Commentary: “Staying Alive” Video

On Wednesday, I produced and released my sixth lip sync musical video featuring my puppets singing to the lyrics of “Staying Alive.” Overall, I think that the video turned out very well considering that I didn’t take much time to rehearse. It was meant to be a quick video, so I didn’t bother to set up a background on a green screen or plan any special edits.

The Idea

I was inspired to produce the video after I spent a little while Wednesday night playing around with my new ghost puppet. The ghost puppet had arrived earlier that week, but I hadn’t been able to do much with him. I kind of explored how much I could do with his mouth, and what it was like to move his arms with a rod. My observations were that he is quite different from my other puppets, because he is literally a molded ghost’s head attached to what is basically a piece of fabric which serves as his “body.” His arms are quite long and attached to his body, but since there isn’t much structure down there I noticed I would have to be careful about raising them, etc. I’m still pleased with my new ghost, and actually am excited to try him out in a few projects I’ve thought of, but am anticipating that there will be challenges.

So, as I was testing out the ghost, I decided to lip sync to a couple of songs. At first I chose “Ghostbusters,” because I felt like it would be funny for a ghost to be singing the words. Then, I tried “Staying Alive,” because I liked the irony of a ghost singing that song, given that ghosts are people who are no longer alive. This looked so good, I felt like it would be worth it to try recording with the ghost singing, and that’s really where things started to take on a life of their own. No pun intended.

The Execution

My musical lip sync videos have turned out the best when I’ve recorded my puppets lip syncing to music, then cutting the sound and re-syncing the mouth movements with the same song as a track in the video. The first time I was able to use this method was when I produced the “Monster Mash” song using multiple puppets, although in that case I was listening to music being played in the room. For “Staying Alive,” I downloaded the song from the Internet, and then played it over headphones while I captured the performance with my puppets. The same MP3 song file would serve as the musical track for the final video, so that it stayed consistent.

The trickiest part of this process is re-syncing the music track with the mouth movements so that the puppets will look like they are singing the words. I tried to simplify things by counting down as I started the music and prepared to perform with each puppet, but for some reason this wasn’t captured in the audio, so once again I was forced to “eyeball” it, which takes a lot more concentration.

After recording with my ghost twice, I decided that perhaps I would record several puppets performing the song, just in case I wanted to change to different characters in the video. So, I recorded with Gary, Murray, and my human character.

Editing was time consuming. I lined up the ghost with the musical track, then added Gary in a track above so that I could edit his performance, and onward until all four performances were in sync. Then, I decided which parts of each performance I wanted to keep, and which I wanted to eliminate. In the storyboard for the video, the videos sort of created a waterfall effect as one cut into another. My ghost probably got the longest segment, with Gary and Murray taking the middle, and my human character coming in at the end.

I’ve been really impressed with the ghost’s mouth movements, the construction of his mouth forms more of an “0” than my other puppets’ mouths do. He is less Muppet-like.

Final Thoughts

Although this started out as more of an exercise in lip syncing and editing, mid-way through working on the video I started to think about how the song could very easily be about recovering from trauma. The song starts out blacked out, which could represent someone at their lowest, then the ghost appears, and then Gary, followed by Murray, and ultimately the human. The song is about “Stay Alive,” but the puppets could be seen as one character who is getting better after a traumatic experience, or perhaps he was at his lowest point, and as the song progresses he begins to feel better and better. The human “form” is the extreme opposite of the ghost “form” at the beginning of the song.

Had I had taken more time, I probably would have added in the background and tried to center in the puppets a little bit more. And, shown more of their waist.

The next thing I’d like to explore is showing more than one puppet on the screen at a time. This will require a lot of green screen work. But, it would be an improvement on my technique and extended of the approach I took with the “Wish Christmas was Here” video where I cut to different characters performing and tried to give the impression that they were in the same room. If I am able to cut together a performance by a puppet “band,” then they could lip sync to different parts. I did try a little bit of this with “The Monster Mash,” but ran into issues with the re-syncing and editing.

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