Friday, August 29, 2008

Geeks on Screen - Eric Blair

I don’t know how excited I am to be called a geek, but I guess geeks and gadgetry go hand-in-hand. Don’t worry, I’m not going to sing you a song about my love for technology like Kip on Napoleon Dynamite, but I will give you a little bit of background about why I think it’s so valuable.

Many people see technology as a thing in and of itself, a separate entity from the rest of their lives. What they fail to see is that technology is an aid. It is an enabler that gives you abilities you wouldn’t otherwise have. It’s like having an extra arm or something, but less gross. I didn’t just wake up one day and decide that I wanted to be a geek. It happened because I saw the possibilities that technology opened up for me, to take what I like to do to the next level. I’ve always liked to create, but doing things by hand could only take me so far. I mean, a drawing is just a drawing until you can do something with it. When you put that drawing into the computer, it could become anything. It could go on a brochure, or an animation, or even on a blog header, like this one. Whether it’s in joining an online community of people with similar interests who can share their knowledge, or chronicling your baby photos in a DVD slide show to share with the grandparents, no matter what you’re interested in, there’s some way that technology can enrich your experience.

Now while I would love to go on and on about my various technological passions, like graphic design and illustration, I was called onto this soapbox to share my video-making process. Like with all things, it starts as an idea. When the time came to start working on this year’s video, Susan told me that the theme was going to revolve around the 7 wonders of the world, highlighting Chets Creek Elementary as the 8th, and how we can utilize technology to travel the globe. Visually, it seemed really vague, and it was sort of my job to reel it in. In previous years, the visuals have been pretty cut and dry, with the western theme, the magic kingdom theme, the Hollywood red carpet theme, etc. But this one was tough to wrap my brain around. My first thought was a west coast or Polynesian surfing motif, having a tagline along the lines of “Cyber-surfing the globe.” Then I was thinking back to vintage deco travel posters (I love that stuff), but it just didn’t feel fun enough for an elementary school. After brainstorming and talking it over with some of my partners here, like magic, the Indiana Jones-styled adventure theme began to take shape.

Now that we had the general idea, it was time to start playing. I went online and looked at a lot of the Indiana Jones stuff to pull together visual cues to tie everything together. Things as simple as old parchment paper and a thematic font go a long way when used correctly. Then I took our mascot (thanks again Tom Sapp!) and dressed him for adventure.

Now the real fun starts: making Mrs. Phillips do all sorts of crazy stuff. My philosophy for these projects that I do for the school is If it makes me laugh, do it. Because if it’s not fun, then nobody will care, myself included, and I’ve just wasted my time. I knew right off the bat that I’d have her looking for some sort of ancient relic, so I started jotting down some general stories that she could follow, and I found that as I started writing it and working through it, it just started writing itself. So now I have a loose story, but I have to fill it with fun stuff, so I started writing everything down that came to mind. I looked at the different locations that she’d be going and what kinds of funny things she could do there. Like Egypt, for example: sliding down a pyramid, flying on a magic carpet, poking around a mummy’s tomb…There are just tons of fun things to do everywhere, and no ideas are too lousy to jot down.

Now that I knew what I was going to film, I needed to look at how I’d film it. Since the new theme is always such a big secret around the school, I couldn’t exactly have Mrs. Phillips go swinging around on her whip through the front foyer, golden idol in hand, so I had to green screen her into every piece of the film. Because of this, everything had to be pretty well-planned. In previous years I’ve just filmed Susan on the green screen in a bunch of different angles and slapped it together in editing, but I wanted this one to be a little more deliberate. So I started storyboarding. Reading the story that I’d written and what scenes I would need, I started drawing small thumbnails of how the scenes would play out visually.

Once I had all of this figured out, it was time to start filming. There’s just something satisfying about being able to put my boss in whatever absurd situation my kooky brain can cook up. It helps get me through all of the tedious hours spent editing the video. So as I mentioned before, the film had to be done on a green screen. What this means, for those who don’t know, is that I filmed Susan in front of, you guessed it, a green screen. The reason for this is that, with special software, I can remove all of the green from the film and layer her into whatever I want. Using this, I can do things like place her onto a teetering glacier in the middle of Antarctica, while all I filmed was her standing still in front of a green wall. Way cool! The day that I learned how to use the green screen, my mind was blown. If you embrace it, you can really do anything. You can play basketball with your head. You can make a black and white noir film. Anything! And without even leaving your living room.

With all that green screenery behind me now, the easy part comes. Since everything was planned out, now it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together, adding in scene transitions, sound effects, and music, in addition to whatever special effects it needed, like desaturating the film, giving it a sepia tone, and making it look aged.

Sorry I can’t offer you a step-by-step how-to guide to doing this, as every video editing program works a little differently, but the thought process is far more important than anything else anyway. For those curious though, the editing program that I use is called Pinnacle Studio. You can get it at electronics stores like Best Buy or Circuit City, and it runs around $100.

So after this long, drawn-out explanation of how I handled the conception of the year’s theme, what I really want you to walk away with is that technology is important, but it’s only a tool and shouldn’t be feared. Saying that you don’t like technology is like saying that you don’t like a hammer, or a can opener. It won’t do the work for you, you still need to have a good idea, and dream big, but it will help you actualize that idea in a big way.


KK said...

To watch you grow has been the most amazing adventure. I think I am one of the luckiest people in the world to be able to work right beside one of the most talented people. You truly are making geeks everyday.

Mrs. Nash said...

Eric -

I love this post! What fun to read about how the theme evolved! You truly are our own "technology native"! (Perhaps that's why we're all in such awe?) Thanks for sharing!

Susan T. Phillips said...

This is from the boss you put into all those funny positions - you are a genius, you know that, right. Now I know you can write too - wonder what I can learn about you next....Thanks for helping me travel the globe, doing all kinds of fun and crazy stuff, without ever leaving the WCCE studio. You're the coolest geek I know. :)

Mrs. McLeod said...

You have an amazing talent! Thank you for sharing.
P.S. Love the basketball video.
:) Carrie

Meli Launey said...

How much do you charge for classroom visits? WOW! I think the whole process of creating the story (storyboarding, researching, humor, theme) would fit just perfectly into a Writing Mini-Lesson. The kids would really get into it. You might inspire a 4th grader to become a future geek.

Mrs. Wallace said...

Thanks for sharing the 'behind-the-scenes' for this year's video. I'm one who buys DVDs so that I can view the bonus features containing the making of the movie. I find it very fascinating how a small idea can be transformed to such a spectacular event.

p.s. Love the story board! ;-)

Lopez's Literacy Leaders said...

Eric, Eric, Eric!
You are truly an amazingly creative genius! I would love to be able to do what you do. You told your story in such an interesting way, and I agree with Susan, you are a talented writer as well. I really enjoyed reading about the conception of our theme for this year. Eric, you're the most talented, creative, coolest, and cutest geek I know. When I grow up, I want to be just like you!


Melissa Ross said...

Mr. Geek-
"If it makes me laugh, do it." - I think I am going to have to use that quote on the top of our next math meeting agenda.
I LOVE what you have done with the media blog. You are so creative! Our students are so lucky to get the opportunity to work with you and learn from you this year. I can't wait to see what they come back teaching me!

dayle timmons said...

And he can write! A geek that can write! Obviously, in your case the creative juices ooze out in so many different creative directions! I LOVE what you bring to Chets Creek. thank you for sharing your time and talent with us - you may never know how many lives you're touching!