Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Of Video Producing and Gym-Rats: Getting Lost Is Part of the Deal

Baxter and Knife Edge

"There it is! I can almost see it from here!"

Perhaps it was because this was a new experience for me. Perhaps it was because the air was getting thinner in tiny, imperceptible increments with every step. Perhaps I should have had that extra pancake that morning so I could provide a little more energy to push my legs just a little further. But I was only reassuring myself, however futilely, that the end was in sight.

The end is right there.

We are so close.

Just a few more steps, and we are there. I'm sure of it. I'm sure of it because...well... it sure does feel like the end.

I kept relishing the thought of a job well done; that feeling that one has when one just swam the English Channel, or ran and finished a marathon, or coming in second in a hot dog eating contest. I relished it. I welcomed it.

Katahdin Knife Edge
Knife Edge 
That is, until the clouds parted and the morning sun climbed higher in the sky. And then I realized, much to my dismay, that the comfortable summit that I thought was there, was only a nice piece of real estate along one side of "Knife Edge" trail. And Katahdin was a more formidable opponent than I gave credit for.

Located about 25 miles northwest of Millinocket, Maine, Mt. Katahdin (or, just Katahdin to the locals) is the other bookend of the Appalachian Trail. The end of the line...or the beginning, depending how you look at it. It is the tallest mountain in the state, and yet contrary to popular belief, the first rays of sunshine to hit the United States do not kiss its peak. Natural beauty and silence...precious silence...is everywhere. One could easily get lost on its trails. And by lost, I don't mean taking a wrong turn in the middle of nowhere and somehow managing to take refuge in the only cabin for miles around that houses a hockey-masked, machete-wielding, ten foot tall co-ed murderer. No. It's the kind of lost that happens when you lazily drift away on a sloop in the Keys, or a hammock in Maui, or becoming one with the Earth under the sun, moon, and stars on the Appalachian Trail. Ya know...the good kind of lost.

It's a Bucket List item one must do. Especially if one is a Mainer. You must reach the top of Katahdin and look upon the Earth with a fresh set of eyes, and lungs that are starving for oxygen. Or, if you're really ambitious, then you put one boot in front of the other, adjust your camping gear on your back and you head south until you reach Springer Mountain, Georgia. Either way, standing still or moving forward, the whole experience changes you.


A month or so ago, I embarked on making animations using Blender for my first video. Which of course led to another animation...then another...
"Grrr...I'm helpful!"

Then, I had to get myself acquainted with Lightworks. Don't get me wrong, using this software is fairly daunting, but once you wipe the blood that has been excreted from your brow after trying to make something work for a few hours, it doesn't seem so bad.

I keed...I keeed.

Everything is fairly self explanatory. I just had to readjust from living in Blender for a month with a two week layover in Adobe Illustrator... boy, are my arms tired...try the veal...I'm tired.

And also, I'd like to clarify something at this moment. I understand that I'm violation of overusing the terms "steep learning curve" and "daunting task" and whining that things are harder than they look. Like I stepped on a tack or something. "Owie! I hurt myself so that means I have to spend the rest of the day in bed with a box of cookies and my Netflix account. MURRRHRHRHRRRRR!!!" But, as that trope that is so often coined by Marines and gym rats alike states, it's just pain leaving the body. In the case of stepping on something sharp and stabby, it's more like blood leaving the body, which has a lot to do with pain...which stays around for a while...ironically. And in the case of learning something as complex as Photoshop, Illustrator, Blender, or Lightworks on my own, it's ignorance, apathy, indifference, and dependence on Windows applications leaving my body. Out goes the bad air, in comes the possibilitytolearnanewcraftandbyexentionbettermyselfasahumanbeingandafunctioningmemberofsociety... air.

Anyway, I felt like I was close to the end of my project when I finally clicked the "Render" button. But I have yet to shoot the thing. STILL have yet to shoot the thing! And I'm still locking horns with Lightworks. I wanted to achieve this one, simple graphic effect, but no one was telling me how to do it, so I had to guess and putter and soldier...or...gym-rat... my way through it. And after a few hours of figuring it out, I finally came close to what I was looking for. It isn't exactly what I was looking for, but I made it happen out of sheer will.

So, what was this thing I needed to do?

See this guy right here?

...and this guy right here?

I have been following the both of them for a while now. They have been a great influence to me as far as how to make a decent YouTube video.

Although their subject matter is quite diverse, the one thing they have in common is the ability to flash images and text on the screen while the video is still going on. If you want to achieve this effect while using Windows Movie Maker, you are unfortunately out of luck. WMM is not as sophisticated as other applications and software out there, and I can't help thinking that it was built that way on purpose. It is a simple effect and one would think that there would be a few quadrillion tutorials to tell me how to do it that doesn't involve me getting a Mac. There are about 3, and I was lucky that those were in English (Germans love Lightworks about as much as they love David Hasselhoff). I think i might have got the hang of it, and I gave it a test flight.

After a few hours of tinkering, I came close enough with my test edit to call it good,
and decided to run with it. Although it's far from professional, it's good enough to fit with the aesthetic of my channel, and it will only improve the longer I use it...and then the soundtrack swells as we see our hero silhouetted against a rising sun with is clenched fist held high, the camera pans back as we hear him exclaim, "As god as my witness...I will never go hungry again!"

...aaaand scene.

Without subjecting everyone to my nasally voice and me not word very good because camera make Hulk nervous, here's a GIF of what I accomplished...

Hey! I made a GIF!!

After a day of learning how to do this one thing, I clicked on the "Export" button and reveled for the moment in accomplishing something that I didn't know how to do before, and with that came a great deal of satisfaction. That feeling slowly fizzled as I saw the morning mist part again, and then realizing that I'm not even halfway there yet.

Fake my way through Blender? Check.

Get on a first name basis with Lightworks? Working on it.

Wrangle the untamed steed that is Audacity?....wait, what?

That's right. I got the video shooty part down, and the make interesting visual thing sussed. Now, I need to learn why when I record audio, more specifically, my voice, in a .wav format in Audacity , it doesn't seem to work when imported into a Lightworks project.


As I was on my way to the top of Katahdin, the morning fog was cool and dense and it didn't appear to let up anytime soon. Thick, cold mist clung to my clothes and to the trees and made waking slightly more hazardous when the forest vegetation under our feet turned sparse as it gave way to ancient and jagged Earth.

By the time we reached the top, all was clear. Not only were we seemingly above the clouds, but we were rewarded with a bright day, and a sight that is rarely matched. When I reached the top, my lungs were struggling, my legs had had enough and my dogs were barking, but my eyes, my heart and my soul were nourished.

Once the process of making a video becomes second nature to me, I will probably feel the same way. I want to learn things that I don't know how to do, because it makes me feel alive, like I'm worth a damn, like I matter...even if at the end of the day, what I say and do gets lost on other people. All of these technicalities? As much as I seem to complain about them, they interest me. I want to do things that interest me, even if it means I crawl down a rabbit hole or two and get lost for a few days.

But, ya know...the good kind of lost.