Introduction: The Twelve Chickens (Days) of Christmas - Making a Musical #Short Gift Card
Motivated by the old carol 'The Twelve Days of Christmas', I decided to make a short film with our flock, which I could use both on my various video platforms to wish everyone a Merry Christmas/Happy New Year and also as a fun musical addition to a personal film message for family back in Scotland.
This project could be made with a variety of objects, pets, images.. the only limit is imagination. Above all it can be tailored to make a very personal musical gift card for your own true love.
Step 1: Inspiration
For my initial inspiration, I already had a favourite image of 'Scott' our re-homed Silkie taken sitting in our pear tree in the Summer, so there was our first gift, the 'partridge' already in place.
Secondly and partly to mirror the original lyrics, I also had 5 Golden Hens, all descended from my original couple of beautiful Golden Sebrights, although unfortunately they'd not only inherited luxuriant plumage but also the same belligerent Old English Game Cock temperament!
Step 2: Background to the Carol
This song, sometimes dubbed 'the most annoying carol ever' was first printed in 1780 in an educational children's book with the rather reproving title: 'Mirth Without Mischief' but the version of the song most people know today was created by the English composer Frederic Austin with his lyrics and melody becoming popular around 1909.
A link to a free copy of the original 18th century book at the Internet Archive can be found at the end of this Instructable.
Step 3: Ingredients
I have a lot of birds and as this song is about giving presents over the Christmas period (25th December to 5th January) and half the gifts are birds, it seemed to me that grouping my birds into 'sets' would be a great idea.
In my head it was quite easy to work out how to choose the different individuals for the film. All these birds live together in the forest garden but as they are attached to different coops and trees, each with their attendant dominant birds and when it came to collecting them up, I realised how easily this could turn into a Christmas recipe for disaster.
So, here are the basic ingredients:
12 Crazy Chick Chicks - ...and they were because chicks expect to be paid to perform but a potential food fight would have spoiled the aesthetic.
11 Fiery Frizzles - ironically they were actually the best behaved
10 Blue Hens and Cockerels - some alpha hens and cockerels in this group but again on their best behaviour - which is why it is always best to film this sort of project at night and postprandially.
9 Playful Polish - rather damp because I had been emptying and bagging up my compost bin and they'd been having a great time hunting for invertebrates and so I had to wash all crests.
8 Cuddly Cochins - actually the worst behaved, it took several takes to get them calm. 'Bouboule' the black Frizzled Cochin is four months shy of his tenth Birthday and he likes his own space, sharing it even for a few seconds with anyone (even his own grandchildren) is not his idea of fun.
7 Colourful Quailees - impeccable as always
6 Daffy Ducklings - of fond memory from my most viewed film
5 Golden Hens - Chickles (bottom left on the screen) was just spoiling for a fight and as these are all Sebright crosses this is not surprising.
4 Festive Fantails - one of our favourite fantail pictures that Andy originally entitled 'My Dad's bigger than your Dad' and which one year we sent out as a Christmas card.
3 French Hens - as they were all hatched in Normandie, I guess all my hens could be called that but these three have some of the chic-est plumage.
2 Little Sweethearts - aka Mischief Makers and...
A Silkie in a Pear Tree - our re-homed Silke, photoed in our pear tree - even if I'd wanted to, I couldn't have filmed him in a bare Winter pear tree because he'd been in the compost heap too and it would have taken more than a damp cloth to get him prepped for filming!
Step 4: Materials
I needed a solid cardboard box, which I decorated with
Christmas Gift Wrapping, for my family this was an extra message because it was the paper we used to wrap gifts two years ago when we were last all together for the Christmas Holiday period.
A solid lid. this was a home-made slatted pallet wood garden table top, which I covered with wrapping paper and which could easily be slid on and off the box.
Studio Lights (these were home-made)
A basket for the two chicks
Step 5: I Can't Sing - Using Audio Software to Improve Your Voice
I use the free and open-source audio software: 'Audacity'. It is very user friendly and you can get good results with just a few simple tweaks. There are also a plethora of videos and manuals for this software on-line
I can sing just passably but the only way for me to do this is to breath deeply between each phrase of the song. This of course comes out on the track. A little Audacity magic gets rid of this without destroying the phrasing of the song:
Highlight the segment which you want to remove, in my case, the breath.
From under the 'Effects' tab choose 'Noise Reduction'.
Press 'Get Noise Profile'
Go back into 'Noise Reduction'
Listen to the segment again and if you can still hear anything then press 'Repeat Noise Reduction'.
Using this software also means you can cut and paste sections of audio, so that if you do several takes, then you can import each track onto the time line and choose the best bits from each.
There are many ways to improve audio by using software but I wanted to keep it simple and so I just added some 'reverb' to my finished track. I actually used the default settings for this. According to the Audacity manual this function; 'adds reverberation (rapid, modified repetitions blended with the original sound that gives an impression of ambience). Whatever, it sounds richer and it hides the mistakes!
Step 6: Managing the Stars - Getting the Best From the Cast
Although my birds are at heart like this tiny Cochin chick 'Gingersnap', in reality when you put them in front of a camera they can act like 'Alphonse' the Golden Manchurian Quail. We all know the old old W.C. Fields saying; 'Never work with Children of Animals.' well it holds good for birds too. My poultry live in a forest garden, where they can move about freely but they belong to mini-flocks within the space, so they do not necessarily know each other that well, outside of their own clique.
That said I needed groups of birds and that meant taking individuals from different flocks. As within each flock there is a set hierarchy or pecking order, it goes without saying that I would be grouping together alpha birds that might not take kindly to being 'boxed up' with similar from another flock. To this end it is not only better to do any sort of exercise like this at night when birds are feeling more at ease about status but also, after they have eaten, when they are feeling at ease with the World in general.
It should also be noted that contrary to what many may believe, it is the females, the hens, who are a lot more status and territory conscious than the males. As already touched on in the 'Ingredients' this was a particular problem for my group of '5 Golden Hens' all of whom get their beautiful plumage from my Old English Sebrights, originally created from Fighting or Game Cocks in the early 1800s. You can see from her stance that Chickles (third image, bottom left), was ready for a bust up, in fact you can hear her making the warning noises on the film. However, the other four golden hens, being warm, well-fed and sleepy just let her get on with it and ' took plenty of no notice'.
For each group, we made sure that the lid was down on the box just before filming and then we brought up the lights, slid off the lid and did an immediate take and then lowered the lights again. We also carefully placed the individuals in each group in the box, note the Polish, (pictured above), who needed a little reorganisation, so that we could avoid any potential conflict of personalities. It helps if you know your cast individually and can identify the potential divas.
Step 7: Photomanipulation in Gimp
For 'Four Festive Fantails' I used GIMP (again free and open-source software) to create a montage from an old photo.
My title image was enhanced with digital snowflakes - you can get many forms of digital snow on line but I wanted to make my own. I then created my title and put the whole thing together in OpenShot, which is the free and open-source video editing software I use all the time. Both OpenShot and GIMP have on-line user manuals and video tutorials. As an added festive touch I included the sound of sleighbells from RedHatCreator at freesound.org
Hope you enjoyed this project. We did and so did my birds who all got a wrap party of midnight snacks (actually it was nearly 4am when we finished).
Original 12 Days of Christmas lyrics and illustrations: https://archive.org/details/mirth_without_mischief/page/n3/mode/2up?view=theater
Foley - Sleighbells: https://freesound.org/people/RedHatCreator/sounds/539929/#
This is an entry in the
Anything Goes Contest 2021