The Effects of Background Music on People

I am a huge fan Shankar Vedantam and his work as NPR’s Social Sciences Correspondent. A couple weeks ago, he discussed the effect that background music has on people – and as a film/tv/video game composer myself, I was instantly intrigued. Here is a link to the podcast so you can listen for yourself! NPR | Researchers Test The Effects Of Background Music On People

The interview discusses how a group of people will view sharks on TV differently depending on the type of music occurring in the background. When the music was light and flowing, the sharks were seen as majestic. Of course, when the music turned tense and frightful, the sharks were instantly seen as mindless killing machines. I’m sure this seems like common sense. However, I don’t think many people realize that our job as composers is to speak directly to the audience’s emotions, as much as possible!

Let’s take a quick example from a rare documentary about John Williams composing for the original Star Wars trilogy (while heavily discussing Empire Strikes Back). In the clip below, we are shown the scene of Han Solo being frozen in carbonite – first without music, and then with. Notice the difference?

As you probably noticed, without the music, the scene is a bit… “eh.” (With no insult to Lucas and team!) Sure there are some slight emotional points, and it seems like something pretty tragic and dramatic is happening.

But when we hear the music’s elegant fluctuations from fear to uncertainty to hope and love then to pure evil, all within a two minute window… how could our emotions not run just as wild?

The thing is, not many people realize when watching films or television shows, or even advertisements, how much the music is effecting them. The music doesn’t even have to be this grand orchestration we get consistently from John Williams either.

The power of one note held out and twisted was Hans Zimmer’s trick for the Joker throughout The Dark Knight. The entire Joker thematic material is two notes. C and D playing back and forth with each other.

 

The simple yet melancholic piano lightly played over a bed of soft sounds and textures brought a sense of wonder and awe to us, thanks to Thomas Newman during American Beauty.

 

The lovely sounds of pitched percussion contrasted with out of tune synths and electronics to convey that not is all it seems between our two leads in Gone Girl, with the help of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

And of course I can’t leave out Michael Giacchino’s genius work in UP, where we see an entire marriage play out in four minutes and are left a sobbing mess by the end. Not a single word of a dialogue. The entire story is told through music and images. And it’s absolute perfection.

 

Sometimes images are simply not enough. And I guarantee if music was absent from these scenes, whether you knew why or not, you would know and feel that something was missing.

Fonts for Dummies

You may be thinking “I don’t know anything about design, how do I deal with type in my project?” “Should I make the text on my video neon pink?” “Why is my bellybutton on backwards?” We can help you with two out of three of those questions. Let’s get started.

The font of a text controls how we see the letters on our screen. It can be a powerful feature of good design. But like any power, it can be dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands. Good type can make the difference between confusion and communication. Here are some basic tips to avoid a font fail:

1. Choosing a font

Remember when there were only a handful of fonts to choose from? Nowadays there are almost too many options. Want your text to look like it was written by a 4th grader? There’s a font for that. Want your text to look like it was eaten and spat out by a grizzly bear? There’s a font for that, too. All those possibilities can distract you from your purpose: getting your audience to read and understand your message.

Take road signs as a good example. Did you know most official highways signs are written in the official “Highway Gothic” font? It was designed to be read quickly and accurately. Imagine the chaos and confusion if road signs were written in Papyrus. Let us all take a moment of silence to give thanks for Highway Gothic.

sign

Now let’s look the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript from the early Middle Ages. Its text is aligned closely with its spiritual purpose. Its pages are ornate, intricate, and visually arresting. It is meant to be studied closely and slowly.

bok

Figure out where your project falls within that range. Are you I-40W or a medieval monk? Let your purpose guide your font choice.

2. Styling: Keep it simple

The following example should hurt:

KeepItSimple

Blueforest Studios is not responsible for any injuries that may occur as a result of looking at this image.

Just because you can apply five different strokes, a gradient fill, drop shadows, and ten different fonts doesn’t mean you should. If your text is meant to be read, legibility should be your number one focus. Styles should be applied with the greatest reserve and good reason.

3. Bring it together

Now that you know how your individual letters will look, you can begin deciding how they will sit on the page or screen. Make a hierarchy and apply it consistently. Decide how your headers will look compared to your paragraph text. What about links and sub-headers?

A great example of this comes from Pelican Books’ clean, crisply designed website.

pelicanbooksWithout thinking, we know exactly where our eye should go. Scrolling through their site is easy and intuitive.

4. Observe fonts in their natural habitat

Type is everywhere. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t.

Take Budweiser’s 2015 Super Bowl commercial. It features a bold sans serif centered in the frame. There’s no voice over, so they need the words to do the talking.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 9.07.52 AM

5. Go forth and font

Here are some resources to get you started:

Font Squirrel – Great collection of free, professional fonts.
Dafont – A glut of everything from basic to illegible.
Art of the Title – Online collection of movie title typography. A good starting point for references and ideas.
The Design Blog – The best way to develop your design intuition is to absorb good design. The Design Blog is a perfect way to marinate in the latest and best.

 

5 Ways to Improve Video Quality at your Fundraising Event

So, you have a fundraising event coming up and you have a beautiful video to show that is going to make people cry and then open up their pocketbooks?

The last thing you want is to have your fundraiser packed to the gills with folks ready to watch it and then when the lights go down, the video does not come up.

Or the audio sounds terrible.

Or the picture looks nothing like it did on your computer.

Or worst yet…it freezes in the middle.

Don’t leave it to chance. Here are 5 things you should do to make sure your video plays back correctly during your event.

#1 Make sure you get the best quality video file.

The most compatible file is an .mp4 with an h.264 codec. Also, ask to get it in the highest resolution possible.  Most videos are shot in 1080p resolution. If it was shot and edited that way, make sure your video file is also that resolution.

#2 Ask your video production company for help.

If you used a video production company, they are just as interested as you are in having their beautiful work play back correctly.

#3 Ask your AV person the exact model of the projector and computer they will be using.

If you have that info, you can see what resolution the projector is, what kind of connection cables, if their computer is fast enough to play back your file, etc. If they ask you for a DVD, this is a huge red flag and indicates they have not updated their equipment for over a decade!

#4 Do a run through before the event (24 hours in advance if at all possible)

The ultimate test is to make sure the video plays back on the exact equipment that will be used at the event.  Play back the entire video several times to be 100% sure.

#5- Have a backup method

It never hurts to be prepared with a backup.  If you have your own laptop that is capable of playing back the file and connecting to the projector, have that ready to go just in case.

Appearing on camera? Here are 5 tips!

About to appear on camera? Got a case of the heebie jeebies? We’ve got you covered. Here are 5 tips that the pros use to make sure you look and sound great.

#1 Sit on your coat.

If you are wearing a coat or blazer, sit in your coat to avoid the dreaded ‘coat bunch’. This will keep you looking neat and slim.

#2 Wear the right clothes.

Here are a few general tips on clothes. Avoid white clothes if possible. Some cameras will not be able to handle the white fabric well and you will look like a glowing orb. If you are appearing in front of a green screen, don’t wear green. Avoid tight checked patterns and thin stripes. These can also throw some cameras for a look and give you a weird Moire effect.

#3 Know how to do an interview.

Repeat the question. Most interviews don’t include the interviewer in the final edit. So if they ask you if you if you like your job, don’t say, “yes.” They can’t use that. Rather, say “I love my job! I get to do what I love every day.” or “I hate my job, I’m so miserable and depressed.” Whichever one is true.

Only answer the question you are asked. If you are asked about where you work, just tell them where you work. You don’t need to tell them everything you do at work, they are probably going to ask you that in a moment.

If you have a bad interviewer, they may ask you more than one question at once. Not to worry. Just answer the first question, then ask them to repeat the 2nd question.

#4 Don’t try to memorize things.

Lot’s of people make the mistake of trying to memorize what they want to say. If you do that, 9 times out of 10 you will come across as scripted and mechanical. You are probably being interviewed because you are a passionate expert in your field. Just answer the questions in the way you would in a casual conversation and you will sound much better.

#5 Relax and Amplify.

You may be a bit intimidated by the bright lights and strangers standing around. Just take a deep breath and speak slowly. But you also have to remember that you will come across on cameras lower energy than you think you are. Smile and amplify your energy level just past where you think is too much. That will sound just right on camera!

So there you go. And last but not least, don’t forget to break a leg!

TriFilm Panel Discussion UPDATE: March 19th!

Here at Blueforest Studios we are very excited to be hosting the TriFilm Society Panel Discussion: Logistics of A Project. It will focus on how to get started with your subjects and ideas all the way to the finishing the end film product!

The panelists will share their insights and expertise in regards to filmmaking.

Tripp Green is a cinematographer and photographer who specializes in RED and DSLR acquisition for commercial, narrative, and industrial projects. His wide spectrum of work ranges from documentaries, TV spots, feature films, and many more.

Sean Riddle is our very own project manager, overseeing our productions and providing guidance. His extensive experience as project and production coordinator makes him the go to guy. He has been production coordinator on many Warner Bros Television productions such as The West Wing.

June Sadler is a filmmaker with many specialized skills with a unique style in photography, short films, documentaries, music production, performance and writing. She’s worked on many documentaries and is currently working on The Future People, bringing together children of diverse backgrounds to empower them to become peacemakers.

Camden Watts, filmmaker and founder of the TriFilm Society, will be moderating the panel. She is a producer, director, and writer. She is currently working on Brewconomy, a documentary about North Carolina craft beer.

UPDATE: This event takes place at Blueforest Studios in Raleigh, NC on March 19th at 4pm to 5:30 pm. There will be time for networking and questions afterwords.

Get your ticket here! We look forward to seeing you there!

Everyone’s Favorite Day for Commercials: The Big Game

My favorite commercial in the last several years comes from the “Big Game” of 2011. I’ve been a humongous Star Wars fan since my parents took me to see the films in the 90’s when they were being digitally remastered and shown in theaters again. If you’re reading this you probably know which commercial I’m already talking about.

 

Volkswagen truly captured the same childhood imagination (and desire for learning how to control The Force) I felt at that age. I’d like to think I’m going to buy a car that can turn on with the press of the button in hopes to do this to my future children.

 

Of course, who could forget the sweet story of friendship told in a minute time frame by Budweiser last year? I’m a sucker for anything with dogs in it but this is a legitimately beautiful piece of work.

 

Sure I’m bringing this up because Sunday will bring commercials filled with humor and sincerity. But does this only have to be during one day of the entire year? Absolutely not!

 

We take pride here at Blueforest Studios in creating content that is both engaging and informative. The most engaging way to capture the attention of your audience is to tell a story.

 

We certainly think adding a pinch of humor also works too.

 

So as the new year continues to roll on consider us for your marketing needs. We are storytellers that want to tell your story!

 

And if you are part of a non-profit in the Triangle area reading this consider applying for our free video giveaway! The window for submissions is closing on the 31st of this month. To check out more information visit our blog post from December here: http://blueforeststudios.com/blog/blueforest-gives-back-triangle-nonprofit-video-giveaway/

-Dustin

Audio Restoration: A Powerful Tool In An Evolving Field

Most days of the week, while working on sound design or composing music, I will have a moment when I reflect on how much the world of audio and music production has changed so quickly in the relatively short amount of time I have been in this profession. I remember upgrading from my old Gateway PC to a 2008 Mac Pro tower the summer before my junior year at Western Carolina. The prior year I had become friends with Jonathan Churchill, Co-Founder at Embertone virtual instruments here in Raleigh. When Jon first showed me his compositional works for video games the semester before I felt a switch going off in my head changing my desired course of future employment from band director to composer. My mind was boggled by the fact you could make such great sounding music from one computer! Growing up I always imagined everything had to come from a professional studio with millions of dollars of gear in it. Seeing Jon produce music from a Mac I told myself “I have to get one of those.” Seven years ago I also recall hearing the audio samples he was using and thinking “Wow, that sounds like a real orchestra!” Of course in that short seven years the quality of virtual instruments, analog modeled plug-ins, digital audio workstations, and everything in between has increased exponentially. And it’s only going to do so even more in the years to come.

One of my favorite types of audio software to really come to light the last few years has been software geared towards audio restoration and repair. Now, there have been methods of reducing noise and crackle and various little messes here and there for a long time. Those are certainly all helpful and vital in achieving great audio for any medium of media. Within the last few years software such as iZotope’s RX line have given us ways to dive into audio from a spectral standpoint and remove just about anything you don’t want in your audio recordings.

Anyone who has recorded audio on set for a film of any form will tell you there is quite a process to capturing the purest audio from the shoot. Being outside of a controlled environment there is a good chance that your microphones will pick up anything from car noises, to AC units, to wind, to chatter in the corner, and the list could go on and on. Luckily for us if those sounds creep into our recordings we can remove them and deliver the audio your video deserves!

This tutorial video of iZotope’s RX software is a great demonstration of the difference even the slightest cleaning up of audio can do. Watch as the audio engineer is able to remove the noisy clicks from a wedding photographer’s camera during the vows of the ceremony.

 

But what about the restoration of audio? Some clips may be too loud and distort during the recording process. While it is still in best practice to record at appropriate levels there also could be sounds a client would want to use that they have on hand that need to be repaired.  Those types of recordings or sound effects can be worked with and polished too!

 

Finally, in case you are saying “Dustin, that’s great but have you used anything like this before?”, here is a clip from a project I worked on earlier last year. This comes from a series of recordings done in the New York City metro system. Singer Pavlina Horakova and pianist Drew Spradlin came up with the idea to take a piano to the subway system in New York City and record different movements from operatic works of the past. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you a subway system, let alone the one in NYC, is filled with noise stacked upon noise with a little more noise on top of that. With a lot of determination, and several cups of coffee, I was able to not only clean up this recording of several extraneous sounds but was also able to repair several instances of distortion and clipping to hopefully bring you into the beautiful music these two performed.

 

I hope all of you reading this have found it informative! Feel free to comment and let’s talk about the great things happening in audio and video production.

 

-Dustin

 

Video Tips for Beginners

3This Wednesday, October 15th, we will hold our next monthly seminar on learning the basics of creating internal videos. We know that many professionals are tasked with the burden of making in-house videos even though they might lack the necessary skills for doing so. An important fact to note is that the quality of your video says a lot about the quality of your product or service. Just because you don’t use a professional video service to produce your video doesn’t mean it can’t look professional, as long as you put the time and effort into following some basic beginner shooting rules.

 

Lighting

It’s likely that you won’t have the necessary equipment to properly light a shot, so it’s important to know what kind of natural light is the best for shooting in. In general, direct sunlight is going to create intense shadows and is not a flattering option. The exception is early morning or late evening, often referred to as “Golden Hour. ” Typically, overcast days provide complimentary lighting. You can also buy a cheap reflector (such as a piece of white poster-board) to fill in shadows. If, on the other hand, you do have access to lighting equipment, check out this blog on basic lighting tips.

Support

Don’t skimp on the tripod. This is one of the most important purchases you will make, so choose wisely. Tripods come in two parts that you’ll typically have to buy separately: the legs, also called “sticks,” and the head. Buy legs that will support twice the maximum weight of your camera and a fluid head that will allow you to pan and tilt smoothly. It’s a common beginner mistake to buy a cheap tripod, and it shows. Don’t be that person.

Plan your Shots

Whether this is in the form of a storyboard or just a shot list, it’s good to have a clear idea of what shots you want to include and the best way to capture them. The more you practice, the better sense you’ll have of seeing shots as the camera sees them.

Composition

Picture an imaginary grid with two vertical lines and two horizontal lines dividing your shot into nine equal sections. The Rule-of-Thirds states that for the most interesting shot, subjects should be placed at the points of intersection on the grid. This is a good basic rule to follow when planning how things should be placed in a shot.

Movement

If you’re going to do matched-action shots, (someone starts an action and the camera cuts to a shot of the action continuing from a different angle), make sure that you shoot the complete action from both angles. A common mistake is shooting from one angle only up to where you think you’re going to cut, then starting the action in the middle from the next angle. The problem with this is that it’s really difficult to get the exact positioning correct. It’s often obvious when the action isn’t matched perfectly, resulting in a jump cut. It’s possible to use jump cuts purposefully to convey meaning, but oftentimes this isn’t what the director is going for and it just creates confusion and pulls your viewer out of the story.

 

These are just a few concepts to keep in mind when shooting. For a more extensive, hands-on learning experience, register for our Video Production for Beginners seminar. We hope to see you there!

A Vision of the Future

The need for video is growing.

Youtube just passed Facebook as the largest social media site (according to Reel SEO). People are spending more time watching video on smart phones, tablets, and computers than ever before. Marketers know that video is key to improved engagement, brand awareness, and increased conversions.

Check out some of these stats.

“Show Me Something” An Infographic Exploration of Video Engagement, April 2014 from Shutterstock on Vimeo.

What’s also growing? The Triangle are in North Carolina.

Cities in the Triangle continue to make the top 10 places to live, find jobs, fall in love, and raise kids. It’s one of America’s 20 fastest growing areas according to Forbes. Everywhere we look, new buildings are going up to accommodate the growth.

2013-trifilm-filmspark-social

The film community is growing rapidly here, too.

I’ve heard from plenty of people moving here from colder, more crowded parts of the world. They like the warmer climate, cost of living, and collaborative atmosphere. They feel like it’s a great place to make their film dreams come true. (Who can blame them? That’s why I stayed here.)

Do you see what I see?

A group of people who need video? And a group of people who can make videos? You know what that means for our area…plenty of opportunity. Right here at home.

brewconomy-mike-and-aaron-camden-watts-06.07.2014-600x399
Michael Garske and Aaron Bittikofer on the set of Brewconomy in Pittsboro, N.C., on Saturday, June 7, 2014.

We have a lot of talent in this area and I feel really grateful for it.

We have a need for video and people willing to pay for it. Plus a growing community of people with the right talents, skills, and expertise to help create videos. It’s a win-win.

There are awesome groups of film (and TV) professionals doing incredible work. There are online forums, monthly meetups, and TriFilm socials (as often as I can organize them). There’s a thriving community of filmmakers creating corporate videos, web series, fiction films, documentaries, and more. There are also huge productions coming to town.

I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of it. I have to pinch myself sometimes when I start to think of all the great things happening here, the awesome people I’ve worked with, and the talent here. We’re incredibly lucky.

Y’all are doing such awesome stuff!

There’s just one small problem.

Our film community – although strong – can be tough to find.

But there’s not ONE, easily-identifiable spot online to find us. And that can be troubling. It misrepresents the incredible stuff that’s happening here.

The people who need videos made want to find the video makers easily. The filmmakers moving here want to find fellow industry pros easily. The legislators in charge of incentives that bring big budget productions here can’t reach us easily. People who want to bring workshops and conferences for filmmakers to this area can’t find us easily.

TriFilm at Trailblazer Studios social by Camden Watts

There’s a thriving film industry here but it can be tough to find easily. Here’s a photo from the TriFilm at Trailblazer Studios social on 3.21.2013, one of the ways I try to help unite our film community.

So, what to do?

I believe there’s a clear answer: create a film society for the Triangle.

What if we had:

  • A consistent way to screen our work locally on a regular basis?
  • A way to connect with people willing to pay for our talents?
  • A unified voice to keep the film industry in NC thriving?
  • A way to find resources (like grants) to do our best work?
  • A means to collaborate easily with industry professionals?
  • A way to continue learning and improving our craft?
  • A unified group of filmmakers, easily found online?

Wouldn’t it be great to have a film society? A place where we can gather regularly to talk shop? A way to get leads on new business easily? Something that will help us all thrive?

A film society would serve you, the filmmaker, so that you can thrive. It would be built around your needs, feedback, and requests. It would help you stay connected and informed.

It would be a professional organization, led by a community of people invested in helping it run well. It would be for the people and by the people, in other words.

Guest Blogger Camden Watts