We hope this short report is useful to someone who also wants to make their own low-tech animated cat videos.
Most of our videos are short. Some of them are less than 2 minutes long. A long video for us is something that runs over 10 minutes. I think our longest video to date (the one about the Vietnam War) was about 40 minutes long. We choose the format depending on what kind of utility we want the video to have. Even the tiniest video has a specific job to do.
I. Critical Inquiry (the fun part)
One thing that is always the same is that we always start with a question. A question is not just curiosity, an empty 'not-knowing'. Every question is surrounded by preconceptions and histories. We spend some time studying these histories to learn more about the preconceptions, which allows us to refine our question. After we have a good idea of what our question is we let that question guide us through the process of drafting scripts, looking for people to interview, writing sub-questions, and so on.
We like to do different kinds of research. It can be going to the
library and reading books and journals. LexisNexis is useful. Sometimes
we pick up the telephone and call experts. We also test ideas by talking
with friends, or sometimes strangers. As often as possible we try to have experiences that directly relate to the subject of inquiry. We visit places, do work that we don't usually do, make things, or follow instructions from others.
As we continue with our research, at some point we usually find ourselves becoming familiar with some of the more common pieces of information and perspectives that seem to repeatedly float to the surface. In general we are less interested in this stuff. We tend to be more interested in the more marginalized, abstract, or mysterious aspects of things. Our research helps us to see what these things are. Pinky in particular has a good intuitive sense for finding the more hidden connections between things. I don't know if this is because she knows how to look at things in terms of 'good vs. evil' or if there is just something wrong with her brain-wiring.
We are constantly talking to each other about what we are learning. If we see something coming together that we think is worth developing into an episode, we will start organizing it into a concept around that we can build an episode around. The material has to be "interesting" (boring word, sorry) of course, but the material also has to have some kind of usefulness in terms of helping people untangle some kind of tangible, real-life political problem. If we can't figure out how to connect the two, we drop the subject, eat a cake, and move on.
The specifics of how we make a video varies depending on what kind of
episode it is. For example, making an interview video is different from
making a report video. We choose the format based on how we'd like the video function once we send it out into the world. Of course we don't know exactly how everyone will understand or use our materials - we take our best guess. We choose a format and then start planning and writing. Our videos tend to be very carefully constructed. We try to make them feel as if they are casually produced, or even unscripted, but actually practically everything we make is obsessively ordered and assembled to create (simulate?) a down-to-earth, conversational tone. We try to write in a way that we think is "easy" to understand.
The writing process is the most time consuming part. Our process is: write, critique, edit, repeat. We literally argue with each other over the selection of almost every word. Have we double- and triple-checked all the facts? What's the best way to present this information? What kind of context should we provide? Clarity versus nuance - properly balanced? How will this all be interpreted? We spend a lot of time discussing the relationship between the words we create and the intended function of the episode. We keep going until we are happy with the script. We typically produce between 10 to 15 versions for a more complex report-type video. We try our best to never move on just move on because we are sick of editing/fighting.
II. Production : Actually making the episode (the not fun part)
After we have a script that we think is okay, we record the audio (dialogue) for the episode. We do the recording in a small recording booth we built. Except for interviews, we record the different parts separately and then combine them together later using audio editing software. We record everything several times and then edit together the parts we like the best.
After we put together the audio portion of the episode, Pinky will start
making all the drawings, graphics, and illustrations we need to go
along with the words. She assembles everything together in Final Cut Pro
(video editing software). At the same time she also finalizes her
selection of photographs and other kinds of visual materials that she
thinks will help add the right kind of complexity and meaning to the
words. This part also takes a very long time and involves a lot of arguments between me and her (productive arguments, not nasty arguments with a lot of insults in them).
When the images are finally all dropped in we (Kim, Mimi, Pinky, and me) all sit down and watch the rough cut together. If the episode has any big conceptual problems it'll be obvious at this point. If this is the case then we have to decide which parts need to be re-written and re-recorded (arrgh!). If the problems are minor... well, we still go in and make whatever changes have to be made (both Pinky and I will keep tweaking forever if we don't give ourselves a deadline). We rarely don't have anything to change because no matter how careful we try to be in the writing phase, it's almost impossible to anticipate exactly how the writing, spoken word, and images are all going to come together.
Once we all agree that we can move on, the remainder of the production process is mostly technical stuff. Pinky will do a final edit: adjust the rythmn of things so that the episode will not feel too fast or too slow, drop in the transitions (fade in/fade out, cross-dissolves, etc.), adjust the relative volumes of all the pieces of audio, make the photos and illustrations zoom in or out, do the titles, and so on. When she's done she exports the episode as a video file and hands it off to me. I go through the video frame by frame and animate the eye and mouth movements. When I'm done I export the animation clips and give it back to Pinky, she drops them into the episode and hopefully everything will be in synch. If it's off, she gets to adjust everything to make it all fit.
At this point the episode is basically done. We all watch it a second time and if no one has any last minute objections to anything (better not!), Pinky will export the video as a QuickTime movie file and I'll upload it to our website. I'll also make a transcription of the episode and I post that next to the video along with credits and list of sources. Done! Total time elapsed: anywhere from just a couple of weeks to several months.
The above is a general outline. Making each episode is different.
Sometimes we have to travel somehwere to get our own photographs or
video footage, or do other (i.e., 'non-traditional') kinds of research.
If interviews or meetings or group critiques are necessary then we
organize them. Pinky and I are responsible for all production-related
things so we'll also take care of any planning, correspondence,
equipment failure, or other technical meltdown issues that inevitably
arise over the course of making an episode. Sometimes it does get pretty
overwhelming for just two cats, because of course we all have other
things in our lives that need taking care of, plus other educational
projects we're involved with outside The Pinky Show too. But basically
it's fun because we get to learn a lot of new stuff every day.
III. Equipment, software and other technical stuff.
Here is a list of equipment and stuff that we use to make The Pinky Show. This part is boring, unless you're into computers and gadgets, like me.
IV. Time to reflect.
When we finally finish an episode, even a small one, it's a good
feeling. We all celebrate by eating something together. It's nice to
talk about what we've learned, and how we'll have to change in light of
the new things we've learned. We make plans for the future and post them
on the wall. Then we take a nap (no alarm clock). When we wake up we
start again at the beginning.
The most important thing for us is that we use the process of creating The Pinky Show as a tool for our own critical development. And since we make the materials we create available to everybody on the internet, our project also functions like a very public, ongoing diary of our own learning. If we do our work properly, there is a chance that our work will not only present important information, but it will also show that there are lots of different ways of seeing the world. It's important to us that we're always trying to explore alternate ways of living and working. Pinky likes to say that we are trying to learn how to see the unseen. I agree with this. I'm learning that this isn't something easy to understand and it also cannot happen quickly. We would love to make hundreds of episodes and mini-projects. Our intention is to continue our work until death.
•So that's pretty much how we approach putting together The Pinky Show. It's not an 'efficient' way of producing a video program, but we are not attracted to concepts like "efficiency". We use our process because it gives us a concrete way to actively reflect on the things we want to spend time thinking about. Sometimes people tell us that they also feel like they've learned something valuable, or feel positively changed, by interacting with our stuff in some way. I sincerely feel happy when I hear things like this.
I'm also aware that there's a ton of people out there who dislike or even hate us - we're constantly receiving hate mail, warnings, threats, and so on. I can't get myself to care what these people think. At all.