Hacking my first video clip for the "Johnny Magic Video Contest"

Music by Neil Young. All the other images, video are mine. You can find some of the artwork CC'd here ~ flickr.com/photos/bootload/sets/72157615653647365/ and dont forget ELECT RON ~ flickr.com/photos/bootload/3536975269/

Where I discuss how I build a music video. It's not meant to be a high end piece of art. It's simply a response to a challenge to build something. The equipment I've used is basic, the resources minimal. Time was short. The clip is meant to be cheesy, but not lame or tacky. I don't have an old car so I have to somehow invent one. I don't have an electric guitar and a special effects budget. So what do I do? Read on to find out how.

Building a *cheesy* music video

I've never built a video before. I've never had any technical training in video's per say. But I have had technical training in collecting information and cameras. But nothing like this. Where do you begin? Well the first thing I did was write down some quick sketches on paper. An idea. The exact idea isn't important here. What is important is how I proceeded. What I needed was some visual images and video.


I chose the most low cost, commodity priced camera I could get. My plain old Sony Cyber-shot DSCW55. It's battered and held together with gaffer tape. But does the job. Next I needed some image processing software. I run Linux on my machines and while the Gimp works for static images I didn't want to embarrass myself trying to edit video on it. I'd still be trying to install stuff or something would break and I'd have to start again.

So I grovelled and borrowed my sisters Julian Ives designed iMac. This is the first time I've used a Mac since the original one. I has a beautiful 17" screen. I had to adjust my eyes again after using the Mac then moving back to my ASUS 22" MW221u screen. Everything looked blury compared to the mac. I used the pre-installed iMovie. At first I couldn't do a lot of the things I required. Like select section of a clip or join together two pieces of dissimilar footage using wipes. But I soon got the hang of it. What I could not get the hang of was the crappy mouse. It didn't seem to want to grip properly no matter the surface I supplied.

Choice of Operating Systems in editing video matters. But there is also another problem as well. This only became apparent at uploading time. Something I'll explain later.

Then there is the network. I ended up using a cheap USB thumb-drive to transfer telecine and images from one machine to the next. However I did find severe limitations at the at upload time. Hint: a 6Kb/s upload rate isn't going to allow you to upload 80Mb of video quickly.

Gathering visuals

I ended up collecting hundreds of images and many Megabytes of video clips in a couple of different formats. So quickly organise your images by either date or theme. This helps when you come to try and build a clip. Accurate text descriptions and something explaining the shot helps. I systematically added all but the most processed images to flickr. This helped a lot later both to give me a sense of what I had/had not done. Plus it meant I could quickly see things. See things much better than using my clumsy Linux box or using the crappy Mac mouse. This is especially important if you chop videos or artwork up. Be warned do this at the start and avoid wasted time hunting for that particular look you want. Good management of resources pays off in the long run.

Getting the look, cheaply

I knew what I wanted but how do I get the look? I definitely chose to use the optical path. Most of the clip I uses what was shot through the lens at the time with little gimmicks. If I wanted a car with Fins I'd look for them, photograph them myself. I could have just as easily used images released under Creative Commons licenses but this complicates things. One of the reasons I gather obscure images is I can be flexible with respect to copyright.

So how do you build that you see in your mind without spending time or resources chasing the "Moby Dick" of personal visions? I'm a great fan of Alfred Hitchcock. When he produced films he was constrained by time and money and as a result would marshal what resources he had at the time to get his vision across in film. So if I had a problem that needed solving this is the technique I'd use. Need an old car with fins? Well I'll keep an eye open and see if there's any I can shoot. Need some expensive visual effects to make the Freeway footage look interesting? I'll go and take some video footage where I know the light will be automatically pre-processed and shoot it, live. This is risky. Sometimes you will end up with nothing. Another trick is to use static images to punctuate points. This is probably only good for music clips not movies as such but it's worth a look. Static images can be cheaply captured. They can be post-processed. And with a few editing tricks look like a part of the clip. Other times you'll get a result you could never plan for. One example I did plan for was a short clip of some guitar playing. I don't play guitar. But I do play guitar-hero.

Look good cheap: an example

So how do I hack together a good looking guitar solo with no guitar, no special effects? Well I achieved this by using a simple cartooning trick. By placing together several images together your mind joins the gaps and makes things seem real. So firstly I got an image I wanted you to see. This forms the reference point. I want you to see this image (an image I took on Television and processed to look very blue) before my next video clip. Seeing them in order means your mind sees the first image, then the second and thinks image one is creating the second image. But how did I create the guitar playing? I got my guitar from guitar hero. Then used some gaffer tape to tape down a blue light to the neck, closed the blinds and turned on the lights. Then turned up the sound on the stereo and let loose with the camera. By concentrating on the neck and because the room is dark and the guitar is black all you see is the frets. You mind fills in the gaps. This is the trick to making things look good cheaply. Trick the mind and it fills in the gaps. It's not what you put in, it's what is left out. Your mind will do the rest.

Rough cuts

So you have an idea, some good footage what do you do now? Well create a rough cut. A rough cut is really a video sketch. Renaissance painters like Michaelangelo didn't paint his Fresco masterpieces straight off. Instead he first did many, many rough sketches first. Only when he'd finished a rough sketch would he move to anything near paint. Video is no exception. I organised what I wanted to shoot visually with a pen and paper, broke the images into numbers then proceeded to visually with the software. Macs, iMovie in particular is a superior piece of software. It lets you lay down your images one at a time and play with the results. Once you have what you consider is something like what your vision, finalise the result. Then leave if for a day. Why do this? Well come back in a day and you will see any holes in your ideas. It allows you to make decisions on what works and what does not. That's all. You might have to repeat this a number of times. Don't waste time.

Final cut editing

By this time you should have a good idea of what you want to achieve. You should also have some usable artwork and clips. From the rough you assembled you now have the technical information you need. Timing, sequencing of images. If you don't have a good idea, no amount of quality visuals will make up for this. The final editing should be there to really fine tune you "rough cut" ideas. The biggest problem I found with the final editing is the start, the end and the tying together of different image sequences. You need to have the final image in your head to make things look smooth. All the transitions have to look as if they tie together. The same with the start and ending. The start image has to sum up the whole video in one frame. The end image has to enforce this. Always make a couple of versions of your released work. In my case I created a low-fi and a hi-fi version. The former being roughly half the download of the later.

Finish up

Think you've finished? Well think again. The most critical point, the uploading exposed a huge hole in my computer system, bandwidth and browsers. Firstly my Firefox Linux browser is a poor cousin to it's Windows and Mac brothers. I simply could not functionally upload images because of the use of Flash. When it came time to upload the 80Mb of uploads I resorted to using an Internet Cafe'.

The first since '94.

First published at flickr.com/photos/bootload/3532793986/

Loading more stuff…

Hmm…it looks like things are taking a while to load. Try again?

Loading videos…