Terror in Paradise Hack

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Terror in Paradise

A Hack by: Shane Farrell, Stephen Larrick, Amanda Lucek, Jamilya Ramos-Chapman, Jason Steinbach


After several sessions of tossing around ideas we finally settled on the core concept of capturing people on video with a green screen in a more-or-less candid way and then applying backgrounds that informed their speech - that showed it in perhaps a new light - thereby creating a hack on their words & opinions.  We wanted to avoid, however, adding any overt agendas of our own.  We didn't want to shove a message down viewers throats.  

After coming up with this base concept we decided on a specific topic to interview subjects about: the recent death of Osama bin Laden, which has been so much on everyone's mind of late.  We decided to place people's comments on the subject in the context of the virtual utopian world of Second Life: a place where everyone can solve problems themselves by creating their own reality, a place to escape to, a place where there is nothing that can't be fixed.  

While Second Life started as just a background to the topic of Osama bin Laden, it soon became obvious that the video clips were as much about the game as they were about Osama.  Second Life is a world where collaboration is essentially destined to be successful, whereas any real world (even a perfectly democratic one) inescapably contains essential conflicts.  Is this because Second Life is a world of characters instead of people?  Or is it because it is a world people _choose_ to enter, usually for the express purpose of escaping reality?  Was Osama seen more as a character than a person by most people?   


We first decided on a specific list of questions to ask during our interviews.  Once we had that finalized we went about trying to set up for filming.  We first tried to set up the green screen, camera, and lights outdoors with the intention of asking passerby to answer a few questions for us.  However, the day proved far too windy - we had to go indoors.  After some serious hunting we found a viable spot in the Faunce Memorial Room.  One distinct drawback to the location was that it was completely surrounded by Brown.  There were no "passerby" so we had to split up and send some people back outdoors to try to recruit volunteers.  We had been hoping to get some non-student volunteers to add diversity to our pool of speakers, but we were unable to get any.  We also tried to obtain a racially diverse set of volunteers, but essentially all of the non-white people we asked to participate turned us down.

After several hours of intermittent filming we had filled both of the camera's memory cards and we decided that the range of interviews we had was sufficient.  The data was transferred to a computer and was split up into individual files: one for each interview.  We then went about cutting out all portions of the video in which we were asking questions, leaving only the segments containing the responses.  Then we had to crop the files so that the entire background was green.  Originally the files looked like the image below, and we had to get the walls to each side of the green screen out of the picture.

While some members of the group worked on these tasks, others scoured the internet (mostly YouTube) for high definition video clips of Second Life scenery.  This task turned out to be more difficult than expected, because most of the video clips available had unwanted people or creatures centered in the screen walking around, or perhaps they contained text, or they implied motion on the part of any subject by zooming in and out.  Finally we decided we'd found enough videos with usable parts and proceeded to appropriate copies of the footage using the website www.keepvid.com.  We used Final Cut to break the videos up into separate clips for each different scene that was worth keeping (every video seemed to cut from one location to another every few seconds).  Since many of these clips were very short (a mere few seconds), we time-stretched some of them.  

Finally we reached the point where we were ready to combine the backgrounds & foregrounds!  After Effects was the program of choice to implement the merge.  A screenshot of the program in action is shown below:

We did not edit with an entire script planned out, but rather the "narrative" of the video formed during the process of editing individual clips.  While we edited clips (breaking them down further into individual "quotes") we noticed certain similarities and contrasts between what had been said by different people, and naturally grouped such clips together.

And then, somehow, it came together to be a complete video.  We posted it to YouTube (the very place from which we'd appropriated much of our content) (see it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Og8EFshfmc ) and the rest is history!

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