10 years of Barkley Pie's Slam Jam Slam SongRead time in minutes: 16
Wow, time flies. Nearly 10 years ago I published one of my first Flash projects to YouTube, Barkley Pie's Slam Jam Slam Song. The publication of this video has always felt like a turning point in my life, so I want to spend some time to talk about that video and how the events that lead up to its creation has left me irreperably changed for the better.
Here is my copy of that video:
10 years ago I was a vastly different person than who I am today. I had just gotten out of a high school experience that I don't look back on fondly. I was a ball of depression and I was sent out to college because that's what I was supposed to do. Needless to say, I ended up getting a PhD in dropping out.
Depression is not something I usually like talking about on this blog. It's usually a very personal thing that I have been societally trained into not talking about out of the ideas of "austerity" or "being tough". I want to work on breaking those stigmas, and one of the ways that I feel I can do that is to talk about this openly. Depression sucks and if you are struggling with it please don't give up hope that things can get better. They can get better.
I was very depressed in college and one of the few things that started to turn things around was stumbling across the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and the community of college aged and adult fans around it. Most of the online communities I had been in before the brony fandom had been places filled with hatred, toxicity, and ego. This was different. It was full of passionate, kind people that wanted to get away from the hate.
I wanted to give back, but the only skills I really had were using Flash 8 to do basic motion tweens. So I sat on things for a while and then something else came into my life: the soundclown community.
I have always been fascinated by the work of the YouTube Poop community. They have been a constant source of inspiration for how I edit and create media. Attempting to create some in high school is how I learned to get good enough at editing sound that I have sometimes made significant cuts to audio mid-sentence in my talk videos and nobody would have noticed it if I didn't point it out just now. Most of the work of YouTube Poop was vocal chopping, pitch bending and picking out samples from spoken dialogue and then transforming it into something new. It's a sort of kitboshing form of art that violates the conventional rules and uses the knowledge of that violation as a form of artistic dissonance.
Soundclowns are a more mature version of this, but done with music. A lot of it has to do with taking the aesthetics of songs and putting them all into a blender. This leads to absolute works of art like ReDoin:
This song is a mashup of the Daft Punk song Doin' it Right from their final album Random Access Memories, but combined with vocal chops and samples from the infamous Christmas in July sale ads from the failing big box store H. H. Gregg. It has never gotten out of my head.
At the time I made the Slam Jam Slam Song PMV (Pony Music Video, a portmonteau of the term "Anime Music Video", or a video where you kitbosh anime clips into music), another common mashup trend was centered around the realization that the theme song from the movie Space Jam (yes, that Space Jam) has a generic enough BPM and lyrical progression that you can mash it up with just about anything and it will work. Way better than you can imagine. For example here's a mashup of the theme song from Space Jam and All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey:
One of the main constants with these mashups is the photoshopping of the head of basketball star Charles Barkley onto the album art or a key visual of the thing you are mashing it up with. A friend made a mashup of a song from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (particularly the one where the more lackadaisical character Pinkie Pie is singing about her strategies for combatting depression) with the theme song from the movie Space Jam.
However, there was a space that I felt left room for innovation: none of the videos animated Charles Barkley's head over the lead singer in the music video. It was just a static frame. I had basic knowledge of Flash from nearly getting banned from using the computers in middle school, so there was an opportunity.
So I set out to make my first contribution back to the brony fandom in the form of...a surreal philosophical document that takes like 3 pages of context in order to help people understand why such a thing would be created.
The creation process
At the time I was mainly using Ubuntu on my gaming tower. So of course my first instinct was to use Flash 8 to animate this. It installed and ran under WINE perfectly. I then photoshopped Charles Barkley out of some stock photos and got to work.
This was mostly done with basic motion tweens and additional photoshops as things demanded. Someone's eyes were replaced with basketballs in one scene as I fel that would be amusing. That still frame ended up being used to make sure that the projector was evenly aligned for movie night on the CS dorm floor. I am not making this up.
This wasn't particularly hard, but it was time-intensive. This took me about a month of work because I had to fit this around my homework and studying for tests. Animation is a very tedious craft.
I also forgot to mention that while I was creating this video, I was giggling maniacally because this was even funnier than Pickle Rick to me at the time. I was this depressed kid that suddenly is animating a basketball star over a cartoon horse and laughing like I was on drugs. This got me a drug test. I failed the drug test. My RA was astounded. I've always been kinda weird, but I didn't think it was enough to make people think I was on drugs. I get where he was coming from though.
My history with Flash 8
At the time I started working with it, Macromedia Flash 8 was on its way out. Flash animation as a whole was a bit of a dying art as the Flash player was slowly being abandoned in favor of HTML5. I only really started working with Flash because I got access to it in the computer lab during lunch break in middle school. One of our pasttimes was to play flash games on the computers and constantly hop between sites as the web filter blocked them.
This cat and mouse game obviously didn't sit well with the adults constantly fighting us kids as we found more and more obscure game sites. At some point I was starting to learn how to use ActionScript to try and make my own game (some kind of terrible clone of Space Invaders) and apparently this was the line that I had crossed.
I was summoned into the principal's office one day and then they took screenshots of my development folder off of the school's NAS and said that I had been "downloading games to my student profile". One of my parents (forget which) had also been summoned there and argued that the mere act of looking at anything on the internet consituted downloading the games to the student profile as a part of the technical nature of how the internet works. The principal asked me where I got "invaders_test.swf" from and I replied back that I had been working on it from scratch using the software that was installed on the school computers for its intended purpose. My parent then looked at the principal like they were an idiot. I got away from a meeting where they were threatening to ban me from the school computer system for my entire school career (this would certainly be a death sentence for my grades, even back then) without even a detention.
Flash was removed from all the computers after that meeting. I still had something written down into my student planner though: their license key for Flash 8.
The UX for animating simple things with Flash is something that I go back to sometimes to study. It is so direct and easy to do. I'm kind of sad that there's not a real analogous tool for this with modern HTML5 animation. Maybe this is just nostalgia talking though.
The export pipeline
After the video was animated, I did some proof watchings of it in order to be sure that the faces were animated correctly. I narrowly avoided having to pee into another cup when the RA came around flabbergasted at what I had created.
Then came export time. When you export something like this on windows, you use the native video encoder. This doesn't exist in WINE. Flash 8 did have a built-in fallback encoder, but it was optimized for sharing things over dialup. This was vastly insufficient for the kind of quality I wanted.
There was another fallback option though: I could have Flash 8 export the animation as a series of png images. I would then have to combine that into a video somehow and syncronize the music manually. It was kinda ludicrous, but it could work.
So that's exactly what I did. I had Flash export every frame of the video to my
hard drive, used ffmpeg to stitch those frames into a video and then I used
mkvmerge along with various offset values that I created through a combination
of guesswork and lip syncing on the background ponies to create
basketball.mkv. This is somehow one of the few files that I still have from
that computer. I don't think I have the Flash project file for it anymore.
But then I had it and I uploaded it to youtube where it currently has 56,072 views over 10 years at an average of 5.6 thousand views per year. To this date it is somehow one of my most viewed videos on YouTube. Even over my conference talks.
The personal significance of
I think the creation and release of this video was a huge turning point in my life. It really marked the transition of me mainly consuming media to creating it as well. Making this really gave me the confidence to put myself out there and it landed.
If I hadn't made this shitpost, I doubt that I would be writing this blog right now. Working on this really changed my perception of YouTube videos as these inscruitable magic bits of art to a science that I could understand, dissect and create for myself.
Here are some randomly selected comments from that video:
I really don't see the point in humanity's continued existence, now. We will clearly never do anything to surpass the magnificence of this single creation.
Everyone needs to stop making Slam Jam videos and just watch this and sit down. We have a winner.
I LOVE THIS! I DIDN'T LIKE A BRONY VIDEO LIKE THIS SINCE AT LEAST ONE YEAR. GOOD JOB, REALLY! YOU REALLY MADE ME SMILE.
this video... personifies the internet better than any other video I have ever seen in my entire life.
the inventors of the internet could never have foreseen that there would be a video like this
Oh. My. God. I shared this video like 4 years ago... but in dead chat so it wasn't hard to find... Nostalgiaaaaaa :D
I hope this look back into the xe iaso dot net cinematic universe vault was interesting. Turning points like this are very interesting to look over from more analytical standpoints. I could easily see my life turning out a lot differently if I had never taken the time to make this. Hard to believe it's been 10 years.