Archive for the Category »W12: Final Project Progress «

My Final Project

Well, my final project is moving along, somewhat slowly.  Had a slight set back yesterday with an emergency root canal, which is why this blog post is late.  I am making a movie about the Eastern Front in World War II.  I have a very definite idea of what i want to do with my project and how I want it to end up looking, which I guess is a good starting point.  Getting the reality to look like my vision has proven a little difficult from a technological standpoint.  I have most of the materials that I want to use, but getting them from one place to another and into a usable format has proven difficult.  For example, I have two movies that I plan to use short clips from, one which I own on itunes and am having difficulties getting into a format where I can slice and dice the part I want.  The other movie is in the GMU library, so I have to burn that and manipulate it.  The technology was always going to be a problem for me, I’ll just have to ask for lots of help as it moves forward.

Amazingly, I am not having issues with my subject, I am doing a good job of research and there is plenty of material out there.  I just hope that I can pull it all together without losing my sanity.  It has been awfully fun to think about history in this way, and I find myself thinking about this project and making small tweaks to my design all the time, imagining what things I can ad and where I can find things that might be helpful.  Being in class and hearing that others are in the same boat is definitely helpful, and I’ve enjoyed feedback from folks in the class.

FDST project update

My topic is my grandfather’s service in Guam during World War II and my father’s telling of that story from when he was a child. I have made real progress in collecting material for my video, it’s just a matter of putting it all together. At this point, I’ve done a 40 minute interview with my dad and scanned in over 70 pictures. So I definitely feel like I have enough material to put it all together. The open lab was really useful in learning the technical part of production.

My problem now is refining my argument. I keep avoiding a more abstract idea on historical memory, feeling like typical history classes want you to come up with a history-specific topic. Kelly suggested that I compare my dad’s telling of World War II to the descriptions of it in history books. That’s definitely a workable thesis that would be easy to implement, but I keep thinking it needs to be more complex than that (apart from the fact the professor suggested it, so obviously it’s not, lol). But I think I’m encountering some growing pains with digital storytelling. It’s not the same as a written paper. We’re doing so much more showing versus telling, so our arguments can convey more layers in a simple argument than we would in a linear paper.

As far as voice-over, I want to purely use the voice of my dad, and if I have to add more information in, I think I’m going to put text on a screen, at least that’s how I envisioned it on my storyboard. And like many others, I found the storyboard extremely useful in planning how I was going to organize my story and the elements that I needed to work on.

Another unexpected thing regarding the objectivity question and family stories–in some ways it’s easier to produce a video with family stories because you know them so well, yet it’s hard to objectively analyze them because you have so much emotional attachment.

Also–if anyone knows of any good sites where I can get free music, let me know!

Progress Report

So. I had an idea that I liked, a project that I thought was good.

But as it came along, I saw it didn’t fit the timeline for this course well enough.

So then I changed my topic. Last week I brought in the storyboard of my new idea. Conferencing, Kelly didn’t really like how I was framing it. And as I thought about it and looked into it more, I came to agree with her.

Now I’m working– once again– on getting a script worked out that works, dealing with topic number two.


At this point, I’m kind of reconsidering my feelings on digital storytelling as a pedagogical tool. I feel like my original project idea was feasible, could have created a good video, and could have been completed on time. But it didn’t work with the way that the class– that classes in general– are set up. I think the problem is the fact that different projects require different creative processes.

If you’re doing something that’s interview-heavy, you’re going to take a lot more time gathering sources and editing, but there won’t be as much time needed for other processes. Storyboards and scripts may come later if at all, once the sources let you know what they’re going to say. If you’re going for a Junior-League Ken Burns kind of thing, scripting and storyboarding are far more important. Your research will be mostly finding pictures to pan over. Filming won’t be as time-consuming.

And those are just two broad examples. Everyone works on every project differently. You have to work with the project, you’ve gotta go with the grain, and let the logical demands of the project inform your timeline.

Grading and classroom supervision aren’t like that, however. They have to be rationalized. People need deadlines, and the deadlines need to be the same for everyone. Introducing something like DST to students requires that you keep on them with a timeline, etc. That you supervise and micromanage and, at least to a certain extent, that you standardize. You have to schedule assignments and deadlines as if everyone’s process is the same, when in fact, different projects have different timelines because they demand differing amounts of attention to different aspects of the process.

I think that DST could be an incredibly useful tool for students in, for example, a Montessori classroom, where individualized attention and learners setting their own pace is the norm. But that’s not a luxury that many of us will have. Most of us will have to be in classrooms where things are, as a matter of course, basically standardized. Classroom size, teaching loads, etc. mean that this is basically outside of our control. And in that sort of setting, I’m starting to question the utility of trying to teach DST techniques, etc.

This is not a rejection of the class as a whole, of course. I do think that it’s important that scholars and teachers use techniques like this. We need to see beyond the chalkboard, the powerpoint slideshow, the monograph. And this *is* a good way to approach certain topics, and can lead to different sorts of learning outcomes for those who take the time to do it.

I’m just wondering– is it really compatible with most people’s classroom reality?

Progress and challenges

At this point, I have already captured about six hours of footage, including the first round of interviews and the one-to-one multisensory lessons.  I have pulled out themes from the collective interviews and moved footage to corresponding files labeled with those themes.  This has helped me to synthesize the most important comments from each student and to better capture the most the essence of each question.  The camera work for the interviews was very easy as I simply put the camcorder on the tripod and hit record.  

The challenge has come about with regard to the camera work in the multisensory lessons.  Because I am trying to capture the student playing, as well as what is on the projector screen, as well as interact with the student it is difficult just to leave the camcorder on the tripod.  I found that I have to hold it and move around, which makes editing difficult because there is so much moving around on the screen.  I am trying to find ways around this by simply moving the camera around on the tripod just to change the angles from time to time. 

Tomorrow night I am having the students interact with the multisensory approach in a master class setting with other students and faculty, and I am looking forward to the feedback provided by the audience members.  In general, editing is taking quite a bit of time, but I am learning to work between Windows Movie Maker and Corel Video Pro.

Finding the sweet spot

Like many of you I, too, am working towards refining and narrowing my topic idea to something that I hope will land on its feet and attain the hopes I have for it.  I’ve been lucky enough to get my research done and I have a visual idea of how I want to do this. This story came into more focus hen I did my archival research. The idea crystallized more as I worked on the storyboards and I’m hoping to parlay that imaging into moving images.

My problem is currently technological. I am struggling to get my source videos uploaded into the program so I can edit.  I’m close to getting this done and once I do the real work begins.  As I’ve mentioned in the script sessions I’ve been struggling with the notion of using voice over or no voice over,  so I find that I am thinking I will need to cut together two versions of this project. It is a trail-by-error method that unfortunately will take a huge amount of time, but I’m confident once I have the timeline set, I can give myself some options to develop the story and its elements into a digital story that is worthy if the topic.

But I have t say that I am having a ton of fun doing research and developing this idea into digital story that conveys the ideas and questions that I am investigating . Thinking about history in this way makes it fun and stretches the boundaries of conventionality that I often feel weighing me down when doing more “traditional” history.  I’m just hoping I can find the sweet spot of storytelling that engages, provokes and even entertains a little bit.

Project Progress

I still have a lot of work to do to bring this DST together, but I think the experience of storyboarding was extremely helpful last week.  Storyboarding exposed some elements of my script that could flow quite a bit better , and, along with comments from Dr. Schrum, helped me to realize that there needs to be more of a hook to draw viewers into the story.  The process of revising my script, in addition to thinking of different ways to make it more interesting for viewers, is something that I have been trying to focus on as I continue to compile video and images.

I also think it was very helpful to see the rubric for the first time.  I think that I have been obsessing about planning the technological aspects of the story I am telling.  While the images and videos I am gathering are going to be essential to telling my story in a digital format, the story itself is still key.  I still have a lot to do, and there are still scheduling challenges to address that may force me to scale back or remove an interview or two, but I feel as if my focus is where it should be as the story comes together in these final weeks.

The Challenges of Scope and Objectivity

I would hazard a guess that I am not alone in dealing with scope issues on these projects. My original concept was to tell the story of the run up to the Pearl Harbor attack, including important context that runs as early as 1936, then share individual stories the day of the attack, and finally wrap up with a summary of the results of the attack. It would make a sweet digital story that addresses an important deficiency in American history, the Japanese side of the Pearl Harbor story. It also seems to require a full-time director, a research staff of at least two, a cinematographer, two digital artist and a computer animator, a budget that would require an additional grant writer to cover all of those expenses, and a six month gantt-charted project plan.

Needless to say, I’m scrambling to shave off content and scale back from “ambitious” to “workable.”

Another challenge is the classic trap for the historian: the Objectivity Question. My hope is that this project can bring not so much pure objectivity (as I am bringing my own context to the research), but at least some balance to the narrative of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Classical American history focuses on the “unprovoked” attack and the undeclared war. Couple that with the propaganda of the day which painted the Japanese as a brutal and inhumane people, it is easy to lose sight of the state of international affairs in the Pacific in the early 1940s. While I am certainly not interested in defending the Japanese military, I am aware that the issue is much more complex than “the Japanese wanted to expand their influence and the U.S. stood in their way.” In many ways, war between Japan and the U.S. almost seems preordained. At any rate, it is hard to imagine a different outcome of the particular historical forces that steered the two countries onto a collision course. I think this gets lost in the “simplify” filter through which history is often strained. The goal of this project is to show a different way of thinking about the events on or about 7 December 1941.

Additional challenge: just last Thursday I found a copy of The Pearl Harbor Papers: Inside the Japanese Plans at the GMU library. This important work is a collection of papers, diaries and documents from Japanese sailors and airmen who planned and executed the attack. This is a very important collection of primary sources for a project that wants to convey the Japanese point of view. As a result, I feel like my research is behind schedule. This is delaying the final version of my script, which is delaying the final version of my storyboards, which will ultimately delay the start of production on the actual story. On the positive side, I have had great success in collecting digital media to use in my story, including some relatively rare photographs taken from Japanese planes during the attack.

Nothing that a few days of concentrated effort can’t fix, right? Now if I can just figure out how to squeeze 26 hours out of each day, I’m golden!

Project Progress

I am finally starting to feel like I am making progress and that  things are starting to shape up.  I am now focusing on how long-time area residents have perceived “change” in the Northern VA area, and am letting these residents tell the story in their own words.  Since I am relying so heavily on oral histories, I have felt like I have been almost entirely at the mercy of those willing to talk to me.  In the last couple of weeks, I have done a few oral history interviews on my own of long-time residents and I feel more in control of my project with actual video footage to work with now.   Despite a couple technical setbacks (camera battery dying before interview was over…recording 40 minutes of blank audio and having to contact the interviewee again), it has been an enlightening and rewarding experience to interview all sorts of people I would otherwise never meet.  I am really beginning to wish I had more time to interview a wider range of people, but with the time and deadline restraints I am just going to have to work with the interviews that I can fit in by the second week in April.  Right now I have interviews with just older, white males so I am hoping that I can diversify my interview pool in the next couple of weeks!

Despite having started my project editing in Final Cut Express Academic, I think I have moved over to iMovie.  Although I have never really used iMovie (and just learned the basics last week!), it is proving to be pretty user friendly and, at least for me with an impending due date, a more efficient use of my time.  Final Cut allows for a bit more freedom with effects and personal touches, but after a series of frustrations and anxiety over getting this done in time, I made the move to iMovie and think that I will end up being happy with that decision.

A couple questions to pose to you all:

1) Since I want the people I have interviewed to tell the story of change in Northern VA in their own words, I have posed short text questions in between my sections for transitional purposes.  I know what they say, so I feel like I might be moving them along too quickly.  What is an appropriate length of time for a frame of text?

2) I am having some trouble with Handbrake on my Mac (it’s a Mac Pro).  It keeps telling me that I need the appropriate vlc, and even though I attempted to download what Handbrake is recommending, it is still giving me the same message about the vlc.  Any suggestions from seasoned Handbrake users?

Changing the Storyboard: Part I

With the feedback I received, I realized that my concept still remained very broad… and decided to add some more specific elements. Overall, I want to ask my audience about their opinion about the space program and encourage some thought with some arguments for/against it. Therefore, new elements will include:

- Quick mission profile, actual costs versus projected, perceived benefits (like Hubble)

- Opinion pieces from news sources, editorials, blogs, etc.

- Polling data that shows opinions about funding and importance of the space program

These will become the evidence incorporated into my existing framework of asking why we explore to stimulate some thoughts from the audience about what side they might take (pro/con federally funded space exploration… since the private/public debate is an entire other arena).

Category: W12: Final Project Progress  Comments off
More challenges than progress at this point

The concept for my final has gone through several evolutions since my original idea pitch, so one of the main challenges I’ve faced is to keep evolving my concept of visuals, dialogue, and audience with each modification of my idea. Originally, I planned to do a historiography of the Sandro Botticelli’s painting, Primavera.  While this may make for a great research paper, it wasn’t translating as well to a digital story. The main challenge was a lack of visual imagery to span the in-depth research that would be necessary to narrate. Overall, the digital story ran the risk of being flat and monotonous. The next evolution of my idea consisted of lightening up the amount of information presented, and approaching the delivery through the concept of a mystery. This opened up the potential for more visual variety, but the variety would come in the form of text shots, not imagery, and the script was still too long to fit the ten minute format.  So now I have arrived at approaching the topic from the perspective of a Why Done It (playing on the concept of a Who Done It).  It will be presented as a court case, with the attorney bringing ‘expert testimony’ to the stand to interpret the painting. This alters the original idea pitch in that it not only presents a surface level introduction to Primavera’s interpretations, but it also introduces critical thinking about what makes someone an ‘expert’ and how art historians form new theories/hypotheses regarding art. Thus, my audience has changed from a scholarly body of viewers, to a more general audience who are new to the study of art history.

The feedback I’ve gotten so far has been really helpful, but I feel like I won’t know if I’m on target until I actually start seeing all the pieces come together in production. Being new to DST, I don’t have a good handle on the technical knowledge yet, so I’m not sure how long it will take me to do each part. I plan to get the parts that need to be coordinated done first, such as recording the voice over dialogue. I have a feeling everything will take twice as long as I anticipate. My biggest concern is how to deal with any unforeseen issues that may crop up in the week or two before final presentations.