Thursday, February 4, 2010

I think I've cracked it!!

I knew when I started the 511 course in Portable Video Production that I was in for trouble. My dad loved photography and wanted to teach his children how to use a camera and share his passion. I recall his giving me instruction about f-stops, apertures, and shutter speeds, and I also recall being quite baffled by it all. I'd try to remember what he said, but it seemed that as I got older any piece of equipment that had anything to do with image production became my nemesis. I accepted that photography would never be my thing.

When I was first teaching there were no photocopy machines. We had to write or type a worksheet by hand and then burn a stencil from that using a machine called a Thermofax (not a fax machine but an infrared heat device that is still used in tatoo parlours!)

The Thermofax would make a transfer, or 'spirit master', of the worksheet which was in turn laid onto the drum of the ditto machine. The copies were cranked out like this.

They were a distinctive shade of purple, and if you had to use them right away would still be damp and smelling of the alcohol used in the process.

Anyway, I could never remember the settings on the thermofax -- too hot? the stencil would burn; too cool? the worksheet would be so faint the kids could not read it. Now I can't remember the settings on the photocopy machine and when I try put a book in the wrong place or try to use an alternate tray, the machine reacts in a totally unpredictable way. So I knew that in a course using a moving camera I was going to be up against it, but having decided that I was too old to let past frustrations determine future pathways, in I plunged -- teeth clenched in determination to make this work.

Now I have to say that Frank Guttler, the instructor, is a man with endless patience. He obviously wants us to succeed more than he wants everything to be exactly right. He's the kind of teacher who can live with a few typos or errors in API style if he has students who are showing true improvement. He knows that for some of us (or at least for me) tackling this course is like going to live in an alien world and he's giving me plenty of credit for trying and the marks I need not to give up. He treats us more gently than we treat ourselves.

So yesterday while all my colleagues at school were out having fun in a pro-d workshop, I sat at my desk with my laptop and camcorder. After 2 hours I figured out that if I chose a camcorder setting that would give me footage suitable for the internet or emails and an aspect ratio exactly double that which is required by this course (seemed to make the most sense when I chose it), then the anti-shake function would be disabled. Do people who want to display their videos online or send them to their relatives in Australia have have steadier hands?

The next task was, as Frank had kindly suggested after he tried to view last week's assignment, to "play around with compression." The file was far too large for the course drop box, but the only solution I could find in Adobe Premier Elements 4 was to reduce the frames per second by half and the quality to 30%. This created a dog's breakfast.

Hour after hour ticked by, but finally at the end of the day, I decided to take a look at the mobile settings under the Share tab. I mean -- mobiles have small screens right? And there it was. Under the Mobile menu of Locations & Settings is something called of all things (oh! the irony) "Creative Zen." Creative Zen picks up the settings I have entered from the Export function under the File menu and packages the video into what seems to be a tiny, beautiful .wmv file.

I've sent a test to Frank via email (30+mb now down to a little more that 3), and i have my fingers crossed. It's calling itself a "Windows Media Audio/Visual" file. When I do a search for *.wmv, up pops my test sample. I think I can finally meet the criteria of file size and format without sacrificing quality.

Interestingly when I was coaxing a student through the toughest unit in her math course on Tueseday, I told her it was as if she was on the last 750m of the Grouse Grind (a local attraction). She just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other and not give up on herself.

And that's why I took this course -- to feel the fear and do it anyway. It's my Grouse Grind.

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