A Visit From St Nicholas

Thanks in very large part to Nick Lansley, colleagues at this year's GS1 Christmas party were treated to this 10 minute story time.

Breaking that down into its components:

I think it was Christmas Eve 1988 when I was first asked to read A Visit From St Nicholas, better known by its first line 'Twas the night before Christmas, in public. This was back in my radio days and my then girlfriend had produced a series of short features in the run up to Christmas and needed an endpiece. On my first Christmas Eve as a dad I read it to my children as a way to try and get them all snug in their beds and it's been a fixture of our family Christmas ever since. When my son became a dad in his turn, one of the first things I bought him was a copy of Clement Clarke Moore's most famous work so that he can continue the tradition.

I mentioned some of this during the GS1 (virtual) office Christmas party last year and was asked if I could read it there and then, which I duly did. For this year, I was asked to do it again and knew in a moment I'm going to need Nick.

Working with our colleague Christine Hutchinson, a.k.a. Lady Hutch, Nick also produced a video of another Christmas favourite, John Julius Norwich's 12 Days of Christmas (correspondence). You'll enjoy this one a lot more if you wear headphones.

These videos, like all the ones I've done since working for GS1, were produced by Nick Lansley. And for those interested, both the technology and Nick's use of it are very impressive.

The 12 letters video doesn't use any live action filming but for the Visit from St Nicholas one we didn't want there to be a microphone in shot. To get the kind of audio quality needed, though, it had to be recorded "close mic". Since we don't have a professional TV studio with a boom microphone to hand, or even a lapel mic, the audio was recorded separately.

Then I rearranged the living room and put up a few Christmas lights, lit a fire in the log burner and set up an armchair. I had planned to wear a Christmas jumper but it was a mild day and, with the fire burning, it was around 25°C in that room so, sorry, no unnecessary layers.

An armchair next to a log burner, surrounded by Christmas decorations. To the other side of the chair is a table on which we see a glass of brandy and a couple of mince pies. Behind the chair is a green screen
The actual setup

Nick had already told me he planned to add in a fake background so I set up the green screen off to one side behind the chair. I then propped up up two mobile phones as cameras on books on chairs and recorded the visuals. But here's the real magic … Nick managed to achieve near-perfect lip-synch with the audio by quantizing the video and effectively playing it back at the rate determined by the audio. This was achieved using DaVinci Resolve by Blackmagic Design. The free downloadable version has 70%+ of the functionality of the 'Studio' version and has all the functionality needed to create the video here. It only lacks advanced 2D and all 3D video effects and doesn't use the computer's graphics card so processes/renders are somewhat slower.

Oh and it's not just the greenscreen that has the fake background. The 'big book' I'm reading from is actually a catalogue of work by Gillian MacDonald that I picked up from The Gallery - Yr Oriel, Newport Pembs earlier this year. So Nick superimposed a suitable image on the book cover.

One thing Nick didn't have to create electronically: the brandy and mince pies are real.

Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night.