Interview with Chuft

Interview with forum member Chuft
by member possessor of mine

1. How did you find GetLazy?

I was sent a private message on YTMND by GetLazy user Zafa inviting me to the site. He and a GetLazy admin, cicley, and I think some others, on the #lazytown IRC channel were observing who was making LazyTown related YTMNDs, and recruiting them to GetLazy. I think cicley told me later that he was the one who pushed Zafa to invite me.

2. How did you find LazyTown?

Back in 2006 a friend of mine who keeps up with cultural trends told me about YTMND in general and the “cake” fad in particular. We both spent a lot of time enjoying the various sites. Having some computer skills, I began making some YTMNDs myself. I didn’t know anything about the show, I was just using easily available images of Stephanie and the Cooking by the Book mp3. The point of the fad on YTMND was for the song to be used for jokes, e.g. someone being tortured with it, it being used as a weapon and so on. I had already made a number of “cake” sites in 2006 without knowing anything about the show. I don’t recall the exact sequence of events after that but looking at my Amazon order history I can see I ordered the soundtrack CD and my first LazyTown DVD in October 2006. So I was investigating the show and looking for source material for YTMNDs even then, before joining GetLazy in 2007, where I learned a lot more about it. I loved the music and once I began watching the DVDs, I fell in love with the show.

3. What books do you like reading?

My interests in recent years have been primarily science and medicine related, so I tend to read a lot of things online, like scientific journals, since science information is one area where you want to be reading the latest findings/current understanding. For obvious reasons I have done a lot of reading in recent years about virology, immunology, epidemiology etc. Have also spent time reading about finance, markets, securities, investing and other topics related to money. I do however have some Harry Potter books waiting to be read that I got for Christmas. Actually I have a lot of books waiting to be read, for example A History of Private Life (Roman and Medieval volumes), some books on Celtic mythology as well as sea-related folklore, books on ancient technology and city development of the first cities in Mesopotamia and so on. I used to read books a lot more – ancient and medieval history, military history especially WW2, science fiction and fantasy, science such as biology and physics, comparative religion and mythology, psychology, philosophy, too many to list really. I’ve exhausted my interests in a lot of those topics. I think it’s important to keep growing and not get stuck in a rut with your interests.

4. What made you make Stephers.net?

Well this question is the meat of the interview so buckle up.

I had grown increasingly frustrated with YTMND as a platform for sharing my creative work. I tended to make “narrative” LazyTown YTMNDs which featured a lot of scenes and precise timing with the soundtrack, and often a lot of photoshops to make up the frames. It was a lot of work to make one of those.

Back then an enormous number of sites were being created daily, so new sites only stayed on the front page for a few minutes before they were pushed off the Recently Created list. To stay on the front page, a site needed to get onto the Up and Coming list. Doing so made it likely your site would get to be viewed by a lot of people. The next stop after that was hopefully Top Viewed Today or Top Rated This Week. To do this the site needed a decent rating. YTMND uses voting, on a scale of 1 to 5, to rate sites. To be on any of these lists past Recently Created generally required an average score of 4 or more, often more depending on the competition. Most of the sites were pretty poor and derivative, so a site with work put into it usually didn’t have a hard time getting up there and getting a lot of votes/views.

At least at first.

Then some nasty people made it their primary hobby to stay on the site as many hours a day as possible and immediately downvote any LazyTown site that appeared. Some of them are still there, incredibly, as I discovered recently. I reposted an old site from 15 years ago and within minutes it was downvoted by the same guy who instantly downvoted it the first time 15 years before. You could see them doing this in real time using a YTMND site tool called Spy. They also would sometimes copy the assets (image and sound) of that site and make a crude, defaced mockery site, to be as mean as possible and also fool people trying to find LazyTown sites via the Search. And they would write insulting comments on your site’s profile to boot, so anyone wanting to leave a comment would see these insults, which were basically stuck to your site forever. 9:32:16 PM CDT

The math of this really worked in their favor. If two people saw my site and rated it 5 but one of the “downvoters” then gave it a 1, it averaged 3.7. Even if three people gave it a 5 (and a lot of people would give just 2’s, 3’s and 4’s) it still would barely be a 4 with only one downvote. A 1 thus carried a lot more weight than a 5, which is kind of counterintuitive. As a result of this system, LazyTown sites would often get downvoted off the front page within 20 minutes of being posted, and most users would never get to see them.

It took at least three 5’s to overcome each 1, and often a lot more 5’s if there were other decent sites you were competing against, so two or three downvoters would virtually guarantee your site would disappear quickly. This often made the difference between 150 people seeing it and 50,000 people seeing it (number of views is shown in the stats for each site). The situation was compounded by some people using “alt” accounts (which was against the rules, but they would use VPNs to disguise their alts) to upvote their own sites, or those of their friends, to try to boost visibility.

Now if you work on something creative for weeks, and some nasty people go out of their way to make sure only a handful of people ever see it, it is pretty aggravating. It’s like being censored. Even if most people who did see it gave it 5’s, a handful of downvotes would make it sink into obscurity forever and nobody else would ever get the chance to see it or vote on it. So for YTMNDs, my primary area of interest, YTMND itself was not serving me well due to the “visibility based on voting” system. Having noxious comments attached to my work also did not sit well with me. Imagine seeing a movie and as part of it you see negative comments from any reviewer who did not like it. Worse yet, imagine being the director of that movie and you had to put up with that. That is often why comments are disabled on YouTube videos. YTMND had no such option to disable comments.

YTMND aside, for photoshops and YouTubes, the forum GetLazy worked alright for announcing them, but made them hard to find later, and people skipping to the most recent post in a thread (especially active threads as those were) often missed seeing them. There was also some friction and drama between various community members (when isn’t there?) which created a sense that something new was needed. Users notorious and cicley actually left with a bunch of people and created an entirely new LazyTown forum (whose name escapes me) as well as a new IRC channel called #cake. (Pound Cake – heh.) The new forum did not last long, for various reasons, although #cake lasted awhile.

I hardly remember that time, a lot happened in a relatively short period of time. At some point I started another IRC channel called #stephers, I think because one user on #cake was being abusive and a lot of us (but not the channel admin notorius) had had enough of it. I programmed a channel bot called stephbot which would spontaneously say things, or react to certain words or phrases, to give the channel a unique Stephanie flavor, in the programming language Ruby.

The name “Stephers” for Stephanie was first used by GetLazy user Osiris if I recall correctly, in a thread about who would win in some kind of confrontation, Stephanie or somebody else. I don’t recall who the other person was, but Osiris said “Stephers would win” and the nickname immediately clicked with me. cicley actually disliked it but that may have been due to an incident involving him and Osiris in voice chat on TeamSpeak. To this day I don’t know who made the “Stephertime” animated dance gif, which was modeled on another dance gif, “Hammertime,” or how it was made.

The web site Stephers.net arose primarily from discussion in #stephers, where I coordinated the work. #stephers only existed because of splits in the fan community. Thus, conflicts and arguments between people in the LT fan community led, in the end, to the creation of a web site full of pretty pictures of Stephanie as well as amusing shoops and easily findable YTMNDs. Good can come out of bad, even if it doesn’t seem that way at the time.

In any case, after some poking from user LazyPooky in response to my complaints about YTMND, I decided that the right solution for me and some others I recruited, was to create a “gallery” type site. Here our works could be displayed in a fashion where they were easy to look at and find later, with no voting or obnoxious comments. It featured YTMNDs, shoops, YouTubes, and some game mods I made for various computer games. I rented server space and reserved the domain name, and made this site using the HTML of the time, which relied on browser plugins for things like sound functionality.

The site also featured screencaps and eventually cleaned up promotional pics from the Style Guide and other sources. I had bought all the US DVDs, and spent a lot of time going frame by frame through all the DVD footage I had looking for great screencaps – I found a LOT of the ones you have probably seen since, and posted them for the first time. This bank of screencaps and cleaned up promo images was an important resource for people wanting to make shoops – in fact many shoops were created in direct response to me posting a new screencap to the IRC channel #stephers. Back then many people did not have footage from the show and relied on images posted online for source material for shoops, or else would be inspired by a new image I posted that they would not have likely found themselves due to the tedium of going through 25 minutes of footage 1/24th of a second at a time.

We all also pitched in to the task of harvesting good shoops from the image board 4Chan, where there were some very talented shoopers whom I believe were in Russia. The nature of the board was such that an image would disappear very quickly, often within minutes, after being posted, so we spent time looking for these shoops and saving them. You can see the result in the “Miscellaneous Artists” section of the Stephers site. The ones from 4Chan – where all users are anonymous – are in the “Artist Unknown” category.

4.2. When you made Stephers, who was the first one in your mind to help contribute to the website/webpage?

I would have to say user BoredJedi. BJ as I started calling him years (decades? not quite yet) ago is not only incredibly prolific and creative, but also has always accomodated my requests to make particular creative works. A number of his YTMNDs were made in direct response to my suggestions and requests. He made me slowed-down versions of a lot of LazyTown songs with the pitch intact, versions I really like. They have a relaxing reggae-like feel. To this day my “LazyTown Slow” collection is what I listen to most when it comes to LT songs.

He also turned some of my more tightly-timed YTMNDs into videos for me for use on YouTube. In a major upgrade, YTMND switched from just playing audio and gifs to creating Flash movies using the submitted assets in order to precisely coordinate sound with the animation. This led to an explosion in high quality sites that relied on precise synchronization between sound and animation. Creating an engine to make Flash movies was something I could not do, and I realized using a sound plugin for the browser could not handle this synchronization of sound and image. Making videos out of them solved the problem and let me show my work with the sync intact without having to use YTMND.

BJ also cleaned up an enormous number of promo images from the Style Guide to make transparent background versions out of them for use by others. It’s hard to imagine the whole project without him.

However, everyone contributed stuff. A-View-To-A-Cake was a real perfectionist about his shoops, which tended to be thoughtful with subtle details or cultural references, and he taught me some of the modern features of Photoshop I did not know how to use. When I first learned Photoshop (version 1.0, ahem) it did not have layers, and those (added in v. 3.0), and then particularly layer masks, really change the game. He brought a youthful energy and had a rebellious spirit, and was a prime driver of the split from GetLazy and #lazytown by notorious and the others, and then the split from #cake to #stephers. Naturally he then had friction with me as channel admin and webmaster – but that was his nature. Were it not for his authority-challenging nature we would never have started #stephers in the first place.

Unintended consequences are everywhere – just ask Gollum. I, and a lot of others, fell in love with LazyTown because some people on YTMND were making fun of it, which brought it to our attention. Not the outcome they planned, I am sure.

User Yphets actually designed the logo at the top of the front page, something I appreciated very much. He, Lazycus, and Buzz all contributed a lot of very creative material over the years. Lazycus and Buzz were rare visitors to the IRC channel, but since they were in a far different time zone, that is understandable. User Nindanjoe was not active in making creative works, but lent a lot of technical expertise. He found a way to extract animations of Stephanie, Sportacus and Robbie from a Flash game LazyTown put out – some are on the Stephers gifs page. He was active in the chat channel and taught me a lot with explanations of video matters. He got me set up with VirtualDubMod, which ended up being my main tool for getting screencaps and frame sequences for use in shoops and animated gifs. So while his name is not on the site as a contributer, a lot of those screencaps are there because of him showing me this tool and how to use it. He, like BJ, was always happy to help if I had a request involving some sort of video or audio conversion or extraction.

5. In your opinion, is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

I hate to break it to you but I have never seen Die Hard, or Home Alone for that matter. I generally don’t watch movies or shows that are not in the science fiction/fantasy/horror genres, with rare exceptions.

6. What’s the worst thing about the community and/or LazyTown’s company?

I don’t know anything about LazyTown’s current corporate ownership so I can’t comment on that. Magnus made something amazing, I guess that’s my attitude about that. You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs, so I am not terribly interested in whether he was perfect or always did the right thing. Nobody is perfect. He made something out of nothing, something that has given lots of people a lot of happiness. Hats off to Magnus.

The worst thing about the community? Well in the old days there were definitely a lot of people who indulged in what I considered crass, NSFW, or crude comments or images. At times it made me uncomfortable, and as channel owner I didn’t put up with it in #stephers. Some might call me a prude, though I prefer to think I just have a little class. In any case those people are gone now, for better or worse. The new generation of fans from the We Are Number One meme are entirely different, a much younger crowd, and I don’t really feel comfortable with them either, but for different reasons. They are very social media and YouTube-centric in their culture, which I never was (and never will be). I guess LazyTown is lucky to have any community at all at this point though, and things always pass to a new generation with their own take on things – that’s the way of the world.

7. If you could invent ONE thing what would it be?

Leaving aside fantasy ideas like “something that makes nuclear weapons not work” – I would like to invent a computer screen that would make things appear as if they were 20 feet away, such that your eyes would have to focus at that distance to read the screen. This would relieve the terrible eyestrain that many people get now from staring all day at close up objects like phones and monitors. You will understand this when you are older and the lens of your eye becomes less flexible. I think it is technologically possible – the vision testing machines they use at driver’s license places do this with static images for example, to test your distance vision – but it would require experts in optics as well as technology to do it with a screen and not require special lenses right in front of your eyes. It needs to be a monitor and not something like binoculars or a microscope. It may be that the virtual reality devices some people are using are doing something like this right now, but I am more interested in monitors than goggles I have to wear.

I think the world is already far too crowded, so I would not want to invent a cure for cancer, an eternal youth medicine or anything like that. Unintended consequences. Take your turn and then get out of the way and let someone else live, that’s the deal we all get. All the fun is in being young anyway, you can’t repeat that even if you lived to be 1,000. The best part of life is experiencing things for the first time, something you can never repeat even if you had a youthful body and lived to be a thousand years old. Better to make room for new life than try to live forever.

8. Other then LazyTown what do you like watching?

Not a lot. I spend most of my time playing computer or board games or reading things online. I have a movie collection on DVD but I stopped collecting them because most recent movies aren’t worth owning IMO. Mad Max Fury Road was one of the very few movies from the last fifteen years that I got on Blu-Ray. Others include Prometheus and Alien Covenant. Most movies I see nowadays, even if good movies (like Avengers End Game) are not ones I feel like I would want to see again. There are older movies I watch again and again, but recent movies rarely appeal to me that much. If I see them once on a streaming service or rented DVD that’s enough. (Yes I still use the old “2 DVDs a month for $5” thru-the-mail rental service DVD.com, formerly called Netflix before there was streaming, and it has a much bigger selection of movies than any streaming service). Modern war movies tend to be so brutally realistic they pass out of the realm of entertainment for me and become unpleasant to watch. I like some older war movies.

I subscribe to HBO Max because my mom likes watching it and I share my password with her. In return she shares her Netflix. Between Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO Max I am able to find things to watch when my girlfriend comes over and wants to watch something. But usually we play board games. I will say I really enjoyed the miniseries “Chernobyl” on HBO Max, but I have always had an interest in nuclear physics as well as history.

In the old days I used to watch science fiction/horror shows – Star Trek (original series mostly), BattleStar Galactica (both versions), Stargate SG-1, Farscape, X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I have watched some modern ones but I just don’t enjoy them that much. For one thing they all seem to be in the “long narrative” style instead of the “standalone episode” style. Often the story is not that good, so I would have preferred standalone episodes, at least that way you get some decent stories here and there. Also these very long stories tend to be complex and have a ton of characters and it is a lot of effort to follow them and know what is going on, too much work when I am not even enjoying the show that much. Finally, a lot of them feature what I consider over the top, unnecessary depravity, violence and gore. I turn on the Witcher and I see a mother and child being murdered. I switch to Wheel of Time and again a child being killed. I turn on Carnival Row to see some Victorian faerie fantasy and it’s all prostitutes, explicit scenes and extreme violence with intestines everywhere. I won’t even watch Game of Thrones because of its reputation for excessive brutality. Just not interested. Give me the older shows.

I have also seen what I consider sloppy directing recently. For example actors who can’t act and directors who let them get away with it. A classic case I saw recently were the Fantastic Beasts movies. There are two characters, Tina and Queenie, who are supposed to be sisters who grew up and live in the same city, in the same apartment even, and they have totally different accents! It’s preposterous. A good actor can do any accent required to match the part. I have seen any number of medieval-type fantasy shows lately where the characters from the same little village or group have wildly different accents. It’s jarring and just makes me think the director wasn’t paying attention or hired poor actors. When Olivia Newton-John could not do a good American accent in the screen tests for Grease, they rewrote her character to be Australian and changed the story accordingly. It’s just silly to treat her as an American Midwest greaser with that accent. Audiences would have rolled their eyes. Nowadays it seems anything goes, actors often don’t even try to fit into the setting and directors don’t insist on uniform accents for characters from the same isolated village. This destroys suspension of disbelief for me.

9. What’s your favourite photoshop you’ve made?

Well most of my photoshops were of my pet bird, who featured heavily in my first YTMNDs, or were used in frames of narrative YTMNDs and not as standalone shoops, so they are not even on Stephers, but of the LazyTown ones, I would say my last one probably was the best – the little deviless dancing around the entrance to the underworld. (The background is a photo of the so-called Door to Hell in Turkey – Google “Darvaza gas crater”, it’s an interesting story.) I always liked Devil Steph shoops, Lazycus made a great one (Devil Steph and Angel Julianna – there are multiple versions of this on Stephers because he revised it and I preferred the original), and so did BJ. The Chronicles of Riddick scene is my second favorite shoop, because like the deviless it required a degree of skill I did not have till the end, to make Steph look like she was in the movie. It doesn’t mean anything to anyone who hasn’t seen that movie though. The deviless is more of a standalone image – just inherently striking.

10. What’s your least favourite photoshop you’ve made?

Well most of them were just quick attempts at humor (or in the “Oh guards” one, a reference to a line from the movie Heavy Metal) or were used elsewhere (on board gaming forums so they featured board games), so I have some pretty crappy ones. Rest assured not every shoop I made is on Stephers – ones I dislike were never posted there, nor were ones that did not involve LazyTown of course, and some were in YTMNDs that aren’t particularly good so I did not upload those either.

11. How did you learn shooping?

Well as I mentioned I used Photoshop first with version 1.0 so I’ve used it off and on since the beginning. We’re talking something that came on a floppy disk, no CD-ROM drives back then, never mind Internet. But before the Internet I never had a reason to really use it, because who would I share the images with and how would I share them? I used it for resizing and cropping photos of various things. Later I used it to make history related “cartoons” (war images with word balloons added) as well as other images for board game after-action replays I used to write when the Internet was new. And I used it to make computer game mods. I loved modding games but it’s much harder now that they’re all 3D. It’s honestly hard to remember where I learned the basics of it. No YouTube or anything like that back then to learn from. Probably watched some Adobe training videos that came with later edition discs on CD. But as I mentioned above, A-View-To-A-Cake taught me the finer points of selecting via masking and using layers for everything, and really improved my skill level.

12. Which programs do you use?

For this sort of thing, Jasc Animation Shop, Photoshop, Dreamweaver (for making Stephers initially), Audacity or Premiere for sound, Firefox, Notepad++, Filezilla, VirtualDubMod (used for taking screencaps or sets of frames). Stephbot was written in a text editor since Ruby is an interpreted language. I use IrfanView lately for looking at images. For modding games I have had to use a hex editor at times.

13. Have you ever used YouTube before?

Yes I have used it (as a user) from the very beginning. Back then though there was NO copyrighted material on it (and no ads), no music, no shows, no slick tutorial or how-to videos, it was all home-made very amateur video stuff, like “This is my new canoe I just bought” or “here’s my garage with my new paint job.” Very low production standards, terrible audio. The You in YouTube meant it was basically home videos people made about themselves and this was before smartphones made video easy. I never bothered with it until people started uploading stuff like movies or music, which mysteriously stayed up in some cases and was taken down in others. It’s been quite amazing to see the explosion of quality content on there in the last fifteen years or so, everything from the official music videos to really useful instructional videos, game reviews, ambient and extended audio tracks for gaming or background noise, ASMRs (yes I like that ASMR Darling girl) or (my obsession lately) Warhammer 40K lore. I actually experienced ASMR many many years before I heard a name for it, those videos were very eye-opening (and relaxing, in many cases). A lot of people hate on ASMR for some reason, reminds me of the people hating on LazyTown. If I like it, why do they care? I’ll often put on ASMR Darling in the background when I’m doing something, I like the sound of her whispering to me.

As a creator? Not really. I had an account once to host some videos BJ made out of some of my YTMNDs that required precise sync, such as Enterprise Finds LazyTown, but that account is long gone. Those YTMNDs are now on Stephers due to the HTML 5 and Javascript loader and player I made that allows sync without using Flash. (I saw the same concept on the newly remade YTMND site, but had to figure out how to do it myself.) It always seemed to me that I could make a YTMND that told a story, with photoshopped frames, with a reasonable amount of work, but making an original video is a staggering amount of work. One of my favorites is the Astartes Project one, which is jaw-dropping, but it took the guy years of highly skilled 3D animation to do it. Too much work for me, I made a decision early on I was not going to get into the video side of things, just stick to gifs and shoops. BJ showed how it was possible to use his video knowledge to make really cool gifs. I am guessing some of the slicker YTMNDs like “[]run GothSteph.nimp@mm _mkdir ^”, and “Amputee Stephanie gets a new prosthetic leg” used some video processing software also. Too much work for me to learn it. Maybe someday when I am looking for a new hobby, I will get into video.

There are some Lazytown fan videos I like though – like Buzz’s “Ring Ring – LazyTown Meets Abba” one, his “Barbie Girl” one, his “Making Me Nervous” one, as well as BJ’s “Funkytown” one, his “Dance the Night Away” one, and his spectacular collaboration with LazyPooky, “David Meets Stephanie.” Sadly these tend to get taken down for copyright reasons, so I am glad I have copies of them.

Editor Notes.

1. WHAAA? Chuft likes ASMR? [Me too.]
2. WHAAA? Chuft hasn’t watched Home Alone?

Thanks to Chuft for accepting this interview request

possessor

Life is great with Lazytown!

About possessor

Life is great with Lazytown!
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