Adding graphics to non-visual stories

It can be easy to get stuck in a rut creatively. As a videographer/photographer, I know what my editors like, and shooting to their tastes can ultimately save me time. However, doing so means that I am not challenging myself and making sure that I am growing as a journalist and artist. More than anything, #turbovideo training was a much needed wake-up call to challenge myself and see what new skills I can learn and how to apply those skills to my work.

One such challenge was to work harder to find graphically interesting ways to present non-visual stories in video. While it is nice to think that video is only done when the subject matter is appropriate, more often than not, video is becoming an expected part of many stories. This is especially true of Sunday packages and any series. How then, can we create video that remains visually engaging when all that we have are talking head interviews? Turbovideo trainer Brian Kaufman addressed this by making printouts of photos and racking the focus on them in the studio. He would also take static objects, like stacks of paper, and move the camera around it.

Here at The News Journal, we have been playing around with digital solutions. The example below is from two videos. In the first, a follow-up to the New Castle Courthouse shooting, I used Google Earth for a fly-over to show where David Matusiewicz took his children when he kidnapped him, and then a waveform generated in After Effects to visualize the radio traffic on the day of the shooting. The examples from the second video include more After Effects work, mainly animated graphs and charts to visualize the number of foundations headquartered in Delaware.

Top 10 After Effects tutorials with journalism applications

Recently, After Effects has become one of my favorite programs to play around in. I admit, I am pretty much in love with typography and infographics, so becoming enamored with AE was the next logical step. However, the majority of tutorials out there are focused on special effects for film or title screens. Here are some of my favorite tutorials that I believe could have some sort of journalism applications.

Rhythmic Motion Typography

My friend Shaminder is convinced that this is overdone, but I still enjoy the effect. You’ve seen it in everything from Ford commercials to the initial Cee Lo Green F*ck You music video (not to be confused with Skee-lo).

Animated homage to Bruce Lee

An extension of the previous tutorial, this one includes additional animation and camera moves along with the kinetic typography.

Cinematic opening title

This tutorial shows you how to utilize scripts in After Effects to pair an effect with some external file or database to create an interesting 3D fly-through effect. It could be paired with something as mundane as text from a speech, or perhaps graduating seniors and their senior quotes, or something as serious as a list of casualties from Iraq. Koci used it to great effect in his Interrupted Lives piece on Iran (the effect is just about 1:00 in).

Dynamic Bar Graphs

This one seems straightforward enough … You could use it to add a little interest/graphics to an issue story filled with numbers.

Map your destination

This tutorial has arrows jumping from point to point as you move along in your travels. I’m not sure just what I would use it for yet, but hopefully you have a story that it would be useful in. Similar to this is the Trim paths tutorial, that features an animated red dashed line instead of arrows.

Motion tracking your golf swing

I doubt you are going to be filming a golf video anytime soon, but motion tracking comes in handy for a number of things, from effects like this (if you were profiling an athlete for an all-state prep sports feature) to using it for image stabilization.

Twixtor faux-slow motion tutorial

Twixtor (a $300 plugin for After Effects) takes video shot at 60fps and slows it down to 1000 or even 2000 fps. The tutorial gives some guidelines on how best to shoot prior to importing into After Effects, and then what settings are recommended once you are using the plugin. There also exists a built-in plugin called Time Warp, though I read that its algorithms are not as sophisticated and result in more artifacting when video is slowed down.

Endlessly zoom into your own Droste Effect

This one just seems fun.

Bend flash video in After Effects

This tutorial shows you how to take a flash video and bend it around the geometry of an object that you have in a background photo. I could imagine using something like this if I was trying to build out a landing page and had some sort of looping intro video that I wanted to appear integrated into the scene.

Virtual 3D Photos

This tutorial reminds me of the sort of movements seen in the RJD2 music video for 1976 on MediaStorm … or perhaps of those NBA Where Amazing Happens commercials. It involves cutting up a still image into different layers and having them move at different speeds in relation to each other.

Opening Day

For some, being asked to spend 16 hours working the day before (and into) one’s birthday would be cause for complaint. But if your assignment is to shoot Opening Day, and you are a huge baseball fan like I am, well, lets just say … best. assignment. ever. (sorry President Obama)

Going in to the assignment, my editor was hoping that I would just grab some scene shots and interview a bunch of fans in a manner similar to a piece I did with fans tailgating during last year’s World Series. I had plans to try something new, and luckily I am, for the most part, given the freedom to do pretty much as I please (in regards to trying new forms of storytelling).

At first, I thought I would do some form of timelapse … perhaps shoot fans going through turnstiles, players on the field, seats filling and emptying, etc. However, after hearing that one of our photographers AND a photographer from Cherry Hill (a neighboring Gannett paper) would be doing that same exact thing, I decided to go the opposite way and experiment with slowing down time instead of speeding it up.

While there are some definite issues in some of the shots (athletes were moving too fast and I tried to slow them down too much) I do hope to use the effect for future profiles on local athletes. And next time, I will avoid hand-holding a 300 …