Mexico, The Bad, the Great and the Ugly - An Unusual Film
Bill Behrenbruch, top, producer
and cast for Mexico, The Bad,
The Great and the Ugly
I am often asked why I decided to make "Mexico: The Bad, the Great and the Ugly" from still images, instead of motion picture or video? I suppose this is an especially relevant question since I've spent the last 35 years in the motion picture industry. The answer lies more in accident than intent.
A little history. About a dozen years ago, I was asked if I could put together a short presentation on my travels in Mexico for a group of pilots in Santa Barbara, CA. The plan was to explain the process of flying a private plane into Mexico and show why this would be a good thing to do. A dozen years ago, the logical way of doing this was with a basic 35mm slide projector and stand up narration. The 15-minute presentation turned into 90 minutes of fascination. The audience was quite intrigued. Most had not considered Mexico in their travel plans, even though it was close by. I gave this presentation on several occasions to a similar response. I thought I should do more with this, but...
Life intervened. Job and family issues dominated. The presentation went on the shelf. I continued to travel and photograph in Mexico whenever I had the chance, but I seldom gave the presentation.
Fast forward about a decade. Looking for something else, I stumbled across the slide tray from the Mexico show. I should update that with digital technology, I thought. (Another example of a simple idea that takes over your life.)
First, I needed to scan the 35mm Kodachrome to a digital file. I had done some of this years before using a commercial outfit. The files they produced were 18-20MB. I'd thought that a huge file. But, when cropped and put on a large screen in HD, they proved inadequate. I ended up buying a Nikon scanner that produced files of 50MB to 100MB in size. These stood up much better on a large screen. I also found Adobe Photoshop to be very useful to do additional clean up and to bring out the sparkle in the image.
Of course, when you start producing files this size, just viewing them can be an issue. My office computer was not ready for this. My new laptop made a valiant effort, but came up short. With the help, and encouragement of a couple of computer literate friends, I was able to build a usable machine (currently with an Intel i7 Quad Core processor, 16GB of RAM and about 10TB of storage). This solved the hardware problem.
Now, I just needed software that would allow me to create the program I had in my head. I should explain that I'd spent a good deal of time as an Optical Cameraman, running an optical printer and an animation stand in the motion picture industry. A lot of the work I did incorporated still pictures or graphics into motion pictures. My job was to make them interesting. This often involved using pans, zooms and other optical effects to generate this interest. Now, I wanted a software program that was up to that task digitally. After casting about for several weeks, I settled on a resolution independent, slide specific program from Photodex Corporation. I still use that program.
In addition to the still images, there are a number of effects shots in the Mexico program. These include several animated rain and snow shots, an animated bird over a sunset, a 3D foliage shot of a mountain lion and a couple of others. These were done to add visual interest to the story and were accomplished in Adobe After Effects. They were rendered out of After Effects in full HD, uncompressed and imported into the Photodex program.
The Photodex program proved great for picture editing, but not so good for a multi-layered sound track. I ended up rendering the picture out of Photodex at 1920 x 1080 in an uncompressed .tif video file in sections, with a basic audio track as a guide. I then made proxy files of each of the sections. I used these as a guide in Adobe Premiere (64 bit) and built the sound tracks.
Once these were complete, I replaced the proxy files with the original HD, uncompressed files. These are very large files (1.5Gbits/sec) and are not typically playable in their uncompressed format. I rendered this out via Adobe Media Encoder to a hard drive. I view this as a conformed negative (film speak) of the show. I also output the show via Adobe Encore to both a DVD and a Blu-ray disc. This gave me a playable version in either Standard or High Definition.
So back to the original question: Why did I make the show in still images? My intent was to travel in a land few people visited. When I started these travels, film or video equipment would have been bulky and a burden to cart around. It would also have been intrusive. The local people were always suspicious of cameras, even 35mm still cameras. The indigenous people could be hostile when confronted with a camera. The accident, I suppose, was that I traveled so long and so wide and had so many experiences that I had a story to tell that people enjoy watching.
Bill Behrenbuch is represented by Windows Agency 800-541-0541.