Thursday, April 26, 2007

PBS Frontline Promo - When Kids Get Life

frontline

PBS Frontline - When Kids Get Life
was sent to us by Steve Audette. He was kind enough to give us a look at his work process. It's great to have a behind-the-scenes peek at a popular show like Frontline. Thank you, Steve!

"This FRONTLINE promo was cut entirely on Adobe's After Effects v.7.01. Originally I built the sound track and blocked out all the video elements on an Avid Media Composer using the AniMatte key, but given the limitations of that effect I quickly moved to After Effects. I brought all the files in as Quicktimes using the Avid Codec. however, next time I will use Wes Plate's Automatic Duck.

The music in the spot is from APM and was chosen by the producer, as were the sound bites and narration. The narrator is, of course, the signature FRONTLINE voice of Will Lyman. The weave of voices that surround Will Lyman are cut to fill out the negative spaces and give the over all effect of a what I call a Voice Fugue. There are three sound effects mixed into the music. A piano string strummed opens the spot. A tympani roll mixed with a hum a buzz of an old TV set closes the spot.

The opening shot is one of the most complicated. I wanted the PBS and FRONTLINE lens logos to blend within an on the coil of concertina wire. Ultimately, I had to use a combination of a screen mode blend, track mattes, and a luma key. I also added transparency keyframes to help the transitions.

To get the shot right, I had to scale up and then position the the wire layer to center the coil tunnel. I think this scaling maybe distorted the wire edges too much to really see, but I still like the overall effect.

The first child mug shot (Justin at 14) is a layered composition I made in Adobe Photshop. I separated the boy from his background and cloned the lines to appear behind him. It was a low resolution file so I was pretty much stuck with this scale factor.

The idea was to offset the younger Justin with his older counterpart as he comes on screen to give his analysis. The older Justin is masked out over his own background which dissolves out to the first of several newspaper headlines. The headlines not only add a text element, but reenforces the program content. These elements then fade to a background plate of chain-link fence.

A second younger/older set is masked out over the fence with a second headline. The primary narration begins, and a pair of haunting frightened eyes of a younger boy peer over the headline "Locked up for ever."

The headlines start out scaled back and defocused with fast blur. As they scale up, I transition out the fast blur before bringing the transparency to zero. The original artwork for the headlines were from microfiche, so I decided to invert the luma of the layer to give it that look. I think the negative elements adds to the spookiness of the audio track.

The mask of the imprisoned boy dropping his head was the most difficult. I originally started by adding key frames to the mask every frame. I dropped that approach on preview because the shape around the boy's head was too animated and didn't follow a smooth path. Instead, I created a mask with fewer points - and fewer keyframes (at critical motion starts and ends). The mask may not be perfect, but I think it is much less distracting than the frame by frame mask I originally started out with.

The woman also has a simple mask with few keyframes. Her hair was much more wispy than it appears in the spot, but again it is on so short a time, that I think the effect works. If you look close you can see where I missed a bit. Behind her is the the last of the headlines.

The father sat very still so his mask was easy. I went back to a full background plate before the last shot to give his voice the feel of a "reasoned response."

Finally there is the flash and blur of a security camera tuning in. Because this was such a low resolution file (VHS on SLP), I really felt it would not withstand scaling up - like the camera was zooming in. Also I wanted the negative space for the FRONTLINE title and logo. My solution was the warp mesh (under the distort menu tree). After applying the effect I reduced the center grid points down to push the boy back, while the walls and floor used stretched pixels. I then created an adjustment layer and added venetian blinds effect (under transition menu tree). I used the preset "Bad TV warp." It seemed to work so I kept it.

The original version of the spot had a cooler font treatment for the title, but was toned down to helvetica condensed to fit within FRONTLINE font standards. I think that was probably a good idea. The rest of the end packaging is pretty standard FRONTLINE stuff. I offset some of it to match the center of the table.

It took four days to edit and finish. I did the final mix myself in the Avid. I hope that something about all this inspires you and your work. As the spot says, you can watch the program online (and many, many more) at the FRONTLINE website."

Steve Audette

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Comments:
Great promo, and a very interesting and inspiring account, even to somebody who's been at this for many years -- let's have more of these reports from the trenches!
 
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