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The making of At a Snail's Pace

The film won a Silver Standard Award.

The film is a combination of live footage and animated images to produce the effect of a snail moving in time to music. A snail may not appear to be a suitable subject where action is required, but they can be persuaded to perform a few 'tricks'. For example, if you touch their eyes, they immediately retract them, then slowly bring them out again. Such movements can be animated to produce a repetitive sequence. They are, however, very poor at obeying instructions and have a tendency to wander off in the wrong direction or fall asleep! So I ended up with many attempts to get the movement I wanted, on about an hour and a half of MiniDV tape.

Still from 'Snails Pace' by Geof Caudwell. Still from 'Snails Pace' by Geof Caudwell.

Shooting was done using a Panasonic DX110 camcorder mounted on a table in a lean-to greenhouse. For overhead shots I used a tripod. Close-up shots were taken with 3 dioptre and 3 + 4 dioptre supplementary lenses on the camera, and for big close-ups, I mounted the camera on a platform with an old 58mm camera lens attached.

Exposure was set to auto. White balance was set manually to a white card. Focus was set to auto for movement towards and away from the camera, and manual where the auto function became confused.

Still from 'Snails Pace' by Geof Caudwell. Still from 'Snails Pace' by Geof Caudwell.

Editing was done on computer using the Pinnacle Studio 8 editing program. This has the facility for varying the speed of video clips, which enabled me to accurately match the motion to the beat of the music.

However, before editing the video, I had to select suitable music. I chose "The Village Idiot" from the "Orchestral 2" CD by AKM Music. This has a slow base beat which seemed appropriate for a snail. The length of the track was reduced to two minutes, using audio editing software.

I chose those shots which lent themselves to repetitive motion, and made new clips of them by 'grabbing' individual frames from the original shots. These were then added to the Timeline as single frame images. To reduce the monotony of this work, I used a computer program called a Macro; which meant I only had to perform the operation once and the Macro would repeat it as many times as I wished.

Still from 'Snails Pace' by Geof Caudwell. Still from 'Snails Pace' by Geof Caudwell.

To illustrate the process of creating one oscillation, lets assume we want to create forward and backward motion from four frames of a video clip. Grabbing frames 1, 2, 3, 4 and then copying these in reverse as 4, 3, 2, 1 would appear to be the simplest way to create oscillations, but this does not produce playback as smooth as grabbing frames 1, 2, 3, 4 and then following this with frames 5, 4, 3, 2.

Once I had a single frame sequence for a complete forward and backward motion, I made as many copies of the sequence as I needed (plus a few extra to give me editing space for exact synchronisation). I then made a single AVI file (video clip) of these sequences, so that its speed could be adjusted on the Timeline for correct synchronisation.

Still from 'Snails Pace' by Geof Caudwell. Still from 'Snails Pace' by Geof Caudwell.

- Geof Caudwell    March 2006

You can see one of Geof's earlier successes, Watch the Birdie, on Retinascope [www.retinascope.co.uk], click Films and choose Cinema 3


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Page updated on 24 October 2012
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