Category Archives: Student

Transcoding

So today I came across the editing term ‘transcoding’ on a job application. Whilst I was aware that this had something to do with video codecs, that was as far as my knowledge on the matter extended. As someone who’s looking to specialise in editing, I decided to do some more research into the term.

Defined as ‘converting software from one encoding to another’, transcoding can involve one of three things –

  • Converting the format of a file
  • Adjusting specific parameters whilst keeping the format the same
  • Changing both the format and parameters

Transcoding can be done within your primary editor (if it’s built in) or using a stand-alone program. There are 3 basic ways to handle your footage:

  • Use your native footage
  • Transcoding to an intermediate codec
  • Transcoding to proxy files

‘Native’ is used to describe the original footage that records to your memory or drive. Using your native footage means no transcoding time, no additional hard drive space is needed, you have a simpler workflow and there’s no potential for quality degradation. Imagine a cup of water which is filled to the brim (bear with me here), with the water representing your footage quality and the cup your video codec. Now you need to take that cup across the room to a different cup and pour your water in. Chances are you’ll spill a bit in the process of walking and pouring, so although you’ll have most of the water (quality), you will have lost some of it along the way. And there you have it – possibly one of the worst analogies of footage quality degradation on the web. But, I digress.

There are two main reasons why you wouldn’t be able to use your native footage:

  1. Your software doesn’t support the native format
  2. The native format is too demanding on your system’s resources

If you have the first issue, you will need to transcode to an intermediate codec – which is designed to preserve the quality of your native footage whilst making it easier to handle in your NLE.

If you have the second, you will need to transcode your footage into a proxy file, which is essentially a converted version of your footage at a lower quality to reduce its demand on your system. *Here is where I found out the difference between offline and online editing:

  • Offline editing – Working with this lower quality footage
  • Online editing – Working with the highest quality version of the footage

The workflow for proxy files looks something like this:

This is a very brief explanation of the concept, but one which I intend to be able to expand upon in the near future, with a little more research. Hopefully with fewer water cup analogies as well.

 

Arrival

Last night I re-watched Arrival with my girlfriend and her parents. The first time I saw it at the cinema was actually accidentally (my GF brought us tickets thinking it was a different film) but one which I am very glad of. There are few films which have left me almost comically slack-jawed when they finish, but Arrival was certainly one of them.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on Ted Chiang’s ‘Story of Your Life’, the film manages to deftly combine the raw power of human emotion with the intellectual stimulus of the sci-fi genre. I won’t go into the plot too much as I don’t want to spoil anything, but the story revolves around a concept often skipped over in sci-fi films – How do you communicate with a being who isn’t from earth, when there is no mediator or translator to help?

The answer comes in the form of Louise Banks, a linguistics professor played by the brilliant Amy Adams, who delivers a refreshingly strong female lead role. Her emotions viscerally splayed across her face throughout, in a way we literally see the film through her eyes. The performances throughout were generally strong, although this is in part owed to the brilliance of the script. The film manages to convey fairly complex ideas and narrative timelines with an elegance which would leave any scriptwriter with a similar expression to mine at the end of the film.

The cinematography was incredible, contrasting extreme long shots breathlessly intimate closeups which must have left the focus-puller with a stump for a hand. The precision and crispness of the film very much reflected its genre’s love of all things technical. Coupled with the Jóhann Jóhannsson’s haunting soundtrack, the film promises a powerful experience.

Overall, the film was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, skilfully mixing the unknown with the powerful familiarity of human emotion. In speculating how we would interact with beings from another world, Arrival becomes an introspective analysis on ourselves, the way all great sci-fi should.

Incoming

During my trip to London over the weekend, I took the opportunity to visit as many galleries and exhibitions as I could. It’s always refreshing to look at different artists and their work, particularly as a source of inspiration for my own projects. One of the places I visited was The Barbican Centre – a complex of buildings which looked like they were designed by the Vogons, constructed out of hulking slabs of concrete and metal. However, whilst I found it’s brutalist architecture intriguing, the contents within were even more so.

The first exhibition we saw was a documentary film by Richard Mosse, an Irish conceptual documentary photographer. He is best known for his stunning photography in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for his project ‘The Enclave’ (2013), in which he used a now discontinued 16mm colour infrared film called Kodak Aerochrome. The film transformed the Congo’s rich greens into a wash of vibrant pinks, giving his photography a surreal but powerful aesthetic.

‘Incoming’ – his latest work which I saw at the Barbican – was just as effective at challenging the mediums through which war is documented. The Barbican’s website description summarises it best –

‘In collaboration with composer Ben Frost and cinematographer Trevor Tweeten, Mosse has been working with an advanced new thermographic weapons and border imaging technology that can see beyond 30km, registering a heat signature of relative temperature difference. Classed as part of advanced weapons systems under International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Mosse has been using this export controlled camera against its intended purpose, to create an artwork about the refugee crisis unfolding in the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Libya, in Syria, the Sahara, the Persian Gulf, and other locations.’

Whilst I could write about this all day, I’m certain you wouldn’t want to read the consequent ramblings so I’ll try to be concise(ish). Mosse has managed to capture humanity and its struggle using a very dehumanising medium, the impact of which was profound. Every now and then I see something and think ‘That. That right there is why I want to be a media producer’ – this was one of those moments. The scenes, splayed across 3 screens with different footage on each, depicted various moments of a refugee’s journey. The content ranged from people being loaded onto military boats to life inside the infamous ‘Jungle’ camp outside Calais. In one particularly morbid scene, an autopsy of the desiccated corpse of what I assumed was a refugee was underway. The lack of detail and colour made the whole scene seem removed and clinical, yet incredibly this only served to draw your focus further in – demanding absolute scrutiny as you struggled to make sense of the monochrome images. It left you with a hollow feeling in your gut, like waking up from a disturbing dream. Yet it wasn’t all bleak (as these sorts of things always run the risk of being), minutes later I found myself drawn into the vibrant world of a refugee compound, the images before me once again defying their alienating medium.

Having recently delved into sound design for my Stories and Spaces unit, I was in awe of the aural experience Ben Frost had managed to create for the project. The mixture of raw sound recorded on location with roaring synths, which ebbed and flowed with the pace of the edit, really helped set the tone for the exhibition and gave the room an atmosphere you could literally feel vibrating through the floor.  I was once again reminded of the importance and power of well-designed audio.

Okay, I think I’m done. TL;DR – Mosse has managed to create a piece of art which beautifully captures humanity using a technology which inherently denies it. In doing so his film in itself represents the plight of refugees themselves – the struggle to remain human in a time where too often they become faceless numbers and figures on the news. And let’s be honest, if your hour-long installation has people glued to the screen without so much as checking their phone, you’re doing something right.

The exhibition is running until the 23rd of April and is free to attend. If you’re in London this month and get the time, I urge you to go see it.

 

“What I really hope people will take away, if nothing else, is this sense of uneasy complicity as Westerners”           Richard Mosse

Exhibition Day

Last night we held the exhibition for our Stories and Spaces in the Fusion Building. It was pretty tense in the build-up to the 6:40 deadline, as we changed how we were going to project the piece the night before and only finished the final edit and export an hour before. However, I was really happy with the end result. The sound and visuals really came together with the space to create something quite emotive. I was glad I’d taken the time to create a solid soundscape, as it really helped create the atmosphere needed.

I’ve had a lot of fun with this project and being able to explore the world of audio. Although not a discipline I’d want to work in long-term, it has taught me the value of experimentation, something I feel is very important in a creative industry such as ours. I think sometimes the pressure of trying to ‘get the grades’ inhibits university students from trying new things, or even making the mistakes needed to grow as a creative producer. As such, I’m glad I had to opportunity to do just that and with so much artistic freedom.

Work in the Media Industries

As part of our ‘Work in the Media Industries’ unit, we were required to design a job spec and person profile around an imaginary entry-level media job of our choice. It was a good exercise in helping me get in the mind of employers and see what sort of things they are looking for.  It was also somewhat terrifying.

We had to apply to one group’s job spec and received CV’s for our role from another. In the seminar today we went through the CV’s we’d received, scanning through them to see how well they fit the criteria we had set out and shortlisting the best. Although untrained and potentially not as thorough as the HR departments within the industry, I realised a number of harsh truths about the application process:

  1. Your CV will be skimmed – HR has to go through 1000’s of CV’s and can’t afford to do much more than skim them for the criteria.
  2. Meet the job spec in your CV  – If you aren’t meeting any of the criteria within the first few lines, your chance of getting through declines quite sharply.
  3. Conciseness is key – If I got bored after reading 5 CV’s, how do you think someone in HR feels after 500? Don’t waste their time with indulgent paragraphs of info, stick to the 1-page rule as best you can, spilling into 2 if you think it absolutely necessary.
  4. Back up your statements with clear evidence – Picture it, a generic “I’m a strong team-player who works well with others” line, being read for the 100th time by HR. As I read through some of these lines in the CV’s I found myself saying ‘So what?’ more than I’d like. Avoid the ‘So What’ Effect by giving hard evidence to back up your points.
  5. You NEED outside experience – A degree is no longer a guarantee of employment. Having outside experience in the industry, even just weekend and runner jobs, will make you stand out above the beyond the rest.

Number 5 is something that has rung particularly true with me. I had a great First Year in terms of social life and ‘getting the grades’, but to be honest it was a bit of a passenger year. I realise now that I need to get out there and start making stuff, getting some real experience under my belt and building up a portfolio to give me the best chance of making it in this industry. It’s an exciting time, but also pretty scary. I’ve got a couple of projects in the pipelines and I look forward to sharing them with you on here.

Cecilia 101

My biggest challenge has been figuring out how to transform these raw sounds I’ve been collecting into the rich soundscapes of music concrete, because let’s be honest, no-one wants a 7-minute track of me swallowing and rubbing my bits of polystyrene together. My first port-of-call was Adobe Audition, but I quickly found it was very limited in its ability to transform the sounds. Sure it could stretch the length and pitch, even apply a collection of bizarre filters which sounded better suited to a Dr Suess book (such as the ominous Flanger), but playing around with these I struggled to create the vast echoing soundscapes of Wishart or Derbyshire. What I needed was something which really broke down the sounds into their base forms, so that I could create something new.

It turns it out there was a piece of software which did exactly that – Cecilia. Whilst not your stereotypical ‘digital audio workstation’ (DAW), Cecilia is unique in that it focuses on transforming sounds rather than assembling them. So, whilst you couldn’t piece together an interview like DAWs such as Audition can, it certainly makes my polystyrene sound a bit more interesting. The way it works is that you load in a sound, open that sound in one of Cecilia’s many ‘Modules’ and then play around with it. This is the main aspect I have found in which audio differs from video. Generally with video you have a set idea of what you want to put together, whilst with audio you tend to fiddle around with it and see what works, taking a more ‘poke it with a stick and see what happens’ approach. Although potentially more time-consuming than video, there are a lot more surprises in terms of content creation. Something as simple as a door creak can suddenly become a cavernous roar more suited to a certain giant, flame-whip wielding monster in Lord Of The Rings.

But I’ve sidetracked. Cecilia has a wide range of modules, all of which do very different things. As someone somewhat inexperieced with audio, I don’t actually know what 80% of the words in the program mean, but you tend to pick it up as you go along so don’t be intimidated if you don’t understand the terminology. At the moment a couple of my favourites are the Pelletizer, which stretches the pitch and length of  a sound (amongst other things), and StochGrains, which uses algorithms to randomly generate synth notes – really good for creating a base layer of your soundscapes. Another cool feature of Cecilia is that it allows you to draw the waveforms of the different filters, further adding to your ability to control the sound.

To be honest, going back to my stick-poking analogy, the best way to find what works is load in a sound and Shift+Ctrl+O which opens up a random module and just play around with them until something clicks. Just have fun with it!

Stories and Spaces

My latest university module, ‘Stories and Spaces’, requires us to create a live projection-mapped exhibition using the new Fusion Building on Bournemouth campus. The required content is definitely the most abstract we’ve encountered so far on the course, with the brief asking us to create a visual and aural experience based on the words fluidity, macroworld, and microworld. Normally I would be heavily involved in the visuals of a project, but this time I decided to challenge myself, and take on the role of Audio Producer. Sound is something I’ve been wanting to experiment with for a while, but I’ve been waiting for the right project. ‘Stories and Spaces’ requires the most interesting audio role I’ve encountered.

Musique concrète, which was pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer in the mid-twentieth century, is a highly experimental technique revolving around the idea of acousmatic listening. Acousmatic means a sound can be heard but not seen, so the visuals are not directly linked (like playing babies crying over Rick Astley, but less horrifying). In doing so this removes the original meaning of the sound and creates a new one. This idea of transforming sound in order to give it a new identity is something that will heavily influence how I tackle creating content for this project. At the moment all I’m doing is recording ‘interesting’ sounds on my phone, which means I have now become excited by arbitrary things like rubbing polystyrene together and recording the result. So, apart from a possible deterioration in the fibres of my sanity, I think I’m on the right track. I’ll explore how I come to transform these sounds in a follow-up post.