Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Mini Drag Show: "A Drag Queen and Her Seal"

Last week I realized that I'd temporarily lost my grip on my own destiny. I felt no sense of purpose and didn't know what to do. After a few days of moping around and staring out the window, I settled in and created this: an epic video starring Schnapps the Seal.

I think it stands pretty well on its own, but here's the whole background, if you're interested.

What Came Before

Last month I was tapped by my company to help create a "demo reel" for one of our products. I was given a script to read, and in addition I was asked to create the music to accompany the demo. It was a challenge I threw myself into.

I figured this would be a good chance to explore Logic Studio's huge collection of Apple Loops, and I discovered that they ARE useful. It still takes a lot of skill to mix and match the loops, but that's only the beginning...if you really want the project to sound good you need to do extensive editing of the loops themselves.

The result was a darn fine demo reel, and a song called "Buy Our Sexy G-7." My company has complete ownership of the reel so I can't post the material independently, but once they post it online I'll provide a sneaky link to it.

"A Drag Queen and Her Seal"

I scribbled down some simple dialog last Thursday, with a few basic ideas but no actual storyboards. I've realized that I HATE doing storyboards. In addition I wanted this project to be totally free of copyright infringement...all me, including the music.

Friday night -- before heading out to Club Abstract -- I spent an hour recording all the footage. It was incredibly hectic. I realized how hard it is to say lines to an impersonal plate of cotton balls, especially when you're a piss-poor actor. I switched a few things around at the last minute. I forgot to record one punchline entirely. I got awfully tired of having a seal puppet on my arm.


Really, iMovie is not such a terrible (free) movie editor, if you're willing to work in an entirely linear way (with no overlaps). I felt restricted by the choice of titles and transitions, but it's not like the rest of the video was particularly spiffy. Most annoying was the terrible hiss picked up by my Cannon SD1000 "Power Shot"'s apparently due to kamikaze electrons, but I just chalk it up to "cheap internal microphone."

During editing I realized how much I'd benefit from having a second person around during the filming. I pronounced Schnapps' name differently at the beginning and the end, and my "clever" substitution of a vodka bottle for a Moscow Pride weapon (as opposed to a flip-flop, the original choice), made it look like *I* had bludgeoned Schnapps in the preceding scene. Oh well, ambiguity and mysteries!


The hiss on the audio was really terrible. Once I'd "picture-locked" the edit I exported the audio and played with it in Logic Studio, but none of the plug-ins made a noticeable difference.

Then I discovered a denoising tutorial for Soundtrack Pro -- a utility which comes with Logic Studio -- explaining how to take a "noise pattern" snippet from your audio and use it to cancel the noise in the rest of your clip. I'd never used Soundtrack Pro before -- and I can't see myself using it for anything but this, particularly because its shortcut keys are totally different from Logic -- but its noise cancellation thingy did a pretty good job. There's still some hiss in the video but it isn't quite so bad.


So I exported the denoised audio from Soundtrack Pro and brought it into Logic Studio, along with the video clip, and I got to work on the music.

One problem with not having a professional video editing system -- or a bunch of people all working on the video together -- is that it's difficult to cue music to video AFTER it's been cut, especially when you're a non-musician working with a strict temp. Sometimes a video transition happens in the middle of a bar.

But that isn't really important, because I've realized -- both in this project and the demo reel project -- that soundtrack music is both subliminal and terribly important. You're not supposed to notice it -- though this "Schnapps" video is deliberately campy in that way -- but if it's not there then everything is flat and boring.

Anyway, about the loops and sound effects. Soundtrack Pro comes with two gigs of foley-type effects that I thought I'd never use...but just like the Apple loops, I've discovered how useful they are for quick and dirty (and low-expectation) projects. Want a crowd noise? Grab from the two dozen ones available on the DVD! They even have a collection of screams that are lots of fun and quite distinctive.

Since I was doing this video project for myself -- and was therefore unconcerned with an even remotely professional result -- I finally decided it was "good enough," even if it sounds a bit thin and unfinished (particularly near the end). Still, I think it worked out pretty well, and I'm amazed that an hour of filming and approximately ten hours of post-production have yielded a nifty little video.

Most important are the lessons I've learned. There's nothing like an enforced project to force you to learn your applications better. I'm ready for the NEXT video...but what will it be?


Mantelli said...

That is absolutely adorable.

Adam Thornton said...

Thanks! Schnapps really IS a cute puppet.

Gary said...

That's an awful lot of work. But I love a happy ending!

The world travel dress-up reminded me of a Wendy's commercial from some time back, in which a plump woman wore outfits (or had props) with one-word Russian-sounding sound bites (with a beach ball: "Swimwear"); (with a flashlight: "Eveningwear"), etc.

But what you did here was great.

I'd love to see what you created for your paying job!