Digital Mentor Text #4: “Size Matters Not”

Here we are, midweek, in our series on mentor texts in the digital writing workshop, and I’m feeling just a bit left out in the sense that I’ve chosen to focus on professional mentor texts in that I am not commenting on student work like BillKatieKevinTony and Franki are. The thinking on these topics so far has been awesome, and it will take me quite a while to actually go back and digest everything they’ve shared from the writing to watching the videos and viewing the projects that they and their students have done.  In particular, Tony’s post today about how his students use visual literacy to revise a slide —  as well as showing the relevant screen captures from that revision process — are wonderful!

But, I digress, and I must return to a much more important topic: Star Wars.

Yes, Star Wars.

For many of my generation, there are very important decisions to be made about how we introduce Star Wars to our students and especially to our own children.  Studying the hero’s journey, and helping them realize that the main protagonist in the Star Wars saga is not Luke Skywalker, but instead Anakin Skywalker, is not just an exercise in pop culture literacy, as the Wikipedia entry on Darth Vader demonstrates.  Even though my own children have seen all six episodes of the saga, and can recite the lyrics to the Weird Al song that came out with episode one, it really has been quite interesting to watch the saga with them again. And, despite the quite humorous nature of the public service announcement from the link above, it really has been an interesting discussion with kids to help them think about how characters are portrayed as well as their motivations as we watch the Blu-Ray versions together (a hearty post-Christmas thanks to my wife for the discs, and my dad for the new player!).  And, yes, for the record, we did start with episode four.

Anyway, I digress again, because the real point of this digital mentor text exploration is about the use of kinetic type. If you’re not familiar with the phrase “kinetic type” or “kinetic typography,” then you are certainly familiar with the concept, defined succinctly here from Wikipedia: “an animation technique mixing motion and text to express ideas using video animation.” You’ve likely seen kinetic type in the series of Ford commercials narrated by Denis Leary, and even politicians (or, at the very least, their PR people) are getting into the kinetic type game. My colleague and mentor Danielle DeVoss introduced me to the concepts of kinetic type quite some time ago, and has captured a great collection of resources in the NWP Digital Is website. Inspired by that collection, Kevin created his own resource, too, that outlines the process he used to create a kinetic type-style poem.

So, this fourth mentor text is a favorite of mine, and given that we are right in the middle of The Empire Strikes Back, perfect timing.

The force is strong in that example… 🙂

There are a few points from the video that, as a digital mentor text, encourage me to think about how we can ask students to connect and represent characters, dialogue, setting, plot, and other narrative elements through the use of kinetic type. Rather than try to plot out every possible question that this one segment of dialogue from Yoda — and this kinetic interpretation of it — could raise for us as readers/viewers of both Empire and the entire saga, I will just make some points here about the way the this digital text has been constructed. For each, you could simply ask “why did the digital writer make this choice,” and how that could lead to further discussion:

  • As the video begins, notice the choice of font, color, and background. How do these choices situate this remixed text within the larger discourse of Star Wars?
  • At about the :04 second mark, “judge” as a verb appears in a much larger font and is then eclipsed by the even-larger “Hmmm?” followed by the disappearing question mark. What does that say about Yoda’s beliefs?
  • At about the :12 second mark, notice how the word “for” appears and then changes to “force.” How is that symbolic of the ways in which the Force is described?
  • From the :13 to :15 frames, notice how the word “ally” is used and the scope of the camera angle on the original text changes. What does this say about the role of the Force and Yoda’s larger purpose for this speech to Luke?
  • From :20 to :24, pat attention to the period and it’s relation to the word “us.” How might that be used as a way to discuss Yoda’s grammar?
  • From :27 to :29, notice how the “S” connects the words “binds,” “us,” and “luminous.” Along with the lighting effect on the word “luminous,” why else might the digital writer have used the “s” as a connection point?
  • How does the rotation of the text from :26 to :31, as well as the tone in Yoda’s voice, affect you as a viewer?
  • At :51, how does the text change to indicate a conclusion?

My hope is that you could look for similar types of moves that digital writers make in other kinetic typography, and use those as mentor texts, too. There are plenty out there, although not all are appropriate for school.

Last, yet certainly not least, I want to point you to another resource created by a teacher, Jillian Johnson, from earlier this summer when I taught in France for MSU. In her efforts to “hit the sweet spot” of TPACK, she made this instructional screencast about hacking PPT to create kinetic type, using Kevin’s resource on Digital Is, as well as his poem, as a text to build from.

More tomorrow…

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Revision note (1/13/12): Reading Tony’s post that referenced this one of mine, I realized that I didn’t go back to do a really good proofreading of my writing. I had used MacSpeech Dictate to get much of the text from my head onto the screen, and totally overlooked “genetic typography.” Whoops! I changed it to the correct term, “kinetic typography.”

Digital Mentor Text #3: “The Power of Words”

My third contribution to the digital mentor text series centers on the idea of creating a short, live action film. As I mentioned in my post last week, and Franki reiterated, so many times in video production we give students the camera and simply hope that something good comes from it. As (digital) writers, we need to help them become much more intentional about their storytelling.

This short film, “The Power of Words,” went viral (I first saw it from a forwarded email). Sadly, the concept was not original, yet this short commercial gained more traction than the original short movie, “Historia de un letrero, The Story of a Sign.” Yet, that is part of what makes this digital mentor text — an imitation or, more artistically stated, an homage — so interesting. Matt Eventoff has outlined a number of key points related to the construction of the film (as well as implications for public speaking and advertising), so I won’t repeat all of them here, and Lou Hoffman interviews the filmmaker, who acknowledges the influence of the original film. Take a moment to view the video, then let’s think about how we can watch this as a digital mentor text.

There are times when we ask our students to imitate published authors, and to do so quite intentionally. We recognize this not as an act of plagiarism, but as a way for them to study and learn technique. It is interesting to think about the different teachable moments that could come from this conversation about the idea itself — and whether it is “unique” as an intellectual property — as well as about the media employed in the film, thus raising questions about copyright, fair use, and Creative Commons. In academia, it is so ironic that we are all about enforcing the idea that students come up with original writing and that they don’t steal the words of someone else, yet we cram five-paragraph essays and scripted research papers down their throats. If we invite them to imitate a digital mentor text, we need to help them learn how to do it appropriately, and do it well.

I think that this film, as an imitation of another Cannes Festival short, can tell help us generate a number of important questions about when, how, and why we may want to use imitation. Obviously, there are so many examples of what we could want our students to do ranging from movie trailers to PSAs, yet the idea of creating a short film, especially one that imitates an existing film, could be useful for a variety of reasons.

  • What are the decisions that the digital writers will have to make about the characters, setting, dialogue, framing, pacing, and other related elements of the film itself? How might you adapt this to your own context?
  • What is the main message from the original film and how is that message conveyed? Are there elements in the original film that could be replaced? What must stay the same?
  • In what ways can you construct a complete narrative to fit within a certain timeframe, both in terms of the time you have to film it as well as the total length you want for the film? (This reminds me, in some way, of creating a six word story).
  • What are the rhetorical techniques at play in this film? Why did the filmmaker(s) construct it in the manner that he/she/they did? What can you, as a digital writer, learn from that construction?

So, those are some thoughts on this short film, one that was created in the image of another short film. If the film itself doesn’t raise some questions for you, then I at least hope that this idea of imitation — when, how, and why to use imitation — certainly does.

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Digital Mentor Text #2: Dove’s “Evolution”

For the second professionally created digital mentor text, I will focus on Dove’s Evolution Video, part of their Campaign for Real Beauty. (This version posted is from the director, which doesn’t allow for embedding; the version below is another one that does allow embedding, although it isn’t as high of quality, despite the name. Sorry).

As with many topics, Wikipedia offers some interesting background and critical analysis of this video specifically, as well as Dove’s campaign for real beauty in light of the many products and advertising campaigns of their parent company, Unilever. On the surface, a feminist reading/viewing of this digital mentor text might suggest that it is, indeed, a powerful message for women about the construction of beauty and the pervasive influence of advertising. Yet, a critical approach would force us to look deeper at the larger corporate interests behind the Dove brand and question whether or not the real message is something different. In either case, a great follow up to this video is Jean Kilbourne‘s documentaries, such as Killing Us Softly 3. At any rate, the video.

Of course, a video like this invites both imitation and parody, also forcing us to think about critical media literacy and the effects of advertising. There are a number of great resources on these issues including AdBusters, Renee Hobbs’ work with the Media Education Lab, and Common Sense Media, to name just a few. This also invites me to think about how students can use Hackasuarus to create hacked versions of websites in order to create critiques and parody. Three particular points about the production of this video that I find interesting:

  • Time lapse/showing a process: Clearly, there hundreds if not thousands of videos that show time lapse photography and demonstrate the way in which a process occurs. For instance, my children absolutely love watching “How It’s Made,” and the plethora of nature films and cityscapes that show clouds, cars, and people moving by have a strong appeal to us as viewers. When Bill presented at NCTE,  he talked about time lapse is one of the ways filmmakers can show a story, or at least part of the story, and I think that this short, effective film does a great job of doing just that.
  • Screencasting: When The film shifts from the model and the photo shoot over to the computer in the graphic design program, it moves from becoming a live-action film into what essentially amounts as a screen cast. Now, at the end, it does go back to live-action shot to show the true nature of how the image was constructed. Yet, it is this added effect of demonstrating the process (with time lapse) on the computer screen that is interesting. What might it look like if we asked students to take screenshots along the way as they construct their own projects and then use them as a way to reflect on the process? Or, what if we asked them to imitate this video, and to try showing some kind of transformation on the screen in relation to some image, website, or other digital writing?
  • Deconstructing through constructing: In some ways, the short commercial reminds me of the film Memento,  at least in the sense of time is represented. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, yet I do recall that it moves forward sequentially, yet not that sequence which readers and viewers normally expect because the main character experiences some sort amnesia and is retracing his steps backwards. In this commercial, the process is shown as a construction of an image. Normally, with media literacy, we are asking students to deconstruct existing images and videos, yet this one shows the process of construction instead. How might we have students to create digital writing that explicitly shows them constructing an advertisement, or critique of advertisement?

Again, I find myself thinking about how we can invite students to look just slightly below the surface on some of the videos that they have probably seen and even shared, both to help them become critical consumers of the media as as well as to become digital writers and composers who think carefully about topics and techniques.

I need to do some reading to find out what everyone else is thinking today, and I look forward to sharing more tomorrow.

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