Pushing forward with the mounting of the tripod heads to the structure to provide the slickest, easiest way for the video cam operators to get the shots they want, with style and grace. Major break through (that will also save money) is that I can safely dismantle the Manfrotto tripods to create the mounting system for the tripod heads (I’ll regrease them after!). The shaft that extends below the true fluid tripod head is triangular, 1″ thick, and 12″ long, so creating something that conforms to this out of parts from McMaster would also take time. Rather than do that, why not just take the legs off and secure the top part where the shaft goes through to something stable at an appropriate distance from the camera turret?
This is what I’m talking about:
And here it is with the shaft though it.
The trick will be to find a way to secure it to some 2×4 with a hole drilled where the tripod head shaft goes through. But wait… those hex screws go ALL THE WAY THROUGH, so if I get these 1 3/4″ 10-32 socket cap screws and these threaded inserts I can put it all together. They arrive on Tuesday. It will be important to remember that the screws have to come through the bottom with the inserts butting against the tripod threads because the screws only come partially threaded. Bummer.
I’m going to use an InFocus IN3916 short throw projector to project the live-edited video for Body Island. The video is 1280 x 720, and I’m looking to make it a really immersive experience, like sitting close to the screen at the movies. The screen will be suspended over the sloping hill, roughly parallel to the slopes of the quarter pyramid (17˚ angle on the central ridge, but the screen could be as much as 30˚, or more). This handy site, pointed to me by Andrew Lazarow, helps calculate throw-to-distance ratios for specific models, as well as differences when changing lenses, ambient light levels and gain on the projector.
I’ll have to figure out a way to suspend it from the ceiling to get a good distance from the viewers on the slope. At a throw distance of 12’6″ the screen becomes 13’10″ x 24’8″ with a diagonal of 28’3″. At that size, 12′ is too close for people to watch– the pixels will be enormous and the image tile-ish. That could be interesting, and might go well with all the tile imagery I’m working with, but I think I’d rather have the image clean. We’ll see. The theater has a fly rig system so I can just pull a few ropes and adjust the height and pitch at will! Mounting the projector to a fly pipe might be a difficult task. Having the projector sit on a column in the center of the ridge is an option, but I think people walking around on the slopes would cause jiggles and vibration in the image.
The calculation website recommends a minimum viewing distance of 32′ at that throw distance, which is possible, but I’d have to suspend the projector fairly low to account for the pitch of the screen (17˚-30˚). Tomorrow is the production meeting, so I’ll probably be able to figure it out by then. Now to put my drawings into the diagrams of the space, using Illustrator. (and I can take the opportunity to fix some miscalculations!)
The style of wildlife documentary has been defined and redefined since people started capturing ‘nature’ on film decades ago. More recently, the style of David Attenborough via the BBC has become popular. There is a connection between the use of the camera and editing found in wildlife documentaries and those found in human-based documentaries or even some fictive narratives. In wildlife documentaries the subject can be difficult to predict, which keeps the camera operator on his/her toes. They have to be ready for anything, including not getting a shot for days, or losing a shot due to physical obstructions. You can set up whatever shot you want, or use camera traps, but none of that matters if the subject is obscured or not present. This comes closest to what I feel when improvising in a performance setting. One must rely on intuition, imagination and inspiration when involved in unpredictable interactions. The best results don’t always come from pre-determined actions.
That said, a huge amount of wildlife documentaries are staged, or fudged, especially once footage is in the hands of the editor. What is sacrificed when the ‘real’ narrative as it transpired is represented by the entertainment agenda? This question is evident to me in the art work of Omer Fast, whose work I had the pleasure of viewing in person, both at The Whitney (The Casting, 2008, and Nostalgia, 2010). He takes raw narratives communicated directly to him through storytelling, almost as confession, and dramatizes them through video remediation. These recreations balance between the ‘truth’ of transpired events, personal histories, as told by one person, and the same tale recreated in the artist’s imagination, the content sensationalized as well as desensitized, and utterly different. One of the inherent deficits– and, I would argue, interesting tenets– of communication is that one can never be sure of whether or not the other person has in mind the same image/notion you attempted to impart.
So the wildlife documentary has gotten around this issue by employing something very near to Herzog’s notion of the ‘ecstatic truth’, the idea that, “there are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.” (Herzog’s Minnesota Declaration.) Fabrication is endemic to the form of cinema as a conscious, serial arrangement or exclusion of images in time. Somehow this work has come full circle to the false documentary, albeit with a completely different set of features. Again, Herzog’s Grizzly Man has been an influence on this path.
In my previous post about the cinematic, musical and narrative tropes found in Attenborough’s documentaries, I outlined a few mechanisms utilized by the filmmakers to heighten tension and imbue raw footage with descriptors and meaning. I decided to set out to the dog park* to attempt a few of these mechanisms myself. Below are a few short videos that I hope will cast some light on how I can direct camera operators and the director of photography to build/draw out narratives in real-time.
Granted, in the case of the work I’m making (as of now) the ecstatic truth is perhaps more evident in the constructed situation (rats and body builder, flooded space, etc), and less evident in the post-production techniques of rendering a desired narrative. In this way, I’m departing from the initial inspiration by Fast’s iterative work, and inhabiting the world I come from, namely, live performance.
In the following videos, everything was shot from a single vantage point on a Panasonic AG-HMC150 HD, mounted on a tripod. I don’t have a ton of knowledge about camera technique terminology, so this is what I came out with. The first video is an amalgamation of all the tenets I observed in the studies of wildlife documentaries. The subsequent videos are those same tenets distilled and serialized, which is interesting in its own right, but not by the standards of Attenborough. I think the next step is to work with the body-builder on narrating the videos, or narrating the real-time action at the dog park. During the performance, he will be narrating the rats’ activity in metaphysical terms, as well as asking them questions, and touching them. An embedded narrator. Another next step is to actually build the live video editing system and try a director live-editing the action to create a narrative atmosphere that’s not necessarily there!
*I went to the dog park because it is a place where humans and animals interact, and because it is contained. The zoo was another option, but the dog park is closer, and as a study of interaction between species, and between individuals of one species, it does not compare. Furthermore, I know dogs fairly well (I’m an amateur trainer, and have spent time as a dog), and the movement of their bodies is a known quantity. They are a good stand in for rats. The reason I’m not shooting video of NYC rats is due to difficulties with lighting, shyness, lack of containment, and simple time constraints.
Below are some diagrams that show a few different possibilities for live-feed editing/projecting/recording video systems. The top two are using HDMI out from the camera (the Panasonic AG-HMC40P, the ones we have at ITP) to an HDMI switcher, and the one below has SD video coming out of the cameras and going to an analog switcher. The top two systems won’t be possible. Managing HDMI signal is proving to be too costly because the switcher/mixer has to honor timecode or there’s no point. SD video is much simpler to work with, and if I record all three feeds to card in-camera the SD video edit can be used as an edit template under the HD footage. Thanks to my assistant, Ilya Smelansky who worked with me on these diagrams.
It’s based on the mood/dream board I made a couple weeks ago. There are a few elements I wanted to include, such as the body builder, the video cams, and some extra flood and island imagery. The music is Dave Watkins, and Nosaj Thing.
Short version of the previously posted text. Plus more sketches!!
Body Island is a live-recorded video piece in the style of a wildlife documentary, created through a solo performance with live rats. The main objective is to produce a stand-alone video work that will outlive the performance. The performer and the rats are contained within a closed structure. The viewers see the performer-rat interaction only through live-edited video feeds, projected on a wall. The video crew and director of photography are exposed, coordinating and making decisions about how to capture mediate the interior of the structure. Audio recording equipment is scattered throughout the space to surreptitiously capture the viewers’ conversations about the work. These comments and impressions will be edited and overlaid as a soundtrack for the culminating video. Thus the viewers of Body Island and their articulated opinions have a hand in the creation of meaning in the work.
The interior of the structure is reminiscent of a communal shower, a confined space with a defined use that evokes notions of the unsanitary and the sanitary, privacy and public exposure. After some time, murky water begins to seep into the shower room through cracks in the tiles. To escape the water, the rats are forced to clamor aboard the performer. The water level rises to about eight inches and stops, transforming the performer’s body into an island landscape, providing harborage, and territory for a new state.
The final video will be two channels displayed side-by-side in a one-hour loop.
Eric, Julio, Tamar and I created a storyboard for our CommLab video. Butcher paper seemed to be the best option. Nice and big, rolled out flat on a big table. 6″ x 8″ frames. See if you can guess what the movie is about based on hour vague stick figure drawings. More on this later…