2

A few thoughts on Noah

Note: Spoilers ahead, if that matters.

So I screened Noah this last week. If you’re part of the crowd that’s upset and angry about the film, or if you’re one that’s haughtily laughing it off as you scoff that “I preferred the book,” then let me be quite frank and upfront and let you know right away that I thoroughly enjoyed the film and I think it’s an excellent piece of cinema. There, I said it; and I really don’t mind if that’s enough for you to skip the rest of this post and disregard it. If you’re interested in hearing why I liked it, that’s cool too.

For those that are still here, let’s talk about this film. And I mean really talk about it, as a bold artistic endeavor, as an adaptation of Holy Scripture and all that entails, as entertainment, all of it. Let’s not just reduce this film to a two-columned chart of biblical/unbiblical and fool ourselves into thinking that doing that somehow allows us to immediately make a sweeping judgment about its worth. I wouldn’t really be worried about that happening if I hadn’t already heard it being written off in just that way by some people.

First of all, let’s talk about what Noah is not. It is not the version of the story that was told to you in Sunday school when you were 7 years old and were told of the destruction of the world through pleasant, brightly-colored flannel graphs that depicted Noah as a kindly old man with a staff herding about 20 or so animals into a comically tiny sailboat while everyone smiled and talked about how we need to follow God’s instructions even when we don’t know what they mean. (For what it’s worth, I’d argue that what we were taught as children is a far cry even from what the Bible itself says about Noah, let alone what Darren Aronofsky says about him, but that’s another discussion – if you don’t believe me, just try and find the verse in Genesis that talks about how all of Noah’s friends mocked him for building an ark when there was no rain. If your Sunday school was anything like mine, you distinctly remember that as being a crucial part of the story).

Let’s talk about adaptation for a moment. For those who walked out of the theater fuming about how inaccurate Noah was, how unbiblical and unfaithful to the original text it was, or how you would have preferred it if it “at least tried to stick to the original storyline”… what is it you think you’re going to get when you watch adaptations? And I’m talking about any and all adaptations, not just of Scripture. Nobody films an adaptation of a literary work using the text as their script. What would be the point? That’s not a film, that’s just an audio book with images. Adaptation is about taking a written story as a starting point to tell a visual story. It’s about digging into the text to explore the characters and the themes and messages, and then putting those on the screen in a way that can open our eyes a little wider and make us think and feel and wonder.

Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” does this, and does it well. He’s not here to tell the 3rd-5th Grade Kidz Class version of Noah. He’s here to take us deeper than we’ve probably ever gone before into a story where humanity became so depraved and corrupted and evil that God decided to kill them all. He’s here to show us what it’s really like to be the man God has chosen to save a tiny remnant of Creation while watching thousands die right in front of him. And he’s not afraid to make some changes, even some pretty major ones, to the plot in order to get his points across. That’s going to step on some toes, but it can also be intellectually challenging and revealing if we’re willing to take the trouble to deal with it.

I want to really quickly summarize (because there’s already a ton of in-depth content out there that’s really solid) some of what I was originally going to flesh out in detail as a response to some of the criticisms of the film that I’ve heard:

1. Stop complaining about the Rock People. It’s a really interesting twist on the Nephilim that provided some pretty thought-provoking dialogue about disobedience and forgiveness when it comes to the relationship between God, his angels, and his creation.

2. Stop trying to tell me about how this film is so completely and fundamentally unbiblical that you were just disgusted by it. The story is there, the themes are there, and I honestly think that those who are dismissing the entire film as being a laughable distortion of Scripture are just looking for things to dislike because they’d already decided it wasn’t going to be any good before they even watched it (if they watched it at all; most of the extreme negative opinions I’ve personally heard have come from people who admitted they haven’t even seen it). Did Aronofsky change key elements? Of course he did. Are there potentially disturbing or problematic elements in the message of the film as a result of some of the artistic license? I’d say so; but again, I’m pleased with a film that actually made me think, and revisit the text when I was bothered by something.

Actually, I’ll go into a little more detail about this last point after all. Because this touches on what I would consider to be potentially the strongest mark against the film, which is its depiction of how and when God speaks, and what his purposes and desires were in choosing Noah as his servant to carry out the task of building the ark. I actually only discovered this through a conversation with a friend of mine who loathed the film (in his exact words, “the most blasphemous load of garbage I have seen in a while”). We stumbled across a fundamental disagreement in our interpretations of the film when he said he could never get behind a film that tries to claim that God wanted to wipe out all of humanity and start from scratch using only nature and the animals. He saw the Noah of this film as a man who tried to faithfully carry out God’s instructions, but failed when he didn’t have the courage to kill his grandchildren.

I disagree, and in fact I think that God in the film “Noah” is much closer to the God of Genesis than critics would argue. The biggest artistic license that I think Arnofsky took was in exploring and inserting a lot more human error, doubt, and confusion into Noah than we get from a plain reading of the biblical text. I didn’t see Noah’s decision to wipe out his own family as part of God’s plan – I saw that as Noah deviating from the path God had set him on and breaking down emotionally as he began to twist God’s commandments through the lens of his own doubts and human experience. God communicates clearly with Noah twice in the time leading up to the construction of the ark: first in a dream when he shows him the flood and Methuselah’s mountain, and the second time in a vision after Methuselah drugs him with the tea. The first dream tells Noah what God is going to do; the vision tells Noah what his role is in God’s plan, that he and his family are to survive and rebuild the world after the flood.

It’s not until Noah begins to have doubts and deviate from that plan (build an ark, save the animals, save your family) that the notion of annihilating all of humanity, including his family, begins to take shape. When Ham demands that Noah go out and get him a wife, Noah’s exhortations are initially that God has so far provided all that they needed, and that’s enough. But he starts to doubt it as his natural human desire to provide for his own children starts to overcome his faith in God’s provision. He ventures out into the city to look for wives after all, and that’s when he really starts to break down. He sees himself in the wicked men of  the world (in what I would interpret as his own thoughts, not a new vision from God – Noah is already following his own intuition at this point, rather than God’s commands), scavenging viciously for meat instead of following God; and isn’t that kind of what he’s doing? When he returns to the ark, his mind is already set in a new and twisted interpretation of God’s will.

It’s notable that when Noah cries out to God from the ark, begging for a sign that he’s doing the right thing and that he really needs to kill his grandchildren, the skies are silent. Just as silent as they were in response to Tubalcain demanding that God speak to him as he once spoke to his ancestors. Are we really so surprised that God is silent when all we do is demand that he validate our own choices?

In fact, when is the next time that God clearly communicates with Noah? It’s not until he passes on his birthright to his two granddaughters, ensuring that the human race will continue, and sealing the reversal of his decision when he couldn’t bring himself to kill them on the ark. At that exact moment, the skies explode into pulsing rainbows, and in a scene that to me seemed clear as day, God confirms that this was his plan all along.

If I had to criticize a particular aspect of Noah, I’d say that it’s not as clear as it could have been that God chose Noah for his righteousness in order to begin the process of carrying out his plan of the redemption of the human race. It’s a tricky point to make either way, because, as I’ve just outlined above, I saw that theme come through in this film and I was pleased with it. But not everyone saw it the same way, and while I disagree with their interpretations, I can see where they’re coming from. Again though, isn’t this the point of good cinema? A great film doesn’t leave everyone with the self-satisfied feeling that all their opinions have been validated and that there’s no disagreement on any important point. A great film provokes discussion, introspection, and deep thought. And I think Noah accomplished that, and in a way that’s possibly even more biblical than some of the critics would have us believe.

I’m going to wrap this post up now. If it’s felt a little rambling and a little unorganized, that’s because it is. And I think I’m okay with that. I was going to go back and edit, summarize, rewrite, etc, until I was satisfied with it, but then I realized that I was never going to be satisfied with it and if I didn’t just post it as soon as possible, I might never post it at all. And I’d rather post something that might be incomplete and not as solidly thought out than not post anything at all.

I hope you got something out of this. I hope that if you came into this with a negative view of the film, that I at least showed it to you in a slightly different light. I don’t expect to change anyone’s mind about the film, but I do hope to give you something to think about. And if you came into this with a positive view of the film, then I hope I challenged you as well in some way. Like I said earlier, good cinema, like good literature (and even like the Bible, if I may be so bold) is not meant to just validate our thoughts and make us feel better about ourselves. It’s meant to push us out of our comfort zones and make us think.

PS: Since writing the bulk of this post, I’ve come across two articles that were both quite eye-opening to me. It would take too much time (and again run the risk of me never publishing) to try and go back and incorporate the things I learned into my own post, so I’m just going to leave it as a record of my own uninfluenced thoughts about the film. But, I will go ahead and post links to the two articles in question. The first is a post highly critical of the film on the basis of it essentially being Gnostic propaganda, among other things. The second is a post that validates and supports many of the points of the first one, while also rebutting several points and offering a different view of some of the same interpretive concepts.

Dr. Brian Mattson, “Sympathy for the Devil”

Peter Chattaway, “No, Noah is not Gnostic. (Say that ten times fast!)”

0

New script available!

I spent some time today working on a quick script in response to a request on the AEnhancers.com forum. I wanted some scripting practice but was having a hard time deciding what would be a good task to try and automate, so I just sifted through some of the unanswered posts on there until I found one that seemed within my skill level. Not sure how relevant this will be to most peoples’ workflows, but it was a fun exercise.

The script itself performs a predetermined opacity animation at random intervals between 5 and 10 seconds apart for selected layers when the script is run. You can check out the original request and my response here, or go to my After Effects Scripts page and see the most recent entry to download the script file and try it out yourself.

0

RobertHeadrick.com redirect and redesign

So I’ve updated the blog to look less boring and empty. Added a “Work” page with links to a few of my videos from Vimeo. Unfortunately due to the nature of PR and client concerns, I can’t post much of my most recent work, though I’d like to in the future. If and when that works out, then hopefully I’ll be updating this site more often. For now though, I just own the domain and I want something to be here to greet anyone who happens to stumble across it. Hop over to the Contact page if you feel like hitting me up on Twitter, where I’m a lot more active!

1

Kinetic Typography – Masketta Fall, “Without You” music video

For the past week I’ve been working on a kinetic typography music video in After Effects. My client is the Australian band Masketta Fall, who found me on Freelancer.com and hired me to create a secondary track for their debut EP release, which happened early this morning at around 2:00am (that’s 7:00pm over in the Land Down Under).

With the exception of the crown graphic that shows up in the chorus, the video was 100% created using After Effects. I did use one free third-party plugin, called Sure Target. It’s built by the incomparable Andrew Kramer and allows After Effects animators to have quick, easy control over 3D cameras. It was incredibly helpful in a project like this where I needed to design fast-paced camera moves with a couple of complicated sequences, and I didn’t have a lot of time to do it (I had to animate this video in about a week and a half while working a full-time job during the day).

Enjoy! (This video is also available on YouTube)

3

Keeping Faith – Finally Finished!

Friday evening marked the end of the craziest week I’ve had since starting at JBU earlier in the summer. The craziness began with the summer media announcement, marking the official completion of the Keeping Faith capital campaign. Now we’ve finally pulled off the Keeping Faith Celebration of Gratitude dinner, bringing to completion the biggest project I’ve ever worked on and leaving us all with a very solid sense of accomplishment and the feeling of having a huge weight lifted off our shoulders. I spent almost 75 hours at JBU last week finalizing the 10 video clips that would play during the dinner, making up a total of about 20 minutes of edited content. That may not sound like a lot to some people, but in terms of edited video, particularly in this stylized format that’s 100% “sound byte” and b-roll focused, that constitutes a truckload of production time. The videos had to be planned; the interviews had to be shot; the interviews had to be edited; b-roll had to be collected and organized; in some cases new b-roll had to be shot and then organized; once organized, b-roll had to be edited; music had to be found; changes were made, interviews were re-shot. And once all of that work was finally done, I wasn’t really even close to being finished. With the edited content approved, I got to start in with audio clean-up (fixing hums and buzzes in noisy interviews, trimming off the three frames at the end of a comment where the speaker starts to take a breath for a new sentence that I didn’t include in the video, etc etc), then color correction, then titling. The titling was a process all by itself; since Final Cut Pro 7 has a rather limited title generator, I did all of the lower thirds and intros in After Effects.

The event itself went extremely well. I was running on very little sleep the entire time, so I was a bit of a zombie overall, but I managed to push through the (thankfully) few responsibilities I had beyond handing over the finished videos. We covered the entire event with three cameras recording as well as being live-directed for a feed that was projected onto two screens at the front of the room. That was my first experience shooting an event live, with a director in my headset telling me when to frame up a new shot, when I was live on the screen, when I needed to pull focus to keep the image sharp, etc. Our team worked very well together, and we even managed to improvise a couple of unplanned shots when a speaker went off-script or videos played in an order we weren’t anticipating.

Like all huge projects, I’ve learned countless things that are going to help me improve whatever I end up working on next. Throughout the course of shooting the Keeping Faith interviews, I was discovering better ways to ask questions and more efficient methods to light an interview in a confined space or with a boring background. I have a better idea of who knows what around JBU and how I should go about finding out information and scheduling things and working to make things happen. I stumbled upon and looked up various keyboard shortcuts and workflow practices to solve efficiency problems to make the editing process as smooth as possible. I ran into rendering and memory errors that had to be solved at 2:00am with a deadline approaching. There are still some things I could have done better, as there will always be. But that sense of extreme accomplishment is still there, where I know that I’ve done the best that I could do and that I’m more fully prepared for whatever comes next.

Here’s a bird’s-eye look at all of the edited timelines for the videos that were shown at the event:

Final Cut Pro edited timelines

0

Why my wife is a better mechanic than I am

I just got finished with a frustrating, humbling, and rather amusing experience. We recently bought a used ’98 Toyota Corolla. It’s old enough and used enough that a couple of the door handles have snapped off and have to be opened from the outside. A quick Google search turned up all sorts of blog posts and articles about how simple it is to replace those yourself. So, figuring it would be a fun, simple project that would expand my experiences, I jumped on Amazon, paid $35 for a set of replacement handles, and waited eagerly for them to show up. They did, and I proceeded to track down what looked like a pretty simple set of instructions for how to do the replacement, and went out to do it.

Now, I’m a big “follow the instructions” kind of guy. I’m telling you this now because it’s going to be important in just a bit. I’m the guy that really enjoys getting furniture from Ikea because they have great instructions. You just go step-by-step, always knowing that you’re on the right track, always being able to easily figure out what you need to do next, and after a bit of work, you’re done and you’ve got a cool piece of furniture to show for it. So I took these door handle replacement instructions, read them through once or twice to make sure there wasn’t some major hint I would need to remember part of the way through, and got started.

The first few steps all revolve around removing the door panel from the door. Remember, I’m an instruction guy, so I don’t question these things, I just do it. I very carefully removed all the right screws, unsnapped all the right things, and finally got to the point where I was able to lift the panel off. This is where things started getting complicated. The instructions I had suggested propping the door  on your leg to avoid severing the wires that connect it to the door (power locks, windows, etc). Check. Then hooking a little rod into the new door handle through the panel. Check. Then fitting everything into place and snapping the panel back on … no check! The stupid thing would NOT go back on. Things were making disturbing snapping noises, pieces were falling off, things wouldn’t go into place… just a mess! And all the while, these wires are sitting here straining every time I drop the panel out of frustration, and threatening to break off if I’m not careful.

Don't do this.

With one free hand, I grab my phone and call my wife so she can come out and hold the door while I fix a couple things that had fallen off and try to get everything back into place. Her first question: “Why did you have to take the panel off?” This is where I start to feel like a goober. What was my answer? Well, the only answer that made any sense: “Because the instructions said to take it off.” We fiddle and fiddle and have absolutely no success in getting it to work. To ease the frustration, we decide to try the other three doors and see if we can at least get those done, then come back to this trouble door.

 

Wife: “Let’s try to do these ones without taking the panel off, because that doesn’t look like it’s working at all.”

Me: “But the instructions said that’s the first thing you need to do!”

Wife: “Well, that doesn’t really seem to be working out for you, does it?”

She then proceeds to go all mechanic-savvy on me and quite deftly replaces a door handle in a matter of minutes, with me standing by looking like a doofus while I hand her tools and hold the door open for her. After that, two more doors, done and done. We finally managed to get the panel somewhat back into place on the first one that I had botched, though it looks like a couple pieces are somehow missing, and it still wobbles and makes odd noises when you’re opening and closing it.

So there was my Sunday afternoon experience. Learning that my wife is better at figuring out D.I.Y projects than I am. And that just because some goober posts instructions on the internet doesn’t mean he actually knows what he’s talking about. Bit of advice to anyone wanting to replace door handles on a ’98-’02 model Corolla: don’t remove the whole freaking door panel. Totally unnecessary*. Skipping this step will not only make the replacement easier, it’ll save you from the experience of having to watch as your wife says, “No dear, this is how it’s done.”

 

*If you happened to read through the article where I had gotten my original instructions from and discovered the folks in the comments section who mentioned the fact that removing the door panel is unnecessary, good for you. I found those comments too… afterwards. When I went back to the blog to post my comment saying, “Hey, taking off the door panel isn’t necessary.” I felt like a goober again.

1

Anatomy of a half-hour video shoot

Here’s a quick run-down of a recent shoot we did. Nothing particularly mind-blowing or interesting about our setup, but I thought it might be fun to post about some of the work I do for people who read this and are curious, along with some of the gear we use. The shoot was a “sound byte” interview for a highlight video I’m producing. I call it that because it’s not really an interview in the sense of going in-depth about any particular topic or trying to profile a person’s life or career or an event; our final product is very overview-ish, and so the comments we’re capturing are intended to be short snippets, almost like commercials but without actually being scripted or “planned.” I like the natural sound of someone responding to a question or talking point in their own words.

Our lighting setup was thrown together on the fly. We knew we would be shooting in this person’s office, but didn’t know how much room there would be or how the chairs would be set up when we got there. Using an Arri kit, we were able to set up a 650-watt key with a soft box by the office door at about a 45-degree angle. A 150-watt provided some fill from the opposite corner, with two scrims to cut down the brightness since it had to be placed closer than normal to the subject. The lighting on her face looked great with these two, but the position of the key meant there was a deep, dark shadow being cast by her chair that we couldn’t get rid of. We finally managed to get a 300-watt pointing directly at a filing cabinet and reflecting back just enough light to kill the offending shadow and create an even look.

Our camera was the Canon 7D with the kit lens, which happens to have a recording limit of about 12 minutes per clip. After that it simply shuts off and you have to hit record again to start a new shot. This hadn’t mattered at all yet since most of our “interviews” were maxing out at about 7 or 8 minutes since our final product is so specific as far as what we need people to talk about. This particular interviewee, however, had gotten locked into a tangent and looked like she would be talking for a while. While what she was saying was interesting, it didn’t really have any bearing on what I would ultimately be using her clips for. I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of what she was saying though, since it sounded like something that would lead to some pretty poignant sound bytes once she started wrapping up her comments, but I knew we were about to reach that 12-minute mark. However, because I knew that what she was saying at the moment the camera shut off would not be used in this particular video, I decided on the fly to just let her keep talking as I casually reached behind me and hit “record” again. I was fortunate to have a smart guy working the audio (recording on the Zoom H4n), who had also realized that the camera would be shutting off soon and was able to look over in my direction and clue me in to exactly when we had reached the end of the shot.

She did eventually wrap up her comments, and delivered some fantastic sound bytes that were well worth the wait, and definitely well worth my decision not to interrupt her by calling “cut!”, restarting everything, slating the take, clapping for a sync point, etc. All of that definitely would have derailed her train of thought and we wouldn’t have gotten the excellent snippets that come from someone carefully working through an idea and gathering her thoughts over a period of 10 or 15 minutes and then coming to a solid conclusion at the end. What we did then was to simply clap again at the very end, before the camera and sound were turned off, to create a second sync point for the second video clip. The audio recorded the whole way through, thanks again to my very smart audio guy, which means that even in the extremely unlikely situation that I decide I want to use what she said while the camera was turned off for a few moments, I’ve at least got her voice. And because of the second clap at the very end, it was very easy to sync up audio for both shots without having to read lips or compare waveforms for the second clip.

Set up, interview, and tear-down, including time for the lights to cool, was about 45 minutes. The interview looks and sounds great, we got the sound bytes we needed, and all of us had a good time doing it. And maybe this post was interesting for you. It might have just been to satisfy my subconscious desire to brag about how much fun I have with my job. :-) Just maybe.

0

(in)RL Conference Announcement Video

DaySpring runs a brand called (in)courage, which is an online community of women focused on blogging, relationships, connections, photos, etc. They recently made a big announcement (one that they’d been counting down to every day for a month!), and I was asked to animate the video that went along with it. There were a few unique challenges, at least for me. The main one being that I’m about as far removed from the (in)courage demographic as you can get! That’s a good challenge to have, though, because it stretches my creativity and forces me to think about aesthetics that I wouldn’t normally find particularly appealing or think of as necessary elements in a design scheme. It also carried the same challenge that all of my DaySpring jobs do, which is that my client can’t sit in the room with me and discuss changes face-to-face and in real-time. I do all of my animating and editing in the evenings, since I work a day job. This means that I wind up with a stack of emails on my desk, covered in my own scribblings and annotations and sketches.

Annotated emails from throughout the project

Scribbling makes me feel productive. So does crossing things out.

Not a bad way to work, though. Another element of stretching my creativity and forcing me to try and read between the lines and discover what the client actually wants as opposed to what their comments on the latest version of the video seem to say. This is just a natural by-product of having people from different disciplines collaborating on a project – someone (my DaySpring client) with very little animation or video editing experience trying to put into words their perception of what they want it to look like, which I then need translate into the realm of what’s actually possible in the animation I’m working on. Quite a few things sound right on paper when you put them in words, but then once you start making that happen visually, you find yourself scratching your head and wondering why it doesn’t look like you wanted it to look, even though it’s exactly as you described it.

The whole experience was good though. The work was fun and challenging, the end product was good, and from what I hear the launch was (and still is) a success. Here’s the finished video for you to take a look at:

 

In completely unrelated news, WordPress is recommending the following tags to me: “restless leg syndrome” and “Washington D.C.” Not really sure what that’s all about, but it amused me, so I thought I’d share it with you.