Too much (clap clap) time on my hands

— 2:03 PM on April 21, 2009

In the world outside the blogosphere, I work in advertising. Don't ask me why—the reason escaped me sometime around 1998. My background is in copywriting. Which, for the uninitiated, means I write the words that go in an ad or the scripts from which TV and radio spots are produced. And web copy. Lots and lots of web copy these days. It also means that I'm usually the one (or one of two if working with an art director) coming up with the idea. Hey, hooking up Sir Mix-a-Lot with SpongeBob doesn't just happen on its own, kids.

Generating the idea is one of my favorite parts about advertising. Not too far below getting paid and way above explaining to a client why puns are Satan's spawn. I get to try and defeat the blank page and develop something that is, theoretically, both entertaining and informative. And it sure beats getting poked in the eye with a sharp stick. For me, coming up with ideas for clients is often fun and sometimes easy.

Coming up with ideas for my own projects? Decidedly less so.

Yet just such a project arose recently when my wife and I decided we should inform others that we're expecting our third nutjob. Actually, my wife decided we should inform others, rejecting without discussion my idea of hiding her baby-induced girth under a Snuggie. The question then became, how do we make the announcement?

For most people, this would not be much of a dilemma. You send an email, maybe post a sonogram pic or go old school and call folks. Not us. Not after the last time. "Last time" being when we had our twins. Naturally, I went a bit nuts with that announcement. After all, I thought this would probably be my only chance at doing a cool "we're spawning" proclamation. Also, I was freelancing (as I still am today) and had a bit of free time with which to produce, well, this:

As you can see, it was during my brief head-shaving phase. As of this writing, I'm back to my pasty-fro ways.

Anyway, the point is that I couldn't doing something that involved for the twins and then just send an email about Number Three. Because that would guarantee the kid feeling like Number Three for the rest of his/her life. Not cool.

But what to do? I couldn't do a sequel to the twins' announcement. That would be derivative and a bit lazy. Plus, people could see the Big Reveal a mile away. Assuming they had a large enough monitor.

So after a couple weeks of developing a severe case of the jack squats, I finally hit upon a workable idea that, still theoretically, didn't blow. I'd pull a little a bait-and-switch and produce a video timeline our family showing the important events. Most people would assume this would be focused on the twins, and they would ordinarily be right. But not this time. This time there would be More.

So I fired up iPhoto and Final Cut Pro and started culling photos and video clips. Three days later, I had most of the piece assembled. Problem was, it had more than a faint odor of crapularity about it. Unfortunately, time was of the essence and I could ill afford to start concepting anew. Unless I could convince my lovely wife that spending a summer in Texas swathed in a Snuggie would be très chic, I'd have to figure out a means of making my timeline snazzier than a bedazzled dog collar.

So I did what most people would do in this situation: I wasted some time on Facebook. Then I hit up Google with a search for "Mac timeline software." And lo, there before me was a link to the timeline holy grail, Bee Docs Timeline by, wait for it, Bee Docs.

The brainchild of Seattle-based software developer Adam Behringer, Bee Docs Timeline is nifty program that lets you—yes, you—create visually compelling timelines for use in presentations, crime reenactments, date-rejection analysis and, of course, announcing the presumptive birth of a child.

Three versions are available: Free, Standard, and 3D Edition. I opted for the $65 3D Edition because I love me some 3D, and this version also allowed for exporting the timeline movie via QuickTime. (It also has default export settings for Keynote, iPhone, iPod, Apple TV and 1080p.)

Constructing the timeline was a snap. I could add an event either directly to the timeline or via a Bulk Edit palette, which lets you add or edit all your event entries at once. Additionally, I could add photos to each event by either using the built-in photo browser, or dragging and dropping picks directly onto an event.

You can customize the overall look of your timeline by assigning built-in themes and then editing them as you see fit. You can add a background image to span the entire timeline—I did this, but we warned that you may need to crop your photo in another program to get it to fit exactly how you like. You may also set your font, font color, date line color, and date display format. I do wish font selection was more granular. As it is, you choose one font and it's used for everything. Sizes are also automatically set for event headlines, event details and timeline dates, and I would prefer that these be customizable per individual event. Nonetheless, the program in its present form will still guarantee you a nice-looking timeline.

If you want to export your timeline to a QuickTime movie, the process is simple. If, as I did, you want to export your timeline to a QuickTime movie and then edit it in Final Cut Pro, it's a two-step process. Bee Docs Timeline only provides a few settings for exporting your timeline to QT. You don't get the full set of export options like you would in QuickTime Pro. So you basically have to export twice: once to get your base file, and again to get a file you can use in FCP. It's not that big a deal, but it's something to be aware of.

Once in FCP, I edited the timing for how long each even stays on screen. Bee Docs Timeline sets this pause globally upon export according to your wishes, but I wanted finer control. I also added a in-line slide show for one event. I had no expectation that Timeline would have this feature, although the ability to add multimedia to an even would be pretty cool. (The program will link events to external files and URLs, though.)

Of course, I also added some sweet tunes.

After jacking around with my own export settings in FCP—because the same settings for one project never seem to work quite right in another—I had the finished piece. I played it on our Apple TV to get my wife's approval—she cried appropriately, although those might have been tears of Snuggie-avoidance joy. Finally, I threw it up on YouTube and Facebook for the world to see:

Total time spent: Six hours. Too bad I hadn't searched for Timeline three days prior. The program, like many pieces of software from small developers, fills a niche that bigger companies ignore. It's nicely done and Bee Docs has been steadily improving it over time. Personally, I hope the developer adds exporting to Flash so I can convert my site to it. Now that would be bedazzling.



P.S. I realize I pimped two of my own sites in this post. I don't make a dime off of either of them—I'm just begging for readers.

P.P.S. Oh, and for the fetuses out there who missed the Styx reference in this blog's title, you can check out the mullets, turquoise jumpsuits, and all-around sweet production values from 1981 here.

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