10 Commandments of Media Arts

layer1-8Teachers all have their pet peeves, rules that are not to be broken at any cost. At this point I think I’ve taught enough Media Arts curriculum to list mine. I plan to print these out and put them on my wall for next year.

  1. Respect the intellectual property of others. (Cite sources, don’t use anything without written permission.)
  2. Black borders are to be avoided. (Video, with very specific exceptions, is a HORIZONTAL format.)
  3. Talking heads are to be avoided. (People can be on camera, but add variety.)
  4. Proofread EVERYTHING. (A typo in a report? Embarrassing. A typo on the big screen? Devastating.)
  5. Plan ahead. (One minute of planning is worth 5 minutes of post processing. Use your time wisely.)
  6. Hide your mistakes. (If it can go in a blooper reel, it shouldn’t be in your final product. If you flub a line, do it over.)
  7. Don’t zoom in if you can walk closer. (You will have a steadier shot and better audio.)
  8. NEVER use a digital zoom. (No, really. Only do this if you want your video to look bad.)
  9. Turn off your built-in flash, and leave it off. (Over 30 ft away, the only thing a flash does is annoy people. Under 30 ft, it annoys people and gives you bad photos.)
  10. Make each project something you would be proud to show to others. (Media is meant to be shared.)

What are your classroom commandments?

OpenShot: Open Source Video Editing

2016-05-23 10_37_08-TL;DR: OpenShot is a free video editor that supports multiple tracks and chroma key. Try it out.


I’ve been an off-and-on-again fan of Linux for years (decades?), but one of the things that always had me come crawling back was the lack of decent video editing software. (And video games, but that’s another blog post.) (Yes I know about WINE, but it doesn’t work for everything and it adds extra steps that complicate things for younger students.) When I taught Visual Arts it wasn’t that big a deal, but now that I teach Media Arts, well, it’s kind of mandatory that I be able to edit video.

Now the word “decent” is rather important here. I’d tried some open source and web based video editors in the past, but of those that worked, none provided the features that I considered mandatory for a Media Arts classroom.

Then lo and behold, one day I had a Twitter conversation with Phil Shapiro. If you’re not following Mr. Shapiro, you might want to correct that mistake. He’s a librarian who frequently arms himself with metaphors and wordplay, making anyone’s Twitter timeline much better for the effort.

He is also the biggest proponent of open source software I’ve seen in a VERY long time, bragging about $20 laptops that he makes serviceable by removing Windows XP and replacing it with Linux Mint. (Although maybe a different flavor of Linux is in order now? I like PuppyLinux for very ancient machines, myself…)

In any case, Phil’s wit and love of all things maker/open source and my own laments about video editing led to this:

2016-05-23 09_07_40-Phil Shapiro on Twitter_ _@theartguy OpenShot 2.0 is in beta. I've been testing

Wait, what’s this? A free video editor that doesn’t suck? I mean, HitFilm Express is free and quite good, but you still need to register an account to use it (ruling out most of my students as they are under 13), you get one install per person (ruling out my ability to install it on every computer in my lab), and it only runs on 64 bit machines (ALSO ruling out my ability to install it on all the things).

OpenShot has the same price tag as HitFilm and maybe not as many bells and whistles, but what it lacks in 3D composite shots it makes up for in its low-powered goodness. OpenShot easily handles multiple tracks of video and even does chroma key, which is something not frequently seen in a free editor.

2016-05-23 10_52_01-Untitled Project [HDV 720 24p] - OpenShot Video EditorLike all software there is something of a learning curve, but for OpenShot the main hurdle is understanding that you right-click on a clip to split it at the play head. Most of the rest of it is quite intuitive.

While OpenShot truly shines when run under Ubuntu Linux (32 bit Linux seems to make better use of system resources than 32 bit Windows, so programs like OpenShot have more room to stretch their legs), it also works reasonably well on Mac and Windows and, as it’s a free, open source program, there’s nothing preventing me from installing it on every computer in my lab.

Many of my students are still addicted to Camtasia in spite of its crashes (TechSmith tech support tells me it would edit HD video better if only I replaced my lab with 64 bit computers… Thanks, TechSmith.), but I hope to slowly wean them away from paid software and towards free and legal alternatives for the same reason that we’ve NEVER used an Adobe branded editor … ever.

I want students to be able to take what they learn in my class and be able to use it at home. Some of them have parents willing to spend $100 or more on software (or in the case of Adobe products, MUCH more than that as a subscription service so when you stop paying the software stops working), but most of them don’t. Those that do, I’d rather they invested that in nice hardware: computers, microphones, and cameras.

I’ll admit that when it comes to the Open Source movement I am far from a purist. My main draw (even now) is the idea that I can get something useful without having to pay an arm and a leg for it. Blame it on my salary as an educator, or perhaps my Visual Arts background (art teachers can make a lesson out of almost ANY material, particularly if it’s salvaged or donated), but if I can get it for free without breaking any laws, then I’m all for it.

OpenShot fits the bill for me. If you do anything that involves students editing video, you should try it out as well.

… now if only there was a decent way to edit video with a ChromeBook…

“You See More When You Draw”

I used to have a book on Paul Cézanne (which I have since donated so it is difficult for me to look up its exact title) that told the story of Cézanne’s early years in Paris. One of the things he did was take trips into the museum with his paints so he could make color studies of the artworks on display.

The paintings he created weren’t exact copies, far from it in fact, but they did help Cézanne build his ideas on color theory and usage.

I remember reading this and thinking about how most museums today don’t even like cameras, let alone paints that could potentially (either by accident or design) get on their priceless works of art.

Well it looks like one museum kind of likes the idea of encouraging visitors to spend a long time focusing on their exhibits.

Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands national museum dedicated to arts and history in Amsterdam, recently launched a new campaign called “The Big Draw.” It’s an effort to get museum visitors to ditch cameras and simple snapshots in favor of drawing the artworks in order to more fully appreciate the easy-to-miss details.

Source: Museum Asks Visitors to Put Down Cameras and Pick Up Pencils and Sketch Pads

Of course we’re talking drawing here as opposed to painting, but for most that’s a much more accessible media anyway. I think this is a fantastic idea, in part because when you’re in a room full of people with sketchbooks and pencils, you become a lot less self-conscious about pulling out a sketchbook and pencil.

As any art teacher will tell you, the best way to improve drawing skill is to spend more time drawing.

One thought comes to mind, though: If fewer people are taking photos of the artworks, will that mean more people will be buying the photo books and postcards the museum is selling in the gift shop?

Photographers Are Running Out of TIME

It’s a pun! Get it?

Er, OK, maybe I should explain a bit more. TIME and its publications (Fortune, Sports Illustrated, etc.) are trying to enforce a new contract for its photographers. PetaPixel reports:

TIME’s latest contract for photographers has been at the center of controversy for about a month now, and many photographers are still refusing to sign it as they campaign for more favorable terms.We shared last month how the new contract eliminates space rates, has copyright grabbing terms, and pays relatively little compared to historical rates.

Source: Photographers Still Boycotting Time’s Contract; Time Defends It as ‘Fair and Equitable’

Now when it comes to work like this, creative professionals (in this case, photographers) may charge whatever the market will bear, and clients may offer whatever they think is fair. The reasoning is that photographers who charge too much won’t have any clients, and clients that demand too much and/or offer too little won’t find skilled people willing to do the work.

Of course that second point doesn’t hold up very well. There’s no shortage of creative types who value their work so little that they are willing to work for free. Internships are frequently unpaid positions, with very rare exceptions.

This news worries me, but I really shouldn’t be surprised. Print media is becoming increasingly unprofitable, and while digital media has several sustainable business models, most involve paying fewer staff and/or paying that staff less. TIME is setting the bar low and not budging, with the end result being good news for the penny pinchers if not for the subscription numbers.

The gamble, in this case, hinges on their branding remaining strong enough for them to ride through the sudden drop in photo quality that they’ll have once the new terms go into effect on the 1st. They may even pull it off.

Unfortunately, this is bad news overall for photographers. Creative occupations are plagued with clients who undervalue artistic products, insisting that “exposure” is a suitable salary or other such nonsense. The loss of another (or several, as TIME consists of @ 90 publications according to the same article I cited above) well paying venue, specifically a high profile one, hurts more photographers than the ones who worked for those publications.

I still think photography is a profitable career field, but perhaps, just like with the print publications themselves, some business models need to change.