Sound Design An Ambient Vocal Soundscape – New Skillshare Class

This week’s new addition to my Skillshare channel is Sound Design #1: Ambient Vocal Soundscapes.


In this series on Sound Design we will focus on music, ambient textures, and sound effects used in filmmaking.  In Part 1, we cover how to create ambient soundscapes from human voices. These soundscapes are great for use in film, as prominently featured in the 2012 Dredd during slow motion sequences, or as stand-alone music pieces.

The program we are utilizing is called Paul’s Extreme Sound Stretch and you can download the program here.

Sign up here!



Creating Motion Comics in Adobe After Effects – A Skillshare Tutorial

I just released the final part of my series on Creating Motion Comics on my Skillshare channel.  Part 1 involved setting up the artwork and doing basic frame animation in Photoshop; Part 2 covered Adobe Character Animator’s abilities to do motion capture animation using your webcam and your own head.  This part is all about putting the whole thing together in Adobe After Effects.  Here’s the trailer:

Signup for the class here!

I love motion comics as an art form- one of those “neither fish nor fowl” kinds of hybrid art styles, where it’s not full animation, not panel comics, but a kind of movie that stays true to the aesthetic of comics.

Inspiration + Influence: Comedians

When kids are in school and Vesna is at her office, I have 6 hours of solitary time to work on art, write lesson plans and emails, do whatever it takes to get the art out in the universe, while trying to figure out how to earn money.  One of the things that keeps me sane and positive is comedy podcasts- Comedy Bang Bang, The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project, James Bonding, You Talkin’ U2 to Me, Superego, and others from the Earwolf and Nerdist podcast networks. Many of the same players crop up in each show- Paul F. Tompkins, Matt Gourley, Andy Daly, Scott Aukerman, Reggie Watts, James Adomian, Lauren Lapkus.  There’s also the comedy of Andy Zaltzman and Jon Oliver on The Bugle Podcast, and Fresh Air with Terry Gross regularly hosts comedians like Amy Schumer and Hari Kondabolu (both on this week at the time of this writing).

Comedians are absolutely artists and their creative POVs provide the kind of clear insight to human behavior that help us understand ourselves better as humans, bring common ground between people, and speak truth to power.  I admire their use of words and sounds in the way one relates to song lyrics or a masterful art technique- Andy Daly, for example, creates ludicrous characters that he fully embodies to the point that most of his act is spontaneous but is funnier to me than any scripted TV he’s been part of.

Which isn’t to say scripted comedy is inferior, though it does lack that anarchic chaotic edge I love.  One of the most prescient observers of human behavior is Mike Judge, creator of Office Space, King of the Hill, Beavis and Butthead, and Idiocracy.  His new show Silicon Valley (also featuring Andy Daly) has examples of Asperger’s-ish tech billionaires and “TED talk”-ish innovators who tag “curing AIDS” to the end of their speech on some new software patch.  Brilliant stuff.

Beyond the positive vibes that come from laughing, and beyond the admiration I have for comedy’s creativity, I’m really inspired by the pure drive to get out in public and build an audience.  They tour, do countless podcasts for no pay, create merch, organize variety shows, you name it, they’re constantly hustling.  Above all they help each other out so they all can succeed.  I would love to photograph comedians, but for now I’m content appreciating these artists from afar.




Inspiration + Influence: Chuck Jones and “Duck Amuck”

With two young kids I spend a lot of time consuming children’s entertainment, and thinking about what made an impression on me as a kid.  Around age 10 I recieved a book on Looney Toons animation that had a very in-depth view into the making of the cartoons.  It was then I realized some directors were better than others, and some cartoons were actual ground breaking milestones.  The single best cartoon of all Looney Toons was, in my mind, Chuck Jones’ 4th-wall-breaking torture of Daffy Duck in “Duck Amuck.”

It’s still very much taken for granted that subject, background and sound combine to communicate a singular concept in a video sequence (the same goes for photography, but minus the sound).  “Duck Amuck” takes those segments apart and reassembles them so when Daffy opens his beak, strange animals sounds spill out, and he notices it but clearly doesn’t have control over his own body.  A few minutes later, the film frame splits, creating two Daffys who are instantly antagonistic to each other.  Maurice Noble’s background art styles use sometimes realistic paintings, sometimes flat shapes with sketchy lines that evoke smoke the way my 5 year old draws them.  Writer Michael Maltese and voice actor Mel Blanc ranges Daffy’s emotions from rage, fear, frustration to reasoned bargaining to pure joy and back within a few minutes.  Tie this tour de force with director Chuck Jones’ immaculate sense of timing and camera techniques and it’s such a tour de force I want to watch it over and over.

model Angel Lin in Marcel Dejure wardrobe, additional styling by Laura Buenrostro and Jamie Graden

I look back at my photography from the last 3 years and see the huge impact this cartoon had on it.  People are shredded and reassembled, unreal elements are added to prints (like paint and embroidery) that interact with the “real” elements.  Sometimes there’s literal cartoons within the images.  Odd juxtapositions, like a very dark element in a light scenario, or vice versa are common.  I’ve even gone for flatter, more graphic design type of backgrounds in the last few months instead of 3 dimensional environments.

Sebastio Salgado: “Genesis”

from Sebastio Salgado’s recent book “Genesis”

It’s no secret that a Sebastio Salgado exhibition converted me to take photography seriously in my late teens.  In classrooms over the years I’ve heard his compassion labelled as phony, that his work is “too good” or has such mass appeal that it reduces the subject matter to trivia, and I think: you people are fucking idiots.  The world would be a much better place if there were more Salgados, or Bonos or Peter Gabriels, or Taryn Simon or W. Eugene Smith, or other artists of conscience.  Without artists of conscience you are left with only mundane navel gazers, or sarcastic punks, or commercial pop products.

A more recent controversy is the appearance of his latest images.  Salgado used to work with large format film cameras and, for the recent “Genesis” book, switched to a modified 1DS Mk 3 DSLR.  The new work has an HDR like feel, probably processed by Nik Software’s HDR Efx Pro and Silver EFX Pro.  Within the program there is a function called “Tone Mapping” which allows for a HDR-like effect on a single image, as opposed to multiple exposures smooshed into one; it also adds grain deliberately, to make the image “hang together” more.

On a recent podcast Brooks Jensen of Lenswork describes the grain as “sandpaper on his eyes” and presumes that the images are shot 35mm, because he can’t imagine why anyone would shoot a grainy landscape (he understands grain as part of the street photography aesthetic).  I love Brooks and consider him a wise grandfather of art photography, and can understand disliking a change in an artist’s style- Peter Jackson’s recent Hobbit movies have been released in a fast frame rate version that no one liked, and in the “Desolation of Smaug” the adoption of “action cameras” in the river scene was an obvious flaw where I could see pixelly water very clearly.  Nothing like pixels in your fantasy film.  But we can’t expect artists to adhere to our set-in-stone ideas of aesthetics.  Salgado made grainy landscapes because he wanted to, and probably wanted to have his Genesis project have a similar look image-to-image, and not because he was following in the tradition of Ansel Adams.  I really don’t know, since I don’t have Salgado’s phone number, but I do recognize a particular style (tone mapping) and knowing that allows a more informed opinion than “I guess it’s 35mm, but why I don’t know, I just don’t like it.”

I think there is a psychology in image making that clean and pristine images look more altered, while adding retro components like analogue-looking filters, grain, or turning a digital image into a polaroid convince us that something is “more real.”

Inspiration + Influence: Vik Muniz: Reflex

A book with a lot of creative ideas and soul amongst the critique.

Structurally it’s broken down by huge concepts- one chapter may be about the sky, then reference other art that is conceptually about the sky and space, and make mention of his own history either creating work that had similar themes.  It’s told in a very anecdotal way, and doesn’t shy away from any mistakes on Muniz’s part- he wants to paint European nations on the side of a cow, but can’t paint well enough on the moving beast, so he winds up with a painting of a cow on a cow.  It’s pretty standard that no matter what level one attains, some ideas aren’t going to work, and some go comically awry.

I highly recommend the book for anyone appreciating art and wanting to get a very human critique of history, concept and craft.

Inspiration + Influence: Mansun


It’s said the music you enjoyed in your late teens and early 20s is the music that resonates most in your life, partly because it’s “coming of age” music, but I also think it has to do with the way our ears physically work, how sensitive those late teenage ears are to sound.  My era was 1989-2000, and even today I seek out artists I’d overlooked from that era.  Bands like Skunk Anansie or Mansun, who I picked up on in the mid-2000s after they had both broken up.  Mansun is particularly special to me- something that goes on when I have a day like today, groggy from allergy pills, editing something not very creative, wondering how I’m gonna make the mortgage in 3 days.

Mansun was the brainchild of Paul Draper, a multi-instrumentalist who formed the band with friends before they actually learned to play their guitars.  His singing is a bit of glam and the sound borrowed from classic British rock traditions, but with prog touches that stretched songs into angular directions and tempo shifts.  Most important was Paul’s natural weirdness.  At the time Oasis would write such deep and unique missives *cough cough* as “D’Ya Know What I Mean”, Mansun was kicking out songs called “Take It Easy Chicken”, “She Makes My Nose Bleed” (referring to the manga habit of male characters nose bleeding when aroused), “Egg Shaped Fred,” and “Being A Girl.”

The first album was built around the concept of a strange village, complete with stripping vicars.  It was Monty Python and The Prisoner through the amp of T.Rex.

The second album “Six” is an insane classic, the Id run wild.  The videos are funny and a perfect fit for the tunes.

The third album was really toned down, and showed influence of Prince in both style and song titles.  It’s not really my thing to be honest.  Then they broke up, and post-breakup saw a neat collection of unreleased work, b-sides and demos.  But I’ve got two great albums plus a ton of neat b-sides.  Jesus, I miss b-sides.  That’s where artists could slip out the experiments, the interesting stuff without the record company wondering if they could make a mint off it.