February 07, 2010

Part 4: On Animated Poems & YouTubing

I live in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC, and the snow--a solid 18 inches, with drifts in many spots up to 24 inches--got us good. On the night of the big December storm we had friends over and were blithely ignoring the whole thing until, sitting on the step to my balcony, I realized I could reach out and scoop up handfuls of fresh, clean snow to eat. This storm has been more orchestrated--too much hunkering-down, too much waiting and worrying.

Plus, somewhere adjacent to this apartment, someone has left an alarm on, buzzing every three seconds, going into Day 2. Buzz buzz buzz. (Pause) Buzz buzz buzz. (Pause) Buzz buzz buzz. Sigh.

The upside is that the stir craziness drove me to make a second in my series of animated videos illustrating poems from the forthcoming I Was the Jukebox. I chose "The Story," which first appeared in The Florida Review, for several reasons.  It is a shorter piece, the text isn't on the web anywhere else, and for February I thought I'd chose a love poem--a valentine, or as close as I get to one.

With each one of these, I'm learning a little more about the process. Here's what I had on my mind this time around:

-No poem is too short. Really. In the run-through I thought "my god, this is only going to be a 26-second video!" But after you add title matter and closing credits, and match the frames to how long it takes an unfamiliar eye to absorb the text, the length will be twice what you expected. Since none of these should run over two minutes anyway, no poem is too short.

(Okay, maybe clerihews and haikus. No other poems.)

-Make the most of your images. I decided to go with a minimalist approach of text on black. This served a practical purpose--every hi-res still costs about  $2-5 at iStockphoto, which can add up quickly--and also, an aesthetic one: I worried that a series of literal parade of the objects named in "The Story" (a hotplate, copper ore, a cheetah) would be too clunky and distracting.

So I wanted to make the most of my animations. For "Vocation" I cut corners with 15-credit (~$15) versions of the MP4s, which are then fuzzy in the YouTube site display, but fine embedded in blogs, etc. This time I held myself to two MP4s, but paid for higher-res 25-credit versions. In the case of the cut-paper house sequence, it was out of respect for the artistry. I was also happy to find a candle-burning clip that ran a little longer than most (this is a popular type of iStock clip), and included the candle going out. I cropped that from the MP4s first appearance, then patched it in for post-credit closure.

-Choose music paced to the time you have. I was worried, after "Vocation," that I was eternally wedded to jazz soundtracks. But "The Story" has a different energy, and Kevin MacLeod had sectioned out some wonderful (and royalty free) snippets from Mahler's Danse Macabre. I picked two that added up to the full length needed and lined up the seam between them with a transition in the poem.

You might be tempted to pick a song that runs longer than what you need (2-4 minutes), and just chop it off when your poem ends. Don't do that. Every clip has its own internal rhythm; pick something working toward an end point aligned with your poem, and you'll be surprised at the congruities in phrasing that may occur. We sense when something is cut off, even with a decent fadeout effect.

-Balance your sound. The biggest problem with "Vocation" is imbalance between the microphone input (for the voiceover) and the MP3 soundtrack. I've decided the built-in mic is more effective than my plug-device--in part because the former is more responsive to the "Normalize Clip Volume" function built into iMovie and found under "Audio Adjustments." (This is also a way to equalize the volume across multiple MP3s.) You can further tweak the balance under by upping the voiceover track (up to 200%) and "ducking" the MP3 track (I punched it down to 5% of original volume).

The result is, I hope, a more natural sound balance. Keep in mind that this was recorded in the exact same physical space at "Vocation," yet it is far less tinny. Those settings really make a difference.

Anyway, with no further ado...

...and, for comparison's sake, here is "Vocation"...


Hannah Stephenson said...

I really enjoyed these. I loved the idea of typing "help" 91 times in a minute.

Video poems are interesting...I don't always like them, but I do like the way they directly create pace for the reader/viewer.

newzoopoet said...

I am totally digging "The Story."

Jessie Carty said...

i like how you really get in and describe the process of making video poems. i have used music clips that i cut but only if i use the fade in and fade out features available on movie maker. ah, i miss making videos sometimes but not the overheating laptop that i made them on. netbook in my future..hmmm

Unknown said...

Wonderful poetry, a marvellous, fresh, jazzy energy; but, but, with serious intellectual undercurrents.Congrats, poet, on a wonderful voice and an inimitable American energy. And best wishes for your Norton publication day in April,
Thomas McCarthy,

Meghan Brinson said...

Pretty awesome! I've been plotting to do an animation for a poem from one of my chapbooks--thanks for the technical advice!!