NPD Ireland approached me recently to do a guest post on their blog about my information journey and I created what you see below. I thought that I would explain exactly how I did it, just in case someone else would like to have a go.
StoryBird was the main visual resource that I used for the project. It was primarily designed so that children who were separated geographically from their grandparents could collaborate with them on creating stories. The whole idea is that the constraint of using the artwork forces the imagination to build a story. It is a common technique for storytelling and it works beautifully. I really like StoryBird because of that constraint on images. If I was to start from scratch, I would never get going. Myself and the kids have played around with it before so I knew that it would work. Below is an older one made when Zoe was seven.
I had already seen Alexei Bitskoffs’ fantastic designs on StoryBird. He is the multimedia designer for ICYPEN and creates these fantastic worlds for children. First of all I created a visual story in Storybird and filled in the text. So there was a constant moving of images to get the arc of the narrative right. That was fun and it gave me the bones of the journey. Meanwhile I began searching for audio files. The story was constantly changing as I played around with the text. As soon as I realised that there was a running theme of travelling in the images, this informed my search for sound effects. I searched sites like Freesounds looking for different train whistles and sounds. I loved that part of the project. I love the way sound can create a picture so easily and I love layering different sounds together. By then I had started playing around with rhymes because that sing-song quality is great for Zoe and she finds it much easier when it comes to recording. I was playing with the idea of having a train on tracks running behind Zoe’s voice but the idea popped into my head that a typewriter has much the same rhythm and it gave an extra layer to the project about story creation. That is what I love about Digital Storytelling, the way all these things come together to create something new. I would love to say that this was a straightforward workflow but it wasn’t. It very rarely is. There was a lot of different takes, listens, new ideas and re-takes, but that is the way it goes. Add the technical bits into all that and it was a nice little project.
Technically, the visuals were the easiest for me. They were just perfect. Once I put them in order and published them on Storybird I just had to use a snipping tool to gather them as pngs and insert them into moviemaker to wait for the audio. I find the technical side of projects like this quite daunting at first and I spend a lot of time asking questions on forums. I have one mode of learning when it comes to technical matters – make mistakes and learn how to not repeat them. However, I do love the fact that pretty much anything is possible digitally these days.
I tried recording Zoe on my phone first, but the recording was just too rough even when cleaned up in Audacity. So I recorded it on my camera instead and then used Power Director 11 to separate the audio from the video. This took a few extra takes because we were not used to the mic on the camera. There is probably a way to use Windows Movie Maker to do this, depending on what OS you use and what type of moviemaker you have but I had Power Director handy on a PC and I knew this would do the job. My biggest problem with this process is all the uploading and changing of files that it entails. If the workflow gets interrupted, which it does when you work on multiple projects like I do, the greatest difficulty is in managing all the files so you are ready to just start again when you get back to it. Nothing worse than being all fired up and you cannot find where you put the latest edit. Such is the nature of this sort of work and I think that is what I learned most of all from this project.
Once I isolated the audio I could put it in Audacity and start to edit and mix. I use Audacity for most audio mixing. It is free and I love free stuff. For my purposes (digital storytelling) it is perfect. I don’t need Hollywood sound. I actually like the rough and ready sound of home cooked audio. If it cannot be replicated at home with free tools, it does not interest me. I edited all the snippets of outtakes and laughter out of the audio, ran the noise removal tool through it and exported it as a wav file. The first time I did this, I thought that it was ok, but it turned out that when played on speakers the quality was terrible, so I had to redo it. Once I was happy with the quality of Zoes’ voice I started to add in the train sounds and typewriter and mix it all together, positioning the audio where I wanted it and using the envelope tool to get all mixed. The typewriter took the most time because I had to cut it exactly in order to paste it into the sections where the pages change.
Once I was happy with the final mix, after exporting it, I imported it to moviemaker and it was then a simple matter of moving the images to where I need them to match the audio. Finally I got a wmv file that I could send on to the the guys in NPD and it was ready to go.