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Things they say (but don’t really mean)

I’ll be honest: this isn’t even remotely one of my best. But it was a vague idea I had swimming around in my head for a few days, and I thought I could just quickly film and edit it.

With a little help from Bonnie.

How to do a Dalek

Once more — and sincere apologies to the five individuals who have been caught up in this — one of those infuriating YouTube tagging games has surfaced, and here I am having to play.

Basically, this time round, I had to make a video of myself at a fictional job interview as I would like it to happen, and this really got me thinking. With a concept like that, there’s not a great deal to do. There were five sentences I had to complete, but none of them gave me any scope to reveal anything about myself particularly: anything new and interesting would have to come from a flight of fancy.

After almost a week of head-scratching, I came up with having myself turn into a monster, but what kind of monster could I do?

To cut a long story short, I went for the Daleks, those iconic monsters of my favourite TV show, Doctor Who. The Daleks are not, as is often supposed, robots, but living creatures encased in sort of personal tanks: not exactly cyborgs, but almost. Their voices are basically organic, but enhanced by some kind of space-age technology, giving them their trademark harsh, grating tones.

To be sure, about 90% of the voice is actually in the performance. The Daleks were created in 1963 by a certain Terry Nation, who based them on his childhood fears of the German Nazis. They have been genetically engineered to remove all compassion, pity and so on, leaving only hatred and (although they claim differently) fear. They are psychotic, and deliver their demands, threats and orders in slightly deranged staccato screeches.

One word of warning: you have to attack the Dalek at 100%, otherwise it will not work, which meant that I spent a good quarter hour (it took several takes to get it right) having a really good rant. My wife says she went outside at that point so that the neighbours didn’t think I was yelling at her.

That done, it still had to be processed to give it that electronically-assisted edge to it. For this, I used Audacity, a freeware sound editor, together with the Killerringer plugin. This is an effect called a “ring modulator”, a digital version of the equipment used for the original Daleks. The file goes in Audacity’s Pluig-Ins folder.

Killerringer is a VST plugin, which some versions of Audacity will support natively; if it doesn’t work, you’ll need the VST Enabler, which also goes into the Plug-Ins folder.

Once you’ve recorded your performance, and have it in an Audacity project, you need to highlight it (or that portion you want to apply the effect to) and select “killerringer” from the “Effects” menu. This gives you a dialogue with three sliders: Root pitch, Speed and Amount. All three need to be set very close to zero: the root pitch can probably be set at zero, the other two around 0.01 or 0.02 — experiment for the best effect.

You’ll never get it sounding exactly right, but if your performance was any good, you should get a reasonable approximation. Once you’ve applied the ring modulation effect, you’ll also need to normalize the audio, otherwise it will be too quiet.

I should point out that the Daleks belong to the Terry Nation estate, so you need to be very careful using this: the estate is extremely protective of Nation’s characters, and if you use the characters in a video, you could be heading for legal problems. Even this video is sailing a little close to the wind — so enjoy it while it’s still up.

What’s the Middle East?

I just decided I wanted to try something a bit different. An actual animation.

Willy Worm is a character I’ve been doodling for many years now, more than I care to remember in fact, but this is the first time he has ever spoken. Being a worm, he sees human culture and tradition from the outside — to be exact, from below, looking up. Everything looks different from that perspective.

The animation is deceptively simple. I start with the body, onto which I first superimpose the eyes, which I can make blink. I then superimpose the mouth: I simply have a range of mouth shapes (smiling, neutral, open wide, tongue sticking out, and so on) which I swap out as necessary, to fit the dialogue. It’s not difficult, but it is fiddly and time consuming.

We’ll see how it goes. I’m sure Willy has potential, but the process of animating him soon gets tedious.

Making “The twit”

Here’s a video that I enjoyed putting together more than most. It was also surprisingly challenging.

It all started with OhCurt’s question about why people are so obsessed with Facebook and Twitter. I’d been thinking about a similar question myself, as I wondered just why so many people seemed to be so keen to make their private lives public. On the face of it, that might seem a bit hypocritical of me, as I make no secret of my identity; but I don’t do what the character in this video does, which is to keep the world updated about everything he does, all the time. This is a guy who’d get out of bed in order to blog the fact that he had a nightmare. I still have a private life, thank you very much.

The concept wasn’t hard to think up, coming as it did quite naturally from OhCurt’s little rant. The finer details of the story took a little while to ferment, but I always knew he’d end up in the bathroom, blogging about the colour of his stools. So, previous to that, he had to eat something iffy. My logical mind then added the rest: coming home from work, and, in order to give the iffy food time to work its magic, relaxing. All the while blogging.

Relaxing in front of the TV seemed to be the normal thing to do, and since this man uses a certain microblogging site (which I won’t name, but we all know what I’m talking about here) to tell everyone every last mundane detail of his boring life, it had to be a boring show. Don’t ask me where nasal singing came from: it just popped into my mind. I wish everything did.

I was going to do the TV documentary voice myself, but one thing I’d like to do is to get other people involved in my movies. This is for several reasons:

  1. It’s much more interesting for viewers, and adds a little variety.
  2. It benefits both me and my collaborators, as we get to be seen (or heard) by each other’s fans.
  3. It fosters a sense of community.
  4. I have had cameos in other people’s videos; if I’m making stuff for other people, other people can make stuff for me.
  5. Just because.

And so I asked Sugartalker to make an audio file for me, and to make it sound as boring as possible.

Really, I’d have been happy with just a monotone read-through, but he crafted a wonderful piece of audio which included some sound effects. I didn’t actually expect ever to hear Brogovarian nasal singing or the mating call of the lesser spotted tripe-warbler — didn’t even think it would be possible — but Sugartalker delivered in spades. This did make it almost twice as long as I needed it, but it was too good to go completely to waste; that’s why the remainder is played out over the end credits.

The most difficult sequence of the whole thing to put together was the first scene, of my character arriving home. There are five different takes involved, and several actions were filmed multiple times from different angles. Now I know what continuity directors are for. It’s surprisingly difficult to remember the small things, like: should my left hand be in my pocket at this point? And don’t ask me how many times I went up and down those steps. After that, the challenge was to edit the whole thing together so that everything flowed smoothly.

Another learning experience was the mad dash down the hallway to the bathroom. That was quite simple, but to get a sense of a mad dash, it’s amazing how much ends up on the virtual cutting-room floor. I ripped open the living-room door and tore down the hallway, but when I played that scene back, there was at least a second between my opening the door (although you couldn’t see the door, you could tell by the light flooding into the hallway) and my actually appearing. I couldn’t have done it faster, but keeping the timing true to the laws of the physical universe as we know it would have brought that mad dash to a snail’s pace on screen. And so you have it: the character hardly has time to rise from the sofa, and a split second later he’s in the hallway, and yet when you watch it, it doesn’t look as if he broke the sound barrier.

And there you have it. This is the kind of stuff I enjoy: it was fun, I learned a lot, and the end result is quite good.

51 things

A little while back, over at YouTube land, a user posted a video in which she showed fifty-one random things she found in her room. Or about the house, or something.

Well, the idea caught on, and now everyone is in on the act. My awesomevloggers colleague CathyDirector even had her 51-things video featured on German YouTube.

Well, that’s one bandwagon I’m not letting pass that easily.