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Published: 2012/10/31
by Randy Ray

From The Archives: A Beautiful Flower Growing in a Crack of Concrete – Wetlands Preserved with Jonathan Healey

RR: Describe the non-musical animation process?

JH: The animation process begins with dialogue. Whether it’s one person speaking or several, we cut together clips from interviews to tell a particular story. Once we created a working piece of spoken word we’d reference photos to better visualize what a person was talking about. These placeholders were still photos or archival video left untouched or, in some cases, utilized a basic virtual camera pan or ready-made effect such as a camera flash or film leader. In fact, the first cut of the film was entirely made from basic cuts of interviewees talking to these placeholders. Once we determined the basic visual delivery, meaning we approved of which photos or video were going to be used in a particular sequences, we would then export these sequence from Final Cut Pro HD into Adobe After Effects, using Automatic Duck, [Author’s Note: No ducks were harmed in the post-production of Wetlands Preserved.] to better stylize or animate the sequence. I wanted every animation to be different or, at the very least, demonstrate all the different types of effects, coloring techniques, pan-and-scans, or 3D space.

Choosing how to animate all the various assets was usually determined by a story’s feel as well as using a material’s (such as a photos or archival videos) feel. For instance, several Wetlands Preserve strip advertisements, like the ones placed weekly in the Village Voice, are narrow, one-third of a page ads. In this case, we felt a simple pan-and-scan from top to bottom or bottom to top would suffice since this is how people read these sorts of advertisements in magazines and newspapers. In a more complex scenario, such as describing Wetlands’ Inner Sanctum, we wanted to depict all the facets of the basement all the while giving them effects that held true to the spirit of that particular section of the nightclub. This meant providing the viewer with a hazy and psychedelic feel using several animation techniques.

RR:How were you involved with determining the animation style and content?

JH: Very hands-on. Dean and I both had similar visions for the way we were going to present the still photos. Rather than using the simple, pan-and-scan technique folks like Ken Burns use in their documentaries, we wanted to instill an electricity similar to the one that the club invoked in its customers. In recent years, films like The Kid Stays In The Picture and Dogtown and Z Boys utilize a foreground/background separation and movement technique (something you see a lot of on DVD menus, too) which, in my eyes, could easily be expanded and incorporated into our film. At the risk of being too clichI wanted our animations to look like The Kid Stays In The Picture’s animations on acid.

With this concept in place, Dean provided me with an outline of what picture he’d like to be shown at what time in the movie or when a particular piece of dialogue was being said. At that point, it was up to me to bring these photos and video clips to life. Every animation in the film is different and took a lot of time, and a lot of time away from the project, to keep the ideas fresh. The film was edited with Apple’s Final Cut Pro HD and utilized Automatic Duck’s conduit to bring these sequences into Adobe After Effects and animate them. An incredible amount of masking and rotoscoping were used, in addition to several motion graphic effects. Even though every animation is different and has a unique touch, they still uphold to the movie’s overall stylistic theme. As Editor and Animator, I was allowed a lot of freedom to run with any idea I had. I also had the assistance of John Koltai and TJ Sochor to take on some animations of their own as well assist me with mine.

As for the musical animations, Dean worked with RESMedia Group to commission more animators to create these sequences. 14 different animators were hired to create the 16-music montages. Dean supplied these animators with the music soundbed for each clip, told them a bit about the band, gave them a bit of context and in a few cases some creative ideas but let their artist approach determine the outcome of the segment. I worked with these animators on a technical level as a Post-Production Supervisor providing them with specs and guidelines for final outputs and such, as well as offering constructive criticism for their revisions.

RR: What choices did you have to make to synch the music and audio synchs?

JH: Dean culled from his personal archives of Wetlands recordings, as well as Larry Bloch’s archives. He also called upon Jesse Jarnow to assist with some of the soundbed calls. Just as the visual animations were created to complement a person’s story, so is the music. Whether it’s a direct reference to what a person is seeing or hearing or whether it’s music to better instill the mood within the viewer, all of the music contained in the film serves a purpose. Did I mention that all of the music featured in the film was recorded at Wetlands? As amazing as it is that our team was able to aggregate all of this live music material, it did pose some challenging fine tuning in the edit. Not to mention certain, on-the-fly shooting set-ups created for interesting background noise that also needed to be tweaked and/or removed. Ever try filming or recording interviews at Bonnaroo? We really had to take into account everything about our audio.

RR: Did you have to balance music with activism in the edit?

JH: Absolutely. I think one of the early struggles with the story arc was determining how much of each to use. There are many stories and anecdotes about Wetlands and if you ask, or in this case, film interviews with different people about it, you’ll get a different story: It was the place that started the neo-hippie movement, or it was a place that nurtured the third wave of Ska. Some will tell you about a place that spearheaded eleventy-one-million social justice causes, while another describes it as that place down the street where hippies smoke weed and make lots of noise. The first cut was well over two-hours in length. Dean wanted to cover every aspect of the club even down to the would-be defunct kitchen. On the activism side, we had several interviews detailing specific actions The Activism Center at Wetlands were taking. Plus, everyone has so many complimentary statements to make we had to make sure the movie wasn’t some puff piece that stroked the egos of the people that made it happen. Finding some of the more “dramatic” pieces of dialogue and developing them into the story line took some time.

If you look at the film in terms of its subplots, there are three stories: the story of Larry Bloch/Wetlands, the music and the activism. I think every cut we made along the way focused too much on one of these subplots. It was challenging finding the right balance. At some points, Dean and I often wondered if it would be a better film if, say, we focused strictly on the activism or focused more on the amazing performances, but that wouldn’t be right. The more and more we worked on the film the easier it became to balance these topics out and present just enough of all of them.

Part IV Exile on Tribeca Street

“I blame it on Jimmy Page,” said drummer Charlie Watts. “Led Zeppelin had come to the Statestwo or three hours on stage was what we heard they did, and it became something of a norm for anyone doing a concert.”According to the Rolling Stones, edited by Dora Loewenstein and Philip Dodd

RR: All the stars align during the Phish animated graphic sequence. Your thoughts on this particular scene?

JH: The Phish animation was created by Phoenix Perry and Jeffers Egan. The stars and undualting photos are a particular style that they brought to the table. I know Dean and I, being big fans of Phish, took special care with the final output. We didn’t want it to be too kitsch and thought that expectations from the fans would be high. Phish performed at Wetlands Preserve seven or eight times between the club’s opening in 1989 through 1990 so I’m not sure if I’d honestly draw some sort of parallel to the stars aligning, Phish gigging at Wetlands, and the success of the club, but I can say that Dean and I were quite pleased with what Perry and Egan produced. [Author’s Note: this is a particularly sublime sequence.] That reminds me…the set-up to this scene features Mike Gordon talking about the club’s desires to keep Phish playing until 4am. Gordon goes on to say how the band would play three sets and end around 2am; however, not long before being asked to return to stage to play until closing. Too bad these four set shows aren’t in circulation. [Author’s Note: Perhaps, because they never played that many sets? ;-)]

RR: What was your favorite sequence to edit? Memorable passages?

JH: There are several. From an Editor’s perspective, I really enjoyed the on-the-fly editing of the Rodney Speed Power Jam story. Dean had just received a small amount of video from the 2000 Power Jam where Wetland’s barback, Rodney Speed, was being celebrated as the night’s super, secret, surprise guest. Dean wanted to insert this clip and utilize some dialogue we had of Jake Szufnarowski describing the night and, especially, Rodney’s emergence. Dean sort of had a concept for this sequence, but I asked if I could spend five or ten minutes alone with it. Using some comedic timing and back-and-forth editing, the story comes across as both cute and funny. On a personal note, I can be seen in the front row of the crowd giving Rodney the devil horns hand-signsomething we didn’t realize until weeks later.

From an Animator’s standpoint, there are many sequences I enjoyed making and love watching. Just about anything where rooms or people are cut-out from the background and utilize z-depth is something I’m proud of. Some examples of this are the floating urinals in the bathroom photo while Zen Tricksters/Phil Lesh and Friend’s Rob Barraco discuss the stereo, audio mixes in the bathroom. Perhaps a worthy “memorable passage,” taboot! There’s also a cool pan-and-scan of a New York Times newspaper article about Wetlands Preserve. After zooming around to different parts of the article, the virtual camera trucks back to reveal the entire full page and actually zooms into the picture of people dancing thus, bring the viewer instantly from a 2D to 3D environment.

There is one animation I’m extremely proud of, though, and I feel it connected with everyone who viewed it and that would be the “Where Are They Now?”-esque final credit roll. I spent one hot, summer month, locked-down in my air conditioned editing suite, working on this nine minute and 20-second animation. The reason it took so long was I needed to use a technique called rotoscoping. This is a time-intensive process of extracting the subject and removing the background video. Once this was done, I inserted older photos of the subject and presented it in a 3D space which is rotating 360-degrees. Sounds weird on paper, but looks great on the screen. It was a concept I wanted to execute from the beginning and wasn’t sure if I could pull it off. The fact that I accomplished this made me extremely happy. Plus, since the film’s first public screening, the response to that animation was great, also.

RR: What projects are you working on, now?

JH: I’m continuing to produce, direct and edit National Lampoon’s AV Squad. AV Squad is Lampoon’s music video, interview and live performance magazine show. During the weekly 30-minute cable program, viewers are entertained by music videos, live, in-house performances and interviews. On top of that, this month I’ll be producing and editing a music video for a very hard working jamband, as well as trying to expand AV Squad into a live settings. Finally, I’ll continue to solicit more film projects like concert DVD or, perhaps, Dean and I could do another documentary together. Time will tell.

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