I’ve been away with the pixies over the past few days. Actually, not pixies, but pixels. And bits, bytes and video codecs. I’ve been in the digital trenches, waiting for the blue (or yellow) progress bar to creep across the screen. This is the line, sometimes accompanied by a soft, digital purr, that says, “leave it to me, go and have a cup of tea, I’m on it.” As it lengthens – at glacial speed – it gives updates on its progress. “I’ve done 12 percent, aren’t I good? Now I’ve done 13 percent. Anyway, stop watching me. You’re making me nervous.”
I once spent a year in a clothing factory sewing 300 collars on to 300 shirts each day. I wouldn’t recommend it, but at least you can build up a sort of rhythm if you’re sewing collars; you can watch the clock; you can create a pile of collared shirts. In digital pixie land, it’s just that progress bar. And it seems to have stopped moving. So you go and put the kettle on. You get back and it’s on 86 percent, 93 per cent and … uh oh. The industrious purr gives way to a demented spasm of defeat. The screen goes white-grey, an elegant Steve Jobs whitish-grey. It’s like snow. A blizzard. Everything with any meaning has vanished. You are sitting there with teacup in hand, frozen with dismay.
You have to start again.
All I was trying to do was output a short video from gorgeous timelapse footage created by a beautiful and talented local artist (Nicole Welch). The footage showed clouds and stars moving across the sky through night and day. The whooshing clouds were gorgeous. But they were pixilating.
Pixilation is where things look all square and blocky and jagged and digital rather than smooth and rounded.
It was driving us nuts. Video codecs were proliferating and moving away in space like endlessly spiraling fragments of faulty DNA. Nicole dreamed she had to render her whole body. I woke at 3am thinking, PRO RES 4444.
PRO RES 4444.
Nicole struck up a relationship with a German technogenius by the name of Gunter who was happy to give advice any time of day or night. His face was a little pixilated square in the lower right hand corner of her screen. Gunter emailed instructions to Nicole, and Nicole forwarded them to me.
And then, after a night of rest, a Sabbath, of being turned off at the wall, of a rinsing out if the mind, my computer managed to get all the way to 97 per cent, 98, 99 and – hallelujah – 100 per cent. The progress bar suddenly vanished, but the computer didn’t crash. The last little leap to completion was done so airily, so casually, as if it was no big deal. I stared at the screen for while, not daring to hope. With shaking hands, I clicked on the file. It opened. No pixelation. Just smoothness. Blessedly smooth billowing swooshing clouds. Smooth night sky.