The Eye is Quicker

As any kid with iMovie knows, you assemble a film from short pieces cut from raw shots. Ah, but where do you cut? This frame, or that one? And which order do you join them? The art of a movie often lies in exactly how it is edited frame by frame. Much like the art of placing one word after another. The possibilities could go a million ways, but only one sequence will appear inevitable in retrospect. So how do you decide?

Of all the many books on editing motion pictures, I found this one explains the logic of editing best. It assumes you can handle the mechanics of the craft (no software menus or photo tech speak here). Instead what I got from this idiosyncratic book is a set of very handy rules of thumb for editing moving pictures. I’d say that this guide won’t be of much help for your YouTube videos, but would enlighten any attempt at a long-form film.

-- KK  

The Eye is Quicker
Richard D. Pepperman
2004, 350 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

One Sunday evening, while my family watched one of Ed’s magicians, my father offered up the ‘secret’ of their incredible practiced craft. “The hand is quicker than the eye!” I have heard the assertion many times. It is not true. The eye is quicker! This fact is indispensable for film editors. It holds a very simple significance: Directly it means that the moment selected for the joining of images must be ‘calculated’ to the very speedy interpretive facility of our eyes — a specific cut can work well or poorly. It is equally fundamental to our ability to ‘decode’ collections of images: The eye is ever alert to ‘take in’ information, and swift to embrace intricate descriptions. The eye is quicker than you might envision to ‘get the picture.’

David Mamet gives a clear — and simple — example of this in On Directing Film: “The movie… is much closer than the play to simple storytelling. If you listen to the way people tell stories, you will hear that they tell them cinematically. They jump from one thing to the next, and the story is moved along by the juxtaposition of images — which is to say by the cut. People say, “I’m standing on the corner. It’s a foggy day. A bunch of people are running around crazy. Might have been a full moon. All of a sudden, a car comes up and the guy next to me says…”

Witness. The Amish Boy in the Train Station Restroom scene. Time is extended — many more toilets than earlier — as one of the killers searches the stalls looking for the source of a low cry. The Amish Boy escapes detection. the shot holds on his face. Beat, beat, beat. Then a cut: We see the back of a policeman. We hear police walkie-talkies. The policeman clears the frame, and we see the Amish Boy in the arms of his mother. They are seated on a bench in the station waiting area. Policemen are all about.

By ‘passing up’ images of the Amish boy ‘screaming’ out from the restroom, a brilliant instance of pure cinematic storyshowing is crafted:


The clout in Time Left Out!
Plainly put, the good film editor strives to join the many film fragments, so that the structure established might hold enchantment, with no attentive concern about a cut. If there is form and purpose the audience can be captivated by the experience. In all creative storytelling, whether film, theatre, or literature, the aim is the same: have the fragments fade, and what remains is the harmony of the whole.

I never cut for matches, I cut for impact. –Sam O’Steen


Editors are sculptors who bend, mold, and breach time — in semblance, not in exactness. … This means that a ‘feeling’ has been stirred that a pause, or a ‘holding’ (on a shot) of some additional ‘time’ is required; or that the opposite is needed — an existing beat, or two, shouldn’t.

Roku + Netflix


Real movies the instant you want them have been expected for … well… at least 100 years. You think of a movie, then you can watch it. This trick has been tried scores of times over the past decades, but never seemed to work. Clunky boxes. Expensive contracts. No choices. Weird constraints. Lousy pictures. But now, finally, the trick works.

The Roku box from Netflix allows you to watch movies on your TV whenever you want to, for no extra charge, in DVD quality. It is a tiny thing that sets up in a few minutes. If you have wi-fi in your household it will link up to that so you can put the box near your TV. For achieving such a complex task it has a remarkably simple interface and no-fuss approach, very similar to an iPod. We were watching a movie within ten minutes of opening the shipping box.

You use a small clicker to control your Netflix queue on your TV. Movies are streamed (no waiting beyond a few seconds at the start) in unexpected big-screen TV quality. I don’t know how they do it. It is miles better than the streaming on those little YouTube boxes. There is no noticeable stutter, blobs, lags, or hiccups. But it ain’t hi-def, either.

The service is a joy to use. You manage your queue — adding and re-ording flicks — on your computer, and the Roku box automatically syncs up. Back at the TV you click through the instant choices, pick one, and in a few seconds the movie starts. You can pause, change movies, and resume the first where you left off.

Here’s the kicker: you can watch as many movies (no ads) as you care to. There is no extra charge beyond the basic Netflix monthly (and you can still get them mailed to you as DVDs if you prefer). Ten movies a month or a hundred. Anytime. This thing is dangerous.

Here’s the only caveat: so far only about 10% of the total Netflix catalog is available for instant download. But that total is naturally swelling by the day.

The Roku box is cheap at $100. You can watch all the instant Netflix movies for free without it, if you want to hook your PC up to a large screen, or watch on your monitor. Since the Roku is so small and wireless we can move it to our projector and stream movies to the big wall.

It’s a nicely done cool tool.

-- KK  

Roku 2

Available from Amazon

Also available from Roku
Amazon's Video On Demand service for Roku.

9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering

This documentary is a wonderful testament to what can happen when bright folks from different disciplines get together to make stuff. In 1966, 30 engineers from Bell Labs collaborated with a number of modern artists in New York to create a series of pieces/experiments. Open Score by Robert Rauschenberg, the first release in a 10-part DVD series on these pieces, captures what is essentially a high-tech indoor tennis match. Two players rallied with racquets wired with FM transmitters that amplified each stroke. As the lights in the room dimmed, the whole event coalesced into a participatory, multi-media “happening.” Since engineers reappropriated infrared lenses — primarily a military tool back then — the artists were able to film and project shots of the crowd.

A combo of 16mm performance footage and more recent interviews, the documentary is short (35 min.) but totally inspirational. These days we’re used to SRL shows and Maker Faires and the melding of science and art. We’ve come along way since C.P. Snow suggested the dangers of intellectual isolationism. Watching the old footage and listening to the collaborators reflect on the evening really emphasizes the beauty and importance of such cross-pollination(s).

You may feel inclined to tinker. You’ll likely feel a renewed appreciation for collaboration. More than anything, you’ll be reminded not to pigeonhole. Tom Robbins said it best: “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world, and those who are smart enough to know better.”

Just ask engineer Larry Heilos: “I got a deeper appreciation for the artist, per say. I began to realize that, hey, while they were doing things that were different, they were really just people like the rest of us, with some tremendous imagination and with some forethought as to what they could work with and what was available to them. Very stimulating.”

[Netflix doesn't carry it (yet). Also, there's a book on this subject, which I have not read. -- SL]

9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering
Part I: Open Score by Robert Rauschenberg

Available from Amazon

Spiderbrace Video Camera Stabilizer

This stabilizer fits most any video camera and makes all handheld shots steadier, as the weight of the camera is distributed across your body. It is made out of lightweight PVC and the handles are covered with a thick foam cushion, so it’s very comfortable. The unit is also machined, as the tubing is strategically bent and shaped at the correct angles. Some devices advertised online are cobbled together 100% from the Home Depot plumbing aisle — and they look it. This sharp-looking device doesn’t draw any attention to itself. It also costs less than any other comparable unit I’ve seen, and works just as well. While there are many plans on the Internet for making your own stabilizers and mounts, this one is manufactured well enough and at a cheap enough price to not have to build something that looks, well, like I built it. My wife and I run a small video company doing mostly weddings and other events and about half of our shooting time is spent in less-than-ideal conditions. Using the Spiderbrace 2 really helps keep the camera steady for long periods of time, and you are not burdened with a tripod or other unwieldy device should you need to move positions.

-- David McKnight  

Spiderbrace Video Camera Stabilizer
Available from SpiderBrace, Inc.

The 911 Report: A Graphic Adaptation

This is a comic book version of the 911 Commission Report. No joke. It takes the narrative of the official National Commission Report and transforms it into a page-turning thriller. It’s a very fast read. Their visual timeline of the four hijacked flights is scarily clarifying. The artists do a marvelous job of weaving the many threads that lead up to the event of 911. In fact before reading this I had not appreciated how interconnected the many previous encounters with the jihad network were. This graphic book also reveals in simple pictures how seriously the government bungled many early clues, how sadly it bungled its real-time response to the events and how it continues to bungle the complexity of this new world. The comic does all this while remaining faithful to the the Commission’s text, yet underscoring its clarity by telling the story in pictures. It’s a showcase for the power of the cartoon media. Highly recommended.

-- KK  

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation
Sid Jacobson, Ernie Colon
2006, 144 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

77 Million Paintings

Hard to say what this Brian Eno invention is. Part book, part screen saver, part gallery painting, part DVD video, part music, part software. It slices and dices your perceptions! The accompanying book in this package makes it clear that this an art piece that is normally exhibited in a large room. Here it comes disguised as DVD that you load onto your computer (Windows or Mac). When you fire it up, it starts to slowly generate paintings constructed by random layering of several hundred of Eno’s foundational images. Very S–l—o–w—l—y each painting melts into the next painting, so that the total number of image permutations tops out at 77 million. While the images shift, Eno’s ambient music also swirls in the background. Like an extremely slow screen saver, the result is ambient painting. But instead of happening in a gallery this evolution of paint happens in your space.

As I spent time watching these lovely paintings gradually, almost imperceptibly, evolve into another image, I had a epiphany. These 77 Million Paintings are not about colors, space, or painting — but time. The reason audiences will spend hours watching gallery installations of this same DVD is that their “nows” are elongated. If they are like me, they wait anxiously for the first image to change (Hurry up, man, this is slow), but by the time the fifth one is changing , it no longer seems slow, and by the 20th, you are in some eternal zen now. It is quite remarkable how colored lights can change time.

Besides the handsome 52-page book written by Eno, and the software, there’s also a DVD interview of him discussing the project. A very nice package.

-- KK  

77 Million Paintings by Brian Eno

Available from Amazon

"This high definition HD video contains a 35 minute time lapse recording at 12 times normal real time presentation speed - equivalent to 7 hours (or 420 minutes) of one unique real time performance instance of 77 Million Paintings..."

7 More Hours in 77 Million Paintings (2008.03.16) from Pitch Bend on Vimeo.

Graphic Novels

Okay, so you’ve read Maus. What’s next? This book will turn you onto a hundred more great graphic novels (you know, comics for adults) that “will change your life.” If you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about, this guide is a great way to get into the only part of book publishing that is growing (the graphic novel section of large bookstores can be measured in yards). The author, fan-boy Paul Gravett, selects graphic novels that are contemporary (not classic super-heroes), easily found, in book form (rather than serial magazines), and are beyond mere colorful fantasy, and not just dark teenage angst. They are great stories, with very personal art, in a wonderful cross between cinema and text. This guide is smartly designed and a joy to use. You get sample pages from choice works, Gravett’s insightful comments and analysis, related books, and plenty of context to tell what you can expect from each book. It’s one of the best shopper guides I’ve seen. (more…)

-- KK  

Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know
Paul Gravett
2005, 192 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:


How does a boy raised to obey the Bible reconcile his deep faith and the stirrings of sexual attraction? Craig Thompson pieces together his answer, first by going back to the small cruelties inflicted on him by his parents, and to his guilt over failing to protect his younger brother. He blends these scenes with the slow unfolding of him falling in love with Raina, a girl he meets at church camp. Nothing is rushed, as here Thompson shows the first nearness of their bodies and frees them from confining panel borders. “Blankets” refers not only to the Wisconsin snow, but also to the bed that he an his brother once shared, and to the quilt that Raina makes him.

Foam Latex Puppetmaking 101

With digital editing tools, stop-action animation (think Wallace and Gromit, or Tim Burton) has become more forgiving to make and therefore more new artists are trying their hand at it, making stop-action film more common in commercials, shorts and MTV-ish channels. But it’s really difficult to make a decent flexible figure for stop-action that will not move unless you want it to, but will move exactly as you want it to when you do, and even more challenging to make one that looks alive. I know I’ve tried. There’s really no other way to do this; you have to make a special armature figure. I can’t imagine there are more than five readers of Cool Tools interested in how to make a really good latex puppet for use in animated videos and films. But for you five, here’s some gold: an all-you-need-to-know step-by-step DVD from a gal (Kathi Zung) in New York City who’s perhaps the only professional animated latex puppet maker in the galaxy. She does everything in her loft kitchen, and is very eager to tell you what she has learned. It’s as thorough a workshop course as I’ve seen, with no detail or potential problem unattended.

-- KK  

Do it Yourself Foam Latex Puppetmaking 101
Zung Studio

Sample Excerpts:

The Work of Director Michel Gondry

My bet is that future generations will consider Michel Gondry an original genius on the order of M.C. Esher and J.S. Bach. Gondry is a French filmmaker of music videos and amazing clever shorts. He specializes in radically playful creations, many of them which point to themselves in the recursive manner of the best creations of Esher and Bach. His films circle around in strange loops, mess with paradoxical perspective and POV, and explore the edges of linear reality with the spirit of a 12-year-old boy. He’s recently made feature films (one is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but his best work is still showcased in these 27 brilliant short films and astounding music videos collected here. They are utterly arresting, even now long after they were made. I am reminded of a Annie Dillard quote that says (paraphrasing) that when a creation refers to its form as well as its content, then it refers to art.

-- KK  

The Work of Director Michel Gondry
2003, 400 minutes

Available from Amazon

Or from Netflix

The White Stripes - "Fell In Love With A Girl"

Sample Excerpts:

From Kylie Minogue’s music video “Come Into My World.” She circumnavigates a city block, while additional copies of herself join on top of multiple layers of background jokes. It’s as if a snake with its tail in its mouth begins to unroll into a larger more colorful dancing dragon.

The Complete Animation Course * The Animation Book

All films will become animations. That prediction is based on the rate at which special effects become standard effects in big-budget films. Even a “live action” movie these days is composed frame by frame, and the skills and logic of animation take over. An ordinary digital camera, a hi-end PC or Mac, with iMovie software or equivalent, gives anyone the tools to do cinematic animation without tears. The Complete Animation Course is the best of many recent books riding the re-newed popularity of animated films. This guide is a great how-to orientation for making your own animated film using affordable technology. It introduces you to classic animation basics, and the many methods which combine old fashioned techniques (cartoon, paper collages, claymation) with computer based tools. I found it had just the right level of detail — sufficient to get you going without bogging down in how to do what’s already been done.

The Complete Animation Course is not as thorough on basic technique as the new Digital Edition of Kit Laybourne’s classic The Animation Book, but it is far more up-to-date and digitally oriented. The Animation Book goes deep; there’s none better for grasping the secrets of traditional cell animation. Many of those techniques are still essential. The Complete Animation Course goes fast: there’s none better if you want to use a digital camera, scanner, and home computer to make an animated short.

The Complete Animation Course: The Principles, Practice, and Techniques of Successful Animation
Chris Patmore
2003, 160 pages

The Animation Book: A Complete Guide to Animated Filmmaking — from Flip-books to Sound Cartoons to 3-D Animation
Kit Laybourne
1998, 426 pages

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:

Twelve Principles of Animation

1. Squash and Stretch.
2. Anticipation. This is setting up the action before it happens, usually with a slight movement in the opposite direction to the main one.
3. Staging. This is related to the way the film as a whole is “shot,” considering angles, framing, and scene length.
4. Straight-ahead Action and Pose-to-Pose. Straight-ahead action starts at one point and finishes at another in a single continuous movement, such as running, whereas pose-to-pose is a variety of actions in one scene requiring clearly delineated key frames to mark the action’s extreme point. How the in-betweens are executed can alter the whole rhythm of the action.
5. Follow-through and Overlapping Action. Follow-through is the opposite of anticipation. When a character stops, certain parts remain in motion, such as hair or clothes. Overlapping action is when the follow-through of one action becomes the anticipation of the next one.
6. Slow In — Slow Out. This means using more drawings at the beginning and end of an action and fewer in the middle. This creates a more lifelike feeling to the movement.
7. Arcs. These are used to describe natural movement. All actions create circular movements because they usually pivot around a central point, usually a joint. Arcs are also used to describe a line of action through a character.
8. Secondary Action is just that, another action that takes place at the same time as the main one. This may be something as simple as turning the head from side to side during a walk sequence.
9. Timing. This is something that can’t be taught. In the same way that comedians who rely on it to get the most from their gags have to learn it through experience, you too will get it right only through practice. Timing is how you get characters to interact naturally. Timing also has to do with the technical side of deciding how many drawings are used to portray an action.
10. Exaggeration. This is the enhancement of a physical attribute or movement, but don’t make the mistake of exaggerating the exaggeration.
11. Solid Drawing. This conveys a sense of three-dimensionality through linework, color, and shading.
12. Appeal This is giving personality to the characters you draw. If you can convey it without the sound track, you know you are on the right track.

These are not hard and fast rules, but they have been found to work since the early days of animation. Bear them in mind at the storyboard stage and your animation will definitely have more fluidity and believability.

In these two shots, from Rustboy by Brian Taylor, we can see the dramatic effect shaders and lighting can have on a scene. The top picture is the flat model produced by the software while you are working on it. The picture below is a fully rendered scene, with all the shaders, textures, and lighting added to give it depth, atmosphere, and believability.