Proscenia Newsletter

Volume 4 Number 9
September 1, 2005

Up Front

• On The Desktop

Feature Article

Random Links

Site Visit


Events Calendar

Career Guides

JobsNW (weekly)


Service Directory

Lighter Side

Eugene Indie

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"If you believe everything you read, better not read." Japanese proverb

August Sunset

Up Front NW
By Gary Ferrington

This month:

Feature Article: One of the rapidly growing areas of employment is that of desktop publishing. This month's feature looks at this field as a career option for students pursuing studies in media design and computer graphics applications.

Random Links: One site this month provides a gateway to an aggregate of articles and resources about film sound. The site is one of the more comprehensive resources on the Internet regarding sound design issues. Regardless if you are working in film, video, or multimedia - this is one resource worth spending considerable time exploring.

Site Visit: Cycles: African Life Through Art, from the Indianapolis Museum of Art was selected for this month's site visit as an example of an online gallery. This exhibition explores the cycle of life as seen through the cultures of Africa and their various artistic traditions.

Lighter Side: If you've ever made a collage from found images you will enjoy this online interactive version. You begin with a blank screen and then select images from several picture collections. The Collage Machine 1.0 is yet another example of interactive possibilities on the Internet.

On The Desktop: News from world sources about film, video, multimedia, and technology in society.

NW JOBS: Current postings of career opportunities in: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and occasionally other nearby states.


COMMENTARY: Visualizing Katrina: One Viewers Vicarious Experience

Unless one is located within a disaster zone and experiences a catastrophe first-hand, it is television that provides the vicarious experience of being there as events unfold. This week's hurricane striking the Gulf coast of the United States provides an example of how the media makes visual this distant viewing experience. For me, it was a time to think about the power of TV and how it personally involves one emotionally through image and sound.

Coverage of hurricane Katrina, as experienced through the viewing of CNN Headline News, Fox News, the Weather Channel and the major networks, initially provided one with a sense of impending disaster. One's attention to the situation was heightened with the use of dramatic music and animated "storm alert" or "special report" motion graphic slides. The narrative voice was filled with informed urgency.

The emotional response of the viewer, myself included, was to "stay-tuned" through numerous commercials, ironically, for heart burn medications, insurance, and recreational vehicles. These adverts provided a surrealistic background to the breaking news.

I took the opportunity of one commercial break to e-mail a friend in Baton Rouge to wish he and his family all the best for what was looking like a dangerous situation. There was no immediate response and I began to worry.

The informational segments that followed were filled with satellite images showing the storm's progress. An army of meteorologists drew projected storm paths across the screen and made use of animated sequences to show how the warm waters of the ocean created up drafts generating the spin of a hurricane moving from a "Category 3" to a "Category 5" storm.

The screen often became full of graphic data that either clarified the situation or added to a sense of visual confusion as barometric pressure, wind speed, temperature, and other statistics were displayed across the bottom and up the sides of the TV screen. Often a news crawler moved across the screen providing additional information and alerts. To some, who have grown familiar with complex information graphics displayed on the news channels , this bombardment of information made sense as they have learned to read the screen. To others the graphically rich information may have proved overwhelming and perhaps added to a general sense of anxiety.

As the storm worsened and moved over populated areas it seemed that the only people allowed outside were television reporters who stood in 100 mile-per-hour winds to inform viewers that the storm was indeed ashore. Rain pelted these individuals and splattered the camera lenses. Video cellphone reports - the newest of journalist tools - would frequently loose connection leaving viewers wondering if the reporter had been swept out to sea.

The ability to capture the experience of a storm's savage effects is visually difficult. Video cannot replicate the actual sensory experience of being in a storm. Videographers must construct images that provide a snapshot of the event as they participate in it. Such images have come to form a catalog of expected storm shots. Flying aluminum paneling is one of the key signifiers of a wind storm. Others include: the shot of a swaying stop light and it possibly falling and being blown down the street, shots of uprooted trees, cars swamped with water, shattered windows, a bill board shattering in the air, sparking power lines and exploding transformers, sheets of rain with trees bent half-way over by the wind, and furniture floating in flooded living rooms. These and other images have all become standard visual signifiers for most every storm event seen on television.

The video images represent the subjective perspective of the camera operator and later the video editor. This "editing" of what we see begins when the camera viewfinder is placed in front of the cameraman's eye. It is he or she who first makes a decision about what is included or excluded within each shot. The resulting "footage" is then edited in the studio making what is screened on TV a re-presentation of the event and not the actual event itself. It is media designers who decided how we experience a televised event.

I believe, from my viewing of the storm, one of the most powerful pieces of video footage was shot inside the New Orleans Super Dome as the roof began to rip apart. For the first time in the reporting I had watched, I could actually "hear" the storm as it tore at the structure under which thousands sought shelter. The silent facial expressions of people looking up at the roof opening and material falling down on them provided, for me, the first real sense of what hurricane Katrina was all about. This vicarious television experience was as close to reality that a distant viewer might have.

The follow-up coverage once again found the weather worn reporters out to asses the damage. But now the early-morning reporter is seen walking the flooded streets of New Orleans in waders high enough to suggest the depth of water around him. The helicopter shots began with flyovers of the storm's aftermath. Interviews with those who "rode out the storm" by choice or not, were conducted.

In the morning coverage there were fewer graphics, animations, and satellite photographs. There was no longer the dramatized urgency seen when the storm coverage began. No more dramatic music or graphics. The pace slows as the region turns to recovery and television slowly begins to withdraw and turning attention to other news issues.

I finally got a response from Baton Rouge. The family had survived the storm but were concerned about others. They would keep in touch. Relieved, I took a break from 23 hours of televised storm coverage and road the elevator down for a short walk to the park and some fresh air. I commented on the hurricane's savage destruction to a fellow resident who entered the elevator. "Was there a storm?" he inquired. "I haven't heard about it". Television images filled my mind as the vicarious and real worlds of my life merged one with the other.

The power of television to inform is one of the unique strengths of the medium. It may have been the initial dramatization of the hurricane and the heightened anticipation of disaster that motivated thousands to safely leave the region before the storm hit land. It was also the power of the medium to hold the attention of viewers like me who looked on vicariously thousands of miles from the approaching storm.

Katrina Image Credit: NOAA

Our thoughts, prayers and best wishes are with all those who have suffered, or whose loved ones have suffered, from Hurricane Katrina.

How you can help:

Here are two relief agencies among many helping hurricane victims if you which to contribute. Many others can be found online.


SIDE BAR: Hollywood Outside Your Door

A recent stay in Vancouver, B.C. reminded me how central that city has become to West Coast film production. It is difficult to be in Vancouver any period of time without coming across the production of a TV program or feature film.
    Adjacent to where I was staying the Wicker Man was in full production. The film is directed by Neil LaBute and stars Nicholas Cage. Seen here is the costume and director trailers.

Proscenia Newsletter. This publication is dedicated to news about events, activities, careers, jobs, and technical information of interest to the multimedia community. This is a free monthly web-based publication made available without commercial advertising.

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