Saturday, 6 February 2010

Live at 5 Project

My expectation for the live at 5 assignment was vastly different from what it ended up being. I was expecting an extremely hard time of it, given that we had only had two weeks of prior training with After Effects, and that is what we had been led to believe would be the most important tool in the assignment.

I was not confident about it at all, having barely learned how to make a news title strip correctly, and not knowing what other troubles we might have to face. More barely known software? Bad tempered broadcasting producers breathing down our necks?... suffice to say I was more than a little concerned about what would be thrown at us over the course of the day.

I was of course looking forward to trying it but my apprehension about it far outweighed the excitement. I had spent many hours preparing for it, watching tutorials, messing with After Effects, trying to get the knowledge I might need up to standard for the assignment itself.

I was to be very pleasantly surprised.

The day started out at a relaxed pace, getting given the assignments plenty early by the broadcasting teams so we could get right to work on them. Initially I was a little concerned with my job of the weather map, because even though I was working alongside Charlie on it, I had never tried something like this before and wasn’t sure what was expected, not to mention not having quite as long as I would have liked to get it done.

I was therefore more than happy to be informed that I would be needing mostly Photoshop for the assignment, a piece of software I am not only confident with, but actively enjoy using. So after splitting the task, I began working on the map, not having time to draw up a background map of Cornwall itself, Pete Felstead suggested to us using a premade map as a basis, and after failing to get what was needed from Google earth, I got a perfect satellite image map from Flash Earth instead, with the place-names removed so it didn’t look crowded. Then I took another image of exactly the same map with the place names on it, and overlaid that on a separate layer at half transparency so I could pinpoint the places that were required to be labelled.

This provided to be a problem several times when certain place names turned out to be just a little too close to the edge of the map, or invisible on that scale of the map… it took at least four tries to get them all working right, and then they were carefully pinpointed and labelled with their names.

This in itself had taken a large amount of time, and with the added resizing of the names we had gone over the estimated time. Fortunately the broadcasting producer understood and offered us more time, allowing me to clean up the background and put a pleasant, darkened background image behind the map on the ‘blank’ side, so it wouldn’t just look black and dull for the presenter to stand in front of when the weather report was actually presented.

Finally Charlie brought over the icons to put onto the map and working together we got it all set up, despite several attempts by Photoshop to sabotage us by crashing, ready to go in two JPEG files, for the ‘tonight’ forecast and the ‘tomorrow’ forecast.


This was the finished article, by no means professional standard, but I don’t think it’s bad, and the opinions we got from the broadcasting team seemed to be that other than the lack of animation, which we simply did not have time for, it was good.

Given more training and another hour of time, we could have animated it, but I certainly think it was adequate for the job.

After helping the others wrap up and finish their assignments, there was a lapse in work to do for an hour or so before we got the requested graphics for The World Tonight, and because this had no time limit, the whole group seemed to enjoy this session a lot more, getting to grips with their personal task under a lot more peaceful conditions.

Personally I was reconstructing graphs in a way that allowed them to have transparent backgrounds and a small degree of animation. To my delight once again getting to use Photoshop, and my drawing tablet as well this time, before finally getting my hands on after effects to learn how to do a simple but wonderfully effective animation that made it look like the line on the graph was drawing itself onto the display. Achievable using only a separate layer for the data line and a square mask over it, just animating over it from left to right, to create the illusion of the line drawing itself.


This is one of the two graphs that I did for the task, obviously a static version of it, each layer carefully built up based exactly on the original image I was given.

Having finally animated something in the day, I was a lot more pleased with the outcome of that assignment, though I didn’t get to see it used.

The end of the day, going to the broadcasting rooms and watching the news be put together in front of us was the most rewarding part, and seeing the group all grinning with undeniable glee was also good.

I think the fact that I have barely mentioned the group means mostly a good thing, because there were no disagreements, no troubles, no problems, we each had a task that we were happy to do, and we helped each other out well where one knew something the others did not. As a group I think we got along brilliantly, but not so brilliantly that we just sat and talked… it was a perfect balance of working well and getting along and I can honestly say that it was one of the best group experiences I have had in a very long time… everyone pulled their weight and learned something about what they were doing… and from what I saw it was a really enjoyable day for all.

To conclude, it was a learning experience for me certainly, as I had no previous idea how things worked in news graphics departments. Now I know a tiny amount of what is faced by that section of the industry, and what a hard job they must have sometimes. Being aware of this has certainly given me a greater respect for what animators face in the real world, and I will certainly be taking this into account with the amount of work I will be doing in future in order to gain the skills I need to someday work effectively as a part of a studio.

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