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How to Make a Music Video Using Xtranormal Animations
Leslie Fish sent me an audio file of a new song she has written. It's called "Disbelief". It's a great song, and it deserves to be heard and widely disseminated. Also, ideally, Leslie should reap the monetary rewards. So, how do we accomplish this? How do we market a song?
One way, a way that I hope may work for other projects, is to make a music video, post it on YouTube, make the song available through Lulu.com as a CD, sell it as a download on Leslie Fish's own website and on Amazon. Maybe also do the same with the sheet music. Or if you already have an established music publisher, as Leslie Fish does, then you can wait for them to publish the CDs and make the downloads available.
The Devil Throws Fireballs -- But It's Not Believable
The Devil Decides to Move to Phoenix
No Camera and No Actors
Leslie Fish has no camera. I have a camera, but I'm locked in a cage with a chimpanzee, and I can't very well cast Bow in all the roles. So what can we do? We can go to Xtranormal and use their free software to make animations.
The Xtranormal software is amazingly easy to use, but it is also quite limiting. In the free version that is available to everyone, you can't have more than two characters to a scene, the characters cannot exit while a scene is in progress and new characters cannot enter in the middle of a scene. In fact, they just sort of stand there. They can sit down, provided the scene gives them a place to sit. They can get up, if they are sitting. They can talk at each other. They can gesticulate, and they can look directly at the camera. Their set expressions can change a little, but not much. We can play with camera placement, but we cannot place the characters anywhere we want them. Once we choose the scene and the characters, Xtranormal software decides where to put them. Characters cannot make contact with other characters. No touching. Just talk and gestures and camera angles. So how can we build a dramatic presentation out of these elements?
The Devil came down to Phoenix, looking for faith to eat... That's the first line of the song. How do we dramatize that?
First, pick a scene. I needed someplace that looked like Hell, so I picked a spot that seemed to contain a molten lava lake. Second, I needed a character who looked like the Devil. I chose a guy in an orange and yellow jumpsuit with a funny looking cod piece. Third, I had to give him a voice. I chose British Male Number 2, because as everyone knows, the devil has a deep voice and a British accent! Then I wrote him some lines to mouth, sort of in keeping with the general idea behind the song.
Keep in mind that it doesn't actually matter what his voice sounds like or what he says, because eventually all that will dubbed over. This is just to help me stage the scene and get into the right mood.
The Devil came down to Phoenix, looking for faith to eat/ For the fear and faith of gullible souls make up his wine and meat...
I put the Devil on a train to Phoenix in the company of an unbeliever. (Bow really likes this scene.) On the table they share we see two wine glasses, lots of loose greenbacks, an attache case containing something shiny, and a few sticks of dynamite.
The Devil is Disbelieved en route to Phoenix
And faith had gotten scarcer in these modern cynic years...
The guy in the glasses and the business suit is the most normal looking character in that particular pack. I liked his really mundane outlook and the way he could turn down an offer without making it personal. The monotonous delivery and lack of affect really helps. He reminds me of someone I know.
The Devil Realizes He's Going to Have to Work on His Pitch
He took the shape of a preacher on the corner of the street
And yelled “Hell!” and “Damnation!” at everyone he'd meet,
Describing Hell and Satan in loving sharp detail –
In order to get someone who looked like a preacher, and someone else who looked like an old man, I had to switch to a completely different character pack,
The Devil, disguised as a preacher, fails to impress an old man
Passersby ignored him, and kept on passing by...
This woman is very different from the one on the train. For one thing, she's wearing a sort of wimple and oven mits. I figure she must have a job in a bakery. She is not so much offended by the Devil's words, as amused. (No, I didn't have much control over her facial expression, so the amusement must come from her posture and outfit.)
Someone Disbelieves the Devil
Only heckling teenaged punks would stop and meet his eye...
The song called for a confrontation with a teenager, but what was supposed to be a boy's voice turned out sounding like the voice of a toddler, so I ended up keeping the boy off camera, because there was no small child character in the pack. This scene was hardly used at all in the final music video, due to its lack of visual interest.
The Devil Meets a Child
A wise old Navajo shaman came up to him and said:/“The sweet blind faith you're looking for in this land is long dead./If faith can move a mountain, un-faith can tear it down/Old Scratch, I think you'd best get out of town.”
I needed a wise old Navajo shaman, but the closest thing I could find was a woman with the head of a fox. I figured a shaman might dress in animal skins, so I cast her in the part. She's speaking the part of the lyrics that were in quotes. (The text-to-speech software mispronounced "tear".)
A Wise Old Shaman Tells the Devil What's What
The devil looked at his shadow, and saw it thin and gray/The power of all that disbelief was gnawing him away.
This green background makes it clear that nobody in the scene has any shadow, despite a really bright source of light. If you haven't got a shadow, then you must not be real. Hence the sudden departure of the Devil. The shaman, on the other hand, is not so distressed by not having a shadow.
How to Download and Edit
Each of these scenes has an advertisement for Xtranormal affixed to its conclusion. In order to weave them together and remove the unnecessary footage, including the ad, I needed to download them from Xtranormal.com so I could edit them in Windows Moviemaker, which is a free software program that comes built into my operating system. It should be easy to download these animations that I "created myself", but for some reason it wasn't.
There was a place to click in order to get a high quality download of my video clips, and when I clicked on it, it informed me that the download was not yet ready, but would be in a matter of hours or days, depending on traffic. I clicked for a high quality download for each clip I made, but no matter how much time had elapsed, the download was never ready.
I didn't really need a "high quality" download. All I needed was to have the clips on my desktop in the form of .AVI files or .mpgs, so I could edit them. I published them to YouTube from Xtranormal and then downloaded using RealPlayer, but they were .flv files, and I could not edit them. I tried capturing the video with Hypercam while it was playing on my screen, but that didn't work, either. In the end, I had to download a converter/downloader called VDownloader. The irony is that people often use VDownloader to bypass copyright protection, but those were my own videos I was downloading, and there ought to have been an easier, more straightforward way to do it.
The song called for the Devil to grow horns and a tail and start throwing fire balls in the street. The free version of Xtranormal has no provision for such pyrotechnics. I decided to take a silly, old fashioned approach to this problem. I took some still shots of the Devil in Windows Movie Maker and then I scribbled on them in my Paint program. I wasn't trying to make it convincing. The point, after all, is that nobody is impressed.
If you want to make better effects for your video, all you have to do is draw better and give more attention to detail.
Synchronizing the Visuals and the Audio
Another issue was trying to lip synch what the characters were saying with what Leslie Fish was singing. In most cases, I wasn't able to do it, but I did manage for a little stretch of time in the case of the Wise Old Shaman.
There is a new package available from Xtranormal called STATE that deals specifically with lip synching for music videos. However, the free download only allows for two characters, so I gave up on that for this project.
The point is: this is a primitive video, but the software I used was completely free. I completed it all in a week, during spare moments. I didn't buy any software or equipment in order to make it. That's got to be worth something to anyone who wants to make a video on a budget.
Disbelief by Leslie Fish
The final product may not be the ideal visual for this song. It's doesn't sync all that well with the words or the music. But it beats a blank screen. It's a start. It can be improved on as time and the learning curve allow. It's an inexpensive way to get a music video out of an audio file for a song. And once people have been exposed to the song through the video, they will want to buy the song!
(c) 2009 Aya Katz