Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Fictional Characters Are Still Trying

“I could try explaining that a save-the-world project, vain or not, is worth investing in, Mr. Daggett. But you understand only money and the power you think it buys. So, why waste my time, indeed?”

Miranda Tate, fictional character
in The Dark Knight Rises

also Fictional Characters Can Keep Trying

I love that fictional character. I don’t much like the movie, but I love that character even though it is not clear—in hindsight—exactly which “save-the-world” project she is talking about: The Bruce Wayne project to create a safe fusion reactor; or her own League of Shadows project to destroy Gotham City and restore harmony to Western civilization. She’s a person who wears a mask so things aren’t always what they seem to be.

I agree with her, though.


It’s hard for me to describe how much I enjoy doing little stop-motion videos like yesterday’s “Creatures of Doctor Tina.”

In general, I like shorter, simpler things, like “Robot by Television Light.” Short ostensibly simple things can be created in one day, even if they take a longer time to think about and plan. But something more complicated is fun, too, because it involves thinking about everything—writing, images, sound, and all the relationships between everything. I talked about this a bit already in Atlantis Blue: Afterward and I don’t want to just repeat myself.

All that being said, however, I have strong reservations about this kind of thing as a form, Media Angst. It’s not a physical thing. It’s just magnetic patterns. I don’t know if it is real in any sense of the word, or just a kind of modern technological seduction.

I don’t know.

But I’ve got a couple of little things to say, just personal things, before I move on completely from “Creatures of Doctor Tina.”

This was my first stop-motion film, I think, that was conceived of and executed almost entirely along with blog posts. What I mean is, back when I did the post Three Daisies I was thinking about doing a certain stop-motion movie involving the song “Daisy Bell.” So that post is a kind of upper boundary time-wise for my thinking. I was looking through various stores for props to that potential video when I saw the collection of plastic bugs and I thought I’d buy them for some future project.

Then I did the post Library Reality Slips And Giant Bugs about the bugs and I found myself thinking more about the bugs than about the “Daisy Bell” project.

Once it occurred to me to use the setting from A Ladybug Looking Out At Winter I completely put the thoughts about the “Daisy Bell” project out of my mind and started working on the ladybug project.

The So Low Solo

Media Angst

Dailies For “Creatures Of Doctor Tina”

Since the early stages of the project had posts, it seemed fitting, too, for me to do the post with the raw footage.

So this whole project was a little different for me, happening almost completely on the blog from start to finish.

For the sake of completeness, then, I want to mention two other aspects of this project before moving on.

I consciously didn’t film any scenes of the ladybug flying. Obviously it would have been pretty simple to suspend the model by a monofilament line or support it from underneath by something equally transparent. But in real life when beetles and other large insects fly, they have a striking visual look to the flight. I talked about this a little, not about beetles but about katydids, in Petting Katydids. Beetles often have a carapace that is open but unmoving and then the wings blur above the large body shape. And the flight itself is usually very straight under that distinctive blur. This might sound crazy, but when I do a stop-motion thing, I make an attempt to be aware of differences between depictions and metaphors and metonymy. Even if the distinctions are only in my own thinking, I make it a point to put thought into such things. Since I couldn’t think of any way to indicate that particularly striking visual aspect of a beetle flying in any way whatsoever, I decided to skip any scenes of the beetle flying. It might sound nuts, but one of the fun things about doing these little films for me is thinking about even bizarre things like that.

The other note I want to make about this video is a kind of confession. I’ve been making a conscious effort to move as much of my music making as possible away from the guitar and onto my keyboard. I just feel that keyboards and synthesizers have infinitely more potential than a six-string analog instrument like a guitar—even though I love guitars and can play guitar much better than I can play a keyboard. When I decided to use a guitar part for the song “Ladybug in Winter” I very much wanted to record the part on my workstation. Here’s some background to my confession: My workstation has three general types of synthesized guitar voices. One is a ‘normal’ synthesizer guitar which sounds okay, but could hardly be mistaken for a real instrument. The second kind of voice includes articulations and some instrument sounds and if used correctly can sound very, very real. The third kind of voice uses many different samples and requires extensive processing to choose individual samples note-by-note and include appropriate articulation sounds note-by-note as well. This third kind of voice sounds phenomenally real and, in the context of computer audio, it may be impossible to differentiate from the real thing if a person chooses chord voicings carefully.

But here’s the confession part: Even though I’m pretty good with technology and even though I’ve had my keyboard workstation for a couple of years, I’ve never actually buckled down and learned how to use that third kind of voice.


The deal is, that third kind of super-realism synthesized voice requires so much processing that the workstation can’t generate the sounds in real-time. Rather, you play a part using a different guitar setting, then, after the MIDI file is created, you go in and re-set the voice for the guitar part to one of the super-real voices. Then the system goes in and chooses the appropriate sounds for each note while scanning the larger context of the whole performance.

Since I never had the need for that before, I’ve always put off learning the details of the implementation. And then when I tried to learn it quickly, I couldn’t figure it out.


So that guitar part on “Creatures of Doctor Tina” is actually me sitting with my guitar listening to a 3/4 click track on my keyboard workstation and recording my guitar on my Tascam GT-R1.

It all worked out okay and I’m happy with the result but I would have been happier if the guitar had been synthesized.

After I finished the video and posted it yesterday I buckled down and read through all my workstation documentation and figured out the process to swap-in the super-realistic voice.

Now I know how to do it. And it does sound like magic.

Okay. That pretty much wraps up “Creatures of Doctor Tina.”


I’m probably going to take some time off from doing stop-motion videos. I want to think through how such things fit in with other ways of spending my time—writing fiction, drawing or painting, making music.

I don’t know.

In one way videos strike me as being completely unreal. They’re just magnetic patterns. In other ways—since they involve writing and images and sound—stop-motion videos strike me as the most real, most powerful way to create something, anything.

I don’t know.

It doesn’t bother me that an activity might be in vain. A save-the-world project, vain or not, is worth investing in. But I still want to invest thoughtfully.

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