A New Angle

Hello, everyone! As we’re focusing on films and film making, this week, it’s worth starting with an article written by the late Roger Ebert, How to Read a Movie.

Mr. Ebert starts his article by describing one of the methods of teaching film analysis back when he taught film at the University of Chicago in 1969; he would pause whatever film they were watching to allow his students, or anyone else who wanted to participate, to discuss whatever occurred to them about that particular scene or the film, as a whole. Mr. Ebert mentions that, when analyzing a film, “it helps to have a grounding in basic visual understanding,” which he admits he didn’t have much of when he was first hired as a film critic by the Sun-Times; this leads him into the main meat of the article, where he begins by describing a concept called “intrinsic weighting,” which he learned from Louis D. Giannetti’s book, Understanding Movies.

Mr. Giannetti’s idea of “intrinsic weighting” refers to the way in which a scene of a film is composed, visually–how the camera is angled, who/what’s in the foreground or the background, etc.–and how that affects the overall tone or mood of the scene. For example, according to both Mr. Ebert and Mr. Giannetti, a character who is standing to the left within the frame might be cast in a more negative light, whereas a character who is standing closer to the right might be cast in a more positive light; a camera angle from above the character or characters makes them appear smaller, more insignificant, while a camera angle from below may make them appear almost god-like; so on and so forth.

Like a few weeks ago, in regards to design and photography, I never really thought that much about why a filmmaker might compose a particular shot the way they do, other than because it simply looks the best, to them. I had an idea about how camera angels and lighting affected the overall tone of a scene, but it never occurred to me how the way a scene might be blocked or weighted might also have that kind of affect. I wish I could say that that kind of thing makes sense, in hindsight, but I never really paid that much attention to how a scene is weighted, when watching movies. But I’ll be sure to be more on the lookout for that, in the future–both when watching movies and when making them.

Sound Off – part 4

Hello, everyone! This is the story of what it might be like if The Beatles never broke up (based on the alternate history story I told, last week):

I grabbed all of the sounds and the music from Freesound.org and the Free Music Archive, with the exception of my own voice, which I recorded on my computer using a plug-in microphone. I recorded my voice over in my computer’s pre-installed voice recording software, and that and all of the background tracks were edited in Audacity. Each paragraph of my script was its own (series of) individual takes, which were then edited together into one singular track in Audacity.

I wanted to make mention of the fact that The Beatles’ music would most likely continue to evolve, throughout the decades, and how audiences might react to their continuous evolution, with some criticizing them for always changing their sound, and others defending them for their experimentation, but I wasn’t sure how to convey that through only sound and no dialogue, so I decided to marry the two. I used the same music cue at the very beginning and the very end to add some tonal consistency, as well as little samples of instruments and crowds cheering in places (the latter of which I looped three times) to illustrate certain points. I wanted to avoid using actual Beatles songs, for fear of being blocked for copyright, which is why I used free, public-domain tracks.

I also tried to avoid using the first-person, in my narration, to ensure that the story sounded like it was being told by an omniscient and unbiased narrator, like the stories told by The Truth podcast, which I listened to, earlier this week. At first, however, I did think about using the first-person to make it seem like I, the narrator, was actually experiencing this alternate reality–I talked about how I was hyped for The Beatles’ next album, set to drop some time in the fall of this year, and that I would ask for it for my birthday–but in the end, I decided against it.

Like I feared, recording my lines was one of the hardest parts; most of the paragraphs required multiple takes, often because I either stumbled over words or in some cases I thought I sounded drunk! I definitely need more practice reciting lines, especially since I want to do online reviews someday, as a hobby, which will of course require me to read lines off of a script. In the end, though, I am mostly satisfied with the final results of my narration, as well as the track, as a whole.

Sound Off – part 3

Hello, everyone! I made a recording of myself performing a tongue twister as fast as I could, and set it to some music:

The tongue twister in question goes, “Send toast to ten tense, stout saints’ ten tall tents.” The background music is a track I found on the Free Music Archive, “Glouglou,” by Komiku. I found the image of the tent from Pixabay.

I looked for tongue twisters on tongue-twister.net. I thought about trying “I saw Susie sitting in a shoe shine shop…” and “How can a clam cram in a clean cream can,” but in the end I decided to do “Send toast…” simply because I liked how it sounded the best, and I didn’t want to do anything I was too familiar with, like “Peter Piper.”

I recorded myself using the voice recorder app already installed in my computer, with the aid of a small microphone I could plug into my computer. I honestly lost track of how many times I recorded myself trying to say the tongue twister, but it must’ve taken at least 15 tries before I got it a take that was satisfactory. I edited both the vocal track and the background music in Audacity.

I did find it a bit challenging to figure out how to mix the music track with the vocal track–the background track was pretty loud, so I had to reduce the gain on that and bring up the gain on the vocals, but I don’t think it’s quite perfect. I also tried to cut the background track at just the right time, which was also a bit challenging, but I did manage to figure that out eventually (after a lot of cutting tiny increments of the track).

I found actually saying the tongue twister to be a challenge, too, and I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to say it fast enough without stumbling over my words, which is something I occasionally do, even when talking at a normal speed! I know that, out of the at least 15 takes of my trying to say the tongue twister, I had to stop part-way through and trash the take because I mixed up words and sounds, which was frustrating. Luckily, though, I was able to say it without messing up most of the time; it was just a matter of the recording sometimes not picking up the first second of audio, or me not saying it fast enough to satisfy me.

Hopefully, this assignment and the alternate history audio narrative will help me with speaking better and more clearly, since that’s always been something I’ve been self-conscious about. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Sound Off – part 2

Hello, everyone! I am a woman of simple tastes: there are certain specific sounds that warm me up inside, more than most other sounds, and I have made a compilation of sorts of those exact sounds:

The sounds, in order, are a kitten meowing, a train whistle going off, a thunder storm, and waves crashing against a beach.

I collected all of the sounds heard on this track from freesound.org, and I edited them together in Audacity. When I first uploaded this track, Soundcloud blocked it thinking that they heard audio–specifically, the thunder part–from a copyrighted track; I didn’t bother with trying to dispute it, so I redid the whole thing and replaced the specific track with a completely different thunder effect.

Layering and arranging each track was probably the most difficult part of editing this project; I spent some time trying to figure out how to make sure each transition was smooth, and each track was equal in length as well as audible.

I’ve loved cats for a long time, at least ever since we got our first cat, Willie, and I love the sound of a cat, and the sound of a kitten, meowing; I don’t really know what to say about it other than I just find the sound to be so dang cute! The sound of a train whistling and rolling by gives me a sense of nostalgia, since my family and I lived near trains for a long time–near an actual train, and near the choo-choo trains in the theme park that was literally right next to our neighborhood. While rainstorms do tend to make me lethargic, the sound of the rain hitting the windows and the rooftops, along with the distant rumble of the thunder, also inspire a sense of calm within me, as well. The beach is also nostalgic, for me, since we go to the Eastern Shore and then travel to Assateague beach, almost every summer.

In the end, I guess it does seem a little cliche to list these particular sounds as the ones that make me the feel warm and fuzzy, but they just do. They make me feel relaxed and remind me of happy memories, and make me want to cuddle up with my cats (even if they wouldn’t be as into it).

Sound Off – part 1

Hello, everyone! I would like to share with you all my sound effects story, about a person who stops an alien invasion and saves the world from certain destruction:

The narrative opens with someone walking down a busy street, on their way to work, when a flying saucer arrives and begins attacking, causing everyone else to run away in a panic. The protagonist then pulls out a blaster and starts firing at the aliens, who themselves retreat out of fear. The civilians cheer as soon as the alien ship is gone.

I downloaded all of the sounds used in this track from freesound.org, and edited them all together in Audacity. There were a couple of sounds (such as the applause heard at the very end) that were .wav files that I had to convert to mp3, in iTunes. The three laser blasts heard towards the end are actually all the same sound effect, which I duplicated in Audacity. I ended up using a total of eight different sound effects, for this track.

I knew that I wanted to make something more interesting than just an audio narrative about some average Joe getting up in the morning and going to work, but at first I wasn’t sure what else to do; I thought about starting with someone getting up in the morning and then falling down the stairs, at the end, but I didn’t want to risk doing something that someone else might have done, so I decided on an alien invasion, instead.

For me, the hardest part about this particular project was familiarizing myself with Audacity and figuring out how to arrange all of the tracks how I wanted them; beyond that, this assignment was both fun and not too difficult, interestingly enough–even though we’re all probably more familiar with audio/visual narratives, I found creating a story with only sound effects came pretty easily, to me.

Halfway Through the Week, Halfway Through the Semester

Hello, everyone! We are officially halfway through this semester!

So far, I’ve completed the daily creates for Tuesday and Wednesday:

Tuesday’s daily create was to create a wish list for a specific historical figure, and I chose to compose one for William Shakespeare. At first, I wanted to create a wish list for the Greek goddess Persephone, but then I realized that the prompt most likely referred to real historical figures; I also tried to make my wish list with Autodesk Sketchbook, and, while it did work well enough, I felt that it would be better to create a wish list filled with specific items, as opposed to “a poetry book,” “an inkwell,” etc. I used the screen capture software I recently downloaded to take a picture of the list, and then cropped it a bit.

Then I completed today’s daily create prompt, which was to create a mind map of things that are important to you; like I said in my tweet, I just mapped out the things that I like, in general. The list shown is pretty non-exhaustive, and pretty much just consists my favorite things that I could immediately think of, off the top of my head. Like with the wish list, I took a screenshot of the map and then cropped it.

An Intro to Audio Storytelling

This week, we’re focusing on storytelling without any visual aids, and only with audio (voices, sound effects, etc). I went over the audio resources page, watched the two videos by Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad, and then listened to the episode of The Truth podcast, “Moon Graffiti;” I discussed all of the above in my previous two posts.

Audio is pretty much storytelling in its most basic form: no pictures, no writing (except maybe a script), only the sounds of the narrator’s voice and ambient background noise and underscore. These elements together can create something just as evocative and immersive as a written story, if not more so, since the only thing missing from an audio story is a picture, which the listener can create themselves, in their mind’s eye. Additionally, the inflection of the speaker’s voice can help generate certain emotions, such as fear or intrigue–reading text on a page can certainly have that kind of affect, too, but the emotions generated by listening to an audio story can be stronger, due to how the speaker reads and recites their lines.

I mentioned before that I do actually have a bit of experience recording audio, though mostly for other classes. However, back when my older sister and I were kids, we used to record our voices with our family’s shared computer while reading various comics I had written and drawn, which I would then upload to the old blog I used to run (and which I never want to look at again). Those little recordings don’t really count as audio storytelling since they involved actual pictures and there was no other background noise or music to add extra atmosphere to accompany our voices, but at least I figure I’m not going into recording audio completely blind, even if my experience with it is extremely basic. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I do have a bit of experience editing audio for video, but that’s really about it.

I am both excited and a little nervous about creating an audio-only story, since I’m far more experienced with telling stories through written-words and pictures. I like the aspect of learning how to tell a story in a way that’s new to me, and how to execute that story with additional sounds and music, but I also worry about how I’ll be able to pull it off effectively, even with all the resources and tutorials at my disposal. But that’s pretty much true of trying anything new, right? In any case, I feel more excited than nervous, since, again, I do have plenty of resources to turn to, if I ever get stuck–both the ones recommended on Canvas, and the resources I find on my own, such as the episodes of Rik Mayall’s Bedside Stories, which I referenced in the previous post. I look forward to figuring it out.

Bedtime Stories

Hello, everyone! Yesterday, I listened to the episode by The Truth podcast titled “Moon Graffiti.” The episode detailed an imaginary scenario revolving around a real letter meant to be read by then-president Richard Nixon, in the event that astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong failed to make it back from their mission to the Moon in 1969. The spacecraft piloted by Mr. Aldrin and Mr. Armstrong crashes as they attempt to land on the Moon’s surface, and is damaged to the point where they are unable to contact Mission Control and are unable to return to Earth, thus dooming them to die on the Moon. It’s a frightening scenario, to say the least, made even more so by the use of dialogue and realistic sound, to add to the immersion.

The dialogue between the two actors who voice Mr. Aldrin and Mr. Armstrong is pretty realistic, and shows the pair’s devotion to their mission, despite knowing that they’re going to die in a matter of hours as their air supply runs out. The filtering over their voices to give the impression that they’re speaking through devices in their helmets as well as the ambient sounds as they hop around the Moon’s surface help the illusion even further. The same techniques of adding sound effects and dialogue to a story to add a sense of realism and immersion can be seen (or rather heard) in the edited example of Radiolab’s Detective Stories podcast from the audio resources page on Canvas, which I also talked about in a previous blog post:

Listening to both of these examples also remind me of a series of audio stories I used to listen to on YouTube, called Rik Mayall’s Bedside Stories; while they’re all only performed by one person, English actor and comedian Rik Mayall, many of them use ambient music and sound effects to establish mood and draw the listener in to the world where the story takes place.

All three of these examples, while each telling very unique stories, use sound to evoke various imagery–the surface of the Moon, a parking lot, a train station–and emotions–fear, curiosity, love–for the listener, and all three do so quite effectively. I’ll be sure to follow their examples when creating my audio narrative.

The Sound and the Fury – Considering Audio Storytelling

Hello, everyone! Earlier this week, I looked at various resources related to audio storytelling; a page on Canvas detailing various software, such as Audacity and LAME, to help record and edit sound, as well as various sources to help find royalty-free sound effects to help enhance one’s audio story to make it more immersive; then, I looked at two videos by Radiolab’s Jad Abumrad, who describes the concept of creating a sense of empathy between the speaker and the listener with the aid of audio storytelling, and then the marriage of the ancient art of storytelling and modern technology, thanks to radio and podcasts.

Mr. Abumrad’s video about creating empathy and “co-imagining” in particular reminds me of a passage from a book I read last semester for a writing about writing class I took; the book was about writing (primarily writing fiction) by author Stephen King, and in this one passage, he described how the reader and the author can engage in a sort of telepathy through the author’s writing.Likewise, in the case of audio storytelling, the narrator and the listener share a sort of telepathic connection through the narrator’s words. This was a parallel that I never considered before, even though it’s actually quite obvious when you take a moment to think about it.

I also find that there’s truth in what Mr. Abumrad says regarding how there’s still something “old-fashioned,” for lack of a better term, and traditional about audio storytelling, even if the means of projecting said story (e.g. through radio or podcast) are very modern. When you think about it, storytelling itself hasn’t really changed all that much, over all these millennia; the biggest difference, I think, is that, instead of sharing stories with only a small group of people, they can be shared with thousands of people at a time, and they’re all free to listen whenever they want, at any pace they want thanks to technology like radios and computers.

Experiences with Audio

As for my personal experience recording and editing audio, I have done both on occasion, in the past–sometimes for various different classes, sometimes just for fun. My laptop computer comes with its own voice recording software that I’ve mostly just used, up to this point, so my knowledge of actually editing audio recordings is fairly limited, beyond simply trimming the lengths of recordings and adjusting audio levels in video editing software.

I have wanted to record my own voice for entertainment purposes (i.e. creating reviews on the internet using drawings of myself instead of my actual face) for quite some time, and I have my own external microphone for the purpose of recording audio, and as such, I plan on using that to record myself for the purpose of audio storytelling.

I did write and perform an audio poem for my poetry class, last semester, but it didn’t involve quite as much additional sound and editing as what we’re going to be doing this week. I look forward to learning about how to effectively add and edit sound to create a more immersive audio story.

Week 2: Electric Boogaloo

Hello, everyone! Another week has finally passed–it feels like it’s gone by extremely quickly and lasted 1000 years, at the same time!

Since my mid-week post, I completed three design assignments: the alternate book cover assignment, the alternative history assignment, and the superhero design assignment. I also completed the daily create prompts for Saturday and Sunday. In addition, I left comments on three separate posts on the blogs Meraki, CPSC106 | Greg Phillips, and Storytime.

While my alternate book cover assignment is my favorite, for this week, I think my alternative history assignment post is more worth focusing on, for this week:

The Story:

The Beatles’ music style would have continued to change and evolve, if they had stayed together, just as it always had. They would continue to experiment with new sounds (and perhaps new drugs), probably never settling on one particular style for too long. They would still be extremely popular, and their 2019 European / US tour would be almost completely sold-out.

How I Did It:

I actually took some of the techniques I used while designing my book cover to come up with this fake tour poster; the image I had first wanted to use for the cover stopped abruptly, so I added a gradient effect to make the transition between the end of the photo itself and the bottom of the page to look more smooth, which was what I did with the tour poster, as I mentioned in its respective post. I also took some tips regarding complimentary fonts from the book cover and the design tips from Canva (I did’t actually use that site while designing this poster, but I did take pairing a serif title font with a sans serif body font like the site advised to heart).

Overall:

I did think a lot about the aspects of color and text, in terms of designing, during the latter half of this week, while during the first half I was more focused on the aspects of design, as a whole. From the colors I chose for my superhero’s costume, to the color of the text I chose for my book cover, to the fonts I chose for both that and the poster. I’ll definitely try to pay more attention to the choices professional designers make, regarding book covers, advertisements, and the like, to see how they implement the principles of design. That sort of thing is what I like about learning about things like design: they make me pay more attention to things I might not have, before (or at least not as much).

I think that’s about it for this week. Until next time, here’s to an even better 3rd week!

The Beatles 2019 Europe / US Tour

Hello, everyone! In my mid-weekly post, I answered the question regarding what might happen if The Beatles had never broken up. I wasn’t quite sure how to translate that into an image–at first I thought about editing photos of John Lennon and George Harrison and edit them to look as old as Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr–but eventually I decided to design a poster to promote a tour across Europe and America, taking place in 2019, since I figure that, if they hadn’t broken up when they did, at the very least Paul and Ringo would still be making music and touring together (I also thought that there would be a distinct possibility that at least John Lennon would be alive, too, but I really don’t know).

I downloaded a free photo of The Beatles and edited it in both MediBang and Autodesk Sketchbook. I used Medibang to make the canvas larger and to add the gray color, and because the original image cut off abruptly when the canvas was made bigger, I added a gradient effect, too. Afterwards, I added the text in Autodesk Sketchbook (the font choices in MediBang leave a little to be desired, in my opinion); as I learned over this past week, I tried to mix and match fonts, this time a serif font for the title and a sans serif font for the body text. As far as I’m aware, you can only change the size of the text in Sketchbook by touching the computer’s touchscreen with two of your fingers, so making the two columns match in terms of size was really difficult, and I don’t think I got it exactly right.

I chose this particular prompt–what if The Beatles never broke up?–for a couple of reasons: 1) I thought that this particular prompt seemed a bit more positive than “What if we lost WWII?” or “What if the Cuban Missile Crisis escalated?” And 2) I’m a little more familiar with The Beatles than I am with the likes of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, so I feel like this was more “appropriate,” for lack of a better word, than the others.

It is nice to think about positive alternative histories. I feel like we could use some extra positivity in this world.

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