBand and iMovie. While iMovie is very self explanatory, GarageBand is NOT.  I read a few tutorials and spent hours playing around with different features. I would strongly recommend for people to use Audacity and just take the extra few minutes to download the applications you need. It will save hours in the end. Like I said, I cannot follow anyone’s advice, I have to make my own mistakes before I believe anyone.

I really enjoyed reading other people’s blogs and seeing how they completed assignments, blog posts, and how their blogs looked. I liked getting inspiration from them and different opinions from them on my work as well. I liked focusing on the four units we did. I thought they encompassed many different media and I learned a lot of new things. I learned the most about audio and design. The audio unit was fascinating and frustrating for me. I loved listening to the radio shows and learning about broadcast media, but completing audio assignments were difficult because of the software I used. The design week was challenging because I was away on vacation, but I also felt like that week had more assignments altogether than the other weeks. I felt like the design week helped me in the rest of the course the most because the concepts can be applied visually and through video.

Overall, I learned a lot during this course. I think my digital identity has been very expanded as I now have Soundcloud, Youtube, Twitter, and Flickr accounts and know how to use them all. I am also grateful that this class pushed me to not only be creative, but also learn a bunch of new techniques and software that I can use in the future.

Why So Serious?

For looking, listening, and analyzing I chose a scene from Batman The Dark Knight. These are notes from my three different perspectives.

Camera work:

  • Camera pans around to show all the faces
    • Allows the audience to see reactions from the group as the Joker enters
  • Angle is behind the Joker’s shoulder, showing group’s reactions
    • Leaves audience in suspense because we can’t see who has walked in
  • Angle looking up shows Jokers superiority/dominance in this scene
  • Quick cuts allow the audience to see group’s reactions and keep action going
    • At first there is a flurry of action, then the rest of the scene is relatively calm. This juxtaposes the two speeds, and how violent yet calm everyone in this group is.
  • Usually only one or two characters on screen at a time
    • This allows the audience to see each individual character’s emotions more clearly
    • Shows how each person in the group is an individual looking out for himself
  • Up close shots of the Joker as he’s speaking
    • Shows that the Joker is running the show; he is at the head of the table
  • Slow zoom in on group’s faces as they react
    • Adds suspense to the scene, even though movement is slow
  • Closer up when the camera cuts back to the Joker
    • Makes the viewer uneasy because it is so close, and it enhances the intensity of whatever he is saying.
  • Only the Joker and the one man who yells are ever the in the shot alone
    • The Joker is always alone in the shot because no one wants to be associated with him. The man who yells gets his brief solo moment because of his burst of anger that is nowhere else in the slow scene.

Audio Track:

  • Low, creepy laugh
    • Introduces the audience to whoever is walking in, we presume it is the Joker because of the way it sounds.
  • Slow, rising and falling background noises
    • The score doesn’t overpower the dialogue, but it adds suspense with the rise and fall of the tempo and volume of background noises/music.
  • Mostly just dialogue
    • There are no special sounds, this is just a business meeting. The calm tone in everyone’s voices makes this scene even more off-putting, because they are so calm talking about gruesome topics. This also shows the group’s true colors and motivations.
  • The Joker is talking the most by far
    • This continues to help show that the Joker is in charge here, as he dominates the conversation.
  • Some characters raise their voices, but not the Joker
    • This reiterates how the Joker is different and isn’t as hot headed as some of the other bad guys. He uses this to keep control of the conversation and to get what he wants.
    • Collective laughs
      • This enforces the group dynamic and the outsider-ness of the Joker

Audio and Visual:

  • The heads turn toward the sound of the door opening
  • The zoom in on characters’ faces is in response to the Joker’s dialogue
  • When Joker says “blow” he reveals the grenades he has lining his jacket
  • Hearing the score build as the camera zooms in increases suspense

Connections to Ebert’s and Other’s Techniques

When the Joker first walks in he is on the right side in the foreground, which makes him stand out against the group in front of him. This is the first time he dominates the scene, and he doesn’t quit throughout the whole scene. The right and left theories of positive and negative don’t really apply here because there are mostly close up shots. The camera angle does suggest the Joker’s dominance in the beginning, especially when he is still standing up and everyone else is sitting down. The ever increasing presence of the Joker in this scene (from zooming in and dialogue) is echoed in the rest of the movie, where he is also increasingly present.

I Had to Learn How to Read…Again

One of Roger Ebert’s most interesting tips on how to read a movie was that there really are no concrete rules to be followed when filmmaking. There are guidelines and generalities, rather. I like this approach to movies because sometimes when things get too technical they can lose their meaning and emotion. I found it compelling that the right side seems more positive while the left seems more negative. It’s amazing that just a change in direction can elicit an emotional response. A lot of video techniques are similar to photography techniques, especially in a stationary scene. One that stood out the most was how diagonals create motion where there is none by drawing the eye across the image. The main thing I took away from Ebert’s advice was to follow emotion, instinct, and strategy, rather than “the rules.”

Some editing techniques I learned were different ways to transition and edit scenes. My favorite cuts were the tempo/rhythm and jump cuts. I liked the tempo/rhythm cut (that changes the shot on the beat of the soundtrack) because having the shot change on the beat emphasizes each one and adds importance to the changes as well. This gives the scene a very purposeful style and makes the scene seem very important with the added emphasis this type of cut gives it. I liked the jump cut because it keeps the action flowing quickly and allows the audience to see different character’s reactions as the camera comes quickly back to them. I didn’t like the swipe transition; it looks like a movie made with a Powerpoint transition in it. Although, I do think in a less serious movie it could work, and it does have the advantage of drawing the eye toward the next action. 

A technique I enjoyed was the freeze frame. The first thing that came to mind was the last shot of The Breakfast Club where Bender throws his fist in the air and the frame freezes for the credits.

The freeze frame shows the importance of a moment by making the audience watch it for longer. It can also extend the emotion a shot is expressing.

Next I looked at zooms in The Shining. This video was disturbing because of all the sounds from the overlapping scenes. From watching this I gathered how zooms can represent different things. Zooming in or out can build suspense, especially if it is a slow zoom with building music. It also shows the audience exactly where to look, and sometimes gives an uneasiness derived from the closeness, in the case of zooming in. Oppositely, zooming out shows that the whole shot is of importance and can give a sense of being overwhelmed.

Lastly, I looked at different camera angles. One of the techniques that was reiterated here was that for action especially, the camera angles need to keep changing and being unconventional to keep interest and energy up. Different shots and angles give the film depth, which is something you need in order to give the 2D media of video a 3D feel to the audience. My favorite technique I learned was called the zolly, where the camera zooms out and the dolly that the camera is on moves in. If the zoom and dolly are moving at the same speed, it results in the subject in focus staying the same size, but the background moves closer. I have seen this technique many times but never knew how it was accomplished until today!

The Road Less Traveled

This week was a learning experience for me, for sure. I got into the nitty gritty with Garageband, and now realize Audacity was probably a better choice. Garageband didn’t have a lot of editing tools that Audacity seemed to have, and this deterred me from some projects I was drawn to. Although I may have taken the road less traveled this week, I’m glad I gave myself a challenge. I also couldn’t find any ds106 audio tutorials that used Garageband, so hopefully I helped someone in the future with at least one Garageband tutorial! I also got a lot more comments on my blog this week, which was really nice to receive feedback and suggestions from other people. Having another perspective really opens your eyes to mistakes and opportunities missed, and how you can improve next time.

What if We Never Made it to the Moon

Listening to Moon Graffiti by The Truth Podcast was a very eerie experience. I felt as if it were real. The use of the real speech Richard Nixon would have given in the event of a failed moon landing lent the piece an air of reality. At the beginning, a short bout of intro music adds to the mysterious quality of the piece. The radio static and background noise of radio communications and beeps from the spaceship help to set the scene for listeners. The brief overlapping narration at the beginning gives further information to ground today’s listeners in exactly what was happening at the time. The constant beeping and quick communications between the astronauts and Houston give a sense of urgency and trouble. After the crash, silence is used to show how all ties to earth are lost. The silence also emphasizes the shift in mood, from one where there is urgency but no fear of failure, to one of complete isolation and loneliness.

Isolation is conveyed a lot in this piece. The minimal, if at all, background noises show just how alone these men are. The radio static that is used shows how these men had to communicate and transplant the listener into their situation. The sound effects used for camera snaps, kicking dust, and staking the flag also show just how quiet and lifeless their surroundings are. Normally, these sounds would barely rise above the ambient noise of a situation, but in this story the sound effects are loud and clear. Throughout the story there is little narration (only at the beginning and end) and this is done to make it seem like a real situation and conversation between two men stranded on the moon. The narration also adds to the isolation, because in breaks in the conversation there is nothing to fill the space.

You can feel the desperation and resignation in the astronauts’ voices. They have exasperated and longing tones and don’t know whether to try and salvage any contact with earth, carry out their mission, or just wait to die. The shaky and heavy breathing of Buzz in the story gives the listener insight into the physical implications of being stranded on the moon.

During the final part of Nixon’s speech, it starts off with no background noise. To me this resonates like a eulogy. I suppose that’s exactly what it is. The use of just his voice gives a somber mood and one of loss that the world would have been feeling. It also echoes the rest of the story. At the end there is sad music playing, either as an outro or the music of a funeral procession.

The  author gives a thanks to their contributors and sponsors, then the station’s bumper plays, and that is the end of an audio clip that could have been very real.

Can You Believe the Audacity…

The TED radio hour demo  and the detective stories examples both gave me insight into why things are done in radio. The comments at the bottom gave good, real-time tips that will help me to analyze radio shows I listen to in the future. The shifts in music were very apparent in the TED demo, and they differentiated between scenes and moods the show was going in and out of. The overlapping of background noise of the robot, interviewer, and interviewee gave a full picture of the story, which wouldn’t have otherwise been there without the overlapping sounds. Abrupt ends to music or shifts in the type of music worked really well to change the mood or emphasize a point in the show.

In Scottlo’s Lo down episodes he demonstrated some of these techniques. Every time the intro was different I learned a new radio technique. He often employed music in the background, especially music as introductions to the shows. I liked these intros, especially when he gave the bumper examples. His even brief description of bumpers gave me a better understanding of how they can represent a show or a whole network, and the examples given have inspired me to complete that audio assignment.

I did notice in all the audio I listened to in these three examples, layering sounds seems at the forefront of everything. In Scottlo’s clips less so, but the most interesting parts were the overlapped audio. Especially in the first two radio shows, overlapping background and ambient noise with music, as well as combining interviewer/ interviewee voices gave the listener so much to listen to and complete the story. I did notice the tips on the sound camp website which look very helpful for this week’s activities, but they only mention Audacity. I have Garageband, and hopefully I can figure that out without too much difficulty!

Radio, a Dying Medium(?)

I can only ever recall listening to one radio show, in the car with my dad called “Elliot in the Morning.” I don’t even know what station its on. It’s pretty funny, sometimes inappropriate, and takes callers which I like. I never listen to it by myself but if I’m ever in the car with him on a weekday morning it will most definitely be playing. Needless to say, I don’t know much about radio.

Listening to Ira Glass’s series on radio storytelling shed a lot of light onto broadcast media for me. In part one I learned something that seems to be a theme in college: forget what you learned in high school. Throwing out the heavily structured way we are taught to tell stories allows more freedom and naturalness to come through in the stories we tell. The way Glass describes storytelling, as an anecdote that constantly raises questions and links back to a moment of reflection, resonates with me as the way every good story I have ever encountered is composed. I hadn’t really thought of all the things good stories have in common, and Glass hits it on the head.

In part two  I learned how time is allocated to storytelling. It makes a lot of sense that it takes a long time to find a good story, and that part of the job is setting aside time to look for stories. Especially from a reporter’s point of view, finding a good story is the essence of the job. It surprised me how many stories Glass says get killed. Obviously everything can’t make the final cut, but 1/3 to 1/2 of stories getting killed seems steep to me. Of course, if you are searching a large volume of stories in the first place, maybe this number isn’t so daunting after all. Not all stories can be or deserve to be told.

Part three  connected me to really any creative profession there is. You will not be the best at first, and you night not even be good. Having good taste is the start of success, but hard work and trial and error weed out the bad habits and ideas we once thought were good. Glass claims that everyone in a creative profession goes through this phase, and I have to agree. Having potential is wonderful, but it is not the same as being good. I feel this way a lot because of this class; I know how I want my projects to turn out but I don’t yet have the knowledge or skills to get me to the end product I want. Like Glass says, only practice and volume of work can fix this.

Lastly, part four is basically a lesson on being yourself. No body wants to listen a weird try-hard, so just act natural and be yourself. Talking like a regular human goes a long way, especially in a medium that only showcases voice and sound. Also, it is important to remember the balance of storytelling. There should always be interaction between people, as that is the nature of storytelling itself.

Jad Abumrad makes a few good points on radio as well. He opens by saying that radio doesn’t have images the way tv does, and that that might be off-putting to some. To that some I say: you can’t always be watching tv. Say you are like my dad, who has a long commute and wants to be entertained and not just listen to music, and obviously can’t watch tv while driving. Or maybe you are in the shower and want to listen to a story (assuming you aren’t one of the weirdos who has a tv in the bathroom), that story must come from radio. And what about blind people? Images aren’t everything, people. A good story is more important.

Anyways, Abumrad makes the argument that radio is an intimate medium because it takes a co-authorship of the person being broadcast and the listener to create the story, which inspires an empathy that other forms of media can’t deliver. I do agree that radio can bring people closer together and inspire empathy. He asserts that radio will never die, and after listening to these two men’s opinions, I may join that train as well.

Homework…At The BEACH?!

I know, the title of this post strikes fear into the hearts of even the strongest women. But alas, taking a summer class means this sometimes. This week was tougher than last week because I was away for part of it, but I didn’t let that stop me from daily creating! Although there were more assignments that took longer for me than last week, I enjoyed them.

Each assignment this week was harder for me because of the amount of editing and manipulating photos I had to undertake, whereas week one was more of simply taking the photos. I did enjoy challenging myself and I am proud of what I accomplished and learned this week.

The two animated GIF assignments were really fun to do and relatively easy. The design blitz, on the other hand, was not. Easy, that is. I had to challenge myself to look for design concepts in real life around me. I frequently just forgot to be aware of the designs around me. Other than that, I enjoyed learning about the aspects of design and how they are applied. The Are We There Yet? assignment was the hardest of all the assignments this week. I had to use GIMP, which after several attempts has not gotten much easier to use. Note, it had gotten slightly easier. Just slightly. I actually had to restart that project 3 times because I kept making mistakes and couldn’t figure out how to undo. Oh well. I used Powerpoint a lot this week to edit more simply and put different logos together, which worked pretty well. I will continue to do that if I don’t need anything fancy from GIMP.

Overall, I learned a lot this week. Design has become something more comprehensible and noticeable to me. I have also learned that if I go on vacation again during this course, to finish most if not all of the week’s work before I go.