Joining the DV Revolution
Michael A. Russell
Life in Pre-Revolutionary Movie Creation Headquarters
Ever since the first showing of Star Wars I had dreamed of creating my own movies. How wonderful that George Lucas and his team of engineers could create an exciting movie where many of the scenes were crammed full with laser beams, space ships, explosions, and much more. As I grew older, the bewilderment with special effects diminished somewhat but the quest for "home movie making" increased.
But movie making has traditionally been exclusively in the realm of the wealthy elite. The average Hollywood motion picture today costs $60 million to produce (source: www.about.com) - a huge investment. The media most often used, film, is very expensive to buy and shoot due to the high quality and grain of the source material. In addition, one needs talent (the actors, actresses, etc.), a director, producer, director of photography, an audio engineer, a lighting engineer, an editor to compile the final movie, and much more. Movies such as What Dreams May Come, The Perfect Storm and The Matrix require additional finances due to the presence of famous actors / actresses and/or special effects.
But if movie making was so prohibitively expensive we would never see local news programs, sports broadcasts, and a plethora of other common televised transmissions. The medium that makes these types of broadcasts possible usually revolves around video, a less expensive alternative to film in use by many segments of the entertainment industry. Video has a clearer yet flatter quality to it than does film (film is generally believed to be "warmer" in nature) yet video can be enhanced with filters, lighting and good capturing technique to approximate that of the desired film. News casts, local advertisements, and virtually all of the programs that are found on cable access channels (such as MCTV) are shot using video. The quality varies depending on the operator, lighting, etc. Home movie making embraced this technology as early as the 1950s using analog Hi-8, Super-8 and other video formats.
The ability to edit home movies eluded most amateurs in the pre-Revolution era. Analog video editing systems often relied on cutting the footage with razor blades and splicing the scenes back together with tape or a similar adhesive. Transitions between scenes and background music were added in the final mix as it was recorded on to a new source for the movie (such as another video recorder.) The process was expensive (the hardware could run into the tens of thousands of dollars depending on the quality), messy (tape breaks and lost scenes) and often of poor overall quality. Professional systems assembled around industrial / entertainment complexes or artistic collectives, but they rarely found their way into amateur's possession.
As early as the 1970s people began transferring digital and analog video to the computer to avoid the messy and time-consuming editing obstacles. This idea contained merit, for editing on a personal computer (PC) would not involve destroying the original film footage, and transitions, special effects and music could be added together digitally easier than they could using analog sources. Regretfully, the size of the data files overwhelmed most of the technology available at the time: color, stereo footage could take megabytes (MB) or even gigabytes (GB) of memory. Transferring the data file between one program and another (or between two computers) proved extremely time consuming and infeasible for all but the strongest computers. Digital Video (DV) was introduced to make the process of transferring footage easier to the computer, but the first DV camcorders were expensive and difficult to maintain, especially in comparison to their analog counterparts.
What this means for educators: In "pre-Revolution" days, creating movies for education or home use required a considerable investiture of financing and time, and the results varied depending on the quality of the equipment.
What is the "DV Revolution"?
Thankfully, this state of movie making did not last long. The first improvement arrived through the continued quality improvements and lower costs of DV camcorders. As with any technology, an increased demand often results in superior abilities and lower prices, and DV camcorders dropped from many thousands of dollars to hundreds of dollars. In addition, the recently developed Mini Digital Video Cassette (or "mini DV") format allowed for a convenient and reusable storage mechanism for DV Camcorders. Note that DV content should not degrade over time; in theory, the same quality should be projected on a monitor in ten years as you will observe ten minutes after filming. Recall the differences in quality between music CDs and vinyl LPs - quite a change! The enhanced quality of digital media propels the DV format ahead of its analog equivalent with the added benefit of durable, long-lasting quality for your video signals.
Computer processing speed has also been enhanced since the inception of the first camcorders. A Texas Instruments TI-82 calculator can do as many calculations per second as the computers used to coordinate the first manned space flight to the moon. Modern PCs have increased in power almost exponentially. Enhanced hard disk capacity and access speeds have been coupled with a greater RAM capacity and bus speed to create computing Goliaths able to tackle complex calculations without batting an eyelid.
Once the hardware requirements provided enough processing power to handle megalithic movie files, several software companies began creating and distributing movie editing programs. Examples include Apple's Final Cut Pro, Avid's Cinema, Adobe's Premier, Macromedia's Director, and Apple's iMovie and iMovie2. Typical applications and stylistic preferences dictate the program of choice to the community; high-end video production clamored to Final Cut Pro and Premier, while home-users and academia proclaim the versatility and ease of iMovie.
These programs can create incredible movies with only a minimal investment of finances and time. However, the distribution of the final project can be hindered by the sheer file size of the completed movie; uncompressed video movies can be hundreds or thousands of MB in size, and running them requires a robust processor. Fortunately a suite of compression programs have been created to deliver the media over CD-ROMs, DVD (with MPEG-2 encoding present), and even the Web at speeds as limited as 28.8 K! This means that your projects and home movies can be viewed by virtually anyone who wishes to see it with minimal download speeds and hardware.
What this means for educators: The "DV Revolution" is a set of technological breakthroughs that allow movies to be created easily using a PC and a DV Camcorder. Complete systems to record, edit and process movies have been reduced dramatically in price due to these new technologies. As an example, educators can purchase a new Apple Macintosh iMac and a Canon DV camcorder for under $2000, and this package offers all the tools necessary to create and distribute movies of quality to virtually anyone! It's time to join the Revolution!
What is Firewire?
Firewire (also known as "IEEE 1394") is a protocol for transferring data from one data source to another. A data source can be a computer, a camcorder, an external hard drive, etc. Firewire and DV technology were developed almost simultaneously in the mid-1980s as a method for transferring large quantities of data very quickly. Without Firewire, data transfer of video footage to the PC would be quite slow. It is expected that soon many PCs will have Firewire ports to facilitate faster transfers of data to devices such as CD-RW, DVD-RAM, etc.
When buying a PC or DV Camcorder, it is essential that it contains a Firewire port if you wish to make movies. Firewire ports are standard on all modern DV camcorders, Apple Macintosh computers, and many other devices. If your computer does not come with a Firewire port, you might be able to install a Firewire capture card into your PC; see your dealer for details.
A Firewire cable will also be required to transfer data from the computer to the DV Camcorder and vice-versa. Note that there are two main types of Firewire cables: a 4-pin to 6-pin cable (which is the most common connector between DV Cameras and PCs) and a 6-pin to 6-pin cable (which connects most PCs to Firewire-enabled external hard disks and other miscellaneous equipment.) A 4-pin connector is used when the device does not provide any electrical power for the transfer; a 6-pin connector has two additional pins to power the transfer of data. Most PCs have the larger 6-pin Firewire ports while DV camcorders have the smaller 4-pin ports.
What is a codec?
A codec refers to a compression / decompression protocol which is useful in playing movies on PCs. Similar to how a modem (modulate / demodulate) operates with analog phone signals, a codec encodes (or compresses) a transmitted movie signal and then decodes (or decompresses) the signal once it arrives at the computer.
Remember that movie files are HUGE. If Jack wishes to send Andy his latest movie over a 56 K modem, this process could take a long time. First Jack would send his movie to the Web; later, Andy would download the movie from the Web to his machine. A codec will minimize the time it takes to both upload and download the movie. Note that Andy must have the decompression program on his computer to view the file; else the downloaded file will be worthless to him.
There are a variety of popular codecs used on the Web and for PC animation. They include Sorenson (which is great for Web movies), Cinepak (used often in CD-ROM movie delivery), Animation, MPEG (used for DVD movies but very expensive; there are also different versions, including MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-3 (also known as MP3), etc.), RealSystem G2 (used often for Internet streaming of Web movies), and many others. QuickTime uses many different codecs.
What Kind of Background Do I Need To Begin Making Movies?
To begin making movies, you will need a rudimentary level of PC expertise - how to save files, how to move about in directories, how to launch programs, etc. Rest assured that the simplest Movie editing program - iMovie - is extremely easy to use, and virtually no knowledge of codecs is required. For more sophisticated programs (including Final Cut Pro and Premier), a more extensive learning curve will hamper novices yet not stop them.
In terms of shooting video for editing, virtually no previous camera experience is required. I had a simple "point and click" automated 35mm camera which I used sparingly throughout the year, but mastering my Canon Elura DV camcorder took less than two weeks.
If you have experience with lighting, f-stops, white balancing, and other related video terms, then learning the DV camcorder will be simple and painless. Just point, push the button and start filming!
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Spending some time organizing your movie will save frustration and confusion in the long run. Professional videographers create storyboards, check and re-check lighting and sound, analyze the raw footage for errors and background distractions, and much more before considering a project complete. Here are a few thoughts for educators and hobbyists to consider at each stage when planning to make a movie.
Planning the Movie
It has been said that the most important aspect of effective movie making is the visualization - "seeing" the movie in your mind before actually filming it. I would agree; a proper perspective is essential to the task. Ask yourself what the purpose of the movie will be - for education, for enjoyment, for promotional reasons, etc.
The style of the movie will also be important. The audience will react differently to the media depending on age, economic bracket, geographical region, etc. of the viewers. Try to plan a movie that will get their attention and stimulate their minds. Also try to keep the style as coherent as possible; let it flow effortlessly from one scene to the next without any detrimental distractions.
Depending on the type of movie to be filmed, you might need to create a storyboard (a rough series of sketches outlining the basic plot and style elements of the movie). Also a scheduling of time may be important to foresee how long the project will take you to complete. To determine the length of time, take the absolute maximum amount of time you think it will take to complete the project and multiply it by three, just to be safe! Movie making can be quite time intensive.
Finally, remember to bring any necessary props, equipment and talent needed for the shoot. You will need adequate electrical outlets in the right places; this might be a good thing to prepare for in advance.
Acquiring the Source Material
"Acquiring the Source Material" refers to the actual shooting of the video footage. At the minimum, you will need a DV Camcorder, but you might need additional equipment as well. See Section V, below, for more information on acquiring the video footage.
Creating the Movie
"Creating the Movie" refers to the transferring of video files from the camcorder to the computer and the editing of these sequences to provide the final movie. During this stage the clips will be cropped, transitions inserted between the clips, text overlays added as appropriate, and music / audio tracks combined with the video if required. At the minimum, you will need a DV Camcorder with the source video footage, a Firewire cable, a computer with a Firewire port, and a movie editing software program. See Section VI, below, for more information on creating the movie.
Distributing the Movie to Your Audience
At this stage you will wish to take your completed movie and show it to the world - or at least a portion of it! The format decided upon will dictate the next move. If you require a VHS copy for your VCR and TV, a "print to video" step is required which transfers the completed movie from your PC to your DV Camcorder and then to your VCR for recording. If the movie is to be distributed through CD-ROMs, DVD, or on the Web, a codec must be employed to make the movie viewable to a larger audience. See Section VII, below, for more information on distributing the movie to your audience.
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Like any technology or hobby, a certain amount of equipment is mandatory, and movie making is no exception. A low-end option would be a Canon ZR10 DV camcorder and an Apple Macintosh iMac computer; these two will cost approximately $2000 total. Only your checkbook limits high-end options. Some notes on different systems and possibilities follow:
Obviously you must have a DV Camcorder to record any video footage desired for your movie. Digital camcorders used to be priced in the $5000 and greater range; now a decent Canon Optura camcorder can be purchased for under $1000 (and the prices keep dropping!)
Essential features of the camcorder include:
In addition, I highly recommend:
Camcorder mini DV cassettes hold 60 minutes of footage using LP recording mode and 90 minutes if using EP or SLP mode. I recommend using LP mode for all video work.
There are a variety of DV Camcorders on the market; Canon and Sony make excellent models, and I've read good reviews for DV Camcorders from Hitachi and JVC. High-end camcorders run $3000 and up, but for most applications a cheaper alternative will do just as well and be much smaller.
Also note that camcorders have an infinite supply of gadgets, lenses and additions which can enhance your movie making pleasure. See your dealer for more information.
With regards to the computer's DV abilities, "the faster, the better"! Windows systems should possess at least a 300 MHz Pentium III processor while Macintosh computers should have either a G3 or a G4 running 300 MHz or faster.
Hard disk space is another crucial element. Five minutes of video footage require roughly 1 GB of hard disk space once completed, and while editing you will need roughly five times that quantity for storing data files, music, etc. A minimum of 20 GB of hard disk space should be available depending on your projected movie size.
The amount of hardware RAM is also crucial to the movie editing process. Final Cut Pro requires 128 MB of RAM, and other programs require similar quantities. Moreover, if the programs have more RAM, their performance often improves. See your dealer or the web sites listed at the end of this report for more information.
The Firewire (or IEEE 1394) transfer protocol should be built in to both the DV Camcorder and the PC. If your PC does not have a Firewire port, an optional Firewire capture card may be a possible necessary investment; see your PC dealer for more information. Finally you will need a Firewire cable (usually a 4-pin to 6-pin cable) to connect the computer to the camcorder.
Although not technically required for acquiring data, I find a tripod to be essential for quality movie making. Jerky movie footage looks amateurish and is distracting. A decent tripod will eliminate this problem. Obtain a sturdy tripod; many tripods used for ordinary still photography will be inadequate for videography due to the weight of the camcorder. I also recommend a "full height" tripod - if you get a "half" or "three quarters" height tripod you might be constantly adjusting settings in a humped position depending on your physical size.
Most DV Camcorders come packaged with a built-in high quality microphone which works well for close-up shots. When the subject of your shot stands more than five feet away, however, background noise and distractions will plague the built-in microphone's capacity. Hence, an external microphone becomes almost essential to the videographer. The best type of microphone seems to be a balanced condenser omnidirectional microphone with XLR connectors, but cheaper dynamic (i.e. Radio Shack) microphones work adequately. Another consideration: wireless microphones prevent cable obstructions while filming, but wireless can add several hundred dollars more to the price of the microphone. Wind shields are mandatory for all microphones while filming outside.
Note that certain camcorders require additional accessories to have microphone in/out jacks. Check the documentation for details.
If the video is acquired outside in adequate lighting, no lighting set is necessary. However, once the location moves inside, some form of external lighting will probably be required. Overhead fluorescent lighting causes subjects to look green and tired. A three light system (background light, backlight and key light) will overcome many of the deficiencies inherent in traditional indoor lighting, and costs run in the $250 range. A tutorial CD-ROM will be available from www.dvcreators.net explaining how to make a three light system for less than $40 of equipment purchased at Home Base - might be worthwhile to check it out!
PowerR Inc DV to Analog Converter
For only $289 you can convert virtually any analog video format (Super 8, Hi-8, etc.) into DV video using a DV to Analog Converter. If you wish to transfer older movies to the new DV format, a DV to Analog Converter might be essential. See www.powerr.com for more details. Sony also makes a similar - yet more expensive - model.
and what else!
There are literally hundreds of products available for videography and DV movie creation not mentioned here. Keep your ears open and pass on any of the better ones you find to me if you get the chance.
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As you can probably imagine, the software required for editing the video source footage is just as essential to the movie making process as the camcorder and PC. Without good software, your clips will look helplessly like home movies and be of at best mediocre quality.
But you might need more than just a video editing program. To deliver your finished product to the Web, CD-ROM, etc., you will need a codec and a medium to distribute the codec. The codec suite of choice is Media Cleaner Pro, but special attention needs to be given to the Sorenson codec. To deliver the movie, you can pick one of three formats: QuickTime (the most popular), RealMedia (the most popular for streaming video), and Windows Media (which probably should be your last choice.)
All of these items will be discussed below.
Movie Editing Software - For Editing the Video Footage into a Movie
Compression Software - For Distributing the Movie to the Web, CD-ROM, DVD, etc.
Movie Distribution Mediums - For Delivering the Compressed Movie to the World
It is important at this stage to differentiate between "streaming" and "non-streaming" media. To play a "non-streaming" movie on the Web, the user downloads the entire file to their hard disk, and once the download is complete, the movie can begin playing. "Streaming" video, on the other hand, begins playing once a certain portion of the media has been "buffered" on the recipient's hard disk. The idea is that the user will begin watching (or listening) immediately and will not mind waiting for the remainder of the clip to download, even at slower modem speeds.
Streaming media comes in essentially two flavors, "HTTP streaming" and "RTSP streaming". "http" refers to "HyperText Transfer Protocol" and is the standard data delivery method used on the Web - pictures and text are displayed as they are downloaded. "RTSP" stands for RealTime Streaming Protocol and was developed by RealMedia. RTSP movies play once a buffered portion has been downloaded, and hopefully the movie's remaining portions will be downloaded before they are required for playback. Amazon.com and CDnow.com use RTSP for listening to music tracks, and many academic institutions use RTSP to deliver academic lectures. It should be noted that RTSP streaming requires a dedicated server and software to deliver movie content, while http streaming requires nothing more than Web space - no special software is required outside of the media player itself. QuickTime supports both types of streaming, while RealMedia and Windows Media support only RTSP streaming.
A third type of streaming exists called "Live Streaming" where a live video feed is supplied to the Internet (and anyone who may be watching) for immediate - and "live" - viewing from distant sites. Live Streaming will be a large part of the 21st century and the "Internet2" standards, but a discussion of the subject here would be premature due to technological inadequacy and immaturity.
It should be noted that while both QuickTime and RealMedia continue to support their standards, Microsoft has all but dropped its support for the Windows Media Player in favor of QuickTime.
Other Useful Software
There are several other versatile programs that can prove useful in movie production. They include:
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As discussed earlier, preparing to shoot video footage is just as important as actually acquiring the video. The expression "A stitch in nine saves time" refers to the idea that being prepared now will save time later. Nothing could be more true in shooting video.
One of the underlying themes present in all video production is: "Garbage In Equals Garbage Out". If you shoot video that is basically garbage (poorly lit, jerky and messy camera angles), you will end up with a movie worth garbage despite your best attempts to clean it up or filter out unwanted elements. Take the time up front to create a professional production to ensure that some quality is retained in your movie until the very end.
One important camcorder task to complete before the source material is acquired is to create a so-called "black tape". The mini DV format used by most DV camcorders has a preset timing function which writes the time elapsed and date of recording onto the blank tape as recording progresses. If you record blackness on your tape ahead of the shoot by keeping the lens cap on the camera, a time code will be present on your tape that will not be broken by double-checking edits. This will also verify the tape's physical integrity.
The ideal camera shooting session would roughly follow these steps:
Obviously not every camera shoot must adhere to all these principles - this list is extensive and thorough, but by no means is it all-inclusive.
Equipment needs to be unpacked and set up prior to shooting. The equipment can be as minimal as a simple DV Camcorder, or you could have a multiple camera and microphone shoot using wireless microphones, zebra booms, a variety of lighting tools, a director, etc. This stage can be simple or it can be complex depending on your situation. Once the props are situated correctly, place the cameras, sound equipment and/or lighting around the stage as appropriate for the maximum effect.
Next, tell any actors or actresses that might be in the scene to prepare themselves for their part. Have them stand in key locations to check lighting, sound, camera perspective and angle, etc. Remember to be patient with the talent - "front row" performances are always the most demanding for the director than are the "back row" performances (by the sound, video and lighting people.) Tell the talent not to wear saturated reds or blues, and avoid intricate patterns in their cloth - these will look awful on video. Looking into the camera is important - it creates a link with the viewer. Also, for editing sake, tell the talent to not start immediately after "Action!" is called, but wait for a minute before and after to allow for editing ease.
The next part is the most demanding. Checking (and re-checking!) the lights, sound and camera can create a trying pandemonium. Lighting is especially key - you've got to have an acceptable "glow" around the actors and scene to create sympathy (and gather attention!) in the viewers. Positioning three light systems for optimum effect is an art that cannot be explained on paper. I saw the difference occur in a demonstration: a relatively flat video picture of a man using just overhead lighting transformed into a glowing, radiant individual who inspired and motivated the viewer yet the effect occurred was from lighting alone.
The correct placement of sound sources can also be problematic. Boom microphones must be held or adjusted manually, and they cannot dip into the video picture area to prevent their appearance in the movie. The best positioning of microphones usually comes from an overhead shot, but deep bass-filled tones can be obtained from a "below the neck" positioning. Wireless microphones are wonderful, but expensive, alternatives.
The camera itself must be prepared for the situation at hand. Selection of the correct f-stop and focus setting is crucial to great video. DV Cameras can be configured for "White Balance" as well. Normal DV camcorder processors try to determine what the color "white" really is, and all colors are adjusted from that point. If you tell the camera to use a salmon or pink white balance, people appear somewhat warmer; and if you use a medium blue tone for white balancing, the people appear cold and distant. Both styles can work in cinema; the movie Little Buddha uses a bluish white balance to portray a depressing Seattle.
Camera angle, positioning, and movement must all be planned for in advance of the shooting. Low camera angles imply dominance and strength, while high camera angles profess a weaker, more receptive air. In Ingmar Bergman's movie The Seventh Seal a group of wandering clerics approach a town and imply that the end of humanity is coming; to correspond with the plot, the camera angles are low and strong. Later in the film, the clerics are seen as unworthy and decrepit, and the camera angle is high, implying weakness. Examples of this sort of videography exist in many movies. Make sure that any moving angle shots are practiced ahead of time to avoid hitting one of the actors in the head, etc.
Of especial importance to DV video work is the ability to check footage using an external NTSC monitor (i.e. TV or TV/VCR combination.) Portable monitors can be purchased for field work, or the footage can be checked once the scene has been recorded using a convenient TV. A person misses many important details when filming a scene, and a second (or even third) glance is necessary to spot deficits, errors or omissions. You can forget the tripod and place the camera on a stool, but you must have a monitor to check your work!
Once the final checks have been made to the lighting, sound and camera, it's time for action! The Director should state, "Quiet on the Set" to alert people to the filming, then say "Action!" to start the filming and "Cut!" to stop the process. An assistant can write down the start and stop time codes from the camera - this will be quite useful when the editing process begins.
Once the scene has been recorded, the video must be viewed on an external monitor for clarity and completeness. In a bind, most camcorders have small "tilt screens" or viewers where footage can be observed. External monitors allow multiple individuals to see the scene simultaneously and allow for a greater scope of cooperative criticism.
At this point the scene should be re-shot if even the slightest imperfection has been noted. Imperfections can come from many sources, some of them obvious and some not so obvious. External imperfections can come from passing garbage trucks or diesel trucks, birds flapping and squawking loudly, a ringing telephone or loud TV, barking dogs, sudden rain showers or electricity outages, and many other sources. Expect the unexpected!
But the "internal" imperfections are more common. Talent imperfections are common - and human! Repeating the same lines over and over naturally causes the brain to freeze up somewhat, resulting in repeated sets. Crew members may inadvertently mutter phrases too loudly during filming, ruining the take. Many microphones have an on/off switch; if the sound is not checked ahead of time, the scene could be shot devoid of all sound. Also related to sound is the "wandering microphone" - when a zoom mic operator lets the overhead microphone creep down into the viewing area of the camera. Excessive wind can cause annoying background noise to be present; wind shields can help somewhat with this dilemma. Bad lighting (too much or too little) is a very common problem, and this alone makes viewing on an external monitor necessary for quality. Video can appear differently on a camcorder deck than it does on an external TV monitor, so check!
It should be noted that bad "takes" or "scenes" should not be taped over! Save all the scenes until the completed movie has been delivered to your audience. Sometimes the imperfect scenes appear better in the editing stage. Also, try to get several takes of each scene to ensure variety of conditions and format; this will help to preserve a common theme and style throughout your final movie.
If the scene gets a "thumbs up" from the director, you are now safe to move on to the next scene of the day. Repeat all the above steps as necessary. When you have finished with all the production, remove the mini DV tape with the final footage on it and place it in a safe place! Do not use the tape for other purposes or shoots - save it exclusively for editing. It would be tragic if time-intensive footage was lost for any reason, so keep it safe.
At this point you are ready to move onto the next section, "Creating the Movie". You will need the camcorder and a Firewire cable in addition to your computer. This is where you will actually get to see how good (or bad!) the acquired footage really is. If resources allow, do not be afraid to re-shoot the scene on a different day. "Garbage In Equals Garbage Out" actually has a positive cousin, which states: "Quality In Can Equal Quality Out"!
On to the editing and creating of the movie!
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Many amateurs are satisfied to keep their movies "as is" - full of long sweeping passages, shaky camera perspectives, questionable sound sources and poor lighting. And this is fine - for home movies. However, if one wishes to transcend these limitations, a host of wonderful movie editing programs exist to transform your rough, Spartan video cuts into beautiful, flowing passages augmented by appropriate background music and fitted seamlessly together with video transitions. But the price is time: any good project requires energy and effort to complete. The choice is yours whether to leave the source material "as is" or to transform rough video footage into a movie.
Educators and many home movie enthusiasts will desire the movie making process - hence, the DV Revolution adds its skills to the task. A few general ideas to remember:
Although different movie editing software programs offer a variety of features and protocols, a general scheme for creating a movie goes something like this:
Selecting a video program will depend upon your requirements, interests and resources. I use Final Cut Pro for its versatility and power, but occasionally I use iMovie for "quick and dirty" projects. Different projects require different protocols. First time movie creators will usually stick to one program but may branch out later.
Connecting the Camcorder to the PC using a Firewire cable is simple. As stated earlier, usually camcorders take a 4-pin Firewire head while computers use the 6-pin Firewire head; check the specifications to be sure.
The "log and capture" portion of movie making is where the movie clips are actually downloaded from the DV camcorder to the computer. First, the user logs the clips desired. There are probably many different takes for each scene, and only the "correct" scene (or scenes) need be downloaded to the computer, saving both hard disk space and time. If start and stop points were recorded for each scene recorded, this process is easy; otherwise, the entire tape must be manually scanned for the desired segments.
Once the desired segments are found, they can be marked (using an "in" and "out" set of tags) and captured (or downloaded) to the computer. Often the capture is completed by a rendering command; enactment of this option tells the computer to download these segments to the hard drive. Rendering can also be used to compute transition timings, correlate text layers with video, add sound, etc. The final movie cannot be viewed until the computer has rendered the various editing elements together (i.e. calculated the digital effects and meshed the information into a coherent amalgam.) The computing power and speed of your PC will be evident during rendering; fast computers render much more quickly than their slow counterparts. In the movie making process, rendering frequently is essential. I usually render after completing a task; this gives me time to think about the next task, yet the program is finalizing special effects and transitions during my meditation.
As soon as the desired segments have been downloaded to the computer, you can place them in a sequence along a time axis. Usually a sequence has many tracks - at least one track for video, often at least two tracks for audio (stereo left and right). The tracks can be manipulated in time as desired. Where track A stops and track B starts one can place a transition. Transitions can be fades (fade to black, fade to white, etc.), cross dissolves (one track merges into a second track), and many other types. Having the correct transition for the movie is essential to viewer sympathy, plus it makes the movie appear "professional". Transitions can be for video and audio.
It should be noted that once the sequence is in place, the movie can be previewed using the controls in the editing program. Does the viewed sequence of tracks fit your visualization of the project? Do the tracks flow together with their transitions in a style that makes sense and "feels" right? If not, change them.
Digital effects can be added at this point as well. If your picture looks small, increase its size. If the picture is too green, apply a green filter to wash some of the undesired green color out of the picture. If you have two video tracks overlapping, perhaps applying an opacity gradient (a "pseudo-fade") will look good. There are a variety of effects available for each movie editing program. Effects can be created (using something like Final Cut Pro's scripting environment) or purchased (many of the effects from George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic company can be purchased for your program). Regardless, application of an effect requires additional rendering to view the final product, so make sure to render your work often.
Once the video clips, transitions and effects are in place, application of the text elements usually comes next. Text can be used for a variety of purposes. Opening titles, ending credits, identification tags for important talent - all of these require screen text.
Most programs allow text to be inserted either as a screen element (inserting text into a pre-defined area using static text formatting) or as an imported Photoshop file. If you require only a single font and size for your text, the screen element will usually work well. But if you require special fonts and sizes, Photoshop is the answer. Different text elements in Photoshop can be inserted into your movie editing program as different tracks, and each track can be edited for motion, blur, size, etc.
The "rolling credits" at the end of most Hollywood movies can be emulated by most movie editing programs. Often the static text is inserted into a screen element and moved up and down the screen as desired. Of course these moving titles need not be at the end of movies - they can be placed anywhere within the sequence.
The audio portion of the movie should be one of the last elements to be edited. Once the video portions are in place, the background music or audio elements can be inserted to match the pace of the movie. CD quality stereo sound can be imported, but audio elements from a variety of sources (MP3, alert sounds, etc.) can be placed in the sequence as well. Microphones can be used at this stage to overdub certain video selections, giving comments or introductions.
Many movie editing programs have the ability to analyze the waveform of the audio; this is the spectral response of the sound itself. The sound can be edited at the source level but this is usually not desired. One can change the relative intensity of the sound - enhancing or diminishing the overall sound volume as needed. All audio effects must be rendered just as video transitions must be rendered; make sure to do so often.
After the audio has been mixed into the video, watch the movie from start to finish and criticize your work. Does it meet your expectations? Does the added text augment and not distract from the movie? Do the transitions emphasize sections and not distort the flow of the movie? I find it best to wait 24 hours before answering any of these questions definitively - give yourself some space and time to contemplate the project.
If you are still happy with the movie after the 24 hour period, then congratulations! You have just made your movie! George Lucas, eat your heart out! (ha ha!)
But alas - the process is not yet complete. Currently you have a data file belonging to one of the movie editing programs. If you sent this to your grandmother in Ohio, chances are she would not have the movie editing software installed on her hard disk to view your movie. Worse, even if she did have the software, the file would be HUGE - approximately 200 MB per minute of movie - and uploading / downloading this file from the Internet would take an incredibly long amount of time. So now it's time to transform your movie into a medium more accessible to the populace. Section VII, "Distributing the Movie", will address this concern.
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At this point you have successfully completed your movie, and it looks awesome! You have put a lot of work into the creation of your project, and now you want to share it with the world. Perhaps the movie is promotional and will be placed on a company web site; perhaps the video shows Johnny's 5th birthday party and you'd like grandma to see portions of it on her VCR in Ohio.
Whatever the need, the current form of the movie is inaccessible to most people. You created the movie using a sophisticated movie editing software program, but most people do not have access to this program. Worse, if they did, the file would be huge - approximately 200 MB per minute, or 1 GB per 5 minutes. Even more intriguing, many people do not own computers (imagine that!) and they need their own medium to see the movie.
At Mt. Hood Community College, there are several distribution scenarios that require comment for use on our campus. They are:
Each of these distribution standards will be discussed below.
NTSC (National Television Standards Commission) VHS is the common video format used in VCR recording and playback within the United States and Canada. Developed in the 1950s, NTSC standards require a frame rate of 29.97 frames per second and a nonsquare pixel aspect ratio of 1:33 to 1, making the height just a little bit larger than the width. (In addition, the signal is interlaced, 72 dpi, etc.) In Europe and Japan, PAL is the accepted standard for recording and playback and it has it's own specifications; hence, videos from Europe must be translated for use in American VCRs and vice-versa.
Most editing programs have a feature called something like "Print to Video" or even "Export Movie". This feature allows the movie you made to be processed for NTSC VHS. The hardware should be basically as it was during the editing process: connect the computer to the camcorder using a Firewire cord, but also connect the camcorder to a VCR using either S-video and audio or just "composite" video (RCA plugs.) S-video offers a superior video transmission, but few VCR decks have an S-video port; use the traditional RCA style input in these scenarios. You can monitor the quality of the signal using your TV.
Selecting Print to Video sends a VCR quality signal to the camcorder which in turn sends the signal to the VCR. You can record the movie on your VCR as you would any signal. Use the LP recording mode whenever possible on the VCR to ensure the highest quality signal. In addition, you can make a final copy of your movie on the mini DV cassette in your camcorder if so desired.
Many programs have several Print To Video options. Countdowns (going from ten down to one), a title slate, color bars, miscellaneous notes, or just some blank black space both before and after the movie can be inserted as desired. I use black space both before and after the movie, and I include a ten second countdown prior to the movie as well.
The result: your movie has been transferred to VHS! Your movie has become "real", and Steven Spielberg should be getting nervous about now! (ha ha!)
Making a movie for distribution on a CD-ROM has two advantages:
CD-ROM movies should be saved as QuickTime movie files. QuickTime applications are readily available for virtually everyone for free. RealMedia's stand-alone movie playing capacity is immature technologically, and the Windows Media player is on the way out of the marketplace. Other options (Intel's Indeo and other formats) do not have the cross-platform accessibility of QuickTime and should be ignored.
Most movie editing programs have built-in QuickTime movie generators; simply select "Export" or "Save As" to begin the process. However, a better method exists if Media Cleaner Pro is available. Media Cleaner Pro will open a media file and convert it to a QuickTime movie using a sophisticated array of choices. The settings wizard in Media Cleaner Pro can and should be utilized to make the "best" choices.
For example, Media Cleaner Pro's settings wizard will first ask for the Delivery Medium (i.e. will the movie be sent to a CD-ROM, DVD, the Web, etc.). If the CD-ROM option is selected, Media Cleaner Pro will next ask for the Target Machines - will the movie be played on mostly newer or older computers? I generally select the high end and medium end machines for CD-ROM playback.
The next setting, CD-ROM Speed, is crucial. Almost all of the CD-ROMs today use a 4x speed or higher. A movie selected for 8x would not play on a CD-ROM with a 4x maximum speed. 4x, 8x, etc. refers to the data access speed available to the hardware; 4x means the machine has a maximum delivery speed of 400 kilobytes per second, 8x relates to 800 kilobytes per second, etc..
The remaining settings ask straight forward questions. When the wizard has completed its analysis, it gives an overview of the settings it thinks will be the best for your movie. Often the Cinepak codec works best for CD-ROM movies. Make sure that the "Total Data Rate" setting is less than the maximum rate of your CD-ROM target (example: 350 kilobytes/second would perform fine on a 4x CD-ROM but not a 2x CD-ROM.)
Occasionally I will increase the audio quality of the music, saving the CD-ROM file in true CD music quality stereo (44 kHz) instead of 22 kHz. But otherwise the settings wizard does an incredible job of saving your movie file with the correct settings, in my opinion. But check the movie for yourself: let Media Cleaner Pro process your file using the settings generated by the wizard, then view the output using QuickTime's movie player. If you like what you see, then congratulations! you are done! If you don't like it, go back to Media Cleaner Pro and try a new configuration.
Media Cleaner Pro allows you to save settings for future use. If you like a certain configuration, save these settings as a preference. Next time you prepare a movie for compression, select your preference to avoid having the wizard analyze your video again. Also, Media Cleaner Pro allows you to "batch process" data files. If you have two or more preference files saved, you can tell Media Cleaner Pro to analyze both of them on the same file sequentially, saving you time and effort. Multiple files can be analyzed and compressed easily using the batch process as well.
To the Web
Saving a movie file to a Web format is the most challenging of the distribution options, but it can also be the most rewarding. A greater audience can view your project on the Web than can from a CD-ROM or VHS video, so it's worth the effort to put some time in and get a good Web movie.
The challenge comes from taking a HUGE data file - 200 MB of hard disk space per minute of movie - and compressing it adequately to a data size suitable for internet downloading. I consider a 1 MB data file size per minute of movie to be acceptable for downloading. Ethernet and DSL Web users will not be discouraged with this size, and 56 K modem users can download the file if they really want it without too much inconvenience - if the movie is short enough!
Anytime you compress a file to 1/200th of its original size, you will have to give up something. Picture quality, picture size and sound quality are the most likely reduction targets. Sound can be reduced without too much disappointment, but picture quality needs to be maintained as much as possible. Picture size can affect how the text titles and details can be viewed.
For these reasons, many online sites offer different versions of their movies. One movie will be for fast (Ethernet) downloading - this file will be large but full of detail and rich sound. Another movie may be for 56 K modems - this file will be small (and easy to download) but lacking the detail of the larger file.
At Mt. Hood Community College, students generally have access to either Ethernet speeds (while at school or in the library) or 56 K speeds (while at home.) I configure my movies for the 56 K speed, but others may configure their movies differently.
The Sorenson codec provides some relief to 56 K Web downloads. Using a complicated algorithm for encoding and decoding media, relatively high quality movies may be placed on the Internet for viewing by a large audience. The Sorenson codec is available at an additional cost, but in my opinion it is well worth the extra expenditure.
Some movie editing programs (such as iMovie) have a built-in compression export program which allows movies to be placed immediately in a small form for Web delivery. Most of these programs will pale, however, when compared to the compression possibilities inherent to Media Cleaner Pro (especially when coupled with the Sorenson codec). As with the CD-ROM distribution motif expounded upon earlier, Media Cleaner Pro has a built-in user-friendly settings wizard which asks a series of questions to arrive at the best possible compression protocol.
Unlike the CD-ROM protocol, Web movies may be formatted for playback using QuickTime, RealMedia or the Windows Media Player. As stated earlier, the Windows Media Player has basically been left for dead by Microsoft, so I would hesitate to use it for anything; however, Media Cleaner Pro provides support for this option. RealMedia works well for RTSP streaming if you have a dedicated RTSP server for delivering your movies. At Mt. Hood Community College, an RTSP server exists, but I am unaware of anyone using it - yet!
For most Web movies, I strongly encourage everyone to use QuickTime. QuickTime has the largest target audience available on the Web. The QuickTime player is free and available in a variety of formats and operating systems; it's also included as part of Microsoft's Internet Explorer and Netscape's Navigator. If a QuickTime server is installed, RTSP streaming can be an option; otherwise, encode for a "normal" http server.
If you wish to prepare a movie for QuickTime distribution over the Web for 56 K modem users, typical steps would include the following:
Media Cleaner Pro allows you to save your Web settings for future use. If you like a certain configuration, save these settings as a preference. Next time you prepare a movie for compression, select your preference to avoid having the wizard analyze your video again. Also, Media Cleaner Pro allows you to "batch process" data files. If you have two or more preference files saved, you can tell Media Cleaner Pro to analyze both of them on the same file sequentially, saving you time and effort. Multiple files can be analyzed and compressed easily using the batch process.
On a final note: you might be wondering why there are so many wizard choices for compressing Web video. To answer this question, remember the size of the uncompressed video file - roughly 200 MB per minute of video. To squeeze it down to about 1 MB per minute requires some fancy footwork, so to speak, and something will have to be sacrificed. The settings wizard helps you to make these choices - do I sacrifice sound quality in order to have better video?
Many people are surprised that the settings are not standardized - why should the operator need so many choices? Remember that this is a new technology - nothing has been standardized in the industry - yet! Rumor states that during the Web compression of the Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace trailer, professional movie and Web technicians tried dozens of different compression schemes to arrive at the final product. It won't always be this way but it is for right now. The Settings Wizard in Media Cleaner Pro alleviates the difficulty, and next generation compressors will make the process even simpler.
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It seems quite likely that the DV Revolution and its associated technologies will slip easily into the mainstream consciousness of computing people everywhere. The so-called Desktop Publishing Revolution changed the methods used to make promotional flyers and documents, yet few of us marvel today at the ease which technology made our lives through programs such as Microsoft Word and Adobe Pagemaker. The DV Revolution will become a part of the PC experience soon enough as well, and programs like Final Cut Pro and Premier might well become common due to the lure of home movie production.
But no revolution can rest on its past accomplishments; like the shark, it must move on or die. Here are some trends that may affect the future of PC movie making.
Hollywood needs to realize that the DV Revolution will threaten their monopoly on movie making. The Blair Witch Project made millions and only cost thousands; many Hollywood movies cost millions and do not pan out financially. One need not be in the state of California to make quality movies, nor must one use film to make great movies (video works just as well in my opinion, especially when shot by a quality videographer).
Delivery of movies will no longer be limited to movie theaters and VHS tapes. The Web promises a host of technologies to support "video on demand" - simply give them your credit card number and zap! the movie appears on your screen. This will allow more exposure to a larger number of film makers, and the Hollywood monopoly will be threatened once again.
"Burn, Hollywood, Burn!" - Public Enemy
Using Media Cleaner Pro to prepare movies for Web and CD-ROM distribution is an experience where trial and error play just as big of a role in the selection making process as does logic. New codecs and development strategies will streamline this process, making selection of delivery media protocols much easier.
The "DVD Revolution" will occur soon, replacing the aging CD-ROM and VHS formats with a superior and higher storage capacity technology with theoretically faster access times for recording and playback. Two barriers have kept the DVD Revolution in check - so far - but they are losing ground:
Video on demand is an exciting concept - no more trips to the movie rental store, just view them using your Internet-connected computer. But even more exciting is the development in the area of Live Streaming. Currently it is difficult and hardware-intensive to send a live video signal across the Internet. But this is changing: a new Internet standard called Internet2 will be replacing the old slower protocol, and Internet2 has built-in capacity for Live Streaming. We will be able to project our classes to remote areas and other institutions if so desired. The possibilities for education are virtually limitless.
Silicon Graphics, a leader in high-level audio and visual technologies, has released a line of computers able to record and play uncompressed video - i.e. videos devoid of codecs. The effect: the original digital quality of the movie is preserved at all phases of production, and no loss of signal is experienced upon adding transitions, effects, compression, etc. The hardware required for the feat is impressive in and of itself, but it's coming soon programs like Media Cleaner Pro and the Sorenson codec will be used for selected applications only (such as slow Web distribution).
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I would like to thank several people for their assistance on this project:
I would also like to thank you, the reader, for taking the time to read this report. Thanks!
All of the materials in this report can be found on the Web at http://www.gst-d2l.com/TLC
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions; peace and happy movie making!
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DV General Resources:
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Return to the TLC Proposal Homepage.
Last Updated on September 10, 2000