Plying the tools

16 October 2009

I posted a video I produced on Vimeo earlier this week, and I have since had a few people come back to ask me what tools I used to produce it. Some of you may be interested in my take on a few of the video production tools we use here at Connect, Hill & Knowlton’s online content division in Australia.

We like to keep it pretty cheap and cheerful, without lowering the quality of the final product where possible. Our belief is that many video productions are charged at inflated prices, based on old business models that didn’t really have online content in mind. We see the YouTube experience has changed this forever, and with video cameras more readily affordable, there is no real barrier to developing video content.

The above video was produced in support of a great charity campaign run by Canon in Australia and New Zealand, called Creative for a Cause. The campaign asked enthusiasts to take a photo and send in a creative image that represented their favourite charity. The winning charity would be awarded prize money to help further their cause.

For this piece in particular, I worked alongside one of my creative editors to produce this short piece which was used for a client review and supplementary material for an award entry.

Source material: Logo files (eps), finalist photo images (jpegs)
Editing platform: Final Cut Pro on a MacBook Pro
Effects software: Adobe After Effects & Photoshop
Time to produce: 24 hours from brief to final product

I’ll explore some of the wider editing tools available in an upcoming post, but for now, here are a few thoughts around the programs and tools we use.

About Final Cut Pro
This is a great software package used widely across the production community to edit and produce broadcast or online content. Although the cost (around $1499 AUD) may be a little beyond the reach of the home enthusiast, Apple have developed a lighter version which is exceptionally affordable. Final Cut Express ($268 AUD) doesn’t offer the same level of advanced features (such as support for a wider variety of camera formats) but it does include the basics and does them well.

Some of the hidden extras in the pro version that can be often underused are the additional applications such as Motion and Colour, and then of course there is the extensive user manual.

About Adobe After Effects & Photoshop
We used the Adobe After Effects software to animate the logos and intro/outro scenes. We then used Adobe Photoshop to create smoother titles to sit over the images we had to work with. These were imported into Final Cut Pro as PNG files. Once again, you don’t need to work with the high-end tools to achieve a similar effect. You can create suitable PNG files with numerous free graphics programs for Mac or PC. I tend to view After Effects as a bit of a luxury when it comes to editing. You can tell a good story without it, but it does add some pizzazz if you need to add that extra something to your production.

Goodbye ‘envisage’ – Hello ‘All About Online Video’

01 October 2009

After a solid hiatus, I’m back in a renamed and repurposed blog…  The “envisage” blog was a great experiment for me, but I’m now keen to blog with more intent and purpose than previously.

Enter, “All About Online Video”…

I’m a Producer as well as a PR Consultant and am quite passionate at having these two worlds collide together. The world of video production could learn more from the focus on messaging and outcome that PR can bring, and PR can benefit from the additional layers of communication and engagement that video can provide.

It’s into this communications environment that this blog will delve. If you’re someone who has been asked to produce, edit, shoot or market a video online, then you will find some useful resources here as the weeks progress. If you’re in a communications role and are wondering how to incorporate video into your campaigns and thinking, then you’ll be find a few pointers here as well.

In the next few months, I’ll be covering areas such as how to make a brief, choosing the right video format, what tools to use and choosing the right style to match your core message. If you have areas of interest you’d like me to explore, I’m open to suggestions, criticisms and comments.

An Ad for the Bottom Line

01 July 2009

Just as the Olympic titans of the historic Olympic Games competed nude to show they had nothing to hide – so too do my Pacific neighbours, the flight crew of Air New Zealand.

If you haven’t seen their latest marketing campaign yet, you may want to take a look at their somewhat cheeky, and I do mean cheeky, inflight safety video. Let’s just say you won’t be needing the whistle and light to attract attention…

It’s part of a marketing campaign to drive Air New Zealand’s new “Our fares have nothing to hide” slogan. The message is pretty transparent, as is the clothing. The stars who bare all but bodypaint are actually all Air NZ employees – even the CEO makes a cameo appearance!

And apparently it cost significantly less to produce by using actual staff to create the marketing campaign. Great concept! It’s really catching on with millions of hits on YouTube already and driving lots of positive comments online on Twitter.

Creative. Simple, yet fantastic idea. Well executed. What do you think? Should we go for a skinny-trip?

Check out the campaign website at

Shrinking Sydney down to size

22 May 2009

I first saw Keith Loutit’s work on the front cover of a local suburban publication and was instantly drawn to his unique style. That was just from a photograph, but on finding his video collection online at Vimeo, I went from admirer to fan in seconds.

Bathtub IV from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

Keith recreates the feeling of looking closely at a miniature model, by using a shallow depth of field and controlling the focus. It feels similar to turning on the macro/lens options on your camera and taking pictures extremely close-up. The effect is known as tilt-shift miniaturisation and Keith believes he is the first to combine the technique with time-lapse to create short movie clips.

I really love the look and feel of his work. It makes me feel like a bit of a god watching these, staring down at the lives of the ‘little people’ that live around me. What I particularly like about his compositions are that they include those little life moments as well as some inspiring scenery. We get the opportunity to explore our own lives through completely fresh and different eyes.

Loutit has started a personal project, “Little Sydney” where for 12 months he will capture significant events and general life around Sydney. In one of the films already shot, Greenpeace commissioned him to use his time-lapse style to document their team building a whale sand-sculpture on the beach as part of an anti-whaling protest. It was a smart move by the organisation, as Keith is gaining a lot of attention from both local and worldwide media due to his unique style.

Check out the video below or jump on Vimeo directly for the HD version…

Helpless from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

For video editors keen to learn how to mimic the style with Adobe After Effects, there is a simple well-thought out tutorial online. The tutorial was inspired by Keith’s work.

What do you think about Keith’s work? How does it make you feel watching these clips? Let me know if it impressed you as much as it did me.

Music, a language that transcends

16 April 2009

As a musician, I was stoked to read about the YouTube Symphony project a few months ago. The idea behind the project, a joint initiative by YouTube and the London Symphony Orchestra, was to create the world’s first truly collaborative orchestra, drawing on the talent of unknown musicians from all over the world.

Chinese composer Tan Dun created an original piece and invited musicians of all ilk to submit their auditions via YouTube to be considered for a part in the project. The definition of “instrument” was open to interpretation, as long as it could play within one of the “parts” created by Tan Dun.

The video below is the official international mash up which premiered yesterday at Carnegie Hall in the USA.

I love how this video has brought together all of the finalist YouTube musicians, using the visuals of their performance to create a “goose-bumps” experience while the piece is being performed.

Awesome stuff indeed! I’m torn as to my favourite performer between the saw-player at 1.00 and the Stormtrooper trumpeter at 1.42…

Here’s one of my local musicians, Lauren Brigden, on YouTube talking about her experience in the lead-up to her performance at Carnegie Hall.

What do you think will be next? A collaborative soap opera via YouTube perhaps?

GFC CDO – What the?

06 April 2009

Have you been stuck in one of those awkward moments where someone, or perhaps even yourself, has been asked to explain what the credit crisis actually means?

“Ummm, well, err” seems to be the most common introduction to a response in the elevator and taxi conversations I’ve been privy to. What proceeds is usually an entertaining but long-winded answer ending with a softly-worded escape clause, perfectly timed to bridge to an alternative topic.

A colleague forwarded me the work of a creative fine arts student, Jonathan Jarvis, who honed his design skills to make the credit crisis a little more crunchable. See the results below.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo

Jonathan prepared the video package as part of his thesis for a Media Design Program at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He drew on previous experience in creating diagrams of systems for the Innovation Team at UNICEF and some earlier work on motion design to make it all happen.

Through diagrams, motion and the guiding narrative as key elements, Jonathan has found a way to walk us step-by-step through the essential elements and relationships behind the credit crisis. As a quick way to grasp relationships and complex concepts – it definitely worked for me. What do you think?

Check out his website and see some of his other design work if you get some time.

Black is the new black…

01 April 2009

Earth Hour has come and gone for another year, and the pictures from around the world have been amazing. If you’ve been hiding under a rock and don’t know much about it – the concept is pretty simple. Turn off your lights and as much power as you can for an hour to support the cause of greater awareness around climate change.

From chats with my friends and after checking out a few online networks and discussion forums, I was surprised by the level of scepticism I encountered with the idea behind Earth Hour. A few of them said things like, “Oh, they think they are doing so good turning lights out for an hour, but the power needed to turn them all back on would easily outweigh any benefit.”

Now I’m not an electrician, and that’s probably just as well with a last name like Sparke, but I think the benefit of Earth Hour goes way beyond a small drop in the electricity grid usage.

This is effective and powerful visual communication at its best. Light, by which we derive colours and the sight of all things visual, is most conspicuous by its absence. And absent it was in more than 2848 cities in 83 countries around the world. Icons that blaze against the nighttime landscape such as the Sydney Opera House, Christ the Redeemer statue, Tower of Eiffel, Big Ben and the Birdcage stadium in Beijing, all disappeared from view as Earth Hour came around. (Check out the video below of the landmarks powering down…)

To me I see it as a really clear message that individuals can make a difference towards climate change. Personally, I found that after the first Earth Hour I was challenged to make some changes at home with my own personal electricity consumption and the number of devices I had left plugged in, on and around. My own personal awareness has definitely increased since the first Earth Hour in 2007, and I find I am leaving lights on less, and swapping normal wattage bulbs for the more efficient ones. Every bit counts…

My Top Five things to do to celebrate Earth Hour
1. Moonlight picnic
- I’m lucky to live in Sydney where the views of Earth Hour by the harbour make a moonlight picnic an awesome experience
2. Make your move by moonlight – Find a restaurant participating in Earth Hour (candle-light dining) and take a romantic interest you’d like to develop a little further…
3. Meditate - enjoy the ‘quiet’ of lights out and meditate in a public space. The vibe of a well-chosen location can be quite inspiring
4. Get “observatorying” - enjoy the clarity of the night sky and for those of you who live in the city, why not see what stars look like…
5. Host a “black-out” party - the theme becomes pretty obvious, but there are plenty of variations to be had for the imaginative…

Have you changed your habits because of Earth Hour? Or did you do something fun to celebrate? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Just an eye on the wall…

20 March 2009

The camera and prosthetic eye planned to be worn by filmmaker Rob Spence

The camera and prosthetic eye planned to be worn by filmmaker Rob Spence Photo Credit:The EyeBorg Project

“Truth” has finally joined beauty to be in the eye of the beholder. The EyeBorg Project will see documentary filmmaker Rob Spence insert a camera and transmitter inside a prosthetic eye which he will wear to capture a very different view of the world.

Rob lost one of his eyes in a shooting incident when he was 13. After growing too painful, what remained of his damaged eye had to be removed and he started wearing an eye-patch full-time.

A while ago he noticed how small the camera was in his mobile phone, and got to thinking about the Bionic Man from the TV series “Six Million Dollar Man”. Fusing the two ideas together he came up with the EyeBorg Project, or as his tagline puts it – a one-eyed filmmaker gets a camera-eye.

Rob partnered with Kosta Grammatis, a former SpaceX avionics engineer to lead the team working to design the ‘bionic eye’. Working alongside ocularists, inventors and engineering specialists, Rob, Kosta and the team are looking to complete the task on a shoestring budget.

For the techies out there… the world’s smallest CMOS cameras (1.5mm2) will be used and according to Kosta, the video signal will be transmitted wirelessly, probably to a wearable backpack to be recorded. The RF transmitter is smaller than the tip of a pencil eraser, and lithium polymer battery technology will power the eye.

Rob’s goal – to explore the way society deals with issues surrounding surveillance in a ground-breaking way. An interesting topic, given the number of CCTV and surveillance cameras that track our every move in shops, on streets and even at home… Check out the video of his plan below.

EYEBORG– The Two Week Trial from eyeborg on Vimeo

Last week at my apartment block, a new set of surveillance cameras have just been installed, and it’s been interesting to gauge the reaction of residents as they realise they are about to have their every move tracked. I have surprised even myself with my reaction to the camera going in. It does feel somewhat like an invasion of my space…

Regarding Rob, I say good on him for throwing himself wholeheartedly into the project. It’ll be interesting to see how the project comes along. As for living our life under the eye of a camera, what do you think? Do scary visions of the future come to mind, or perhaps do you like to be watched?

Summer shorts

16 March 2009

As a Sydney-sider, each time summer rolls around it brings celebrations, barbecues, beaches and icy-cold drinks to endure the sweltering heat. It’s also the time when Sydney’s festival season gets into full swing…

One of the perennial festival favourites for me is TropFest. Billed as the world’s largest short-film festival, its premise is clear – submit an original film less than seven minutes in length, containing a reference to the ‘signature item’ which changes from year to year. 16 finalists are chosen from the 600+ original entries and are broadcast to the public at the main screening at a park in Sydney, and simulcast to other cities around Australia.

Over the past 15 or so years, what began as an idea in a Sydney café, has become an important part of the Australian cultural calendar and a haven for budding film-makers all keen on capturing that ‘big idea’ on video.

This year’s festival was no exception with 16 great short films, but the one that stayed in my mind afterwards, wasn’t one of these… it was the winning entry from TropFest’s first international short film festival held in New York at the end of 2008.

The winning film-maker used only a mobile phone to capture visuals across Sydney and New York. It isn’t big budget – it isn’t all that steady – but it is powerful in telling the story of homelessness in both cities.

I hope you enjoy it is as much as I did. Anyway, let me know your thoughts… Does it move you too? What works (or doesn’t) for you?

Welcome to envisage!

16 March 2009

When was the last time you saw something that moved you?

Did the image solicit a lone tear, or a torrent, or maybe you were impassioned towards action – regardless, you felt something, because you saw something that connected with you at a deeper level.

envisage will be a place to explore the power behind strong visual communication. We’ll take a look into online examples of what works and what perhaps misses its mark. It’s a chance too, for you to share examples of strong images and video that have moved you in some way. An ad, a film, a photo…

We’ve all seen examples of imagery that can grab a headline…  A man with a shopping bag facing down a line of tanks. A mother burying her only child in an unmarked field. A stockpile of human bones lined up in Rwanda. The earth from space. A tiny hand grasping on to the surgeon’s finger through its mother’s open womb.

An image can crumble a nation, or unite people beyond borders. With that much power at our fingertips, it might come in handy to explore how visual media can effect and influence its viewers.

Again, welcome to envisage. I’m looking forward to bringing you some great examples of powerful visual communications just as much as I’m keen on hearing, seeing and feeling those which have connected with you.