Happy Holidays From The Photo Asylum!

This second post in my blog - The Padded Cell - in its new spot on the new web site, is not meant to be a Year In Review type of entry.  That will come in the next week or so. And yet, it's hard not to approach the holiday season (in our house Christmas and all that entails) without reflecting a bit on all the trials, tribulations, and accomplishments of the year just past, as well as the exciting hope, potential, and challenges of the one ahead.

So, what better way to sort of sum up all those feelings quickly in a small amount of space (and wish all of you a wonderful holiday season at the same time) than to re-post this short, but sweet  video, The Hlavac Family Christmas Tree Trimming: a stop-motion animation of my decorating our family Christmas tree. I created it about a year ago.

I'll also give you just a quick back story to try to explain its significance to me...

This simple animated film, the very first release from Photo Asylum Moving Pictures, will always be very special to me.

A very very brief history of stop-motion animation
I won't bore you with anything close to the complete history of film animation. That's easy enough to search online. Suffice to say, the simple technique I used to create Christmas Tree Trimming has been around since the turn-of-the-century. And I mean NINETEENTH CENTURY! Before film, the technique existed with drawings and illustrations; the flipbook effect we all enjoyed and played with as kids.

I took a long series of still photographs, adding one bit of decroation to the tree at a time and moving things a tiny bit at a time in between shots. Obviously the camera was on a tripod to prevent any movement in the scene (other than the stop-motion action itself). All the images were eventually stitched together to form an animated sequence. Add background music and credits, and voila!

A quantum leap for me as a filmmmaker
As simple as this project was, it marked a huge step for me in my development as a motion creator, director, and editor. Up to this point, I had merely putzed around with all my new video and audio editing software. Sure, I had sketched out and storyboarded a lot of shots, scenes, and ideas for projects, but had yet to complete, or more importantly - figure out the workflow - of a totally finished video from start to finish. Something that I could publish with pride.

This short labor of love fit the bill on all counts...

Nothing like a deadline to get the ball rolling
What's funny is that I had actually shot the Principle Photography (that's a cool filmmaker's term that sounds really impressive) a year earlier, decorating our tree for Christmas 2012. I put the project off, and once the holidays passed, I didn't see the point of making and publishing this type of video in January of 2013.

So, the folder of stop-motion images sat on my pc harddrive for almost a year...

But as the next Christmas approached, I knew I was ready, and with this subject, time was of the essence! The formidable power of an unforgiving calendar deadline forced me to start figuring out my tools, dive in, and just get it done! Otherwise I would have had to wait another year!

We make the most mistakes the first time around
Anyone that finally gets off the fence and delves into a new craft, hobby, or skill quickly discovers that mistakes abound. You will make them, and the sooner you do (and get them out of the way), the sooner you start to learn and the sooner you get better at whatever it is you are trying to do.

For me, video and audio editing was no different. I screwed up a lot. This is not meant as a tutorial, so I won't bore you with software details, but my most glaring and obvious gaff was to shoot the scene vertically. Now, this is not a hard-fast rule (more of an unwritten one), but I'd guess something like 99% of all published videos (including film and television) are formatted horizontally. Think wide screen. As a long-time still shooter (and movie viewer), I should have known better. I did know better. Why I shot it vertically, I don't know, but when I started editing, it became a quick reminder of one of the first and most important rules of filmmaking:

See everything, plan everything, crop and shoot everything, and edit everything horizontally!

Sound is just as important as sight
One thing I couldn't wait to do, but was fearful of, was adding the music bed. I have a long history of collecting, working with, and understanding music, both what it is and how it relates to the visuals in movies, television, and videos. The audio is often what eventually defines the viewer experience, and can determine whether the finished product is even any good or not.

As my training as an actual musician is little to none, at this point I have to depend on what's called audio loop software. I use SONY's Acid Pro Studio, and it is an amazing digital musical machine. You string together selections (loops) from literally thousands of small samples of pretty much every musical instrument and sound effect under the sun, creating an audio file of whatever style and length you want. Then add it to sync up with the video footage.

This was my first time using that software and technique as well, and again I made plenty of mistakes, but I have to say, I was delighted with the way the music bed eventually turned out.

Humor will always be my MO
For this short, the final piece of the puzzle was the credits. Considering there were none (other than the simple fact that I created it), I made the easy decision to follow the time-honored auteur method and pretentiously list nearly every over-the-top filmmaking credit I could think of. Including some that didn't really exist.

Hopefully my humor will spill over into nearly eveything I do in motion, even client projects, and the added benefit here was making the video funny while also doubling its running length! My final flourish was having the music come to a ridiculous crescendo at the end (in a style that has nothing to do with an American Christmas) to reinforce the absurdity of the moment.

Peace on earth, goodwill towards men and women...
And so, as usual, I make a short story long, but I hope it was a fun look at what the experience of making my first film was like. In a way, it really defined what 2014 meant to me. I promise this coming year will see me completeing much more sophisticated, complex, stylish, and artful videos, and doing it in collaboration with some amazing and talented individuals. But I'll get more into that when the time is right. As always, your comments and suggestions are more than welcome.

In the meantime, please: be kind, be safe, and take care of one another!

Happy Holidays Everyone!