Week 6: Video Final

Over the past few weeks I have worked in a team on a video project that addresses littering around New York City.  First we came up with a storyboard that follows a couple on a date though New York City.  On their date they witness someone blatantly littering in front of them.  Although the couple is disgusted, they do not take any action and just walk away. As they continue on their date, they witness more and more instances of trash accumulating on the streets of New York.  Finally, they arrive at their stoop which is covered in trash, making it difficult for them to get into their house.  At this point the film rewinds to the initial seen where they witnessed someone littering.  This time, the couple picks up after the litterer and puts his trash in a receptacle.  The film ends with a message about how your actions matter, so everyone should pick up their trash.  

Once we had this storyboard, we dissected each scene to determine the angles, camera views and locations we needed for each shot.  From there we came up with a filming plan.  The plan ordered the scenes based on location.  Each scene had notes on what we needed to remember while filming and how we would like to film the shot.  

From here we were ready to film.  We followed our plan however, each shot ended up taking longer than we anticipated so we ended up shooting over three days.  Since our scenes were filmed in a variety of locations, we ended up having to move around a lot while we were filming.  This only added to our filming time.  We also tried to stick to three takes for each shot in order to create the best footage. This of course took some time.  The hardest thing to keep track of during the shooting was the inconsistencies between shots.  Since all of our filming was done in public places, we could not control the people in the background of our shots.  We ended up waiting for people to pass us before filming however it was impossible to eliminate all of the inconsistencies.  Of course, with an cast of extras, this problem would have not been as apparent.  The differences between lighting and color each day of filming created an additional difficulty.  In the end, we had to color correct quite a bit in the editing phase in order to get a consistent color throughout the film. 

The editing phase was completed in two parts.  First each team member created a rough cut on their own.  The point of this was to have multiple versions with different scene orders.   We watched each rough cut and chose the one we liked the most.  From here we divided up the work.  One team member completed finer edits on the rough cut between each shots, one person collected songs and background sounds, and the third person wrote and recorded the narration. Once we had all of these pieces we worked together to put them all together.  We then added the title slides, color corrected the scenes and added transitions where we thought they were needed.  As we were editing we constantly watched the film over and over.  When we were toward the end of the edits, we were all struggling with two aspects of the piece.  First we thought that the transition from walking up the stoop to the rewind scene was too abrupt.  No matter what effect we added to it, the change felt unnatural.  In the end we decided to create our own transition.  We used the pause, rewind and play symbols to create a smoother transition for the viewer.  These symbols helped to orient the viewer before the quick rewind.  Another place we thought could use some improvement was in the transition we were trying to create with the change in the song.  When the song changes we wanted the film to change from positive to negative as the scenes fill more with trash.  We initially thought that the song change would create enough of a transition but it turned out to be a bit too abrupt.  Thus we decided to play around with other effects to emphasize this change in the mood of the film.  In the end, we added a black and white filter to the scenes that are supposed to feel more grim.  Thus, we had visual and audial cues to the viewer that things were getting worse. 

In the end, the final product followed the plan set out by the storyboard.  In the editing phase we made some adjustments that ultimately helped to get the story across more clearly.  The hardest aspect of creating a short video like this was to make sure the message was clear. Since we had no dialog, the filmography, the narration, the songs and the edits needed to come together to cohesively send a message.  At times it felt difficult to judge whether the message was clear enough because we knew the story we were trying to tell and we saw it so many times.  It likely would have been better if we tested the video on more people to ensure the basic story was conveyed.  Overall, though, I am satisfied with how the video came out.  The collaboration process of this project was time consuming but very successful.  I feel that my teammates and I worked well together and each pulled our weight.  In a project like this one, a lot of time has to be carved out to work together.  We divided jobs where we could, but a lot of the work ended up being completed together.  As a team we were all very present and willing to collaborate together throughout the process.  I would definitely work with this team again in the future. 

See the final video below:

Week 3: Video Storyboard

For our storyboard, we decided to send a message about how important it is to properly throw away trash and recycle. Our story will follow a couple on a date through New York City.  On their way, they experience gradually worse examples of people not caring about how they remove their trash. The film will begin with scenic images of the couple sitting in places like the Brooklyn Bridge Park and Prospect Park.  Then they will witness someone eating and tossing wrappers and food on the ground. They are bothered by this but choose to ignore them and continue on their date. The scenery gradually changes from beautiful images of the city to trash-filled examples of the city. Their date ends at a trash-filled stoop.  They have to climb up their stoop over the piles of trash. As they climb, the film rewinds to the scene of the person dropping wrappers on the ground. This time the couple confronts this person and asks them to put their trash into a receptacle. The film ends with a message on the screen about our future and the importance of getting rid of trash properly.

The following images show our storyboard…

Week 3: Soundwalk Critique Reflection

The soundwalk critique in class today allowed me to take a step back from the piece I worked on and explore its successes, failures, and how it could be improved.  For the most part, people were satisfied with the level of instruction that we provided in our soundwalk.  Our choice to not have any papers and use narration to guide the listener was a good one.  This created less distraction and focused the user on the sounds and visuals we were trying to expresses.  During our process, we consciously took time to minimize our narration and say things in as few words as possible while still directing the user.  We ultimately tested this script on two people to make sure the little narration was enough.  The time we took to craft this narration certainly paid off.  The biggest flaw in our project was the pacing.  As I observed people completing our walk, I noticed the pace was different than the other sound walks we went on.  The first window seemed to be paced well, but from there on the sound skipped ahead.  Since people were trying to catch up, some of the subtle meanings were lost later in the soundwalk.  It is fascinating how the presence of others slows down the pace that people walk.  We user tested the soundwalk with one person, not a group, so the pacing was not aligned with the slower speed of a group of people.  I also thought the discussion on delivery with regard to our piece was interesting.  While some aspects of the walk were clear, others were not delivered properly and thus were lost on the listener.  For instance, in the first window, the juxtaposition of the bustling city with the image of the green forest was received by the rest of the class.  However, the sound associated with the hanging extension cords was less effective.  I also think that the sounds on our walk were more sporadic than others in the class which made the editing more difficult and resulted in a slightly choppy sounding piece.  In addition, I like the ambiguity and individuality that is associated with soundwalks.  I appreciate that we can all listen to the same soundwalk and feel different emotions as a result.  However, our soundwalk could have used a little more of a story or message that carried you though the piece.  Perhaps the overall meanings that we were trying to evoke were a bit too subtle and abstract.  In the end, people like different types of soundwalks.  Our fast paced, narrated soundwalk may no be for everyone but it was interesting and evoked unique meanings for others.  

Throughout this process, the collaboration was general successful.  We had a great team who were all engaged and present at every meeting.  We set a goal for every time we met, and did a great job sticking to those goals.  We also made use of our time apart when we could and divided up the work when possible.  One area where we could have improved was in the editing process.  The night before we met to edit it together, Caroline sorted all the recordings into a Audition session so it was ready to edit the next day.  As a result, the session was on her computer so Caroline ended up doing most of the edits in Audition while we watched, listened, and discussed what needed to be changed.  I ended up taking control of later edits which was great, but I think we could have done a better job overall of splitting up who was actually working with the computer while we were editing all together.  

Week 2: NYU Tisch 8th Floor Soundwalk

Over the past two weeks, I made a sound walk with three fellow ITP students that takes place on the 8th floor of the NYU Tisch building.  The experience of making this soundwalk was challenging from both a technical and artistic perspective.  This was my first time using any sound equipment.  To take my recordings, I used a zoom recorder and the microphones that come with the recorder.  Getting the right sound without any noise can be very challenging and often requires better microphones than the ones attached to the zoom recorder.  The Audition editing software was also new for me, so this provided an additional learning curve.  From an artistic perspective I found it challenging to convey a meaning or direction to the user using sound cues during the soundwalk.  We had ideas about where people would look, but moving there attention where we wanted it to go through sound cues meant careful planning.  In the end, our execution of this was certainly not perfect. 

When we began this process, we walked through the Tisch building as a group and tried to find an area that we found interesting.  We eventually decided that the 8th floor would be the location of our soundwalk. We then walked through the space and created a general map of the things that stood out to us.  We noticed connections though the space that interested us like the green in the buildings out the windows and the theme of McDonalds out the first window and on the wall in a photograph. We then made a list of all the sounds we needed to collect for our sound walk and split them up.  We met again after gathering the recordings to write a script for the narration part of the soundwalk.  We worked hard on only putting narration where we thought it was absolutely necessary, and tried to let the soundwalk guide you as much as possible.  From there, we found someone who works on that floor and narrated the script to her as she walked through the space (Figure 1).

  Figure 1 : User testing the script

Figure 1: User testing the script

This gave us great insight on where we needed more direction.  It also helped that we tested this out with someone who worked on the floor because she made some suggestions that we would not have known otherwise.  For instance, she told us that they were about to change the artwork on the walls so we had to make sure that the artwork that we pointed out on the soundwalk would stay.  Next, we recorded the script and organized the clips in a general order.  We met a final time to edit the clips and plan out the timing.  It was important for us to do this on the 8th floor so that we could walk through as we edited to time out each section properly.  Finally, we user tested the soundwalk with a fellow ITP student to ensure it worked the way we had envisioned.

Our soundwalk takes you through the 8th floor of the Tisch building and picks up on themes, sounds, and images that fill the space.  While looking out the first window, we play noises that reappear later in the walk.  When you see the water tower you hear water sounds,  when you see the McDonalds building you hear a crunch sound like someone is eating a french fry, when you notice the green in all the buildings you hear a light switch sound.  All of these noises and images repeat later in the walk.  We then play with the contrast of the bustling city outside and the serene image on the wall next to the window.  We then move the listener down a creaky hallway, amplifying the real creaks with the creak recordings. Later, as the listener is drinking water, we whisper the words “the single self” as those words come into view on the physical wall in front of you. The whole sound walk ends very abruptly on purpose.  We wanted the listener to feel a little lost and a sense of, “whats next,” when the recording ended.  They are physically at the end of a hallway, alone, so the abrupt ending is meant to leave you feeling stranded and confused. 

This process of making this soundwalk gave me a huge appreciation for the soundwalk I previously went on in central park.  Sound is a powerful tool but our brains are very good at deciphering real sounds from recordings.  It is thus, hugely challenging to create a soundwalk that tricks your mind into confusing reality with recordings.  Not only do the sounds need to be well recorded, but the edits and transitions need to be flawless to get this type of result.  Timing also needs to be a carefully orchestrated part of the soundwalk.  If the timing is off, you can loose the focus of your listener.  This is why it would have been even better if we had user tested on more than just two people.  Evoking meaning and pointing out subtle themes adds another level of complexity to a soundwalk.  I found that the timing of certain sounds required precision in order to convey the proper feeling or meaning.  These subtle adjustments could make or break a soundwalk.  Overall, I enjoyed this experience to explore and learn from/with my classmates.  While not perfect, the soundwalk resembles the original idea we had.  With some more edits, perhaps a clearer meaning could be conveyed and our classmates could experience what we experienced during our first meeting. 

You can find the soundwalk at this link.

Week 1: Soundwalk

This week I experienced Janet Cardiff’s sound walk experience, Her Long Black Hair which guides you through the lower part of Central park.  Through the walk Janet takes you on her journey as she looks for the locations where a set of photos were taken of a woman with black hair.  The photos accompany the audio in a perfect and enticing way.  This was the first soundwalk that I have ever been on and I found it fascinating.  The way it made me feel, think, breathe, relax, walk, etc was all encompassing and an experience that I did not anticipate as a began walking.  While the sounds behind Janet’s voice change depending on where you are in the park, the sound of birds and Janet’s steps create the baseline for the piece.  At first I found her quiet voice and the sound of her steps to be somewhat anxiety provoking. As if something spooky was about to happen.  Perhaps this was the New Yorker in me, knowing to be aware in parks in the city.  It was interesting, however, how by the end of the piece these same sounds created a peaceful, calm state. Since I grew up in New York, I had a strong connection to a line Janet says in the first track as you enter the park, it went, “Things will change, not in a big way, but enough.”  This immediately stuck out to me as an indicator of what this experience would become.  Reflecting on the experience in its entirety I feel like that quote perfectly summed up the experience.  It took me out of my element and out of the city.  Of course, I was not really away from it, but it was “enough” and what I needed.  The walk gave me a minute to experience the city I have spent my life walking through.  At the end of the last track, as I took off my headphones and began to walk out of the park, I realized how quiet the park felt, how calm I was, and how I was noticing all the little surrounding sounds.  I even found myself hearing my own footsteps as if I was missing the sound of Janet’s. 

Along the way, there were a few aspects of the audio and the way the soundwalk was choreographed that stood out.  Although a sound walk seems like it would be an auditory experience, I was amazed by Janet’s ability to trigger so many senses.  I felt the ground with each step that I took as I smelled the trees, heard her audio and took in everything there was to see.  At times it was almost unnerving how difficult it was to decipher what was real and what was in the recording.  I often even found myself stopping to pause the recording to check if there was really someone walking that close to me or if it was just in the recording.  The quality of the sounds showed how immersive sound can become.  At one point Janet passes a guy talking under one of the archways, I noted how the real man standing before me was gesturing as if it were him talking.  It was even difficult to determine what I was really seeing with my own eyes.  As I approached the main fountain Janet says that she sees a Asian couple taking wedding photos.  With this picture in my mind I turned toward the fountain and as if my imagination became reality, a real life Asian couple came into sight as they posed for a wedding picture. I also found the use of music to be fascinating.  For the most part music was used as we passed under archways.  This made the audio really echo in my mind.  Sometimes music was played over the sound of her steps while other times it took over the entire track.  Also, the musical interludes progressed from faster more aggressive rock to slow a slow opera.  This progression added to the change in how you feel as you experience the soundwalk.  First you are anxious and engulfed by the busy city, and then you are slowly calmed by the quiet of the park.  Overall, I really enjoyed this experience and the soundwalk technique.  The walk took us through a story and a place and we were made to fully embrace the feelings that came with it.  I cannot wait to go on my next soundwalk sometime soon and experience a whole new set of sensations and emotions. 

This link shows some of the raw recordings I took this week for my soundwalk project.