Archive for the ‘layers’ Tag

How to VJ #5

To recap: you should be (1) gathering and making material; (2) figuring how it moves; (3) getting it in time – understanding how it works in the fourth dimension.

Now to performance specifics – and the third dimension. All good VJing has a strong and nuanced understanding of layers.

If you’ve got decent Photoshop skills then you’ve got one up on me. And you’ll certainly understand layered composition.

What VJing can do is manipulate different layers in different time (according to the software and mixer you use). I’ll give you a very simple example with screengrabs from Henry Stead’s poem ‘Earth, Too Soon’.

1. Cut Out

When you’ve got a cut-out detail, i.e. the background is cut out as a block colour, you’ve got more versatility. This detail is from a painting by Elisa Muliere.

The detail was kept static as a video clip. But the same applies to moving footage. Think green screen.

2. Background layers

In this case, we had the background from the original painting. I could fade that background in manually on the night, in time, by making this my second clip. Just mixed from channel A to channel B.

So the background of the painting faded in from black, with the foreground figure staying present throughout – because it retained exactly the same position in the 640×480 frame.

3. Multiple layers

At the next stage, we introduced a new video layer but also preserved the background painting beneath it.

In After Effects, I composed the clip so video of worms in soil slotted in between the foreground figure and the background of the original painting.

By reducing the opacity of the worms video clip, you can still see the integrity of the original painting beneath. We mixed this in and out over the full painting (screengrab 2 above).

Mixing media is a lot easier if you do it in layers. Otherwise you chop around too hard and fast. Your fingers will get tired, and you’ll hurt your audience’s eyes.

Although it can work great in edited compositions, it won’t always suit live mixing.

4. Overlaying

At the end of this piece, I started to overlay a clip of snow. This came in on top of the painting, so the black sky darkened everything underneath it as we faded to a close.

This was a standard cross-fade. The same as 100s of edits you’ll see every day on TV. Nothing in the pre-editing, just executed live with a V4 mixer. The snow came over the painting, creating depth.

Some rules

1. Live layering is easier with at least some cut-outs. You can develop more complex textures when you reduce the content of the frame.

2. Not everything has to be moving. You can keep some bits still. Different elements can move at different speeds – think about how the music’s composed and what’s suitable to match it.

3. You can layer many things at once, but only with control. Otherwise it’s a mess. You’re creating orchestration, so you should aim to reflect that in the live mixing.

4. Even when you mix into a new section, there’s no necessity for a hard cut. Bashing between clips can work for a tough, alternating beat. Using a BPM sync, it can be smart way to keep time.

But with layers you can get into the melody. That’s where you’ll pull off the most impressive performances.

Previously: #4 You know the type.

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How to VJ #3

After How to VJ # 2, you’re now in the deep groove of pre-production.

Your footage is moving alright. But you’ve got to cut it correct in the edit, or you won’t be able to make it behave on the night.

You look ahead to that future in loops or lines.

Stop for a second. Listen to music you like – the kind of music you want to perform to. You have to understand that music.

Parts of it will be looping in regular and complete patterns. Parts of it won’t feel complete. They’ll be coming in at intervals and fading out, unfinished. They’ll be stabbing in, hard, jagged, irregular.

Your footage should use both if you want your live performance to be subtle and impressive. You’ll rely on loops to create layers and depth. You’ll need lines to give it surprise and character through manual control.

I’ll end this with Zan Lyons. I was lucky enough to work alongside him for London Poetry Systems this week. His layers, loops and lines reverberated through sound and image together and they explain this core thought much better than I can in words. Truly stunning.

Just watch closely what he’s doing, and turn your speakers up…

Bonus thought: Still not sure what’s meant by loops and lines? Look at the next Flash landing page you hit online. Is the load animation linear (like a load bar with a defined end point) or looping (like a circle going round continually until the page loads up)?

Recommended reading: Gilles Deleuze – Cinema 2: The Time-Image.

Previously: #1 What can you do?; #2 How can it dance?

Up next: #4 You know the type?