Friday, February 22, 2008

LifeFormz: Mr. Stick


*sigh* Ok, I had promised you some LifeFormz footage months ago (last year in fact), but I became frustrated with the results of digitizing the 15 year-old VHS tape I had -- bad sound, all washed out or too dark, and generally crappy. But just this past week I discovered I had another, much better tape. Yay!

So here's one of everybody's favorite sketches, Mr. Stick. Brian Flumen came up with the idea of a silent film actor who happened to be a stick. Somehow we evolved it into having a historical film host guy showing off a few of Mr. Stick's films, Mr. Stick Goes to Town, and the sequel, Mr. Stick Comes Back from Town, plus Mr. Stick Walks His Dog.

Brian performed the voice of the host here while I simultaneously listened and lip-synched along in front of a green screen Chroma-keyed (using an old JVC analog video switcher) with footage taken from U.Penn's Fine Arts Library. Besides wanting Brian to perform, the reason we did it this way was that Penn's UTV Station did not have good microphones in the studio at the time, only in the control room. That's why sadly, most of our sketches did not involve multiple characters speaking. Separately, Brian also performed Mr. Stick himself in front of a green screen with a Chroma-keyed image taken from a book of old streets we found somewhere.

Oh! The piano music... Well, in the grungy basement of the studio, back in a far storage closet, Steve and I found a piano, and one day, a young woman was practicing on it. We asked her if she would play something ragtimey, so she played The Entertainer. Perfect! Steve ended up speeding it up old-school style, by dubbing it off of one S-VHS player to another that was recording at a slower speed. Man, we would have LOVED having Logic or ProTools back then.

The Amiga Video Toaster provided the film-look and black-and-white FX.

One technical challenge we faced was that we could not do compositing after the fact like you can today. So anything being Chroma-keyed had to be ready, up and running in either the JVC switcher or the Amiga Video Toaster, or in some cases both! That also meant we needed enough people on hand to operate everything, essentially live. Although editing-wise, we often shot in a film style. This drove UTV nuts because we used WAY more S-VHS tape than everyone else and we produced episodes much much slower than they would have liked. (Not to mention the fact that our puppets and building materials were slowly taking up a huge section of UTV's office!) Cié la vie. We had a hit show and it won a Student Emmy, so they stopped complaining eventually.

Up next, "In Search of the Unknown Unexplained Mysterious Things We Do Not Know Anything About".

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posted by Brian at 11:10 PM

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