Guest post by Jessica Warner "Tomoyo Ichijouji"
At the heart of everything, what I want to do the most is to bring great stories to life. I'm primarily a writer, so that usually has to do with the techniques of prose on the page, of which I'm pretty comfortable with already. But, in the past year or two, as a result of getting involved in amateur voice-acting (I'm now a moderator of the forum I participate in, VoiceActingAlliance), as a lot of voice-actors there also put together their own media to voice, I've discovered many resources that could bring a story from simple text to a full blown multimedia production. I had sound effects to mix anything from a walk in the park to an epic battle of giant robots, and voice actors with professional-grade talent who I had at hand to recruit to make characters all that more real to the audience. Even better, I even had a few composers I could collaborate with to make a totally immersive, original work you could listen to. Really, what more could you ask for?
However...I have always been a visual person. While you can do a lot with just sound alone, characters and stories don't really feel complete to me unless you can really "see" them. In writing, these come in the form of prose descriptions, whereas for multimedia, pictures are a necessity. There are people in my online community with the artistic talent, patience, time, and resources to actually make full motion animations, buuuuuut...let's just say that I lack enough of each category for that to really be feasible for me, haha.
I had a project in mind that when I first learned enough to take a crack at these productions myself, I wanted to try to bring to the screen. It wasn't my own; it was an online webcomic called No Rest for the Wicked, as of yet unpublished and unfinished, that I saw a lot of potential in to be a lot more than simply a webcomic. It was presented in a way that I could see it practically coming alive in a cinematic form in my head. The art in the webcomic was characteristically stylistic and pleasing to the eye -- couldn't there be some way to present those same images in a way that allows that cinematic nature to be evident, and to combine it with all those resources I had to make something that was barely a few steps away from being like an actual "motion picture". And so I thought, "...Why not?!"
I was remembering from photo slideshows I'd seen, how they had different panning and zooming effects along with transitions, and I thought, perhaps if I could do the same for the images from the webcomic, that would simulate the panning and zooming techniques used in actual animated features usually with a lower budget to be able to make the most out of a single image, as well as to establish action shots with fast shifts and flashes.
After all, I already had the images in front of me -- it was a matter of how to have them displayed to make them come alive. It sounded like a very interesting endeavor indeed, and really played to my general life creed of "make the most possible out of the least amount possible". That said, how would I do it?
I started to research on what programs I could use to do this. I got recommendations of the widely-used programs that could do everything under the sun -- but when I looked at the licenses for those programs, it made me bang my head on my desk. I can't afford $500+ for a program license! I could probably better use that money to upgrade my computer equipment so that I could even USE such complex programs without crashing my hard drive after an hour of working with it. I wondered, did you really need to pay that much to have a slideshow program with customizable transitions and effects? Surely there was something else that people simply hadn't bothered to look into that would serve just as well?
After some careful searching, I came across the NCH Software programs, one of which was PhotoStage Slideshow Producer. I thought, sure, sounds like what could work. Seemed pretty simple in both structure and interface (it was a tiny download, I was amazed what functions you could pack into a few megabytes), straightforward, yet flexible. Downloading the trial version, but being the skeptic I have always been about good deals (why hadn't anyone heard of it before if it was so useful?), I wondered how much I'd be able to tell from a trial program that usually only lasted long enough for me to use it once or twice at most.
However, I found that PhotoStage let me use it for well beyond its suggested trial period, even keeping ALL of its features except for some file formats that weren't crucial to the functionality of the program. I have a lot of respect therefore for programs that will in fact trust that if you find you really like the program, eventually you'll support the programmers and publishers by paying for a shiny license for it that shows that you are in fact legit without having a swimming pool of money in your backyard.
And eventually, that's exactly what happened. I was actually well into working on the project, having done several clips already that I showed my staff as I'd been well into getting in the lines and mixing all the stuff together, and finding a special on licenses going on, I thought it was the right time to get one -- and I knew already, having been able to actually DO something with it, that I was getting my money's worth.
Here's a few of the test clips I've done so far of the production so far, from various parts of the webcomic (some of the voices and music are just placeholders and will be different in the finished production):
This test clip shows a more cinematic setting-establishing scene, where the panning and zooming is put to full use. Source reference: Ch 2, pg 1-3
This test clip has more narration, but I made little illustrative panels come to life by erasing out various objects and phrases, having them fade or pop back into view depending on the context. Source reference: Ch 1, pg 1
This test clip shows the control of comedic timing between the visuals and dialogue. Source reference: Ch 1, pg 12
This test clip integrates a lot of the things above, using both panning, zooming, and fades at various speeds for a comedic, almost cartoon-like effect. Source reference: Ch 2, pg 42-43
I'm still working away on the production and it's not anywhere near finished, but I'm getting there! (See, again, why I don't like programs with ticking fuses, because my working pace in general is tortoise slow) If you're curious as to more detailed progress info, here's my production blog, and there's a few additional test clips up at my Youtube production channel, Videocaptor Productions. (Tomoyo Ichijouji is my online alias, a little more unique than my real life name, haha)
I'm not sure at this point what future projects I'll use PhotoStage for next, but I've been pointing others at my community who want to do comic dubs like mine to PhotoStage as an easy, elegant way to bring some motion to the images to go with the voices and sound. It seems like the ones who've tried it liked it, so who knows? Considering nobody else in my forum seemed to know about it before I started mentioning it to people, maybe it'll start catching on. In the end, for me, it's all about making the most of what you've got. PhotoStage was definitely one of the programs that let me do that, so I'm sure I'll continue using it for creative purposes in the future.