GrC 452 Essay - 12/12/08

Three weeks ago, I sat in my kitchen complaining to a roommate about the myriad of problems I’ve had finding a job in recent months. His response was as eloquent as it was subtle: “Print really isn’t a strong industry any more.” Thanks, I thought. That’s exactly the sort of encouragement I need after accumulating $40,000 of debt and devoting four and a half years of my life to lithography, estimating, and color management.

This stunned me. Had I really chosen a dying career path? Did I forsake a lucrative, albeit monotonous, career in programming for nothing? Did I switch majors just because I didn’t want to enroll in Calculus II?

The answers are as follows: no, no, maybe.

Print isn’t dead. Much like Fidel Castro, Abe Vigoda, and the San Francisco 49ers, reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. It may die some day (and that day may not be far in the future), but it is still alive, kicking, and most importantly changing. Newspaper sales may be plummeting off the charts, but the amount of variable data and digital prints are skyrocketing. Western society isn’t exactly going to stop using packaging any time soon, either. If there’s one thing that our materialistic culture has proved, it’s that we like stuff, and we like a lot of it. No; print is merely changing. It will become more and more digital over time, but it will still be recognizable as a medium. When it comes down to it, Chinese Democracy may not be Appetite for Destruction, but it’s still Axl Rose screaming into a microphone.

So, it’s settled. I didn’t waste my time in college. I can go off into the working world, content that I will eventually find a job printing magazines or what have you until my arms fall off, I grow old, and retire. Right? No.

To assume that we don’t need to brace for change is a flagrant lack of foresight that is typically only found in automotive executives or world leaders whose names rhyme with “push”. There is a strong migration towards digital media. It started about fifteen years ago when Al Gore invented the Internet (that was him, right?). Students need to know how to interact with the online world in ways that matter. You’d be hard pressed to find a connected person between the ages of ten and forty who don’t stumble across videos, animated graphics, and CSS styled webpages every time they open a browser.

“Graphic Communication” is a title rife with punch lines. Does the average person most often communicate with static printed graphics? In years past, the answer would be an unquestionable “yes”. Nowadays, the answer would be a resounding “no”. We need to be given the tools for our generation. Solely focusing on print is a death sentence in slow increments. In its current the form, digital media is mostly taught departmentally through optional courses, instructed by a rotating staff of guest lecturers, providing little in the way of consistency. Even required courses focus on using outdated programs or visual editors rather than teaching the more useful and practical backend architecture.

I’m not suggesting that the department or print-related academia in general make an abandon-ship jump away from its roots and into uncharted waters. Print has its place, and it needs to be taught so that it may survive for as long as it can, changing focus and shifting the way it is utilized. It does, however, need to be tempered to careful instruction of digital technology. Sometimes I feel like I have an advantage over other peers; my background provided me with some of these skills and they came in constant use over my tenure at school. Knowing the basics of programming HTML and CSS, throwing together an interactive graphic in Flash, or transferring files through use of an FTP client are critical supplemental skills in our ever-changing industry. Those that don’t have them will be found wanting in an uneven playing field.

Classes should be implemented to provide such instruction. A sort of “Dummies Guide to Programming” class would be incredibly useful for a variety of applications. As it stands now, the basics are glossed over in a number of courses, most notably those that cover web design, variable data printing, and apple-script. Rather than stumbling through basic commands as they relate to a specific program, a broad approach would work much better. This would allow for easier instruction of CSS, ActionScript, and likeminded languages down the road. The classes wouldn’t have to be anything overtly intense; no definitions of global variables, recursive functions, or search algorithms are needed. Still, it could provide a backbone for web design and Flash classes. In addition, automation techniques for various programs (such as Photoshop) could be taught in significantly less time and with less instruction.

In conclusion, I am fairly certain at this point that I will not be able to drag this essay out for another 200 words without copy/pasting the lyrics to the Iron Maiden song I’m currently rocking out to. In the efforts of fairness, I will spare you this, dear Reader, and summarize my points with a series of brief statements:

Print is not dead.

It may die in the future.

Prepare by embracing the Digital Age.

Learn programming.

Do not forget about final assignments until the night before graduation.

GrC 452 - Lab Write-Up #6 - 11/17/08

Objectives

Lab #6 was another project oriented lab that provided an opportunity to work freely in the program of our choice towards an end goal. We were to use stock footage shot of UGS in order to create a promotional video that can be uploaded to their (our) website. Additionally, it could be shown to potential clients, or even to UGS trainees. We were to make it up to a minute and a half long, intersplicing interview clips along with music and office/plant shots.

Procedures

Initially, we were to use Final Cut Express to set up our video. We began copying over all stock video footage and importing it into the program. From there, I spent a good twenty or thirty minutes viewing the footage in its entirety as to determine what exactly I should use in the finished product. When finished, I began segmenting off clips of about 10-20 seconds and placing them in the timeline for use later. I did the same for various interview clips.

When finished with that, I imported an instrumental mp3 file of Moby's "Extreme Ways" and set it playing from the start point of the video. I began arranging the video clips in logical fashion, intersplicing them with transition effects and interview clips. I de-linked the plant clips and deleted the audio, while approaching the interview clips differently. I took the interview audio and overlayed it on a separate audio track while lowering the volume of the music. Even when the video clip changed, the audio for the interview remained playing. Finally, to end the movie I faded in the UGS logo.

Video


UGS Promo from Mike Hartman on Vimeo.

Summary & Conclusions

This lab was again a very enjoyable lab. We had an overall goal and were provided with all the appropriate resources to meet it. While I was able to explore Flash in the week prior, this time around I was able to use Final Cut Express at my own pace. The job had realistic demands and perhaps even real world uses. I was more happy with my overall finished product than any other labs. Additionally, the videos we were shown beforehand proved to be useful in terms of inspriation. I even decided to use the same song provided.

Project Significance

This sort of video is a very realistic project that can be commonly seen on a companies' website. It provides potential clients an easy way to ascertain how a company "really" functions, and go behind the scenes on what happens with their jobs and the staff that works on them. In the end, it proved that with the appropriate stock footage, music, and know-how, it is actually not very difficult to create a somewhat professional-looking video.

Closing Thoughts

Similar to last week, I think that this sort of project is the way to go in the class. It gives us a meaningful goal, the opportunities to accomplish it, and the ability to procede at our pace. Additionally, should we have any questions, I am provided with the resources to have them answered. In the end, I was very satisfied with the video I created, feeling it at the level to be shown on the companies' website.

GrC 452 - Lab Write-Up #5 - 11/11/08

Objectives

Lab #5 proved to be a project oriented lab, with a real client expecting a finished result. We were to make a brief (less than 10 second) video intro that was to be played prior to videos shown on the WiHire.com website. Initially we were asked to do the project in FinalCut, but after some deliberation Adobe Flash became available as an alternative solution. Despite being less familiar with the workings of Flash than FinalCut, I decided to give the former a try as I felt it provided more flexibility. As such, my objective became learning the inner-workings of the program while creating something that could be displayed on a professional website.

Procedures

After briefly fooling around in FinalCut Express, I decided to switch to Adobe Flash. To start the project, I began thinking about Flash intro videos I had seen on other websites. Then, I took a few minutes to determine what direction I would be heading. After hatching a vague plan, I logged onto sxc.hu, a largely royalty-free stock photo site. From there, I searched for "business" photos; cliche images of people in business attire giving handshakes and speaking into headsets. At one point, I came across a stylish image that someone had created using a photo of cityscape and a colorful vector background behind it. I decided to step away from the business photos and move to something different.

I sized and placed the image on the canvas and set up a keyframe and tween so that the image would move across the screen over the course of 70 frames or so. From there, I created several generic "corporate" words using WiHire's choice font and colors in Photoshop. Exporting them as images and then importing them in Flash, I set them to a varying amount of transparency (Alpha Blending). With about seven words/phrases, I set them moving across the screen in different directions and at different speeds. This, along with the movement of the background were set to slowly fade to white after about four seconds. From there, I placed the WiHire main logo in the center of the screen and had it fade into view. Each of the words under the logo ("Succeed", etc.) then faded into the picture sequentially. When this was finished, I found a fast-paced soundclip from our archive, imported it into Flash and then placed it running throughout the video.

Video

Summary & Conclusions

I enjoyed this lab more so than any of the others. Being able to freely explore Flash while working towards an end goal seemed to be the right way to go. I was able to advance at my own pace and still utilize all the assistance that was provided. Additionally, while I initially was overwhelmed with the project scope, it proved to be well within limits. While my end result wasn't "professional" quality, I was overall impressed by what I could create in my second real attempt using the program.

Project Significance

As we have discussed before, brief 5-10 second introductions are a very common thing that occurs on most multimedia-heavy sites. This was significant by the fact that we were creating something very real that an actual client may use to help promote their website. Small touches are often the little things that add up to a quality website.

Closing Thoughts

If I were an avid Ebay customer and I were to leave a review for this lab in particular, it would read "A++++ WOULD BUY FROM AGAIN. RECEIVED PAYPAL INSTANTLY." While I realize that analogy (or it a metaphor? I always confuse the two) does not necessarily equate, I belive you get the overall gist of it. I enjoyed the lab and was very happy when I realized that I had successfully learned the ropes of Flash.

GrC 452 - Lab Write-Up #4 - 10/30/08

Objectives

Lab #4's overall purpose was to enhance our knowledge of Adobe Flash. While we did some light-weight editing in the program the week prior, this course was designed to teach us the fundamentals of motion, importing graphics, and utilizing the timeline. It felt like the lab should have preceeded the previous lab, rather than proceed it, in fact. We were to animate what would have normally been a static graphic advertisement, and instead turn it into a Flash banner one would typically see on modern websites. While the animations were to be nothing spectacular, they would provide some brief movement. In addition, a secondary goal was to learn how to change visual states on mouse-over to create a modicum of interaction with graphic elements. Specifically, this applied to the "Learn more" button.

Procedures

We began the lab by viewing a finished version of the advertisement we were to create. We opened up a PSD file of the static advertisement in Photoshop and began isolating elements of the ad that had been placed on seperate layers. From there, we exported most of the individual layers (minus the text) into separate graphic files and opened up Flash. We imported each of the graphic individually and set apart re-assembling the ad. From there, we moved a bit of the text off screen, set a key frame 15-stops later and moved it back into place. Upon playback, this gave it the impression of flying onto the screen. This process was repeated with all elements of the ad. When finished, the animation was made to stop. Using roll-over/roll-out and on-click states, the button was given functionality. Finally, it was uploaded to our site.

Video

Summary & Conclusions

I was rather impressed with this introduction to Flash. It provided a good, basic look at how the program operates using a realistic situation and design goal. It was here that certain fundamentals were discussed, such as how the keyframe system functions. We were able to do some minor experimentation with animation and learn about the time it takes to recreate and animate an advertisement. ActionScript, perhaps the most powerful element of Flash was only briefly discussed as a means to provide limited interface interaction, however. A basic primer as to ActionScript syntax would have been useful to speed the process along, though within the program documentation is provided for common functions.

Project Significance

This lab arguably provides the most "real-world" experience yet. Having worked in advertisement design, I know very well how clients will often toss a mock-up your way and briefly state "Do something with this." As the instructor pointed out, this was very similar to what he has had to deal with - - receiving a static ad and being told to animate it some small yet significant way. Flash is a powerful program, and learning the basics with an on-the-job sort of goal is a good way to go about getting familiar with it. While everything we did with the program lies in novice territory, a good understanding of the fundamentals is necessary to properly learn advanced topics.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, I was pleased with the content of the lab, though I have a few notable complaints. The pacing of the lab was markedly slow, though it's hard to fault anything (or anyone) in particular because of the wide-range of user experience in the classroom. Some users had little to no knowledge of Flash, while others picked it up rather quickly. It might be useful to have some sort of tutorial to view prior to lab so that the beginners will be able to acclimate themselves to the basics in their own time. A little bit more detailed explanation of ActionScript might help some out as well, as a good portion of the class seemed to jump ahead and try to figure it out on their own accord; a daunting challenge with only semi-useful references in the program itself. Finally, the lab might be better served taking place prior to the previous movie-player exercise. While utilizing movies as a segway between Final Cut and Flash was a good idea, I feel some prior knowledge of the program might have helped to smooth out the hiccups in that lab.

GrC 452 - Lab Write-Up #3 - 10/23/08

Objectives

Lab #3's objective was to familiarize with Adobe Flash, and learn how (in basic terms) video sharing sites such as YouTube or Vimeo function. The primary goal was to create a Flash-based video player which one could upload to a website. While such a template can be applied to a whole selection of videos, we focused on creating one which had the sole purpose of playing our previously made iPod commercial. Additionally, we spent a brief amount of time covering Flash's coding language, ActionScript. This allows for dynamic control of objects; in our case the play/pause buttons, volume, and seek bar.

Procedures

We began by launching Flash and briefly covering the various methods to creating a video player skin. Initially, we opened one of Flash's included skins and spent a good deal of time changing the colors of individual objects in the skin. This in itself took a good deal of time, as we had to open up individual sections of each button, match colors, and repeat for the various button states (hover, down, none). Any changes we made were reflected in an immediate preview of the player.

After this, we set to making our own video player from scratch. We began by placing certain player objects (such as the pause button) around a colored rectangle. We edited the button appearances only slightly, instead emphasizing function over form for the time being. We placed and sized our video onto the player, and wrote a few lines in ActionScript to give our buttons function. From there, we exported all the files, and uploaded them to our website.

Video

Summary & Conclusions

This lab provided a brief, albeit functional overview as to how sites such as YouTube design their video players and embed them onto their websites. We learned how Flash has many templates and buttons implemented to accelerate the process and that it is not very difficult itself to create such a player. Additionally, we learned how ActionScript functions and that it is like any other object-oriented programming language. Finally, we briefly covered the similarities between a program like FinalCut and Adobe Flash. They both function on a keyframe system of motion

Project Significance

Adobe Flash has an extraordinarily large presense on the web. Sites such as YouTube have revolutionized the way the Internet functions, and are a driving force behind its recent development. Learning even the basics of Flash is absolutely necessary for any sort of career in web development. With an often large degree of transparency in modern websites, it is sometimes easy to overlook how much work and development occurs in Flash.

Closing Thoughts

I am very glad to have received an introduction to Flash. It's a very useful tool and it is seeing an increasingly large amount of exposure in even the simplest websites. It's comforting to know that despite its nuances and quirks, it does not appear to be a very difficult thing to grasp (at least the basics, anyway). Motion concepts, while not covered, appear to function very similarly to FinalCut or other timeline-based programs. ActionScript seems like it can be incredibly powerful, and it warrants a further look in my spare time.

GrC 452 - Lab Write-Up #2 - 10/22/08

Objectives

Lab #3's purpose was for the students to learn more advanced concepts of video editing. The primary goal was to learn how to use a green screen, or any chroma key to selectively remove a background from the foreground objects. Additionally, we were to learn how exactly to manipulate objects "behind" foreground elements so that they would appear as though they suddenly move to the foreground. A tertiary goal was learn how to properly clip and sync audio to video movements.

Procedures

We began Lab #3 by being shown a physical green screen made on the cheap. We were told how the lighting is vitally important to easy removal of the background. From there, we were shown a clip of a member of the Hip Hop Dance Congress dancing in front of the screen. We were told how to place a filter called a "Chroma Key" on the clip, which allows removal of certain colors. We edited several factors of the filter to get a pleasing result and the removal of enough of the background.

We then applied a sepia filter to the remainder of the clip, and enhanced the dancers to the point that they were either completely white, or completely black. From there, we edited several clips until they were in our intended order. We then placed an image element on a layer behind the dancer, set a key frame, and then moved the image to the side of the dancer. We spliced the clip, and moved the second half to a layer above the dancer. From there, we then moved the image clip across the dancer to give the appearance of it moving from the background to the foreground.

Video


iPod Commercial from Mike Hartman on Vimeo.

Summary & Conclusions

By the end of the process, we had grasped the basics of green screen video editing. We learned the difficulties associated with producing a realistic removal of background and how much work it is to fine tune the results to a desired effect. While the end result was pleasing, it still was obviously not up to par with professional editing. It becomes readily apparent that even small shorts seen on television or the Internet can take a vast amount of time to produce.

Project Significance

Green screen editing and element removal are becoming more and more a part of modern movie-making. This is a skill that simply must be learned for any sort of CGI effects, for example. Additionally, the project provided a good intro to understanding the fundamentals of video layers and how one might be able to manipulate elements so it appears they are switching between layers.

Closing Thoughts

Overall, I was suprised by how long the process takes. Initially, it seems as though there would be simpler and more effective means of doing such simple tasks, though I suppose production companies might use software that has such capabilities. Despite this, I gained valuable insight into tasks that are readily visible in almost any modern movie.

GrC 452 - Lab Write-Up #1 - 10/07/08

Objectives

Lab #1's purpose was to introduce students to the video editing program Final Cut Express. Primary goals included learning how video and audio layers function, and how to utilize key frames to move objects over time. Additionally, importing of resources was a strong focus, as was the utilization and manipulation of imported video components. We were to learn how to manage pre-spliced video clips and arrange them in a coherent manner with the use of an overlaying audio track and video transitions.

Procedures

We began the process by importing a large video file into a new Final Cut Express document. This video had been pre-sliced into small, 30 second segments for easy use and reference. From there, we were to arrange the track clips in a pleasing manner, shortening them to five-to-ten second clips. To avoid harsh scene cuts, we smoothed out the clips transitions with video effects (such as a "fade-in" effect). Additionally, we imported several graphics that the "client" required to be present on the video. For example, using a top-most layer, we overlayed the Creek Cleanup Day logo over parts of the video. Finally, we imported a recorded audio file that was to be played during the video. 30 seconds long, we matched our overall video length to this clip. When finished, we exported the videos to a Quicktime .mov file.

Video


San Luis Creek Video from Mike Hartman on Vimeo.

Summary & Conclusions

While daunting at first, Final Express Cut (FCE) appears to be a very sound video editing program and it is not very difficult to grasp its fundamentals. With the combination of a timeline and multiple layers, the program functions similarly to programs such as Adobe Flash, or even audio editing programs such as Sony Acid Pro. The program, however, is not entirely without its faults. At times it can be maddeningly frustrating to perform common tasks such as setting multiple animation keyframes. This can be, perhaps, attributed to my inexperience with the program. Overall, though, FCE looks to be a strong, yet not overly user friendly tool. It is not a stretch to see why professional editors rely on it.

Project Significance

Final Cut Express is widely recognized as one of (if not the) leading video editing programs. Knowledge of its use in addition to Adobe Flash is vital in learning about web-based videos. Most assuredly, many of the professional-looking clips we have seen online have been edited with FCE.

Closing Thoughts

This initial lab project proved to be a good idea in familiarizing students with such a powerful piece of software. With the resources provided to us, a focus was set on learning the program and adequately developing a video from idea to execution. While I lament the fact that I edited the Clean-Up Day PSA into a survival-horror movie trailer, I learned a great deal about the editing process and how much work can go into a standard 30-second video clip. Many of my initial questions about how to insert text, speed or slow down video, and how to gradually increase or decrease volume were answered specifically because of this project.


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