Art Critique: The Bear Video

Welcome back to Katie’s Critique Corner.

Today I am putting the video I made to promote the CURE Childhood Cancer Association‘s upcoming 5K Run & Fun Walk under the microscope for analysis.

While poring over the details of this project, as one must when editing, I kept seeing parts I could improve upon. Likewise, having watched the completed project around 50 times at this point (I worked hard on this, I’m entitled to some self-indulgence),  I found several bits I wanted to change after the fact. I figure it would be best to channel my obsessive, perfectionist tendencies into something constructive, so I will do just that.

The individual components worked well together, making the overall product something I am quite proud of. And yes, that includes the part at the end with the bear shaking its booty (I do wish the tail wagged more, but it was windy and the costume is a cheap Pooh Bear knockoff that’s simultaneously baggy and too small, so what we ended up with is fine.) Everything came together in a way that ensured the parts were not greater than the whole, and, I must admit, serendipity played a big part in the production process. That is a lesson worth remembering: have a general idea when starting a project, but don’t overplan and end up not willing to compromise your original vision. Creation is an organic process, meaning that a bunch of aha! moments will occur throughout the production cycle as you find new components to integrate into your product, bits that give the project additional meaning and depth.

Allow me to clarify: originally, I was working on giving the bear a neck so mine would not constantly be exposed to the kids at events (no one needs to see a bare bear). Again, the head is an inexpensive thing that we picked off the rack at a costume shop. It’s essentially a pillow in the front with two eye holes that allow less visibility than most mascot suits (which is not much — think no peripheral vision and limited depth perception, not to mention tons of blind spots, particularly where little kids tend to be). Moreover, the back of the head is little more than a few layers of fabric. So, I seek to find any way I can improve upon Beary and keep him lasting a bit longer.

After a few days of war with the sewing machine, I put together a neck dickey for the bear, complete with Velcro. For me, the accomplishment was akin to having one of your characters from The Sims gain a skill point.

I wanted to test out the new head to make sure it worked well and wouldn’t suffocate me (you sweat about 10 times harder in those suits than you do after a vigorous workout at the gym). Since the 5K is coming up, and I was thinking of ways to help boost the morale of our friends Lynne and Randy, who have been at the hospital for more the 80 days due to Randy’s severe health problems, I figured it could be cute to have a photo shoot of the bear practicing for the race.

Initially, I was planning on pinning a purple headband to the bear and taking a couple of shots of him stretching and jogging, but then I thought we could do a little video, too, to psyche everyone up for the event and give them a little chuckle. A cute little kid-friendly video that I could add some graphics to that would promote the event.

So, my boyfriend and I headed to a scenic path down the street from us, and, after a few minutes of discussing the plan and making directorial choices, we did a few takes. Here I have to say major thanks to Nick Hadad for shooting this with me in the frigid cold as the sun was going down. It takes a real man to run down the canal path with a giant teddy bear.

I had Nick running with me, recording a tracking shot as I did a high-knee jog. (And no, the bear will not be running in the race. The heat would be too intense in the suit, and the best I can muster for cardio is a recumbent bike, so running and walking prolonged distances is too difficult and painful for me at this time.)

We got the shot done and sent out some teaser images on Facebook that night.

Then I aggravated myself for the next 24 hours, trying to figure out the best platforms to upload the videos to. I needed something that I could combine slides, videos and public domain music on, and a site that would be appropriate to upload them to (more on the details of all of that in a minute). I finally uploaded the videos using Google Drive, converted them to WVA files, edited everything together in Windows Movie Maker and uploaded the finished product to Vimeo. By the time I had figured out how to get the videos uploaded and converted to the proper format for the correct program, I had fleshed out the style, theme and every other detail of the finished project in my mind, so everything was easy flying from then on.

Now, the music. I knew I wanted to use public domain music, because any potential copyrighted material, or what certain sites perceive as copyrighted material, can be taken down instantaneously by YouTube with its rampant content ID claims. Though fair use should come into play, and this video is not, directly, for profit (though boosting public interest in CURE, thus increasing proceeds for the nonprofit’s event is, of course, a desired outcome), First Amendment rights are not inherent on YouTube, at least not until the  undetermined amount of time when YouTube workers can check the validity of such claims or the claims go past their expiration date or whatever the hell happens. Either way, the whole setup is stupid and infringes on the rights of (and potential revenue for) people who create content, so I chose to use Vimeo, allowing the video to be accessible to everyone and not immediately taken down.

I forget the order in which everything played out, but I knew I wanted to use public domain music, so I went to look at a list of such songs. “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” popped up, and I thought “yes!” and downloaded a 1930s Henry Hall recording of the song (which YouTube immediately labeled copyrighted material — an 80-plus-year-old recording. Guess each cover of a public domain song counts as copyrighted material and is restricted from fair use, regardless of what is legally permissible as such.) I realized that, A) The “Gruntilda’s Lair” theme from Banjo-Kazooie was inspired by this song and B) The Wizard of Oz song “We’re Off To See The Wizard” has sections that sound remarkably similar to “Teddy Bears’ Picnic,” and the event is themed “lions and tigers and bears” from The Wizard of Oz, so that all fit together perfectly, without my immediately realizing it.

Because I was using public domain music, I thought it would be fun to run with the old-timey theme. Therefore, I used the old age film effect in Movie Maker for the opening text, and put a sepia filter over the actual video to make it fit in with the overall audio and visual style. Doing this fused all components into one cohesive narrative. I intentionally kept the bear butt shake at the end in color, as it is a jarring contrast from the rest of the video. Thinking further about it now, I realize it is also in keeping with the Wizard of Oz theme. The movie starts out in sepia and transforms into a world bursting with color. It all fit together before I was even conscious of just how well everything gelled.

Well, that’s the story behind the video and how I came up with the concept. So now lets dive into the actual critique.

The negatives: In retrospect, I wish I had put the opening text in an early 20th century font to better fit with the slides’ old age film effect. Also, it has been difficult to find a precise number, but I wonder about the length of time I should have kept the text on screen. I believe the rule of thumb would be 1/2 to a whole second per word, as long as the word isn’t long like subcutaneous or gubernatorial. I saw one site mention that you should be able to read the text 3 times. Ultimately, I think the opening text is on screen long enough, though I could have kept the CURE banner with the event info up longer, but that would have involved further editing the music, which would have thrown the pacing off for the surprise ending, and since comedy is heavily reliant on timing, I think it’s all right as is. Plus, anyone could stop the video to read all the info, or look in the video’s description, or click the link to the event’s info page I put in the description, so I covered my bases. The timing is slightly off in a few spots, though it is literally split-second things that most people probably wouldn’t think twice about. I’m not sure if I like how the music starts (I took a light instrumental clip from the middle of the song, thinking that it would be a calm, gentle opening, because the original opening to the Henry Hall version is disconcerting). Again, it’s a 1/2 second or less at the start, but I think it could have been cleaned up for a smoother introduction. I tried to switch the text during each crescendo (sorry if that’s not the right term, I have virtually no musical vocabulary), though I feel the “prepare” slide could have come in a little later than it did. However, I do think each slide of text had decent screen time. Next, you can see the jump cuts. I did try to incorporate the music into the transitions to make them less off-putting, and the shaky camera and less-than-perfect video quality actually proved beneficial here. Also, as Nick pointed out to me, it really is like an old movie that would have frames missing and a grainy quality. This was shot in hand, as opposed to on a dolly, obviously, but I have no major qualms with how the footage came out. Though, you do see the scenery repeating (that same shed and picnic table), so for the next multimedia project, preferably not when it’s near freezing, we will definitely shoot more footage. Depending on how familiar and keen observers are with mascot heads, you may notice that I adjust the bear’s head twice at the end of the running segment. It could look like the bear is wiping off sweat, especially the second time, but I know better. Unfortunately, as I said, we did not take enough video, so I had to edit and reuse, and it was hard to find bits that were decent and far enough away from the starting point. Also, you can kind of tell that the bear stops running right before the CURE banner appears, which seems cruddy of the bear, considering this is supposed to be for a 5K, but, again, limited video and knee-high jogging in the cold, so I used what I had. Finally, I might have preferred to have the bear booty on a 1/4 of a second sooner to fit a smidgen better with the trombone, but it’s so close that half the time I can’t even tell if it needs it.

The positives: overall, the visuals and audio sync up well. Though you can tell a jump cut occurs at :21, the bear’s legs and feet move in line with the instrumental peaks. Similar thing at :32, in which I got the position of the bear much closer to the previous frame, despite the obvious change in lighting. I also love the multiple angles Nick used. Running alongside the bear against the sunset is great symbolism for this event. I had been toying with revealing the bear later, at the word “surprise,” but I think what we ended up with works just as well. As I said, the vintage sepia visuals paired with the ragtime music created a strong overall theme and produced a quirky narrative. The bear starts running right when the audio makes a noise (the cymbal) similar to a popgun being shot at the beginning of a race (though, again, I do wonder if I should have shown the bear running a split second sooner than that, as he is eager to take off).

Overall, I am happy with the final product, though, as you have read, there are many aspects I could improve upon. I will carry this knowledge with me to my future projects, building upon what I have learned and continuing to improve my craft.

That’s exactly what I mean when I say “scumble on.”

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