Zombie: a video paper; a nontraditional treatment of a traditional assignment

The idea: or, how one thing leads to another

Last spring, a student named Hannah came to my office with questions about overlaying animation on video to explain movement in a visually narrative way. She wanted to analyze a video and thought that if she used animated (moving) annotations in conjunction with it she could better get her point across. The subject matter was dancers and their interaction with musicians. We looked at a few examples she liked online that utilized animation and video. We talked about the time she had available and what was feasible in regards to time needed for the technical command of the software and creating a finished product that would be useable.  After talking about it we ended up using Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) to do this;  a multimedia “paper” was in motion.

The paper was due in two weeks. Over that time, Hannah learned FCPX both through our meetings discussing best practices and through trial and error while doing the work. As a result, she gained enough command of the software to move beyond the basics and make some new discoveries that carried through to the final draft.

The process: start, stop, struggle, proceed, refine

I don’t think the creators of FCPX conceived of the application as a way to complete a college paper, but leave it to a Reedie to find a way to skew its intended use! Hannah’s use of FCPX was unconventional and creative, but the software supported it nicely. In addition to animated annotations, Hannah included freeze and still frames, inserted text frames, and used slow motion and split screen functionality to support her analysis of the movement phrases. After a few meetings with me, her own research, and some standard back and forth regarding new questions that arose as she explored the software, she got to work. I watched as her technical facility in the software led to new ideas and directions we didn’t even discuss.  

Then came the editing. Good editing requires distance (time away) from the project; an unbiased, razor-sharp eye; and a good sense of form, pacing, and detail. Practically speaking, one has to have the ability to step back, analyze the rhythm of the transitions, tighten up timings so there is smooth flow, and make sure everything is cohesive. Usually, having another person look at the project is helpful. When immersed in nuts and bolts technical video work, it is hard to visually step back. If that is not possible, your best bet is time away. I helped by watching her video a few times and making some suggestions. We only had time for one round of revisions; ultimately, two or three would have been the most helpful. That said, the video still works very well.

The product: Zombie

Below is the final product. This was an wonderful example of Seymour Papert’s notion of computer-aided inspiration: the creative use of technology in education. (Papert, Seymour. Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas. New York: Basic Books, 1980.)  

Hannah did an excellent job in the time available to her.  I believe she opened the door for other students to use FCPX this way in the future and broke new ground by using video technology to communicate elements of her analysis that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to deliver in a traditional paper.

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