Thursday, March 5, 2015

Cover of "Fake Plastic Trees," Parts 1-18 of 18

I finally finished presenting all 18 parts of my cover of Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees" (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18). One of these days, I'll have to stitch all 18 parts together and upload the entire thing on YouTube, or somewhere like that. Since I really have nothing else to write about on the 5th of the month, I will quickly muse on what exactly inspired/possessed me to produce the final six short videos for the song. The first 12 were covered in my previous post.

13. Turn and run, from the lyrics. I videotaped my dog Kate running toward me. I stitched together two shots. The first was filmed later, at 60 frames per second, so I could reasonably use slow motion on a 60 fps shot than a normal 30 fps shot. The second was filmed before, at 30 fps, but I liked the ending of my dog licking the camera lens area. I added some effects to almost look like she's running from a story book and breaking through to the real world, or at least that's what I think it looks like.

14. I don't usually take selfies, but when I do, they're as weird as hell.

15. It's Big Blue, the daytime sky, with the clouds rolling by, in fast-motion.

16. If I could be who you wanted, from the lyrics, with a bad pun with the imagery. In late January, I parked my car near some bushes, with a hive of worker bees gathering nectar and pollen. I had a camera with a relatively long lens with me, so I took about 100 photos. This pseudo-stop motion quasi-animation used up most of the photos.

17. This was a less-weird video shoot with my dog Kate, with the same basic lighting setup as my weird selfie video (part 14).

18. This was basically everything before, repeated twice, with a trippy mirroring effect: The first 25 frames are the first 17 parts in fast-motion, the next 25 frames is part 17 in fast-reverse, the next 25 frames is part 16 in fast-reverse, the next 25 frames is part 15 in reverse, and so on, and so forth -- if any of that makes sense. It's just a summary of the previous parts of the song.

It was an interesting experiment in Instagram filmmaking, and I might do it again sometime in the future. Some videos proved more popular than others; it might be the hashtags I used, the still-frame used to represent each individual video, how well/not well I played each section of the song, or the time of day/day of the week I posted any given video. In any case, here is the order of popularity for all 18 parts, as of this posting, which is worth investigating if one is to identify potential target audiences:

Part 8: LEGO Surgery (57 likes)

Part 4: Puppy Laser (42)

Part 14: Weird Selfie (38)

Part 7: Burrito (37)

Part 18: Trippy Summary (36)

Part 17: Dog "Selfie" (35)

Part 13: Dog Run (33)

Part 12: LEGO Concert (32)
Part 1: Watering Can (32)

Part 5: Pouring Milk (29)

Part 3: Freeway (25)

Part 15: Big Blue (24)
Part 6: Drum Machine (24)

Part 11: Cookie Splash (23)
Part 10: Diablo III (23)

Part 2: Fake Bass (22)

Part 16: Bees (21)

Part 9: Traffic (19)

If I wanted to get this down to a formula, I would have to investigate the day of the week, the time of day, the hashtags used, etc., as mentioned earlier. In broad strokes, it seems that hard work with fun toys -- stop-motion LEGO animation -- has a large target audience. In fact, at least one other Instagram user has taken this video (without my permission, but at least linking back to me with the @ protocol), and has received hundreds of 'likes' and dozens of comments. Cute puppies doing cute things seems to be popular, as well. Weird, shirtless selfies are bronze medal material -- why, exactly? Food is a close fourth place.

My next video series will probably have a combination of LEGO, canine cuteness, artsy narcissism, and food porn. Hopefully people will tune in, and if not, at least I get to say that I can record complete, competent (?) cover songs with the set-up pictured above -- one take, all instruments at once, no overdubs, no Autotune, and no personal computers (okay, a little bit o' reverb, busing, and mastering later on).

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Cover of "Fake Plastic Trees," Parts 1-12 of 18

I am two-thirds of the way complete in presenting a cover song that took me less than five minutes to record. Of course, producing a "short film" for every 15-second segment of the song has taken a lot longer than 5 minutes. But it's all for a good cause, I suppose; that cause, of course, is getting better acquainted with the equipment I already have.

Conceptualizing each 15-second segment has been (and currently is) quite simple:  With some exceptions, I would either shoot/find footage either based on a loose interpretation of the current lyrics being sung, or based on one of the instruments being played.

With six more segments to go, this is what has "inspired" me so far:

1. Green plastic watering can, from the lyrics: I videotaped a green plastic watering can in action. It was a bright day, so I got to use the lowest ISO setting and highest shutter speed for my camera. The detail can be incredible when the lighting is good. Then I used some green-ish filter to ruin the image.

2. My custom-wired "fake bass" starts playing: I created a slideshow of the "birth" of my fake bass. Then I re-enacted my foot switching un-mute for the fake bass signal.

3. Town full of rubber plans, from the lyrics: I found old footage of when I drove to Disneyland with a camera rolling the whole time on the freeway, and I sped up 40 minutes of driving into 15 seconds.

4. It wears her out, from the lyrics: I found footage of my dog Kate, a puppy at the time, being frustrated by a laser pointer. There is an effect in Final Cut Pro X that made the laser point bigger than it was in reality, so I used it.

5. Pouring milk really had nothing to do with the lyrics or music, but I wanted the visual to be a distraction from the funky chord I accidentally played during my one take, no overdubs, no fixes performance. I shot this at 60 frames per second, then slowed it down 50%. I found a water drop effect in Final Cut Pro X, and used it for the fun of it.

6. The drum machine actually kicked in during the previous video, but I wanted to highlight this instrument here. It was another opportunity to experiment with effects and transitions that I'd normally ignore.

7. Deconstructing a burrito had nothing to do with anything, but this was my third attempt at photographing this stop-motion time elapse of the creation of a burrito. I realized I needed a tripod all along. The previous two burritos had better-looking filling ingredients. I used the hashtag #tapatio because I used that brand of hot sauce for the burrito, and the official Instagram account of Tapatio 'liked' the video, which is pretty cool.

8. Plastic surgery is implied in the lyrics for the previous video and in this one, so I went literally plastic with stop-motion LEGO minifigures. It's currently the most popular of the song segments. The animation looks pretty decent at 15 frames per second. I used a cable shutter release when shooting each frame, which probably created some shakiness in the animation. The next time I attempt stop-motion animation, I'll use a wireless remote control to take the photos.

9. It wears him out, from the lyrics: This was the drive home from Disneyland (the same day as Part 3), and I hit an awful bit of traffic that evening. It's currently the least popular of the song segments.

10. It wears him out, from the lyrics: This is footage from Diablo III: Reaper of Souls of my brother's character (a Demon Hunter) and my character (a Crusader) fighting a Rift Guardian. This was one of my first attempts at capturing video game footage. My computer isn't fast enough for capturing game play videos, so there was all kinds of lag producing this video. I had to speed it up anywhere from 200-400% to resemble some sort of animation. At least my Crusader got the kill shot, so that made the video look at little cool.

11. She tastes like the real thing, from the lyrics: Originally, I just wanted to produce a 15-second video for this part of the song. Then I, for some reason, wanted to release the entire recording. Anyhow, off-brand Oreo-like cookies do not taste like the real thing. I shot this at 60 frames per second, then slowed it down to 25%. This is essentially 15 frames per second, just like the stop-motion animation in Part 8.

12. Fake plastic love, from the lyrics: I wanted to produce a ridiculously epic LEGO-sized rock concert, with lights and large stage pieces (relative to the size of LEGO minifigures). The "band" onstage is a minifigure that vaguely resembles yours truly on guitar, "fake bass" (naturally), and vocals, and a robot minifigure on drums, representing the drum machine. The audience is made up mostly of the "female" minifigure parts from Part 8, with some pop culture surprises as well.

This is what I've (re-)learned concerning video file formats, especially using Compressor to make Instagram-friendly videos: If two videos are the same file size, the video with the least amount of movement and colors (e.g. Part 6) will look exponentially cleaner than the video with all kinds of movement and colors (e.g., Part 12). I knew this once upon a time, but remembering is a hard lesson to (re-)learn!

Right now, I don't know what Part 13 will look like, and I have six more of these to go! If I have nothing more interesting (to me, at least) to write about on March 5th, I will be sure to conclude the extended-length performance of my cover of a Radiohead song.