Lynn's List of Aesthetic Vidding Reminders (to Herself)

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Title: Lynn's List of Aesthetic Vidding Reminders (to Herself)
Creator: Lynn C.
Date(s): 2002
Medium: website
Fandom: vidding
External Links:
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In the early 2000s, many fan vidders began transitioning from analog (or VCR vidding) to digital vidding. Vidding aesthetics, which had long been somewhat nebulous in vidding due to technical limitations of both source and editing equipment, became a greater focus. In 2002, Lynn C. penned an essay to help describe her vidding aesthetic to herself and to share with other vidders. The essay is reposted below with permission.


These guidelines can be used to critique vids or when making them. They actually started as notes to myself to use when making vids, a sort of reminder list or sanity check (there's a lot to remember, especially if you don't make more than one or two a year, like me).

Not every vid should adhere to every point, of course, and a vid that slavishly adheres to everything may still feel mechanical and uninspired. Grammar doesn't yield poetry. This document is mostly platform independent, with just a few notes at the end about digital issues I worry about.

Topics covered:

  • Vid Genre (and Overall Intent)
  • Song Choice
  • Video Editing Issues
  • Use of Show Context and Story
  • Structure and Narrative
  • Point of View
  • Music Treatment
  • (Technical) Source Clip Issues
  • Computer Editing Issues (briefly)
  • Computer Transitions
  • Other Special Effects

Vid Genre (and Overall Intent)

When I start making one, I try to get as clear as I can in my head what my overall goal is. This will affect all of my clip choices (e.g., silly expression and actions don't belong in serious dramatic vids). The goal is usually more specific than just genre, and gets at what I want the impact on the audience to be: do I want to change their mood from thoughtful to sad, do I want to build and then peak at some particular image/point, do I have a particular story or interpretation of the show to illustrate? This might seem like an obvious point, but lack of a fixed plan always leads me to say in the middle (the 25th day), "Just what the hell am I trying to do here? Do I need to scrap a hundred hours of work and refocus this?"

Think about:

  • Is the intent of vid clearly funny/ironic, romantic, etc?
  • Is the tone consistent, or does it change for a reason?
  • Is the narrative clear throughout, if there is one?
  • Having a real scripted plan before starting, this time.

Song Choice

A highly personal and horribly controversial topic -- it's virtually impossible to make a vid everyone will like because their reaction to the song has such an immediate impact on their impression of the vid. It can be an enormous strength or an enormous weakness, depending on your goal. (E.g., it's going to be harder to tell a complex story with lyrics that don't support it, or have enormous amounts of repetition. You will lose a portion of your audience with every line they can't understand, if you are trying to tell a complex story. You can compensate if you plan for it, but recognize the disadvantages.) Basically balance tone, lyrics, speed, story, specificity, freshness, accessibility (likableness?)…

Think about:

  • Is it appropriate or not appropriate for the show (sappy and romantic for a violent relationship will only work if you mean it ironically, or if there's already a huge fan base rewriting the relationship as sweet),
  • Is it generic (i.e., not a strong match for this fandom or any one fandom),
  • Is it too hard to understand the lyrics through most of it (a few lines are usually hard in most songs)
  • Has it been done to death, do you want to kill the next person who uses it. Can you imagine sitting through hours and hours vidding to it.
  • And an issue for me but perhaps not everyone: is someone else that I know using it, or have they used it, and could I be more original in my choice.

Video Editing Issues

This is the nuts and bolts of the craft, and one of the things least easy to discuss. When I look critically at my draft, I'm looking at the following sorts of things, and still learning.

Micro-level to think about:

  • Always work well with the music, i.e., if the music changes does the editing reflect it or ignore it? Use background sound effects in the song and minor notes to good effect. I think this is one of the most important determiners for that subjective feeling of quality or coolness that some vids have.
  • Cut "to the beat;" in other words, time the edits to the music well. This is one of the most important fundamentals to good vidding. (It remains hard on VCRs, but is much easier on computers. However, trust the ear a bit, because the digital waveform can be hard to parse for the right perceptual beats.)
  • Pay attention to action within the clips (in and out points especially, for natural movement). Try not to interrupt actions at unnatural points (figuring out what feels natural is sometimes hard-- our mind fills in a lot of actions without needing every frame, and I try to avoid lingering longer than necessary unless it's for emotional effect)
  • Try to use clips that haven't been used a million times, creating freshness; including using clips I haven't used before. This requires lots of trips back to the source.
  • Try not to use too many of the show's own "scene internal" edits to save time if it's a show that has been vidded a lot (which will be more boring for fans who know the show and vids well). However sometimes their editing is just what you need-- they've already told the story within scenes, after all. (Sometimes you might need to trim the fat from two adjacent clips, for timing, though: e.g., even if you use the original show's sequence of character A looking at character B, you might want to trim both clips to keep it punchier for the song.)
  • Pay attention to color in adjacent scenes (for contrast or good "fit"). Some shows use a lot of light and dark scenes (e.g., Buffy) which can be jarring to jump between (possible fixes are dissolves or tricks like frames of black or white, but only under extreme provocation).
  • Don't use clips that are just too short to comprehend at critical points, unless your music screams for some fast flashy editing section (hopefully not too long).
  • Don't create an ambiguous tone with clip choice (e.g., an unhappy expression aligned with a happy lyric, unless you are intentionally making an ironic or funny vid).
  • Create interesting juxtaposition where it's possible: vary the direction of movement, show parallels if they are cool, construct clip juxtapositions that show themes or repeated behaviors (the most basic and well-known is lots of shots of your pair eyeing each other or groping each other, if it's S&H).
  • Use interesting source clips, like scenes with fun camera play (blurring, speeding, circling, zooming in and out, etc.). Sometimes inserting a couple of these, even if they aren't "pointful" to your story, will make your video really fresh and move better. Obviously obey the music for this.
  • How literal is my clip choice (especially where nouns and verbs in the lyrics are concerned): try to be interesting and metaphorical when possible, without getting too abstract to follow.
  • Time the significant actions in clips to the music as well (shooting or hitting on the beat, for example).

More macro-level to think about:

  • Mix up long-range shots with close-up ("talking head") shots to vary the scenes, and ideally mix action and static clips. Save the emotional peaks of the song for the emotional close-ups. Don't throw them away as filler, they get bleached fast.
  • Mix up use of long duration clips with short clips for variety; this is dependent on the pacing effect you are after and emotion in the lyrics and clips
  • Vary the choice of beat for cutting, to avoid being boring. You can cut to lyrics or music, and vary it.
  • Keep checking the pacing: stop working at the micro- level and step back to check whether your clips are the right length for the effect you are aiming at (depending on the music, your goal, narrative, etc.)
  • Check for tonal consistency over longer sections and finally the whole thing.

Use of Show Context and Story

We used to talk a lot about "living room vids" vs. "con vids," the difference being something to do with complexity and how easy it was to appreciate a vid after a single viewing. Generally, "living room vids" were assumed to have more narrative that relies on the clips' original context (i.e., if two people are having a break-up conversation, you're expected to know that when you see the clip in the video). I've more or less convinced myself that even a living room vid with a really complicated context-dependent story to tell (graduate level meta-fandom critique) should still be fun to watch even if the viewer has no context. This is the test of good editing, for me. It should be accessible at multiple levels, all of them well done. If it looks good and seems to be telling a compelling story, it might be a good recruiter vehicle. If it looks boring and seems to be telling a story, who cares.

Think about:

  • Does the level of show-knowledge vary unreasonably throughout the video?
  • Does it produce a coherent story for fans of the show despite trying for overall good looks? (I.e., it shouldn't use something dramatically incoherent with the story just because it spruces up a boring section with lots of context.)

Structure and Narrative

It would be fun to analyze a bunch of vids with strong structure and strong story. Off the top of my head, I think a lot of people like frames: they are usually opening and closing clips that frame the middle and are usually closely related visually; very cool but less often used are frames internal to the song, such as clips from one scene surrounding a few clips from other scenes to make some point. Verses can be juxtaposed to interesting effect (a common technique is switching POV, for example). A lot of vids proceed linearly in time through the series, showing or commenting on events that develop over time in the show. Some of them mix up series time to tell a story about a theme or a relationship. I don't know if there are other methods -- it might depend on the song, and whether the show has strong arcs.

Think about:

  • Am I consistent in my use of the show timeline (i.e., do I start with the show's temporal progression and then bag it suddenly).
  • If I'm telling a story that's not easily recognized as the show's (e.g., following the temporal progression), do my lyrics help get it across? Just putting images together isn't going to be very clear as a new story, especially since lots of people have context baggage. Lyrics have to help a lot.
  • Are my framing images sufficiently related (two clips from the same scene, but of different characters, may not be similar enough to effectively frame) and perhaps also are they long enough to be seen and remembered.

Point of View

Another huge topic, point of view is usually established by consistent and clear alignment of pronouns with video of one character. POV is critical to the most basic narrative: who is talking and to who or about what. I always do a POV check near the end of my first complete draft, to see if I got sloppy while I was doing local editing for movement or juxtaposition of clips. I prefer not to switch, because for me it requires intellectual game playing to follow switches (because I'm easily distracted by moving pretty pictures), which reduces my emotional involvement in the flow of images. Other people like to switch during musical bridges when the song (or characters) supports it.

Think about:

  • Is the point of view in the video clear (i.e., who is talking to whom)? Check pronoun alignment.
  • Are there any sloppily-timed cuts (character focus changing in the middle of pronouns or sentences) that might make it hard to follow?
  • If there is a transition to another POV, is it clear immediately? With unambiguous visuals?
  • Is it necessary for the story (because it's always risky)

Music Treatment

Aside from song choice, there are a few aesthetic issues once you've chosen one.

Think about:

  • Bridge: Consider your editing during the musical bridge: do you treat it exactly the same as the rest of the video, or handle it differently to good effect or not so good? This is your chance to do something cool and different, rather than wasting the important two-shots.
  • Editing songs: hard to do well, often very important (you definitely don't want to vid for longer than necessary to make your point or your joke). Consider for any song over 4 minutes, and consider if you can do it with any degree of success (I only rarely can). Fading out the end is far easier than removing middle parts. Long is usually better than a bad internal sound glitch.

(Technical) Source Clip Issues

Possible stumbling blocks to audience appreciation include these technical problems:

  • clips with credits or other text (like scrolling weather warnings),
  • bad rainbows between clips (common in old VCR vids)
  • partial frames between clips (rumored to be possible in digital editing as well, although not necessarily perceptible)
  • bad video source quality mixed in with good
  • clip quality too bad to make out characters
  • poor audio quality
  • letterbox mixed with normal framing (it's possible to mix these well, though)
  • black and white clips mixed with color (ditto above)

Computer Editing Issues (very briefly)

Along with simple edits (plain old "cuts" between two clips), digital vidding obviously offers a bunch of special transitions, the most popular being the simple dissolve. (I prefer to avoid the other options, although they work great in comedy vids.)

Think about:

  • Does the song seem to support fast cutting or dissolves? Double think all the dissolves and be sure to have a reason for them, or prepare to live with your fellow vidders asking why.
  • Do the dissolves look professional or not (it's tricky to get them looking good -- has something to do with length, motion, color and lighting and consistency of lighting in the adjacent clips). Test on a real TV, not your monitor.

Other Special Effects

With all the filters available in digital tools, we can play around enormously. I loved superimposition (playing with transparency) initially, but I think I'm getting over it and now feel I should defend it when I do it. I've used a bunch of filters for very subtle effects, often not visible to the naive eye. I'm not even going near use of these effects for artistic purposes, just listing them as tools for "invisible" editing aids.

Think about trying:

  • slowmo and speedups: with these you can lengthen or shorten clips to get either the right action in the space needed or the right timing for the beat. Small speed differences are almost not noticeable. I did this for fight scenes that didn't seem punchy enough in one vid.
  • reversals: I've used this to create better visual juxtapositions (making a character lean left instead of right, for instance).
  • backwards video: I've used this to make rising suns into setting suns, for example.
  • color or brightness: sometimes changing this can make juxtapositions smoother.