bits and bytes

Electronics, 日本、Coffee, Code.

A short film.

We’ve managed to finish our little film for our New Media Images class. For best results watch on Vimeo in HD.

The three of us: April Kum, Yi Luo, and I really wanted to make something great, something far from anything resembling ’student work’. I think we had our fair share of mistakes and moments, but on most fronts things went well, we were lucky to get someone who’s rather comfortable in front of a camera and easy to work with like Drew. This being our first real view into what making a film is all about –albeit at a sliver of the complexity, it was full of learning experiences. Here’s a few:

Do your interview first.
This may be common sense to some people out there, but there’s a few obvious advantages to doing it this way.

First, there’s a good chance you’re going to want to have visuals support what the subject is talking about. Naturally, that means you need to know what he’s going to talk about before planning the shots.  We didn’t realize how critical this was until our 6-hour shoot didn’t match up with what our subject was talking about.

Second, you can have a reasonable expectation of the story you want to capture, how you want to portray the subject, but that can change quite quickly when you begin interviewing them and beginning to understand them more. We found that to be the case with Drew and it changed the whole presentation of the film.

Third, we found storyboarding a documentary to be a bit of challenge, we had a few key shots we knew we wanted to get but its hardly as linear as a narrative might be. Which is why being able to sit down with the audio, and take time to listen to what he’s saying is very valuable. You’re able to capture the essence of what he’s trying to get at, and arrange it accordingly giving you a clear idea of what shots you need and in what order.

Have someone that represents  your audience do the interview.
When it came time to interview Drew we thought that with my knowledge of the coffee business I would be the best person to create a dialog around coffee and yield some great answers. To a certain extent that’s correct and I was able to create a good dialogue however, after listening to the recording, we quickly realized our conversation was full of subtle jargon and simple things only people in the coffee business know. Even basic things like the term, “centrals” for Central American Coffees is a bit vague. After returning to redo the interview with Yi as our interviewer, his answers were naturally much more appropriate to our audience.

Unless you want the interviewers voice in the audio, make sure you have the subject repeat the question in some way while he answers.
Another reason our first recording didn’t work out.

Some thoughts on the footage.
I learned that as the cinematographer you really have to objectify what you’re seeing in the camera and not let the shot and emotion in it blind you from its flaws. There were a handful of really great shots that just got ruined from pans that weren’t entirely smooth, from the subject not being in perfect focus, from the exposure a step too high, and on and on. Having a little bit more experience helps, but you need to detach yourself from the moment and look at the frame a little bit more clinically before diving into it.

Quality wise, I’m a little frustrated as to why Nikon hasn’t been able to release a firmware update for the D90 giving me a little bit more control, especially the ISO. Although I was able to dramatically improve most of the shots with Magic Bullet Looks, at times there’s some significant bleeding and issues with the image. Should I do more video work in the future I’ll be lining up a Canon to shoot with.

Last thoughts
Want to thank Drew Johnson of Origins Organic Coffee again for working us into his busy schedule and letting us cruise around with tripods, lights, and gear for a few days. Also wanted to thank my cool partners April and Yi for putting up with me for the whole project and trusting me to shoot and edit the footage. Hope everyone enjoys at least one moment of the short, if not two.

We had our viewing yesterday in the theatre at SFU and although it slightly dragged on (just under 3 hours) it was great to see all our classmates projects.

Here were two of my favourites:
The Walk – By David Yao, Marcus Su, ChungWon Yang
Pierce – Pantea Shahsavani, Justin Ramsey, David Holicek


First Chance

This is a very short sequential art project for my Systems of Media Representation class. Shot with a D90 a SB600, and some great helpers. Thanks again to Kansei, Michelle, and Naomi, couldn’t have made it without you guys.

The Whole World is Listening

A demonstration of how multiple machines can interact together on data produced by people around the world, all within an instant.

At the heart of this project is a cheap open-source electronics platform called “The Arduino”. This small board comes packaged with a programmable CPU allowing anybody with a little programming skill to control a variety of parts and ports. The chain of communication is quite impressive.  In this small project, The internet enabled Arduino executes scripts on my web server which queries Twitter for any tweets from the following cities:

  • Vancouver, Canada
  • Ueno, Tokyo
  • New York, New York
  • Melbourne, Australia
  • Sau Paulo, Brazil
  • Beijing, China
  • London, England
  • Pretoria, South Africa

The search is looking for any tweets containing the keyword, “Haiti” within the last 30 seconds. Depending on the data received, the Arduino activates LED’s according to the origins of the “tweets”.

The hardware in use are cheap parts bought from a local electronics store. The 3 programs involved are written using open-source free software, and access to Twitter’s data is also free. The most expensive piece is the Arduino at $50. With the amount of open data that exists on the web and the ability to buy incredibly high-quality computer parts for dirt cheap, anyone with a little bit of time and ambition can create some very cool projects.

Twitter allows people to communicate across the globe in an instant, in addition to this, many of these tweets are created using applications on cell phones, text messaging, web-ready devices, laptops, and machines.  Twitter by nature, uses text as it’s medium for delivery which enables machines to be able to organize, analyze, and work with the worlds data. Capturing these types of conversations between people around the world on such a large scale is unprecedented. Twitter stated on February 22nd, “Today, we are seeing 50 million tweets per day—that’s an average of 600 tweets per second.”

Computers and technology enable millions of people to interact through a variety of different devices, while communicating instantly with each other on a global scale.

Last Thoughts

The end result is a little bit difficult to take in, I think people have a general association with non-screen based objects that they are static, or if they are interactive, that the interaction is based on a fixed number of possibilities decided by a programmer at the time of construction. In my case the data is all live, real-time, the data creates the end result. To have such a simple looking black box communicating so dynamically with a service like Twitter, is a new kind of visual experience for many people. Had this project been entirely web based or even just displayed on a screen, I believe the impact would have been much lower, it’s the fusion between data produced electronically and represented physically that is intriguing.

Quick Video Demonstration

Thanks to Ryan Faerman for his brilliant Twitter Search API wrapper class, to the guys at Lee’s Electronics who answered all my questions with the utmost patience, and to Visual Culture class for inspiring this little experiment. Cheers to hopefully getting a good mark on it.