David Terranova: the Creative
Flash Developer/Video/Music Producer/Designer/Photographer
Education? What has been the most shape shifting influence in your artistic taste?
DT: My early education was a mess, I moved a lot, and whenever I was in Italy I was just generally doing bad at school as a form of rebellion as I didn’t want to live there. Which is why I left school at 16 and went to London and 3 years later started my first job as junior designer in an online advertising/creative agency which at the time was a 2-man-band. The work was extremely commercial, building websites, games and online adverts for big movie releases. I taught myself Action-script reading Colin Moock’s first book on the subject, and over time also learned other web programming languages, enough to become Head of Development in the company, which within almost 5 years employed around 50 people. I see real education as the stuff you learn by yourself on the job, which is pretty much the only way I have learned things.
As for the shape shifting stuff, I find that it’s always shifting depending on who’s around me. Styles and moods come and go in cycles. My latest shift has been working with Will Calcutt, an understated artist for Ghostly Intl. who has a way of creating timeless imagery that has really stuck with me and has become something that I’m into at the moment: vintage, twisted, dark, grainy. His concept for the video work for Black City is truly inspiring and I haven’t seen anyone else making anything like it. He’s been working for months on building a complex After-Effects setup that gives everything this really old look, whilst slowing everything down by enormous amounts and morphing it all up. It’s very special and it represents Matthew Dear’s image perfectly.
He also introduced me to the work of Mike Cina (who we’re making a small doco on) who is another artist for Ghostly. His work really blew me away, I’ve come to understand a lot of art that previously meant nothing to me, mainly based on his sleeve designs that are really reminiscent of artworks of past eras that are just timeless. Timelessness, everyone is trying to replicate old technology, whether it’s 20s silent movies, Super 8, 80s VHS, 90s rainbow music videos.
My girlfriend has a great taste in graphic design, photography and movies, so we’re in a vicious cycle of inspiring each other with all sorts of things. Since being with her my taste in things has changed a lot. When you have the right people around you, your influences keep moving.
You come from a demographic of graphic artists/web developers, freelancing, or working for agencies for clients such as MTV, Pixar, Playstation, Disney. Did your experience in video direction/editing come from all these jobs?
DT: Not really. I consider all of that commercial web stuff a completely separate life to what I’m trying to work towards. My two brothers own a TV production company so I’ve always had the good-fortune of being able to use their equipment when available. At 22 I was going through a huge life-change one day: I broke up with my girlfriend, quit my full-time job (the one as head of development) and pulled out of a house mortgage that we were about to sign the following morning. I decided to shave off all my hair and film it that evening, and that was my first experience of Final Cut (See Below), using my brothers’ edit suite with them showing me how to use the keyboard shortcuts. I remember getting really excited when I discovered Apple+J (speed control)!
This transition as Creative Flash Developer into making random experimental videos has really taken its toll. Going from working for advertising agencies on a juicy day rate doing Flash work, to making videos for struggling record labels means that I’ve taken an enormous pay cut which has affected my lifestyle in a big way. This also means that I’m stuck with a dinosaur of a laptop that I can barely use Final Cut with, keeping open only one program at a time. As I work with Final Cut and Ableton Live together at the same time, things get extremely slow.
On the side I have to take on the occasional commercial project that enables me to afford getting coffee every morning from yourcoffeeandtea.com, for example I’ve just finished a micro site for Volvic, or before that I was filming and making backstage videos at X Factor (not sure if you have that in the US yet, it’s been going on for years in the UK), which is all a reminder of how fluctuating my position can be. Rebel Rave has given my name a certain amount of presence online, which was really exciting at first. But then things happen that make you realize that the value of your name being on the web doesn’t mean much at all, and within a couple of months it can just disappear into the depths of page 100 of Google, while you’re still stuck in your little room on your aging equipment struggling to get a decent paid job.
DT: I don’t really have a process. My friends and I are connected through party scenes, which in my opinion is the thing that drives most people’s careers in this field: everyone I do the cool work with (outside of RR) are people I go to parties with, it’s where you find lots of talented people doing really cool things who eventually you cross paths with during the day for work. It sounds weird, but techno music has been the thing that moved me away from commercial web work and drove my career forward as an artist, all thanks to connections made at parties. So I guess part of the answer to your question, which is only specific to my own personal experience, is working with talented friends who I find are on the same page as me.
When it comes to dealing with a performer though, I don’t like to pre-plan too much. I like to sit down with them and explain what I’m after. The last thing I worked on was with a very cool contemporary dancer called Rob Davidson, he’s got a really specific style of using his body, so I gave him the lowdown of what I was after, and together we agreed on various elements of his performance, mixing his own style in performance with my own style in video. This is just an uncut version of what I’m working on:
The last 10 years, in your observation of interactive media, working in music and fashion, what do you see as being the best advancement and trends?
DT: Well I think everything at the moment is connected to the fact that regular people (like me, self taught non-professionals) are more and more able to download software with which they can create content that is at the same level as the larger establishment, whether it’s in music, film, fashion, photography, visuals etc. And together with the advancement of web and social networking, regular people can get launched into worldwide stardom in a matter of minutes… this is old news, but it’s definitely because of this that trends are where they are today. There’s just so much content being pumped into the web every single minute, most of it is really bad, but it’s the bad stuff that pushes things forward. For example when photographers started buying the 5D to film their photo shoots, all you saw all over the net were these bad videos of models pouting and touching their hair not knowing where to look, cross-fading on top of some pop/folk music. I found this particularly frustrating, and it was for this reason that I wanted to get into fashion films: because I saw what was being acclaimed by the fashion industry and I think I and a lot of upcoming film makers could do better. Fashion videos are going through a really interesting period now, every magazine is going crazy for them, especially with the new possibilities of distributing via the iPad. I’ve always loved Show Studio’s video work, although it was only recently that I figured out it mostly came down to Ruth Hogben, another self-taught filmmaker.
To answer your question, I think that there are lots of interesting trends being pushed in various directions, all of which comes down to “regular people” making enormous amounts of professional content that is pushing the boundaries at such high speeds. Every few weeks something arrives that make everything before, look dated. In a very vague comparison, this is probably something that used to only happen once a year of even once every few years.
VJing? Software? Controllers? What do you consider comprises of good/original visual elements for a 1-2 hour set?
DT: I forced myself to learn VDMX in a month for Damian’s live tour. I’ve played around with Quartz Composer, but never used any of my Quartz files when VJing live. Before all of this I’d played around with Modul8, but found it a bit rigid to use. I got onto VDMX it just felt so fluid and flexible, I love just being able to build your own interface inserting whatever tools you need and removing the tools you don’t. I particularly love the power of oscillators; I wish they were something that could be used in other programs like Ableton, Final Cut or After Effects.
I use my filmed footage for VJ content. I remember when I only had 1 month left before Damian’s live tour; I had to create 10 different “scenes”, one for each different song, while trying to figure out how to work VDMX. The clock was ticking and I was running out of ideas and I was in a huge panic. My friend, Marko Perendija had helped me out a lot on that project, we ended up in all sorts of all nighter situations, editing all day round the clock without sleep, filming in the city at 3am. One of the scenes is about this scary rabbit, it’s one of my favorite scenes, in fact, it was just me in my brother’s office at 4am in front of a camera, light and tripod, wearing a rabbit mask and a white boiler suit. I cut holes in the boiler suit’s hoody for the rabbit’s ears to go through, so I couldn’t take the mask off until I finished as it was all quite fragile, and the only way I could look out was through the rabbit’s nostrils, it was a nightmare to test the shots, focusing, light angles and everything else. Sweaty, claustrophobic and frustrating, all that for one of the ten tracks. I just hope no one in the apartments in the opposite building was looking in, must have been a sight.
I’ve jumped into VJing not knowing how you’re “supposed” to do it, I just did what seemed natural to me. I filmed stuff in slow motion and play it back, tightly reacting to the sound and mood. My style displays a lot of contrast and opposites. Techno is energetic and fast, so I love playing slow-motion footage over techno, it’s all about fluidity and smoothness against the aggressive beats. I don’t really enjoy the type of visuals that show these crazy images flashing every tenth of a second. When you have slow-motion footage of weird inverted erupting clouds (I made this in the Rebel Rave U.S. Tour visuals), combined with a sound-reactive flicker, that’s what really gets me excited.
On a completely different note to VDMX, I’ve always made Flash based visuals for private parties or friends’ nights, way before I started making videos. I have a whole load of generative animations that I’ve built over the years, most are entirely code based, and others are mixed with time line animations. It’s just a variation of circles, dots, lines, and random shapes, white on black, moving about on screen in an ordered-chaos type way… So I built an engine that just loads in these different scenes in random order, for random amounts of time. This means that for events I can just plug the laptop in and let it run all night on its own without having to interact with it. (Some of the scenes are on my site under Flash Toys). The last time I used this was a couple of months ago for ReSolute in New York, when Lee Burridge played at Love.
DT: I always played instruments, I studied classical music and dreamed going to the conservatory school of music in Rome. In the past 3 or 4 years I’ve been making more solid music in my spare time. I know a certain amount about music theory, scales, chord structures, harmonies, so my tracks are always driven by slow dark melodic loops that keep building up. I enjoy making slow and dark grinding music that is perfect for playing in your car at full volume or driving down the highway at night under torrential rain.
Camera selections? Video FX? Output settings?
DT: I own a Sony Z1, I used it for the RR videos, I don’t particularly like it but it does the job. Whenever possible I rent the Sony EX3, which in comparison is a dream, and the frame-rate feature is something I use a lot. Richie Hawtin’s video and the fashion films were all filmed on the EX3. There’s some crowd scenes I filmed at 60fps that are just really impressive – I want to make a small separate video with them on their own to some weird music, it’s quite disturbing in a way, especially when you see huge Italian crowds of Hawtin fans raving in slow-motion! Gives you the shivers, very cool in a dark way!
My girlfriend owns a Canon 5D MkII, which I’ve used a few times to film, it’s great but I still prefer the EX3 as there’s no way you can film properly without using extra rigs, and also because it doesn’t seem to handle fast movement. Not sure if it’s because of the low bit rate or if it’s just the way that it refreshes itself. If you point it at a train directly from the side of the track from closeup, the train will seem to be slanting forwards, so all the vertical lines come out diagonal, which is a good way to see how this camera seems to be working in rows from top to bottom. It’s OK if the camera’s locked off and if the subject is relatively still, but if you’re hand holding it and moving fast, or if the subject is moving around quickly, the image appears to be distorting. Anyway, maybe I’m missing something… probably a lot of professionals would disagree with all of the above or have a simple solution!
For web video I just always use Vimeo, which works best with H.264 5000kbps at 1280×720. Any higher than 5000 and it can get choppy on slower machines – like mine!
For live shows I can’t really say with confidence. From what I read online I always use 90% JPG compression at a 1024×576 resolution. Again this works best with my sluggish laptop, I imagine you can go a lot higher.
Who/what inspires you on a consistent basis?
DT: I can’t think of someone/something that consistently inspires me. One day I’m completely taken by an artist, I learn all about their work, the next day he’s just a bookmark in my Delicious account, then I probably won’t go back to as by then I’m busy reading up another artist. This is the problem with the web, there’s too much stuff coming at you every single hour.
Probably the most consistent “inspirations” for me is the “night”, when I’m on a certain project I can literally work 3 days in a row without sleep. This works when I’m at my brothers’ office in London, a closed-in tiny suite surrounded by top of the line equipment and coffee mugs, now that I’m in New York I haven’t been able to work like this.
Advice for students pursuing design as a career?
DT: #1 Bad answer but most truthful: I’m the last person to ask for advice. I don’t really know where my career is going and my plans for the future are somewhat blurry. But if you really have to know: Go party!
#2 Ideal answer: Always take on whatever may seem impossible for you to achieve. Things always work out in one way or another, you’ll come out the other end having learned some-thing new. It’s the only way you move forward.
Visao Media would like thank David Terranova for doing this interesting spotlight and look out for David’s upcoming films for Damian Lazarus’ Fabric 54, JPLS, Plastikman & more.