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Adventures in filmmaking

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Company

University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television
Los Angeles, California

www-cntv.usc.edu

Challenge

Inspire students to create stories using visual and auditory cues as a starting point, rather than narrative

Solution

Use the Adobe Video Collection to edit sound, create images, apply special effects, composite films, and generate DVDs

Benefits

Students can easily move between Adobe applications to experiment with an unlimited number of sounds, images, and effects to achieve their creative visions

Tool kit

Students take more creative approaches to storytelling with Adobe Video Collection

explanation screen from a DVD

What happens when the art of storytelling gets lost in the words? Or when an artist stops creating because she cannot find the right words for a story? A unique class at the world-renowned University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinema-Television is helping students answer these questions and discover new ways of creating and telling stories.

"Our culture is very focused on narrative," says Kathy Smith, associate professor at the school and chair of the Division of Animation and Digital Arts. "And although text can be compelling and beautiful, it can also be limiting, preventing artists from uncovering the stories that surround us every day." By focusing first on visuals and sound to create stories, Smith's class, Journeys in Expanded Animation, turns traditional approaches to storytelling upside down.

menu screen from a DVD

Capturing sights and sounds

Students begin the semester-long class with a trip to a Southern California desert teeming with life to capture the sights and sounds that will be the basis for their stories. With digital cameras, a Super-8 camera, paper, pencil, and tape recorders in hand, students collect and create the elements that will drive their films.

“It's exciting because we can take our stories in any direction we want,” says Brad Schaider, a second-year graduate student in the program. “The only rule is to be inspired by what we see and hear.” Students return to campus with hundreds of photos and video footage, charcoal rubbings taken from rocks, written notes, and a multitude of desert and man-made sounds. The next step is to bring these varied elements together into a short film.

Brad Schaider and 3 stills from his experimental film

Using the applications in the Adobe Video Collection, graduate student Brad Schaider experimented with manipulating shadows and light and merging 3D elements into his film. The results exceeded his expectations.


A sound foundation

Using software tools in the Adobe®® Video Collection, students assemble their myriad sounds, images, and texts into films lasting 30 seconds to 2 minutes. "The Adobe Video Collection integrates beautifully with our work because we can go from organic elements — hand-drawn pictures, painted images, taped sounds — to digital elements that can be manipulated easily," says Smith.

One of the first Adobe Video Collection tools that students use is Adobe Audition® software. The powerful Adobe Audition toolset enables students to mix, edit, and master audio, as well as create sounds with special effects. The mastered audio includes recorded desert noises, spoken poems, chants, and other sounds. "Getting the right mix of audio is essential," says Smith. "It provides the backbone and sets the mood for the films."

Inspired images

With Adobe Illustrator® CS and Adobe Photoshop® CS software, students create images for their film sequences. For instance, students can create drawings in Illustrator CS or scan pages of charcoal rubbings and still photos of desert plants into their computers and modify the images using Photoshop CS.

"There's no substitute for Adobe Photoshop CS," says Schaider. "I can superimpose graphics, text, and special effects onto layers of any image and achieve the results that I want." Students also experiment with images by adding dry- and wet-brush painting effects or typing text directly onto their work. The enhanced images are brought into Adobe After Effects® software for further effects and compositing.

2 stills from an experimental film

After capturing the sights and sounds that will be the basis for their stories, students use Adobe Photoshop to superimpose graphics, text, and special effects. They then use Adobe After Effects to add additional effects and to composite the images.

Advanced effects in minutes

Students use Adobe After Effects to quickly incorporate a variety of special effects. For instance, using the multiple layering capabilities in After Effects, students can take sequences of digital images and overlay them with hand-drawn animation. Previously, accomplishing this effect required students to run edited images underneath a camera several times, a process that could take hours.

Advanced effects in minutes

Students use Adobe After Effects to quickly incorporate a variety of special effects. For instance, using the multiple layering capabilities in After Effects, students can take sequences of digital images and overlay them with hand-drawn animation. Previously, accomplishing this effect required students to run edited images underneath a camera several times, a process that could take hours.

“The Adobe Video Collection integrates beautifully with our work because we can go from organic elements- hand-drawn pictures, painted images, taped sounds- to digital elements that can be manipulated easily.”

Kathy Smith, associate professor and chair,
Division of Animation and Digital Arts, USC School of Cinema-Television

With After Effects, students can create more compelling films by compositing their images, footage, and other elements into 2D or 3D environments, adding scrolling titles, distorting images, and producing other effects. "The Adobe applications are excellent because they work how artists think," says Smith. "The icon-based software breaks through visual barriers to creativity."

Schaider is particularly interested in manipulating shadows and light and merging 3D elements into his films. For him, the biggest benefit of using Adobe After Effects is that the software gives him the freedom to experiment. "I've taken film projects far beyond my initial expectations," he says. "Simply by experimenting in Adobe software, I've created work that is much better than I ever anticipated."

A helpful After Effects feature for Schaider is the ability to retrace steps so he can determine exactly what happened and why things turned out so well. "This is how I learn," he says. "I stay focused on creating in After Effects — quickly trying out new ideas, adding effects, and rearranging elements — and when I come up with something I like, I can see exactly how I got there."

Bringing it together in Adobe Premiere

Using Adobe Premiere software, students can precisely edit their work, dragging and dropping frames into the exact sequences they desire. The smooth integration between Adobe Premiere and the other Adobe applications makes it easy for students to create new content, incorporate it into their films, and rework materials to produce professional-quality results. Adobe Premiere also offers students the flexibility to select from hundreds of real-time audio and video effects — dissolves, fade-ins, manipulatable multichannel audio, and others — that enhance the quality and creativity of their work.

"With Adobe Premiere, I end up with visually compelling films without having to deal with the unnecessary stopping and restarting common in other editing programs," says Shih-ting Hung, a second-year student in the graduate program. When they've finished editing the image sequences and adding the desired effects, students use Adobe Premiere to generate MPEG files that are placed on a DVD containing films from all students in the class.

“I've taken film projects far beyond my initial expectations. Simply by experimenting in Adobe software, I've created work that is much better than I ever anticipated.”

Brad Schaider, second year graduate student,
USC School of Cinema-Television

Adobe Encore® DVD software is then used to master the DVD. The software lets students incorporate design elements from Photoshop into interactive DVD menus. Because of the integration between the two applications, design elements placed into Encore DVD menus continue to be editable in Photoshop. Images for the DVD sleeve are designed in Adobe Photoshop CS and Adobe Illustrator CS. Upon completion, the DVD is made available to USC students and to others interested in this innovative approach to storytelling.

Shih-ting Hung and 2 stills from her film

Second-year graduate student Shih-ting Hung uses Adobe Premiere to create visually compelling films without the unnecessary stopping and restarting common in other editing programs. Using Adobe Premiere, students can precisely edit their work, and the smooth integration with the other Adobe applications enhances the quality and creativity of their work.


Seeing the world differently

Students leave Smith's class with new possibilities for creating original, powerful stories. "I want students to realize that they have tremendous creative freedom," she says. "Often, the best story ideas are right in front of us, but we don't see them. With the Adobe Video Collection, we can experiment with sounds and images and let our stories evolve naturally."