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Old September 29th, 2010, 10:09 PM   #1
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Losing my points of reference

For the past five years I've been an adjunct professor of Television Production at a major New York University. My students range from average to bright, and depending on the course I have a mixture of sophomores, juniors, and seniors in the class.

As a midterm question I have been asking for a research paper comparing digital to analog - the pros and con, etc. With the midterms approaching, I've begun to think I should drop this comparison since digital is the given and analog seems to be a vanishing and irrelevant topic. Still, today I prepared the class for the kind and depth of essay I was expecting. In the middle of the explanation I referred to "negative" film as opposed to "direct positive" film. One student interrupted with "Professor, you said "negative" - what do you mean?" I went on to explain negative film, compared it to slide film... "Slide?" Most of the class did not know what a slide was because they had never seen one, and most have never shot film, much less negative film.

My feeling of loss and anxiety grew as I realized there were few common points of reference I could share with the class, and with each semester there are fewer and fewer. Thankfully, and surprisingly, one common point of reference was vinyl records. They had actually seen albums, even looked at the grooves! Finally a common ground to build my mini lecture.

These students were born in the early 1990s. By the time they started school it was already the mid 90's. I bring this topic up because I know I'm not alone in trying to explain the current digital world to an audience that has no concept of analog. I appreciate any insights, or ideas, or suggestions you might have. How to explain digital when your audience knows nothing else? How can we understand the present when the past has been erased?
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Old September 29th, 2010, 10:19 PM   #2
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I don't think there's any way to explain it.

You have to show it. Teach them how to record & edit on 1/4" audio tape. Have them work in film (if only 35mm stills), and then in digital video. They'll need to experience it to have an understanding of it at all...
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Old September 29th, 2010, 10:41 PM   #3
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Once I gave a seminar on digital image processing (think: photoshop; it was my project in my engineering course). Here's how I explained it:

The digital world is broken up into units of 0 & 1. The analogous world is fluid and can't be broken up without losing an "understanding" of the whole. Tape can also be digital (HDV, DV, etc). Believe it or not, film can also be digital! Digital is just a way to record data and nothing else. We break up data into pieces so it is more manageable and can be transported faster. Analogous data depends on the medium entirely (electric wires, radio/microwave frequencies, cables, sound waves...).

Just to give you a wild example: the speed of sound has a maximum value, beyond which it cannot travel, but sound transmitted digitally can be transmitted at the speed of light (optical fibre, etc).

However, the greatest advantage of analogue is that there is less data loss. Because digital needs intermediate conversion steps it loses data. That's why film is still better than digital, and why the natural world (eyes and ears) are better than cameras and speakers. There is no digital without analogue. It's still there, but invisible.

What you'll need to do is convince them on an emotional (or artistic) level on why they need the choice: analogous to how a painter or a musician chooses his tools. If they don't appreciate the choice, either you have failed or the choices are not good enough for their purposes. That begs the question: what do THEY want? :)

Hope I haven't been too long winded about this. All the best!
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Old September 30th, 2010, 12:52 AM   #4
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Most are not interested because they don't have time what with their cells, text, email, Face-book, Twitter etc.

So lead by practical examples: As the students enter class have them all leave their digital cell phones in a box by the door, then when they're seated you put in yours and then sloooowly put in your notebook .. with appropriate comments.

Having arranged to take some slides of some of the parents, use a slide projector and screen some at the start to get attention, then screen some 1950-60 city sights with your commentary.

Each student should bring an analogue example for show and tell, an audio cassette, 8 track cartridge, reel to reel tape, LP record, small valve amp etc.

Show and run a small valve radio without the case so they see the valves light up, maybe lower the classroom room lights. Try and borrow an old valve TV with a small screen, you might get some old valves from the local radio station. Describe how they need to warm up and work. Demonstrate how everyone was living in an earlier age, most happy, by playing a short extract from a radio comedy show. Have fun, say 30secs of Sex and the City would have landed the whole production company in goal.

Have a pair of old phone handsets wired together with a battery so they work, ring and answer etc. Put one each side of the classroom so the wire is visible. Two students should demonstrate it, dialing etc.

Have a student dressed as a cablegram delivery kid who interrupts the class with a wire, maybe on a bike.

The more you can show and demonstrate the better. Hope this helps.

Cheers.
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Old September 30th, 2010, 01:10 AM   #5
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What is your goal with this?
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Old September 30th, 2010, 01:10 AM   #6
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Ozzie,

While I sympathize somewhat, I must ask the pertinent question. "What are you preparing them for?"

It is not necessary to understand the gas light to appreciate the light bulb, nor is it necessary to have a deep understanding of the horse and buggy to understand the nature of the automobile. The concept of slide film and negative film is for all purposes irrelevant to these students. The idea of actually shooting on film, particularly motion picture film, is as foreign to them as I suspect a paper encyclopedia is.

While I am all for preserving the past, I am far more for giving students the tools and knowledge they will need to succeed in the future. And film is not the future. As beautiful as it can be, it's scarcity and price mean most students today will never handle it. I grew up on Kodachrome and ektachrome. Today you can't even buy it. It's a relic, much like a tube TV. These lectures should be preparing the students for their future unless you are teaching a historical course.

A more relevant question might be what is the difference between studio camera and a cinema camera. Explain the path from camera to theater/broadcast. Or ask them to project what they see happening in THEIR future... not reflect on OUR past.

I will also put the question to you. As an educator, how well versed are you in TODAY's technology? In today's methodology? Are you as well versed in the methods of today as you are in the methods of our youth? If you are well versed in it, then impart that onto the students. VERY few things motivated me as a student more than going to a live set and seeing what it took to make the news, the weather, and the sports report. The lighting, the editing rooms, the greenscreen (blue screen back then), etc.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Ozzie Alfonso View Post
As a midterm question I have been asking for a research paper comparing digital to analog - the pros and con, etc. With the midterms approaching, I've begun to think I should drop this comparison since digital is the given and analog seems to be a vanishing and irrelevant topic. Still, today I prepared the class for the kind and depth of essay I was expecting. In the middle of the explanation I referred to "negative" film as opposed to "direct positive" film. One student interrupted with "Professor, you said "negative" - what do you mean?" I went on to explain negative film, compared it to slide film... "Slide?" Most of the class did not know what a slide was because they had never seen one, and most have never shot film, much less negative film.

My feeling of loss and anxiety grew as I realized there were few common points of reference I could share with the class, and with each semester there are fewer and fewer. Thankfully, and surprisingly, one common point of reference was vinyl records. They had actually seen albums, even looked at the grooves! Finally a common ground to build my mini lecture.

These students were born in the early 1990s. By the time they started school it was already the mid 90's. I bring this topic up because I know I'm not alone in trying to explain the current digital world to an audience that has no concept of analog. I appreciate any insights, or ideas, or suggestions you might have. How to explain digital when your audience knows nothing else? How can we understand the present when the past has been erased?
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Old September 30th, 2010, 01:45 AM   #7
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Gotta say...............

I'm with Perrone on this one.

Sorry Ozzie, these kids are the future, not the past, what has been has already been and has been surpassed, twice over in every generation, for the last 30 years.

Your're teaching Television Production, not history.

Leave the history to someone else, teach what they need to know going forward, not the past, it really isn't much help to them.

Those with a more studious bent may well investigate further, but your job is getting them past those exams, not giving them a living history of the moving image, unless it's in the syllabus.

Those who can, will, those who just don't "geddit" won't, simple as that.

Stop stressing and make sure you know more than they do, being on the downside of that is the kiss of death for any Tech trainer.


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Old September 30th, 2010, 02:02 AM   #8
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Kodak: "There is a very real resurgence for film"

Kodak: "There is a very real resurgence for film" - British Journal of Photography

Well, one good point to make about analog is that the real world IS analog. Nobody actually sees or hears digital anything and they won't until babies start getting born with digital inputs implanted in their ...

And even then, the nervous system is still analog.

So since the actual act of communicating to the viewer/listener is indeed analog, failure to have some understanding of fundamental analog concepts is, I think, a gross omission.

After all, the OP said he was teaching at a university, not a trade school or junior college.
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Old September 30th, 2010, 02:12 AM   #9
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Hey, Ozzie! Been awhile. This reminded me of a funny T-shirt I saw Chris Hurd wearing several years ago that said, "Long Live Analog." I loved it. Analog does have a pro or two, in my outdated opinion.

"How to explain digital when your audience knows nothing else?" While I think it is good for students to know the difference between digital and analog--particularly sampling and all that--your wondering if it's time to drop the comparison (especially in the form of a research paper) is most likely a signal that it's time to at least cut back. Personally, I like knowing the history behind technology and anything else, but I'll bet just a skimming would do.

EDIT: Just read your post, Jim. Good points!
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Old September 30th, 2010, 03:13 AM   #10
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Having track laid a full sound track on a 16mm drama using a lot of foley and location dialogue, I was surprised how little had changed when I was involved (although not as the editor) doing the same on a couple of shorts I directed. The process had changed, but how you used the raw material hadn't.

You were still laying tracks, except they weren't physical tracks on 16mm magnetic film laid using spacer on a synchroniser, they were digital tracks. How they looked on the computer screen was exactly the same as the dubbing mixing cue sheet I made up for the 16mm film. One difference was that the dub mix actually took longer than when I did the 16mm mix, even though they had the same complexity (apart from being in stereo as against mono) and it was a longer film.

The on set working relationships are the same if you're shooting film or video, although film does force people to think more in advance and that's something worth learning.

Certainly students should learn history of film and watch those old films, it's amazing how innovative some of the visuals on the best silent films are. There's more to it than pushing buttons.
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Old September 30th, 2010, 03:36 AM   #11
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As Brian Drysdale astutely observed "film does force people to think more in advance and that's something worth learning."

This is a very important point. Digital has created a "get everything and sort it out later" attitude in people.
I have had some projects turn into a big pile of nothing because of this.

How about this for an assignment. Give each group in the class an SD WORM card and they can only tell you the IN-OUT points for each clip to make their movie, no color correction or other silliness!
SD WORM Card

These cards are small too, so they would have to be careful :)
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Old September 30th, 2010, 08:50 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Andrada View Post

After all, the OP said he was teaching at a university, not a trade school or junior college.
And as such, I would suspect there would be coursework available to teach the foundations of our broadcast and film industry. But this is a PRODUCTION class. Had this class been taught 30 years ago, would the instructor have required everyone to write a thesis on silent film?

A "production" course should be about the tools and methods to produce either episodic TV, documentary, narrative, news, etc. And nowhere in modern production (at least outside of the high dollar shows) is anyone going to be working with film.

I am all for teaching basics of exposure, and even a bit of history. But that should be a lecture, not a research project. I'd imagine at a university level, I could barely get in 1/3 of what I'd want to teach kids about TV production in a semester. Even the idea of basic editing could take weeks.

Again, just my thoughts, but if I was paying the prices for classes these students probably are, I'd be wanting a class to teach me what I need to be employable. Not something I could get on my own or with a visit to my grandfather's attic or a museum.
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Old September 30th, 2010, 09:10 AM   #13
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Hi Ozzie;

I have been interested in or shooting stills for over 50 years and have moved to digital for everything but large prints and even that is a hybrid (medium format scanned). I also have been involved as a subject, writer, or advisor in documentary TV productions for not quite as long, mostly on 35 mm or 16 mm film. Recently I decided I woud tackle digital video production on my own as a hobby from start to finish. So I am about as deeply embedded in analog as one can be, but moving to digital.

What fascinated me about the move was how dramatically the legacy of film has influenced and directed the development of the end processes of digital imagery both stills and video.

For example, for video, the image is required to be backwards compatible to the original b&w screens. When the first of the colour digital was developed for TV it could not be RGB (not backwards compatible), it had to develop a new approach: chrominance and luminance -- hence the 4:4:4 colour space of completed digital imagery for TV. (I expect that will change once all TV is digitally broadcast, but that is a while yet for most of the world). Our eye and brain system functions as an analogue or continuous system. The eye-brain system can resolve individual images up to a certain rate. Beyond that rate, the brain tends to confuse the two closest images in time and fuses them into a single image. The rate varies, but is around 20 to 25 frames per second. This sets the frame rate for any human viewer, digital or analogue. Called flicker fusion, the rate varies with different animals. Many invertebrates can resolve separate images at nearly 100 frames per second. The original format of presentation of TV was essentially analogue converted physically into digital (phosphor dots). While film and photo prints are pretty close to continuous (still have grain structure), the printed image we see in magazines has long been effectively digital. Continuous screen printing is pretty rare nowadays.

There are lots more examples that at first totally confused me as to why digital went through these wild contortions, but it is essentially the background from which the digital image evolved that sets up these sometimes crazy conventions. Perhaps that is a good focus for an historical essay on the importance of analogue in today's digital world.

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Old September 30th, 2010, 10:56 AM   #14
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I totally agree with Perrone.

As a university student myself I feel we have focused far too much on the history of TV, media and art rather than the future.

Yes there needs to be some historical context to what you are teaching but your students only need a basic understanding. For example knowing how to process digital content and thinking about how this might develop and change in their life time would be far more useful and prepare them for their future jobs.

I personally feel digital is a big enough subject on its own to teach about let alone trying to get them to explain analog (my main essay last year was on Digital Cinema and 3D).
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Old September 30th, 2010, 11:05 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Perrone Ford View Post
And as such, I would suspect there would be coursework available to teach the foundations of our broadcast and film industry. But this is a PRODUCTION class. Had this class been taught 30 years ago, would the instructor have required everyone to write a thesis on silent film?

A "production" course should be about the tools and methods to produce either episodic TV, documentary, narrative, news, etc. And nowhere in modern production (at least outside of the high dollar shows) is anyone going to be working with film.
I think this depends on the levels you're going to teach students. If you are dealing with the best or people who have ambitions to be the best they should be aware of many aspects of the subject and it's place within modern culture. Yes, the instructor should teach about silent cinema, there a lot to learn for any aspiring film maker - they should check out films like "Sunrise" and other classics. Good quality copies can still stun you and they're before the Hays Code stuff.
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