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Response to Fagerjord, “Multimodal Polyphony”

Ah, Flash Player. This little browser plugin has been shaping the web for over 17 years, and while its power and support are dwindling these days due to open video standards, HTML 5, and the Canvas element, it still powers most of the online multimedia that we experience today. Anders Fagerjord’s “Multimodal Polyphony” analyzes in depth a certain type of Flash powered content: the Flash Documentary. Born in the early 2000’s out of bandwidth concerns, a Flash Documentary is a presentation of still images and voice-over narration that mixes elements of TV and still photography. It’s kind of an enhanced slideshow, a PowerPoint presentation with a narrator. The Flash documentary that Fagerjord focuses on is National Geographic Magazine’s “The Way West,” the first of their Sights and Sounds series.

A Flash documentary uses still images, but not all images are the same. The window is a fixed size, just like a television screen, but some images may be different sizes or have different aspect ratios. To get around this problem and also to add extra excitement and interest to the presentation, Flash documentaries apply TV style effects to their images.

Ken Burns Effect

I didn’t make the above video, but it serves as a good illustration of how the Ken Burns effect works. Basically, you take a still (or moving) image, zoom in so that it is bigger than your frame, then slowly pan and zoom so as to show only a part of it at any given time. With these tools, you can create other effects, such as revealing a part of the image that was previously unknown to the viewer or pointing the viewer’s attention at a specific spot by zooming into it.

Multi media

Supplementing the visual portion of the presentation is audio, which can include music, background ambient noise, sound effects, and narration. In the National Geographic presentation, you hear the sounds of the old west before the presentation starts to get you in the mood. Music and visuals together can greatly increase the immersion that you feel when watching one of these presentations, even if you’re staring at a small Flash window and the images themselves are still.

We’re going to be making a Flash documentary style video soon as part of the class. Stay tuned!

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