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From Slides to Tape to Streaming: Nordwin Alberts, Moving Stills

Dutch filmmaker Nordwin Alberts has worked with a range of media in his 26 years in the professional production business, transitioning from stills and multi-projector slideshows to tape-based editing and DVD delivery. Today, streaming is the medium of choice for his industrial, promotional, and experimental films; here's a look at how his work and workflow have evolved.

When Nordwin Alberts, owner of Moving Stills, started his career in 1986, the concept of video use for anything other than newsroom or studio shoots was just beginning. Today, though, Alberts says that more than 80% of the content he produces is for online consumption.

Alberts got his start as a still photographer at in Almere, a city of 150,000 in the Netherlands province of Flevoland. Given its proximity to Hilversum—the Netherlands' media centre—and Amsterdam, Almere had its own media production companies, including Cinevideogroup, Alberts' employer.

In 1986, Cinevideogroup was one of the first Dutch companies to make the transition from using only film for corporate, industrial, and entertainment projects to also using video.

As such, Alberts was exposed to the idea of video field production even though he was focused on still photography. He was also exposed to audio production.

Multi-Projector Slide Shows

"My job was to produce audio-visual slide shows," said Alberts, "using still photographs and multiple slide projects, along with audio, to tell a story. My main focus was shooting, producing, and editing."

For those who remember the days of multi-projector slide shows, the tools consisted of a number of slide projectors and a two-track reel-to-reel audio recording with an embedded timecode track. The timecode track would be used by a slide projector controller, such as the ones made by Dataton, to trigger a slide change and lamp intensity in up to 32 different slide projectors.

To convey motion, Alberts would need to shoot several images, with the idea in mind that each one would be rapidly shown in sequence by a series of timed projectors. These moving stills, as Alberts calls them, meant that he'd have to begin editing in his head while still in the field, long before he began the editing process.

"For something like a time lapse, we'd have to be very careful to match the images," said Alberts, "since you can't crop a slide. Then, when many or all of the images were shot, we'd lay the slides out on the light table and begin to put them in sequential order."

Once the images were laid out, it was time to figure out the audio aspects—narration, music, and sound effects—as well as other technical limitations of the equipment, especially if the projected show was going to be shown on a wide screen.

"We did a presentation in Rotterdam on a screen that was 27 meters in length," said Alberts of the 82-foot wide screen, "that had a very long aspect ratio and over 20 slide projectors, with 3 or more images showing simultaneously to create motion."

Why was the training in multi-projector slide shows important to what Alberts does today, especially since his last tape-slide production was done in 1997? In some ways the answer lies in the way which he approaches streaming media productions.

"I started out doing still-only work," said Alberts, "but as I'd shoot, I'd think of the types of audio that could go with the images. Then I'd come back to the light table and imagine the pacing as we sorted through the slides. It was a combination of storyboarding and visual editing, long before the audio was added in, but I already had the audio ideas in my head that the audio technicians would help turn in to reality."

Transitioning to Video

Once he transitioned to video production, Albert and his business partner Ernst Ellerman (Journalist/scenario writer/director) began producing video content for local towns, corporate clients, and even museums (see teaser below).

"I wasn't very much a video guy, but I saw the growth from AMPEX tapes to digital tape all the way through to tapeless workflows," said Alberts. "I still approach video shooting the same way I did still photography: I gather video, thinking about what audio will go with it, and try to create the edit in my head while I'm shooting. Once I have certain shots that I like, the rest tends to fall in to place."

Going Tapeless

"At the beginning of 2000s, the internet began to replace the VHS and DVD as a method of distribution," Alberts said. "Sometime in the 2001-2005 timeframe, we did our first file-only delivery of a master "tape"—a QuickTime movie—and today we deliver almost 80% of our master content online."

"We primarily use Adobe Media Encoder to output an H.264 file for upload to Vimeo," said Alberts. "We use Vimeo because the encoding quality appears better than YouTube."

Some companies still want a DVD to use in players or hand out at trade shows, which according to Alberts means duplicating a few thousand DVDs, but more and more they're leaning toward online distribution.

"The file uploaded to our Vimeo Plus account becomes the master file," said Alberts. "The client often just embeds the video player in their own website, so no hosting is needed."

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