Moving Pictures

Chapter 3

I'd been thinking a lot about my next Farscape video project. One of the ideas I'd had was the song Ben, Michael Jackson's love song to a rat. I envisioned it as a tribute to Ben Browder, Farscape's John Crichton. Or to be more accurate, to all the John Crichtons Mr. Browder has been over the years of the series.

While I waited for more DVDs of the series to be released, I was surprised to learn that Willard, the movie that gave us the original Ben, was to be remade. And when I heard Crispin Glover's take on the song, I couldn't wait to get to work. Here then is Ben, as performed by Mr. Glover and reinterpreted as a combination of narcissism and a world class split personality:

(This is the 21.9 MB version of the movie. The lower quality version is 4 MB.)

On Beyond iMovie

As much fun as I'd been having with iMovie, and as many ideas as I had for new Farscape videos, I was faced with a dilemma: producing a new video was no longer a learning experience. I'd gone about as far as I could go with iMovie. Sure, I could improve my technique. But there are limits to how creative you can be when you're limited to simple transitions and a few effects. I wanted to take the next big leap.

The best thing about iMovie, beyond its simplicity and elegance, is the price: free. Moving up was going to cost. And I didn't just want a more powerful iMovie; I wanted to go beyond editing clips into the realm of video effects. And that led me to Adobe After Effects, an expensive but almost magical program for combining and manipulating video footage in more ways that I'd have believed possible.

Armed with the software, the manual and an excellent tutorial, I started working my way through the program. And before I'd gone too far, I knew what my next project would be. Just seeing how easy it was to scale and combine clips, I decided to try recreating the tic tac toe opening credits of that ultimate example of late 60s/early 70s kitsch: The Brady Bunch.

Where to begin? First, I needed a copy of the original credit sequence, so I could attempt to duplicate the look and the timing. That turned out to be no problem at all. A minute or two later I managed to locate a copy of that distinctive Brady font. With these in place, I created a timeline of the credits, noting exactly at which frame each transition takes place. Tedious stuff. Fortunately, the credits are less than a minute in length.

With the timing down, I started recreating the credit sequence in After Effects, first using brightly covered squares in place of the Farscape footage I'd need for the final piece. I started with a color scheme that matched the original. But as I added in the Farscape characters, it became obvious that a while background didn't really fit the darker color palette of the series. So I switched to something more Moya-like.

One big difference between iMovie and After Effects is immediacy. With iMovie, you have finished video footage at every stage; it applies its effects the moment you request them. After Effects requires a separate rendering stage. Not surprising, given the complexity of the transformations it can apply to your footage. But it means that there's a lot of processing between making a change and seeing the high quality result. Believe it or not, rendering my little one minute video takes over an hour on my 1 GHz PowerBook. If I had to do this sort of thing on a regular basis, I'd certainly want one of those dual processor G5s. (Well, I do anyway. But I think you know what I mean.)

It took a couple of weeks of reading and experimenting to get this video done. But the results are pretty much what I'd hoped for. It's still a little bit of work in progress; if I find better clips for specific characters I'll drop them in. And I had to fudge one particular character, using a poor quality videotape instead of the DVD footage I've used everywhere else. That character was a late addition to Farscape, appearing in episodes that hadn't yet been released here. (I've since replaced the videotape footage with a scene from the UK DVD release.)

But with that all said, here's the result. What it says about my upbringing and my sense of humor will be left for another time.

(This is the 9.5 MB version of the movie. The lower quality version is 2.7 MB.)

From Comedy To Tragedy

My first Farscape video was atmospheric and sweet; a couple of folks told me that they actually misted up at the end. The next three were all light and funny. (At least they were supposed to be; like the automakers always say: your mileage may vary.) But I like to vary the tone of my projects and had been looking for a more dramatic piece for my next video.

And then the season three, volume four DVD set arrived, bringing to a close a most dramatic and tragic story arc. And I thought about the way the relationship between Aeryn and the two Johns paralleled a song from one of my favorite musicals. The Scarlet Pimpernel is the story of Sir Percy Blakeney, his heroic efforts on behalf of French aristocrats fleeing from the Revolution and his relationship with his new bride, a French actress who has unwittingly betrayed some of the people Sir Percy was trying to rescue.

In a moving ballad called When I Look At You, Marguerite sings of her distress at the transformation of the man she married into a shallow and simpering fop. When she looks at Sir Percy she sees that other self, the one with whom she fell in love. It's a song that's full of passion and anguish. And it matches remarkably well the anguish of Farscape's Aeryn Sun as she faces one John Crichton and thinks of the other.

I pulled this video together in record time; looks like all that practice is starting to pay off. I created it in iMovie, with a couple of composites that I generated with After Effects. And I think it represents pretty well the romance and the sadness of both Farscape and the song.

(This is the 30.1 MB version of the movie. The lower quality version is 8.9 MB.)

The story continues on the next page...

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 Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California