AMV Hobbies

AMV: The Square

You can watch the piece here (and without SFX here). This was submitted to Rice 2024, and was a finalist in the Drama category.

While not a typical AMV, this Art Music Video was an interesting idea I wanted to pursue with some novel technical challenges to overcome. Overall, I am happy with the outcome. It is a good way to appreciate the many embellishments in the work and it is a modern take on how the Victorians may have experienced at the time.

Our primary medium for this work is the 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras by Elizabeth Thompson. It depicts the 28th Regiment of Foot from the British Army (under Wellington) in square formation (with focus here on one of the corners) during the Battle of Quatre Bras. As part of the Waterloo campaign (summary for visual learners) Wellington is taking his army to reinforce his ally (the Prussian army under Blücher). Together both Armies can outnumber and destroy Napoleon’s army. However, Napoleon has correctly identified this threat and has moved to destroy the Prussians first (in the Battle of Ligny) and after that he will turn to destroy the allied armies (primarily British, but also Dutch and ‘German’ units). This will be the Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon has dispatch Ney with part of his army to delay the allied army at Quatre Bras so they cannot join up with Blücher. At this moment in the battle Ney has ordered a cavalry attack. Infantry under threat from cavalry will almost always form square (minus some exceptions) with the front line kneeling to present a wall of bayonets and the second line shooting at the approaching horseman. The square provides 360 degrees of protection with no space for cavalry to get in-between the infantry. Horses will not charge into a line of steel so cavalry is relatively impotent against this formation. However, this kind of formation requires a great deal of training to execute properly under fire and it makes the unit very susceptible to artillery fire or other infantry. We can see a good example of this formation in Waterloo (1970).

The historical context having been covered, let us turn to the art itself. Painted by Lady Elizabeth Thompson in 1877 (62 years after the battle in 1815), it is one of the crowning achievements of her artistic career. Known for her careful research and a focus on individual soldiers her work has been reproduced an innumerable amount time. This piece is currently on display in the National Gallery of Victoria. More information on the painting itself here.

Over the summer I read Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles by Bernard Cornwell (ISBN10 – 0062312065). A very engaging and readable account of the Waterloo campaign. While doing some additional reading I discovered Lady Butler’s work. It is an immensely captivating piece managing to record the intensity of the battle without sacrificing the detail of the individual combatants. After seeing it I knew I wanted to mimic how it would be to experience this work in person. You would not take it all in at once, but instead inspect small portions and cast your gaze slowly around the whole thing. It was a simple leap to add some music and sound effects to accentuate the piece. Although, to spoil some of the magic most of the heavy work is done by this backing track that plays throughout. In essence this is an extended cut of what you might find in a documentary on the battle.

On the technical front I used an image enhancing tool to add extra detail to accomplish those tight zooms. There are some decent high-res scans online, but I really needed a lot more detail as I would be zooming in very close. It took a couple tools, but I managed to get a very sharp image for close up work. I also used an audio separation tool to pull voices out of some films separated from their music. The results were mixed. Sometimes it was perfect, other times not, but I got what I needed. With a pile of audio, music, and a very detailed painting I simply had to sweep the camera around in Vegas and call it a day. There were a few tricky parts, but I will speak of it more in the commentary.

Directors Commentary:

00:00 – 00: 20 : I wanted to have people wondering what exactly they were watching at first so I started with just they sky, then I let the battle noise seep in, and finally you get your the first clue.

00:43 : “Now’s your time” is a quote from Wellington, but during the Battle of Waterloo.

01:07 : Great find on my part with this “Help me…” dialog. It is from Sharpe’s Waterloo, although its more comedic than tragic in the show.

01:26 : I like lingering on the detritus of battle. Armies of the era were so ornamental it contrasts well with the brutality of their engagements.

01:30 : Horrifying audio from The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), an odd film, but the best representation of the charge we have. As an aside if you are interested in the Crimean War check out this.

02:49 : Maybe the most striking piece of this work is these two boys here. Have they lost themselves or is it relief at having survived so far? I struggled for a long time trying to figure out what would go here. The audio is from Zulu.

03:04 : So many times I missed this detail of the wounded soldier draping his arm around his comrade. Once I saw it late I knew I had to include it.

03:45 : Not a huge deal, but this subtle stop on the saddle is to work around an issue in Vegas. I wanted to curve the camera following a particular arc, but as far as I can tell, you can only instruct the camera to move in straight lines. I needed to avoid parts of the painting I would get to later so I ended up lingering on his saddle as a compromise, but I would have preferred something else. Audio is from the greatest depiction of a cavalry action on film. This funny enough is inspired by another of Lady Butler’s works.

04:16 : I really love the building climax here. The music is really coming into center stage at this part.

04:24 : I never could get the right reloading sound effect here. This is just a little too slow and isolated. It is the best I could do.

04:37 : Lady Butler can really capture eyes well. The man behind these two officers is saying so much with his.

05:07 – 05:13 : The screen used to flex oddly here until I eased us into the correct aspect ratio with the earlier pan. It is still a little noticeable, but cleaner overall. The payoff seeing the whole painting is really worth it.

05:13 : Right here is where I had the most issues in this project. As we switch to the museum I need to pull back so the art is just one more piece on the wall. I tried putting the high-res piece and the museum wall in one image and just using that, but GIMP was fighting me. Trying to scale down the image was causing a quality loss. What I ended up doing was using the high-res image until right here and then I switched to my combined image with artwork plus museum wall and then I continued to zoom out from there. To my eyes its seamless.

05:30 : I love the ending.

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