Monday, June 7, 2010

Nani Naze Causality

The What and Why of Causality (SH115)


By now, I feel that enough space has been given for people to form their own opinions about this video, so I can weigh in without my comments being taken as authoritative about what it is, or what it's trying to do. This was also intentional: this is a self-organizing video, and I wanted for it to at least try, initially, to be self-documenting.

The what, first: this is a video that was to a large degree edited by random rolls (hence the credit to The Machine That Won The War). What I did was roll on a table of all the non-credit cuts in Summer Wars, and place the resulting cut into the timeline until I felt the music changed enough to justify another cut, or until I ran out of frames. Effects are by design rather than random, and at the end of the song I had a separate pool of extremely long cuts to be used as scaffolding that I rolled 1d20 on to place, except for the last two, which were by intent. There are zero frames in this not from the original source; I (mostly) put away my usual tools of negative space, positive space, and trigger abuse in order to concentrate on excessive close cutting to compose an order out of the chaos presented by the literally random clip selection.

The why: This was a confluence of several themes that turned into a video idea. I wanted to do a literally random video (picking cuts with rand(1) or something similar and letting the chips fall where they may) for a while. Since the source collection would be by linearly decomposing the input into its component cuts, it would have to be from movie source, for linearity (because I'm lazy) and to keep the total size of the source pool down. Also, since any cut could come in at any time, I had to avoid the slack or barren animation that you occasionally get in TV anime.

I was looking at The Girl Who Leapt Through Time as a potential source, but that was getting an overused rap on the .org, so I was leaning away from it; I needed a source that was visually striking to work with the assembly method, but I didn't want something where every cut has been seen in a hundred videos before, because that would tip the random-recombination element too strongly. It was in this time that I encountered Summer Wars, having heard a lot of good stuff about it when it was in theaters, and was immediately sold. I ended up not even buying the other movie.

The musical choice was another strong driver; I wanted to do an Arctopus video, but didn't want to kill myself in the process. Random selection takes a lot of the pain out of finding the exact cut, in a pool of nearly 1400, to match to the quarter-second of one of Colin Marston's fills. Additionally, despite being completely unrelated, there was a huge fucking kickup about someone who did a video to the whole of BTBAM's Colors record (which, really, is not good enough to get such treatment, especially in contrast to their earlier albums) and wouldn't acknowledge its weaknesses. I get embarrassed and defensive about such things, and it's not honest to claim that there wasn't at least a little motivation, as long as I was on this project, to show that you can do ambitious projects with long runtimes, absurdly technical music, and challenging concepts and not have it come out like crap.

As things developed, the synergy of the source with the concept drove the project further. The central idea behind the video is mass parallelism, and the implications that has for causality (hence the title). If everything is happening at once -- as manifested by the blizzard of random-selected intercutting -- what prior event is what consequence connected to? Is it possible to pick that out? This is kind of a big theme in the first half of the movie; a case of mistaken identity caused by a scattergun social-engineering attack, with its aim parallelized cracking. The ideas of parallelism, distributed resources and the communication models that bind them together, and the complementarity of social and technological approaches to the challenges of the modern world are, of course, everywhere in the movie, and it's difficult to think of a video that would bring them together into some kind of coherent whole that did NOT come out looking like this one. (Well, fucking duh, this was the Summer Wars video that I did, and if I was capable of looking at the material in a radically different way, I wouldn't've come up with the idea.) This might be why, at the halfway point in the production when I checked, there were exactly zero full Summer Wars videos out.

The random-select concept made the video easier but this is not the same as easy. Not by a fucking long shot. I still had to do all the actual intercutting to make things work, in addition to the rolling, and I also had to spend nearly 15 hours cutting up the movie in the first place, then moving it to an environment where I could keep 100 minutes of HD source on-disk rather than on remote storage. While the base idea of decomposing limited source into its component elements and recombining those in time with the music echoes back to an earlier day, actually doing so was a significant challenge even for me as an experienced editor.

The only regret that I have was that I didn't do this all in AviSynth, or that there wasn't a transparent way to do that. Why? Because I could have distributed a master script calling a synthesis of 500 or so smaller scripts (plus of course the index, omg bootleg), it would be a lot smaller in footprint, and I could claim to have out the first interpreted rather than compiled AMV. As a once-and-maybe-future Lisp head, this would have been neat, but in the larger scope of things is really not that important, and nobody would have the processing power required to interpret a video like this with any kind of smooth playback at the time it was released.

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