The Modern Guide to Nonlinear Editing and Living
COW Library : Adobe After Effects Techniques : Tim Wilson : The Modern Guide to Nonlinear Editing and Living
What most people mean by "nonlinear editing" has nothing to do with editing. It simply refers to working with digitized film and video media - yes, a big deal, but the outcome isn't necessarily different from anything we have seen in the last 100 years. The basics go back at least as far as Edwin S. Porter and his films "Life of An American Firefighter" and "The Great Train Robbery" in 1903. He pioneered using changing perspectives, including close-ups, within a single scene. He found that, with just a little care, audiences could even follow him as he cut between parallel stories happening in different places.
Not so long after that, the Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov regularly demonstrated what became known as the Kuleshov Effect. He alternated a single shot of a mostly expressionless actor with shots of a bowl of soup, a woman in a coffin, and a little girl playing. Audiences were moved by the actor's profound "responses" to each of these: his wistfulness, his sorrow, his joy. But the actor never changed! It was the same shot every time. None of this was real - except to the audience.
The Kuleshov Effect has been scrutinized virtually nonstop since then by psychologists and film nerds alike. Über-nerd Alfred Hitchcock even repeated the experiment using James Stewart. He used a variation of this to create one of the most famous murders in film history with a close-up of a woman in a shower screaming, her belly, a knife that never touched her, and blood running down a drain. Kuleshov thought that this kind of thing worked because of the power of editing. I think it works because we are hard-wired to reflexively combine experiences, including what we see, into stories.
In other words, nonlinear editing doesn't change anything. It only makes editing easier. On the other hand, our ability to create meaning changes everything. It makes all things possible.
One of the great pleasures of working at the COW is hearing about the sometimes ridiculously nonlinear lives and approaches to creativity that have brought many of us here. I was able to gather a small handful of my favorites into this issue of the magazine, but there are many others.
For example, Roger Bolton has been part of the COW for years, and you have most definitely seen the effects and compositing work that brought him here: the first two "Lord of the Rings" pictures, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," and "The House of Flying Daggers" among many others. He now develops the powerful and popular CoreMelt series of plug-ins for Final Cut Pro and After Effects, all springing from his degree in psychology and mathematics. Likewise, COW forum hosts Pierre Jasmin and Pete Litwinowicz were visual effects artists. They developed an Academy Award-winning technology for manipulating the appearance of time and space that they turned into paint effects for "What Dreams May Come," which itself won an Oscar for visual effects.
COW leaders Chris Poisson and Bob Zelin detoured through music: Chris created memorable album covers for Santana and The Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Bob interrupted his career in broadcast engineering to play keyboards on the historically epic "Kiss Alive" tour in 1977. Mark Allen uses what he learned as a magician to direct a viewer's eyes where he wants them to look in a frame. Sarah Hallett went from being a police officer, to a hostage negotiator, to a grief counselor for workers cleaning up at the World Trade Center in 2001, to stand-up comedy before making her way to the COW. Not many straight lines here.
Before Ron Lindeboom founded Creative COW, he moved from finance and managerial consulting into desktop publishing in the 80s, and on into desktop video in the 90s - with a detour along the way playing power-pop rock on the Sunset Strip. My graduate degree in religion led to teaching, bookselling and houseflipping (buying houses, fixing them, and selling them fast) before it led to video production.
You won't be surprised to find that I spent my undergraduate years as a film nerd. For me, that was about watching movies, not making them - although it turns out that some of what makes movies mean anything is simply our watching them. We take the experiences we are given, and we tie them together. We do the same thing with our lives, as we somehow bind their twists and turns together to tell a story.
Oh, and the #1 Modern Guideline to Nonlinear Living: there are no guidelines. We're all making it up as we go along.
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