The Trials and Troubles of ‘エムしば [M-Shiba]’: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Creation of ‘エムしば’

Another picture to post on the fridge, but let me tell you, it was not easy getting this one painted. –Let’s take this from the top. The beginning. Not the very beginning. I don’t want to have to explain where babies come from. (Mostly because I’m a little uncertain myself. All I know is you leave Mommy and Ditto at the daycare and when you return a promising future wrapped in shell awaits.)

Like the majority of my videos, this one came into existence thanks to the motivation of a friendly deadline. Another contest from JapaneseLevelUp. This time was a little different than before as I found out about the contest the day it was announced rather than a few days before it was due. I thought I’d be able to blow my previous entry out of the water having roughly five times the amount of time to work, which, as far as overall effort, I believe I did.

All hatchJAPAN original 動画 can be found at the official hatchJAPAN youtube channel.
The idea is borrowed and excerpts taken from my favorite Japanese commercial, 豆しば [MameShiba]. The basic plot is a person sits down to partake in some tasty eats when an adorable little bean appears to present them with a rather unappetizing anecdote.

(Be sure to check out the compilation with the other entries.)

Behind the Scenes

ざっちー [Zatchy] spills the ‘beans’. The following text takes you through the behind-the-scenes steps that went into creating エムしば [M-Shiba], including all the adversity faced.

Phase I- Conception

Coming up with a solid idea is always the hardest part of any project. If the idea sucks, it doesn’t matter how good the output looks. It will still suck. Inversely, if the idea is a good one, people will be more willing to put up with a few bumps.

The first week of the process was basically dedicated to formulating a decent concept. One I would want to put time into. (Little did I know, I would be putting more time into than expected.) I wanted to do something where I could try a little animation and effects I hadn’t done before. I thought it might be neat to base my video on a Japanese commercial, but which one? I youtube’d ‘おもしろい CM’, eventually stumbling across the gold: a simple multi-episode cartoon CM [commercial] series, 豆しば.

Animated face and ears were added to an M&M in post-production to make エムしば.

Phase II- Transcription

There’s really nothing better for harnessing your language listening skills than by writing out what you hear. For hours I listened to the same 30-second clips over and over, making sure that what I penciled down was really what was being said. I did this for every single commercial in the series. Well, at least the first 20.

Phase III- Story-line Plotting…ption…

At this point I started picturing in my mind what I wanted to actually create. In this phase, it is important to refrain from locking down on any single idea. Play around with the what-if’s. I came up with the main plot by tossing out the ending I originally fancied. I thought, ‘What if I ate the bean?‘.

Next, I wrote out what I was picturing and chose lines from the best 10 commercials to fit. (Meaning I threw out half of the transcription work.)

Then, I storyboarded the idea. This is not completely necessary, but makes for a smoother shoot. It’s nice to know exactly what shots are needed to bring the image to life. It helps you keep track of what you’ve shot and which shots you still need so you don’t have to go through all the footage. It also aids later on down the road during the editing. (Of course, you always end up improvising and getting shots you didn’t think about when actually shooting.)

Phase IV- Production

By this time, we’re about halfway to the deadline.

I go ahead and shoot everything I can get away with by myself. However, for this project I am working with a couple outsiders. I have to contact the ‘talent’, make sure they are willing to participate, and work out times. Getting people’s schedules to coincide is tricky business.

Anyway, I trot around town to various locations, looking like an idiot animatedly speaking to a camera in a language other than English, often getting pretty loud. (I’m pretty sure my neighbor’s think I’m crazy.)

Afterwards, I go to a quiet place to record the voice-overs for the animated character. When I say quiet place, I mean I had to wait a majority of the time for gaps of silence when dogs weren’t releasing murderous howls from their jowls. I can’t tell you how many perfect takes were ruined by Bubba’s vocal assaults.

All this took place over a few days.

Now, I have everything I can get done by my one-sy. (I have to wait until the end of the week to get the final two scenes shot because my actress gets sick from an ill-advised, rainy camping trip and the other dude thinks he should go to school and get his homework done first. The nerve of some people.)

Everything up to this point is the usual hob-lob of movie making.

Phase V- Post-Production: Round 1

I decide to start editing with the pieces I have. I put a good hour or so into the rough cut while watching a little MNF. After the game is over, I close my laptop to move to another room.

Here’s where the real troubles begin.

I open my screen back up and the picture is still hanging around staring me in the face. The computer should go to sleep when closed. This is the first cue to some fish. I try to move the cursor. Nothing happens. Dreading the idea of losing all my edited footage, I reluctantly hold the power button and attempt to restart. Nothing happens. I go into a mini-panic attack about losing not only all my edited footage, but something much larger: the loss of all my computer’s contents including the voice-over tracks.

The following day I call a computer guy. His voice carries hope that it is something fixable. I take in the computer. He opens her up… DONE. The old girl is gone for good. The guy pulls out the hard drive. Luckily the contents are safe. However, I now have nothing to edit my video on with the deadline only a week away. The nice man charges me $45 for five minutes of unscrewing and out I go. I am forced to make the decision to shell out the cash and order something new. Thus begins the waiting game.

I seriously contemplated throwing in the towel, but decided I was so close it would be a shame to stop now. Computer-less, I got the final two scenes shot on the Thursday and Friday before the due date. Then waited some more.

The day before the deadline, after what seemed like an eternity (4 business days), the computer finally arrives. Everything’s better, right? Not quite. With the major upgrade comes outdated, incompatible software. I had to start from scratch. Even worse, I merely attempt to import the footage and find the fire-wire ports have been updated as well. I can’t even get the footage from my camera on the freaking computer!

Long story short, I got the software I needed and temporarily happened upon a computer with the old fire-wire port, uploaded the footage, then transferred the files through a wireless network. Fun, time-consuming problem solving…

Wait! Time-consuming? But the deadline is tomorrow!

Remember in the last post I said the fella at JapaneseLevelUp was a nice guy? That is still true. He allowed me the time I needed to overcome these technological issues and still submit.

A pretty good representation of how I was feeling about all the happenings.

Phase V- Post-Production: Round 2

For 4 days all my free time was consumed by intense sessions of editing. I had to learn how to maneuver around new programs— including ones that seem like they’ve actually digressed from previous versions.

First, came the second attempt at the rough cut followed by the tedious addition of the animation and other FX. Then came the SoundFX and the music track. I do have some decent experience with programs like GarageBand. However, half the library of instruments for some reason won’t install which forced me to adjust the settings manually to get the sounds I wanted from the ones I did have.

Now the raw video is complete, but the contest called for hardsubs (something I’ve never done). I wrote out all the translations, adjusting them to sound a little less like foreign, word-for-word translations. Slapped those babies on top of the video and POW! Finished. Human out-fights the computers. Though the robots did get a few hurtful punches in. Unfortunately, all the stress of time-constraints and learning to manipulate new software (in Japanese) ended up taking a huge toll on the visual quality of the flick. I am actually really unpleased to the point of not even wanting to make the video public, but I decided I wouldn’t let these mishaps smother the flame. I learned a lot from this experience. It’s best to take the nuggets of knowledge and move forward.


Tips and Notes

  • When acting, it’s difficult to direct yourself. You can’t see what you’re doing wrong or how you could portray yourself a little differently, but the best takes come when you completely relax, letting yourself act loose and silly. Don’t worry about what others will think.
  • If your lines are in a second language that you don’t understand very well yet, figure out what they mean and then say them over and over and over again until they flow out of your mouth like it’s the only thing you’ve ever been able to say. Break the sentence up into smaller chunks to nail the parts that tie your tongue up, then put them back together.
  • Don’t use the new iMovie since the change to the ‘star’ icon.


*All the hard work that went into the creation of エムしば payed off. It won the contest!

About ざっちー

Just a boy trying to find his way to Japan.
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