What do you to with your staged creations after you’ve shot your photos?
That’s probably the number one question I’m asked when people see my work in galleries. I’m asked if I ever sell the finished construction as a three dimensional sculpture, or if I have boxes of glassed dioramas littering my attic.
No, I take them apart and reuse all the figures and objects in future photos.
However, as many familiar with my work or YouTube channel know, I frequently take apart my constructions in very deliberate fashion, one component at a time, using this opportunity to shoot frames for animation — either stop motion or a “pan’n’zoom” technique I’ve developed that creates the illusion of a camera slowly moving throughout the composition as objects magically materialize into place. Creating animations is a lot of fun and provides insight into the three dimensional nature of my artistic process. And, as you would expect, the animation work has a process of its own, that (very loosely) looks something like this:
- Develop a storyboard, in reverse, since I always start with the final image and work my way back to the start.
- Capture all the frames, again, in reverse, as objects are removed from the scene.
- Take all the captured frames, load them into my computer, and reverse them so that the animation will now run forward, from the beginning to the final image.
- Add music and synchronize the action to the music I’ve selected. The end.
It’s that last step that is often the most difficult, as I attempt to choose music that fits the spirit of the final photo, has a complimentary tempo, and coincides with the loose running time of the captured animation frames. Even better if the lyrics or musical queues fit key transitions within the animation. It’s really not at all easy, as the animation is not created for the song, and the song is not created for the animation. When things work, it’s really all a matter of coincidence, a little bit of visual manipulation, and a whole bunch of luck.
A not-so-quick note about copyright
It’s about here that I should note that — apart from one instance where permission was secured (thank you, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult) — I don’t have the rights to use any of the music included in my videos. Nope, it is totally illegal, though I shake a fist of Fair Use defiance at those who would suppress my creatively crafted mashup of audio and video. Still, technically, I don’t have the right to use Norman Greenbaum‘s Spirt In The Sky or my own slightly embellished extended remix version of The Globe by Big Audio Dynamite II to accompany my crazy animations. So each time YouTube flags the audio content of a video on behalf of Warner Brothers (bastards!) or Sony (cretins!) or Universal Music (despots!), I file a dispute to the claimed copyright infringement citing “fair use.” In most cases, the legal rights holders meet my dispute with some degree of kindness and allow the song and video to remain, albeit with the addition of a revenue generating ad. No big deal, the ad can be easily clicked away and viewers can still enjoy my creation. Other times, the legal claimants refuse my case for fair use, and the entire YouTube video is “blocked worldwide”, as was recently the case when I used the AC/DC song “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll).” Thanks for that, Warner Music!
As I set about producing the animation for the photo above (and discussed in Part Three of this update), I was able to quickly develop a visual storyboard that would run from an empty stage to the final shot focusing on a plastic heart lying in a pool of water. Part one of the process done, check! Likewise, shooting the necessary frames was a breeze. This was going to be one of my pan’n’zoom animations where objects are removed from the scene one at a time, with a single photo taken at each step. Where a full scale stop motion animation often requires thousands of individual frames, pan’n’zoom is much lighter weight in the frame capture department. For this project I needed around 120 frames, which I shot, loaded into my iMac, processed, reversed, and — voila! — I now had several minutes of silent video animation.
Now, to pick the music…
And there, I hit an audio roadblock. I wanted the theme to be fortune telling, with elements of palmistry, tarot card reading, and predicting the future. I scoured through my music collection in iTunes, where a massive library of 68,000 songs failed to satisfy (and, yes, I tried using Fortune Teller in all its various versions, but it really didn’t fit). I then went to my stacks of vintage vinyl, sampling dozens of LPs in search of something that could help bring some life to my soundless animation. Again, no luck.
Ah! But then, the proverbial clouds parted and I found the perfect piece of music to accompany my video. All I had to do was add it to the animation track, synchronize things here and there, and… Judge for yourself!
And there you go! A finished and complete video with music from… the… Vinyl Nightmare Orchestra? Ummm… yeah, who are they, again?
Actually… me. Just me. Yep, that weirdly hypnotic tune (good or bad) was completely created by me, on my iMac, to specifically accompany the action of the video. After flailing away so badly in search of the perfect prerecorded song, I was struck by a thought…
Really, how tough can it be to write a song?
Probably, pretty hard, as I’d never written a song, and I can’t even recall ever having aimlessly dreamed up a whistling, humming, toe-tapping original melody. Sure, my head is always filled with music, but it’s always music I’ve heard, either on the radio, in my music collection, in commercial jingles, or riding on an elevator. As far as I knew, the Musical Hall in my brain contains a very large and lonely jukebox, but there is no well of original beats, chords and lyrics. Would that stop me? No way!
So I started up GarageBand, an application I remember opening once before and thinking, “This is stupid; I don’t know what to do.” It still looked kind of useless. I guessed it could be used with a keyboard or a guitar (neither of which I own or know how to play) and I’d heard it could be used to record voices for podcasts using a microphone. Big deal, that wouldn’t help me write a song for my video.
Then I discovered… loops — and a long dormant second center of my brain suddenly sprang back to life! Back in college I spent unholy hours working in the production room of the campus radio station, KCPR 91.3 FM, cutting up and splicing together pieces of quarter inch reel-to-reel audio tape for special programs, commercials, and general on-the-air mayhem. It was incredibly fun, and to this day it remains the best “job” I ever had.
With GarageBand’s loops I could essentially do the same thing I used to do in the KCPR production room — though, now multiplied by a factor of about a million. I could lay down tracks of audio, string together tempo-independent beats, pan left, pan right, adjust volume, and add effects. Want some drums? There. Drums. Layer a tambourine on top of the bass? Shake, shake, shake; I have a tambourine. Congas? Sure! Guitar? Why not? Oh my… GOD! THIS IS EASY!!! (It is about here that I am tempted to go into a lengthy diatribe about the ease with which much of today’s chart topping music is made… but I won’t)
Yay! Music! But what about words?
Since most songs include lyrics, I figured mine should as well. Hmmm… I didn’t really want to write lyrics. And, besides, who would sing once these mind blowing lyrics were written? Me? No thanks — even with the help of Auto-Tune (which GarageBand can more or less mimic through pitch correction). Instead I thought it would be fun to chop up a bunch of existing audio sources and basically drop those samples into the instrumental track to “lyrically narrate” the animation.
I spent some time collecting sources and identifying samples that would fit the theme of the original photo, then constructed the song as a sequence of instrumental passages that could be synchronized to the animation — dropping in vocal samples as needed to punctuate visual transitions and drive forth a narrative. Basically, I was “scoring the film” and writing dialog all at the same time. The record you see on the right, The Strangest Secret, was produced by Earl Nightingale in 1956 as a motivational tool for salesmen (yes, men, the record is VERY misogynistic in its gender roles) in the midwest. It is Earl’s booming baritone voice you hear calling out to “Build! Work! Dream! Create!” throughout the track, and it is audio from this record that provides the bulk of the vocal samples used to construct the song.
Complete list of samples
Because I really, really like to put together lists, here is the full chronological list of samples (apart from those plucked from The Strangest Secret) used in Build, Work, Dream, Create — the first ever recording from the Vinyl Nightmare Orchestra (and, no, I don’t have the rights to use any of these clips, but when has that stopped me from making art?):
- “Read my future” — Orson Welles, Touch Of Evil
- “13” — Jo Morrow, 13 Ghosts
- “13 what?” — Martin Milner, 13 Ghosts
- “Ghosts” — Jo Morrow, 13 Ghosts
- “21” — Grace Kelly, Rear Window‘
- “It doesn’t matter if it can foretell the future” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
- “You’ve been reading the cards, haven’t you?” — Orson Welles, Touch Of Evil
- “Captain Howdy, do you think my mom is pretty” — Linda Blair, The Exorcist
- “Will I ever be married?” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
- “Captain Howdy, that isn’t very nice!” — Linda Blair, The Exorcist
- “What it must be like to be able to look into tomorrow” — William Hansen, Night Gallery
- “Tomorrow” — Clint Howard, Night Gallery
- “The sun will be different” — Clint Howard, Night Gallery
- Sequence Dies Irae — The Nuns of Avignon
- “I don’t want to know what’s going to happen” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
- “You may never know! Do you risk finding out!” — William Shatner, Twilight Zone
- “If we all concentrate on it, and the Ouija will answer it!” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
- “Oh!” — Grace Kelly, Rear Window
- “It will! It’s magic!” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
- “Magic!” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
- “Dinner at 21″ — Grace Kelly, Rear Window
- “The more things I know about, the more things I can predict” — Clint Howard, Night Gallery
- “Concentrate now; no cheating!” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
- “This is the same genuine, magic, authentic crystal, used by the priests of Isis and Osiris in the days of the pharaohs of Egypt” — Frank Morgan, The Wizard Of Oz
- “You really don’t think that that gizmo can foretell the future, do you?” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
- “Okay, now somebody ask a question” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
- “What’s going to happen tomorrow?” — Ellen Weston, Night Gallery
- “Captain Howdy!” — Linda Blair, The Exorcist
- “It all depends upon your point of view” — William Shatner, Twilight Zone
- “It’s not possible to foretell the future, is it?” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
- “Your future is all used up” — Marlene Dietrich, Touch Of Evil
- “This machine is predicting out future!” — William Shatner, Twilight Zone
- “What do you think?” — William Shatner, Twilight Zone
And there you have it! Give the video another listen (and view!) and see how many you can pick out!