Iteration & Alchemy - TEDxMtHood, Austin Louis, Doug Neill, sketchnotes, video

Setting Sketchnotes on Fire (TEDxMtHood Videos Part 2)

This is a guest post by Austin Louis on creating sketchnote videos for a TEDx event in Portland, Oregon. Read Part 1 here, and Part 3 here.

Last week, I came up with the first draft of a concept for some TEDxMtHood intro videos. My mindset in that drafting process set me up this week for some iteration on the idea. Some pretty drastic changes took place as I moved from simplicity to complexity.

When thinking through the idea for the video, I wrote:

“The theme of this year’s event is Alchemy, so I thought it would be cool to have some element of transformation in the video clips. However, I was also mindful of my current skill level and knew I needed an idea that fit within my current abilities.”

My original plan for this “transformation” was crumpling up a paper and uncrumpling it, revealing a completely new page. Simple and easy – but, something didn’t feel right. It just wasn’t exciting. It didn’t scream Alchemy.  So, I thought: What does scream Alchemy to me? That was easy… FIRE!

Fire screams Alchemy to me. It feels like transformation – using a powerful element like fire to permanently transform one thing into another. This is the feeling of Alchemy I wanted to convey in these videos – and crumpling up paper just wasn’t successful in doing this.

So, how could we use fire? We thought of some ideas and started iterating:

Maybe we could hold the crumpled up ball and light that on fire? This just wasn’t practical. First off, it was pretty dangerous. Humans aren’t typically built for holding balls of fire in their palms. Second, it would be incredibly difficult to have two shots that line up and play smoothly into one another without any jumps or glitches in the video. So this didn’t quite work.

Maybe we could tape it flat to the wall and light the corner? This idea seemed to solve the danger of holding a flaming ball of paper. Also, this would help with continuity of the clips as there would be nothing to line up when all the paper burns to ash and falls away. Unfortunately, when the paper burned, black soot coated the wall making continuity impossible as more soot built up with each shot.

Maybe we could lay the paper flat and light it from underneath? This idea was the winner. We took what we learned from the first two ideas and used the best of both. We propped up the paper on two pieces of wood to get it off the ground a bit then set up the camera directly over the paper, sketchnote style. There was enough room under the paper to slide in a lighter and light it from the middle – a much cooler effect. The paper would burn all the way and we’d be left with a pile of ash. Off camera, we would blow the ashes away and leave a clean background.

Doug and I tested this idea out. It all worked! It was beautiful. The transition was smooth, the fire looked awesome, and it’s easy to replicate.

All that’s left now is to film the final shots. My plan is to use two different fonts for the pages to be burned – one larger, red font for the speaker name and one smaller, black font for their talk title. This week, I’ll be working to bring those to life and then we’ll be all set to shoot! Stay tuned for the finished product!

The Importance of Iteration

But in the meantime, let’s talk about iteration. Iteration has played an important role in this project, but it has also changed my life in the past year.

I used to have a crippling fear of starting new things. I was afraid I wouldn’t be good right away, and I’d embarrass myself by trying. I would compare myself to people that were already doing the thing I wanted to do – and I wasn’t even close to their level. This kind of comparison would leave me feeling demoralized and devoid of all motivation to start.

But then I learned about the power of iteration. Iteration allowed me to be a beginner and own it. It gave me permission to be bad at something – permission to fail right away. Because iteration isn’t about my starting skill level. Iteration is all about learning and experimenting and gradually improving over time. When iterating, I don’t measure my success by comparing my work to that of my peers. I measure success by comparing the work I did today to the work I did yesterday. It’s slow, forgiving growth and it opens up a whole new world of possibilities and skills to learn.

Iteration is important to me and I think it could be useful to you too… So, I’ve got a challenge for you:

Pick one skill that you’ve wanted to learn for some time now. Maybe it’s sketchnoting, maybe it’s windsurfing, maybe it’s playing the cello. Pick one thing that you’ve been hesitant to jump into.

Be a beginner. Own it. Commit to iteration. Don’t measure success by how “good” you are right away. Just enjoy the bliss of being a beginner without all the expectations that come along with being the “expert”.

Share. Share your progress weekly. Good things happen when you Learn In Public. It keeps you accountable. It allows others to offer support. Plus it’s a great way to mark your progress and keep track of the things you’re learning.

Repeat. Keep going! This is how skills are built!

I can’t wait to see what y’all learn, make, and do! ‘Til next week.



Want To Dig Deeper?

If you’re new to the idea of sketchnoting and excited to develop more visual thinking tools, I think you’d enjoy our foundational course An Introduction To Visual Note-Taking.

If you’d like to make sketchnoted videos like the one you saw here, we’ve got a course for that too! Check out How To Make Sketchnote Videos.

If you’re an educator interested in bringing visual note-taking into your classroom, check out Sketchnoting In The Classroom.

And if you want to create new personal and professional opportunities by sharing the authentic journey of your skill development online, check out Learn In Public.