Monday, January 4, 2010

Video Recipe Learnings

While working on the kibe video recipe over the past two months I developed a list of learnings that will guide my future video projects. These include design and production insights that range from tactical to conceptual. Some of these learnings are specific to video recipe projects while others are more general in nature. Many of these seem obvious in retrospect.

Here I will also briefly share my experience working in Final Cut. This was my first time editing video using this powerful application (in the two video projects from this past semester I took a co-pilot seat during the editing phase). There was definitely a steep learning curve compared to simpler editing applications such as iMovie.

During Comm Lab class this past semester we covered a lot of strategies and approaches for planning video and animation projects. However, I did not apply any of these strategies to my work on this video because I decided to take on this project in a last-minute moment of inspiration. Anyways, the following activities would have greatly helped:

  • Write down the recipe before hand to serve as a basis for development of a storyboard and shot list. Make sure to identify whether different shots are needed of the same scene, and to consider still picture requirements as well.
  • Use storyboard and shot list to identify the shots where the presenter will be speaking on camera. Plan for these shots by writing a script or at least key points that should be mentioned.
  • Make a requirements list of all equipment that will be needed for the shoot based on the storyboard and shot list. Don’t forget to include power and connection cords, tripods, and other secondary elements.

Explore content and presentation ideas that make the final video more compelling and/or effective. There is no easy recipe for improvement in this area because the strategies required will vary considerably depending on the objective and audience of any given project.

Some obvious areas of exploration that I will consider for future projects include: addition of music or other types of sound effects; use of animation and other visual strategies (such as stop motion); and leveraging existing content that can be mashed-up.

From a production standpoint, there are many things that I can do to improve the quality and efficiency of my work. First off, better planning would definitely have improved the production of my kibe video. Here is a list of many specific tactical considerations for me keep in mind:

First and foremost, I need to remember the importance of having control over the environment for the type of shoot that I was doing for the kibe video (in other instances lacking control may be more beneficial). Specifically I need to minimize my talking during the recording, unless it is planned beforehand. For example, I took a lot of shots that I was not able to use because of my talking on camera. I need to ensure that there will be no background movement during the shoot. Background music can also pose problems if I plan on using sound recorded during the shoot for in the final video.

Having the right equipment is key to controlling the environment. For example, proper lighting is very important to ensure that the colors come across well. Microphones are necessary to capture high-quality audio from the shoot. Using the same camera with the proper settings ensures that all shots have a consistent look, and help save rendering time during the editing process. One specific setting that I forgot to set properly in the kibe video was the auto-focus (which should have been turned off).

One last production consideration is the importance of writing down copy for the voiceover before starting to record. I wrote down this rule after it took me 15 takes to record a 5 second voiceover. That is not to say that the copy needs to be written down verbatim (this depends on the experience and comfort level of the host).

Final Cut
My initial sessions using Final Cut were highly frustrating. I was not used to the long delays required for rendering files and I had no familiarity with the shortcuts, which are crucial to working effectively in this environment. That said, after a good bit a patience (and 4 to 5 hours of practice) I started to enjoy working with Final Cut.

Final Cut is ideal for complex video projects where there are multiple camera angles used to capture the same action. It enables you to easily switch between camera angles once you’ve got the cameras synched. This was an important requirement for this project.

Final Cut has a great selection of shortcuts that enables the user to quickly switch between different tools from the palette, and to perform common tasks such as adding in and out points for any given video. Once you learn the shortcuts the editing process speeds up considerably. Another capability that makes the editing process much more efficient is the ability to cut and paste effects and other type of levels (e.g. opacity, size, keyframes, etc) from one clip to another.

The most complex parts of Final Cut, which were the most frustrating to deal with, include the system settings (such as scratch disk, etc) and project settings (such as frame rate, frame size, and pixel aspect ratio). I’m sure these will become easier to manage once I have a few projects under my belt.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Kibe Assado - Video Recipe

Earlier today I finished editing a video recipe for kibe that I had been working on for the past two months. I took on this project because I wanted to share this delicious recipe that I have developed over the past several months. Thanks to everyone who has served as guinea pigs along the way. Without further delay here is the video along with a written version of the recipe.

Recipe serves: 6 normal people (3 crazy kibe lovers)

• 1 pound of ground beef
• ½ pound of bulgur
• 1 large onion
• 1 bunch of mint
• 2 teaspoons of salt
• 2 teaspoons of butter and olive oil
• A pinch of ground pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg

Prepare the Outer Mixture: start by soaking the bulgur in water for two to three hours. Clean the mint and separate the leaves from the stems. Prepare the onions by removing the outer skin. Chop the mint and onions using a food processor or knife. Mix the chopped mint and half of the onions together.

Combine half a pound of ground beef with the bulgur. Add chopped mint, onions, salt and spices to ground beef and bulgur mixture. Make sure to mix all the ingredients thoroughly. A food processor or meat grinder is ideal for this step.

Sautee the Filling: heat a pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, butter and remaining half of the chopped onion to the pan. Sautee the onion until it has become translucent. Add the remaining ground beef to the pan. After a few minutes add the pine nuts. Sautee the meat until the liquid that arises has evaporated. Then remove the beef from the stovetop.

Prepare the Pan: First coat the pan with non-stick cooking spray. Then add a layer of the beef and bulgur mixture to the bottom and sides of the pan. Next add a layer of the sautéed ground beef filling. Then top off the pan with the remaining beef and bulgur mixture. Use a spoon to pat down each layer to make sure they are properly packed.

Once the pan is prepared take a knife and cut diamond-shaped patterns into the top layer (you can actually cut any shape that you want). Then drizzle some olive oil on top. Now the pan is ready to go into the oven.

Bake the Kibe: preheat the oven to 375 degrees then bake for 40 minutes. Turn on the broiler and bake for 5 to 10 minutes to brown the top.

Kibe Crazy
Using this same basic recipe you can also create two other types of kibe dishes: Kibe Cru (raw kibe) and Kibe Frito (fried kibe). Kibe cru is essentially the bulgur and beef mixture described above, served raw and garnished with mint leaves and sliced onions. Kibe frito consists of the same elements as baked kibe. However, the bulgur and beef mixture is shaped into a ball that contains the sautéed beef filling. These kibe balls are then fried.

Other Motivations
A secondary motivation for this project was a desire to learn how to use Final Cut Pro. This consideration ultimately led to my selection of media. In a separate post I will cover the learnings I gained from this project, both in relation to working with video in general and with Final Cut specifically.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Sao Paulo Street Art Experience

Following up to my post a few weeks back regarding the Sao Paulo Street Art installation, I have come across an interesting video on Vimeo about Brazilian graffiti art. This great little video provides an overview of the history of this artform in general, along with an interesting investigation regarding why graffiti in Brasil has an unique vibrancy, and how this art is changing as it is increasingly accepted in the art and media worlds.

As part of my project idea, I would like to develop a similar short documentary but with a slightly different focus. Specifically I would like to investigate further the influences and motivations that generated the specific flavor and style that is unique to Brazilian street art. What are the cultural, geographical, physical, social, and other factors that are at play here.

Next week I plan to discuss this project with several more people here in Sao Paulo. Hopefully I will be able to generate some interest and identify some leads that will help me transform this idea into a reality.

Design of the Cat Toy Base

Here is an update regarding the design of the base for the cat toy that I have been building for my Introduction to Physical Computing final project. This post is a long time coming - I planned to post this information several weeks ago but was forced to wait due to the general workload surrounding finals.

Unfortunately, I was not able to finalize this project by the end of the semester due to issues that I encountered with the stepper motors, and creating a system of gears and pulleys that are able to move the cat toy structure (I've already created a post with information regarding the stepper motor-related issues, I will review the issues encountered when creating the gear and pulley systems here). That said, first let's take a look at the design for the cat toy base.

The Design of the Cat Toy Base
When I started working on the design for this device I envisioned using an existing cat scratching post as the base for my creation. This was an ideal solution since these toys feature a strong base that can withstand the tug from cats. Unfortunately, I did not find any existing products in a form factor that can work with my vision of this toy.

Once I realized that I had to create my own base structure, I decided that I wanted to build it using recycled materials. Considering how much Sasha likes cardboard scratching posts and the amount of cardboard boxes that are discarded in NY, I decided to use cardboard as the primary material for the base. The main considerations that drove my design included: allowing sufficient space to house the arm, laser, speaker, and proximity sensor; creating a shape that would appeal to the cat and allow for easy scratching; and making sure that the base was stable enough to withstand a beating from Sasha.

Here are a few important notes about the sketch designs featured below: first off, the light brown areas illustrate the internal compartment of the toy base where the chips, sensors, and motors will be stored; secondly, the two protruding structures at the top of the base will hold the toy wand and the laser; lastly, for the initial version of the toy I have decided to remove the cat laser (this will of course be reflected in all future pictures related to this prototype).

The Structure that Supports Movement
The biggest challenge I have encountered in developing this prototype is designing and building the mechanism of motion for the wand. Once I was able to get the motors working properly (which was a challenge in and of itself), I started working on finding a solution for the structure that would hold the wand, and for transferring the motion from the motors to move the wand.

After a considerable amount of research I decided to purchase an erector to create the structure for the wand. The specific set that I purchased is pictured here. This is a great solution because the parts in this set can be easily combined and recombined to created a strong structure that supports different types of movement.

Finding a solution for the gear and pulley mechanism was much tougher. The first challenge was to understand how gears and pulleys work together, so that I could design a system and find the appropriate parts. After doing some initial research, I decided to use Lego Mindstorm gears to build my initial prototype. Unfortunately, this approach did not work because the gear connection to the shafts was too loose, especially after the motor heated up.

After talking to some colleagues at ITP (thank you Michael K), I realized that what I needed was gears with hubs and set screws similar to the one featured on this page. These types of gears can be fastened securely to shafts of slightly varying thickness. SDP-SI has by far the largest selection of gears and pulleys on the web. Unfortunately, these components are not cheap.

The solution that I ultimately selected was to purchase a set of gears from Eitech that is compatible with the shafts from my erector set. The Girders and Gears website was a great resource that helped me find this solution. This site features useful information about various types of building sets and related gears and pulleys. Unfortunately, I have not yet had a chance to test these new gears. I plan on doing so as soon as I return to New York in mid-January.

One additional approach that I considered was creating my own gears, using a 3D sketching program and a laser cuter. Here is a link to step-by-step instructions for designing and producing custom gear sets.