The 12 Digital Labors of Hercules

For my final project, I have decided to focus on Hercules. This is not the Disney Hercules of your childhood (although I love Rip Torn as Zeus), nor of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys fame. I’m talking about the REAL Hercules. That is Heracles, or Alcides if you will, son of Zeus and Alcmene via circumstances that were less than consensual, because when is consent ever given in Greek mythology?

Hercules was a badass. He strangled snakes as a baby that Hera sent to kill him.

That's right. A baby badass.

That’s right. A baby badass.

He killed his music teacher. He killed… okay he killed a lot of people. He was kind of a mass murderer, but for some reason was glorified in myth and has become a symbol of strength and virility.

We can guess that this was primarily due to the fact that when given a choice between a happy, easy life, or a difficult life that would lead to glory, guess which one he chose?

That’s right, he chose to not be happy.

So this choice to lead a difficult but glorious life resulted in a lot of misery. A lot of struggle. Most of it instigated by Hera. She really hated Hercules and created a lot of unpleasant situations for him.

The most famous of these struggles was Hercules’ 12 Labors (fyi the Perseus digital library version of the myth is a tad bowdlerized, but it’s more detailed than Encyclopedia Mythica or MythWeb; surprisingly the Wikipedia article is probably the most faithful to the source texts). The story goes that Hera drove Hercules temporarily insane, and in a fit of madness he killed his two/three/six children from his marriage with Megara, the first of four wives. Upon regaining his sanity he learned what he had done and gave Megara to his half-nephew/lover/charioteer Iolaus (they left that part out of the TV show). And then he sought purification and atonement.

The Oracle of Delphi commanded Hercules to serve King Eurystheus for twelve years to atone for the murders. Eurystheus was in collusion with Hera and set Hercules twelve impossible tasks. And Hercules completed each one. Because he was a badass. And because he was a demigod. But mostly the badass thing.

So, how am I going to translate the epic and glorious and miserable life story of Hercules into a DS 106 final? Simple:

  • Design: An “origin story” cartoon strip. There will be snakes involved.
  • Web: Hercules’ Twitter feed while completing the 12 Labors.
  • Web: An Amazon page for Hippolyta’s girdle.
  • Video: An Entertainment Tonight or possibly 20/20 special on the scandal of Hercules’ period of serving as Omphale’s slave during which she made him dress as a woman. Barbara Walters may be doing the interview. Maybe. We’ll see. Also, Matt Damon may have a cameo, because I really enjoyed working with that footage.
  • Visual: A Newsweek cover for a special issue on the death of Hercules.

These are tentative. Maybe I will get a brilliant idea for something completely different for one or more of these within the next week or so. But I really do want to play with the Matt Damon footage again…

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The Good-Looking Internet Committee

It’s remix time! For my first remix assignment, I’ve decided to Create My Own SuperPAC!

The handy-dandy SuperSuperPAC Name Generator mentioned in the assignment was very helpful, as I didn’t have any solid ideas for how to approach this. It generated the following gems:

  • Hype The Nanny State Foundation
  • Rock Free Pizza Horde
  • Resurrect Outdoor Grilling Collective
  • Enrich The Stars and Stripes Foundation
  • Super Chill Not Being Tread On Horde
  • Ebullient Not Listening Legion
  • Good-looking Internet Committee
  • Affirm The Purple Mountain Majesty

Each of these names was fabulous in its own way, but I decided to go with Good-Looking Internet Committee. It just seemed to have so many possibilities. The SuperPAC content follows, but first I wanted to discuss the sources.

It was very difficult to find usable material. The poster was easy, but creating a video remix is challenging. I’ve done it before (my favorite being Chewbacca Explains It All), and every time it takes significantly longer than I expect to find clips that I can use, and I usually have ideas for sources that I end up having to cut out entirely because they simply don’t fit.

In the case of the political ad, I wanted to use a number of clips of celebrities (after all, anyone associated with the cause should be good-looking). I might have eventually found clips from each celebrity I brainstormed, but it would have required watching *a lot* of footage. And even then, sometimes it seems like a good fit until you start editing your mash-up, and then suddenly everything falls apart. There was an interview with Leonardo DiCaprio that I thought was perfect for this, and I ended up not using a single soundbite. (And I’ve misplaced the details on it, so I can’t link to it. The clip is from an interview he did with The Early Show about The Departed, available on YouTube if you feel like doing some digging.) I ended up using Matt Damon’s rant on Sarah Palin and an hilarious Tim Gun video from his Liz Claiborne days. And that was it.

I’m happy with the result, but man, that was a lot of work.


The Good-Looking Internet Committee

A  SuperPAC For the Information Age

Platform: Who cares about “open access”, online piracy and copyright compliance, or freedom of information? We want the Internet to be good-looking! And we don’t mean attractive web design. We want the Internet to only feature good-looking people.

Candidates We Support: Those who are attractive, or have attractive spouses (let’s be real, Obama is not much of a looker, but Michelle is a fashion icon)

Candidates We Oppose: Those who only care about SOPA and whatever the ITU might be up to, and can’t be bothered to put some effort into their personal appearance. We’re looking at YOU Donald Trump.

War Chest: We invested all of our funds in Facebook stock. Oh well.

Principle Donors: The Internet. That’s right. Cuz the Internet cares about this. (To clarify, “the Internet” is Google, YouTube, Facebook, Huffington Post, Gawker, Perez Hilton, 4chan, Reddit, yada yada yada.)

Ad that you will see at least three times every time you watch anything on Hulu:

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Reading Movies… a long time ago

A bit of hindsight wisdom: If you ever decide to apply to grad school, do not postpone committing to the decision until 2 1/2 months before applications are due. Otherwise, you may find yourself with 1 1/2 months to prepare for both the regular GRE and your discipline’s subject test, and will have to put everything else in your life on hold, even favorite hobbies like participating in DS 106. Or learning to play classical guitar. (My fingers are going to be so sore the first time I build up the courage to pick up my guitar again.)

But now that the ordeal is done, I can finally pick up where I left off. Which is … Reading Movies from Week 10! Yes, as an open participant, I could easily skip this. But I enjoy film theory and visual analysis, and frankly the assignment sounded like fun.

I chose to analyze the scene from Ocean’s Twelve (2004) in which Rusty and Danny watch Oprah:

Often condemned as an unnecessary sequel that failed to capture the appeal of the first film (it even has a 56% critic rating and 67% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes), the film still has many charms. This scene happens to be one of  them; it captures the same quick but often subtle humor and tendency to make fun of the characters.

In the scene, Rusty comes to talk to Danny in his hotel room about progress related to their heist and find that Danny is crying, though Danny denies this. He then hears the TV in the living room and goes in to find that Danny was watching Oprah. Danny asks about the progress, and Rusty answers, but soon changes subject to talk about the TV show, clearly affected by the emotion scene taking place. The scene then cuts to Terry Benedict being interviewed by Oprah, and zooms out to show that Linus, Danny, and Rusty are watching the show in an airport.

The scene has very interesting use of camera angles and placement of the actors: Throughout the scene, Rusty is on the right, Danny is on the left. While talking in the entryway and then watching Oprah, Danny is not fully focused on what Rusty is talking about in relation to their plans. His attention is focused on the present, not the future. And he is in focus, in the foreground, reacting to the TV show. Rusty, on the other hand, is on the right, talking about the future, slightly out of focus in the background. Until he begins to react to the TV show as well. The camera shifts so that Rusty is in the foreground and in focus, paralleling the change in his attention and emotional state.

Rusty is also the one with agency; he initiates their movement to the living room, walking in front of Danny to reflect that he has the power in the situation. He has something to learn, while Danny has something to hide (why he was crying).

During the cut to Oprah’s inteview of Terry Benedict, the TV shifts from horizontal to diagonal, pointing towards the bottom right. The skew parallels Terry’s dishonesty. It is clear that he is not speaking candidly, that he was not emotionally affected by the charity that he donated to.

The camera zooms out to show Linus, Danny, and Rusty sitting in an airport watching the show. Their expressions are partially masked the by the sunglasses that they are each wearing, but it is apparent that Linus and Danny don’t believe Terry is being genuine. Rusty looks bored. As always, the characters’ positioning reflects how they relate to each other and the heist; Linus is inexperienced, he lacks insight, and is on the far left, while Rusty, who plans, who sees problems, who everyone, except for Danny, thinks is the leader, is on the far right. They are all in focus, all watching and reacting to the TV.

Watching the clip in three stages – video only, audio only, and then finally the full scene – changed how I watched it. I doubt I would have noticed all of the camera angles if I had been distracted by the audio. I don’t know that I gained anything from just listening to the audio, but upon combining them, the meaning of each camera angle became apparent. I also found it very interesting that I completely missed the fact that Danny was crying until the two were synced. Somehow neither the video alone nor the audio alone gave the necessary cues to realize that was what happened. My notes on these viewings are below.

Categorizing the film is somewhat difficult. It fits action, comedy, crime, even thriller according to IMDB. TV Tropes’ categorization of it as a Caper seems like the best fit. However, Roger Ebert gave an apt assessment of its fit to this genre: “This isn’t a caper movie at all, it’s an improvisation on caper themes.”

Indeed, the film is driven by characters’ personalities rather than any real complexities in the plot. Each of their heists is an obvious MacGuffin, and though some such as Roger Ebert appreciate this aspect, others have labeled the film as one of the worst sequels ever made. I suppose you can’t expect much, though, out of a film originally intended for John Woo.

—–
Video Only:

  • peep hole
  • rusty looking in slightly right of center
  • rule of thirds
  • rusty appears taller, slightly in front
  • cuts in front moves left
  • back to rule of thirds
  • centered: oprah tv
  • danny left, in front, rusty right, background, slightly out of focus
  • then shift rusty in front, danny in back
  • cut to terry talking, skewed down right
  • zoom out, still on diagonal
  • talking to oprah
  • linus – danny  — rusty front left –> back right
  • all wearing sunglasses, watching the TV in an airport terminal

Audio Only:

  • knocking, footsteps and TV in background
  • Rusty starts talking, giving information
  • Danny sniffs – says he just bit into a pepper
  • Rusty takes agency, pushes/contradicts Danny, asks if he was watching Oprah
  • discuss show
  • Danny says happy for kids
  • asks about status in Mexico, tries to bring back to business
  • instead discuss Oprah more, more sniffs
  • Terry talking to Oprah about his charity
  • clearly lying – charitable donation not in character for him

Full Scene:

  • finally apparent that Danny was crying
  • At first tries to deny that he was watching, but then talks about the show, clearly affected by what was going on
  • camera shifts to rusty in focus as he is affected by the show as well
  • Terry is centered as he talks about donation face and tone don’t seem as affected by the inspiration for his donation as he claims
  • Linus looks skeptical, Danny looks amused, Rusty is difficult to read, all of them have partially occluded expressions because of the sunglasses
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Silent Vader at Disneyland

Not gonna lie – I’m pretty good with iMovie. In fact, I teach people how to use it professionally. (I’m an instructional technologist.) So instead of planning out my video projects this week, and then executing them next week, I’m just going to stagger the projects. And maybe do a couple extras just for fun, we’ll see.

My first project is inspired by the recent acquisition of the Star Wars franchise by Disney. As soon as I saw the Disneyland commercial starring Darth Vader (and a few anonymous storm troopers, as all storm troopers are) I knew I wanted to use it for one of my video projects. And given the brilliance that is Silent Star Wars, I felt inspired to make my own attempt at a Star Wars silent film. A Disney one, that is.

To create this, I followed my usual process of pulling the video from YouTube via PwnYoutTube. I then imported the video into iMovie (File -> Import -> Movie) and copied the entire thing into a new Project. I removed the beginning and end stills and added my own. The introduction uses the “Far Far Away” title format, and the end uses a basic “Centered” title. I then removed the audio from the main portion of the commercial:

  1. Hover over the footage until the blue Options gear icon appears.
  2. Click on the gear.
  3. Select Audio Adjustments.
  4. Bring the Volume down to 0%.

I liked the sound of Darth Vader breathing from the beginning of the original commercial, so I selected that portion of the video in the Event Library and dragged it onto my opening title slide (be sure that the playhead cursor is at the point where you want the audio to begin, in this case the very beginning of the footage). This brought up the overlay menu and I selected Audio Only. The audio clip wasn’t long enough, so I had to duplicate it to cover all of the opening.

For the main portion of the video, however, I wanted to use a traditional silent film score. Some Google digging brought me to Incompetech’s listing of freely available stereotypical silent film scores (if you are looking for a particular film’s score, you’d probably have better luck with the Internet Archive or another repository of copyright-free resources). The song “Merry Go – Distressed” had the playful tone I wanted (plus, Vader actually rides on a Merry-Go-Round, so it seemed like a felicitous song to use). I dragged it into iMove (again matching the playhead). The song is longer than the footage, so I had to add a fade-out. To do this:

  1. Click on the green Options gear icon on the audio track.
  2. Select Audio Adjustments.
  3. For Fade-Out select Manual.
  4. I set it to a 1.9s fade. I find that slower fades are less jarring.

The most challenging part of this was generating the film grain – iMovie has some default options available, but none of them had the look I wanted. I went with the Aged Film effect (Options gear -> Clip Adjustments -> Video Effects), and then started to dig for other options.

I really liked what Ben Rimes (@techsavvyed) achieved with his Silent Era Back to the Future (and discovered that apparently we had used the same score source), so I looked into the Particle Illusion graphics he used. I found working with the individual images to be cumbersome, so I converted them into a separate movie, which you can view or Pwn on YouTube. I then imported the movie into my Events Library and dragged it onto the footage to create an overlay. From the overlay menu I selected Cutaway (some tutorials will tell you to use Picture in Picture, but this doesn’t allow you to change the opacity). I then went to the Options menu for the grain overlay and under Clip Adjustments set the Opacity to 21% (the exact percentage will vary depending on the main footage you are working with, but I’ve found that somewhere in the 20-30 range allows you to see the grain without making the footage difficult to see).

Finally, inspired by the gorgeous title cards Ben had used from CopyCatFilms, I redid the end still of the twitter hashtag #starwarsdisney. And thus was born the Silent Era version of Darth Vaders first trip to Disneyland.

Posted in DS106, Uncategorized, Video | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A story embedded in a page

When I started to read this week’s assignment of redesigning a webpage to tell a story, I at first thought it meant embedding a story within an existing webpage. And I got REALLY excited. This seemed like such a cool idea – the story could be relevant to the page content, or a complete non sequitur.

But then I continued reading, and realized the assignment meant something more like this. Which, don’t get me wrong, was a lot of fun. But I was still excited by my initial interpretation. So I decided to go ahead and do it and submit this as an assignment proposal.

I took the non sequitur approach, writing a story embedded in Google Apps integration documentation. (I wanted to use something long to accommodate the story structure and inherently uninteresting to most people so that they wouldn’t be distracted by it.) The story began with the idea of someone crying out for help, and then it went off in its own … surprising direction.

The poem is one that I wrote back in high school, with the enticing description of “Crappy poem I wrote while bored and procrastinating on homework.” I honestly do not remember what inspired it, but in rereading it I found the mawkishness and the self-importance to be so entertaining that I decided to use it here. (I used to write a lot of humorous poetry, and initially wanted to use one of those poems, but then I came across this one, and immediately knew I had to use it. Because it gave me my ending.)

Here is a pdf version of the story, or you can download the webpage here.

UPDATE: Assignment has been submitted! http://assignments.ds106.us/assignments/hidden-story-in-a-page/ Hope you enjoy it. I had fun creating the thumbnail for the assignment page:

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Lolspeak Virus, OMG!

Changing a webpage to tell a story is not for the faint of heart. I tried out the X-Ray Goggles recommended for the assignment, and could not get it to work (not sure if it was a problem with the program, or if I was just fundamentally misunderstanding something). So then I tried Firebug. And the initial site that I wanted to hack (The Official Google Blog) seems to have been designed to prevent exactly this sort of thing. So I switched to CNN.com. And the code was overwhelming. The recommendation to choose a simple site is very wise.

But I decided to go with it anyway. I downloaded the homepage (File -> Save Page As in Firefox), chucked the folder of extras, and started wiping out all of the excess code in Dreamweaver. Although this method does require expensive proprietary software, it was soooo nice to be able to have a dual-view of the source code and the page, and just click on an item on the page, selecting the code so that I could easily delete it. It also made changing the text really easy, and to replace the images I just had to paste URLs into a box. I did, however, keep one image. Can you guess which one?

So what is the narrative of the web story? Well… In the fall of 2012, a new virus emerged. A feline virus. The Lolspeak Virus.

To view the full page, complete with links that I didn’t bother changing so they will take you to surprise CNN articles (the mystery is part of the fun!), you can access it here. Dropbox shows the source code, so you need to download the file and then open it in a browser to view the page.

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Wellesley: A Google Search Story

So, I went to a women’s college. And I chose it for the college ranking and the financial aid package they offered me, not because it was a women’s college. This Google Search Story reflects my transition from trying to get  off campus as much as possible (It certainly didn’t help that one of my best friends from high school went to Emerson College in downtown Boston. Why stay on campus when I could go visit him and do fun Bostony things?) to eventually taking pride in the empowering environment of the school. So here is that story:

Also, for those who want to complete this assignment but are having trouble finding the tool (YouTube has a flashy showcase of submissions, but the actual link to the tool on http://www.youtube.com/searchstories is currently missing), there is a permalink to it here: https://searchstories-intl.appspot.com/en-us/creator/. I’m going to tag this as a tutorial so that others can easily find the link. Because this is through an external service, you do have to jump through a couple extra hoops to connect the video to your YouTube account. Google will identify it as suspicious activity from a new IP address. This is okay, just say that it was you and you can then log in.

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