A lot has been going on in the video industry lately. Emmy winner and master of the documentary film, Ken Burns, has re-released a digitally remastered copy of his epic film The Civil War. The Digital Hollywood conference has come and gone. And someone named Chris Meyer has released a $10 application called Photo to Movie, which I consider a milestone in video production.
Basically, this small app (approx. 1MB) allows you to take a photo or image and do a panning motion effect across it (Pan & Scan), a la Ken Burns. This caused me to have a strange time warp experience; all of a sudden I thought about my old studio. I remembered editing video and doing animation on my $100,000 Mac Media 100 workstation (with a $15,000 10GB drive array, $20,000 in software, a blazing fast 8100 running at 110Mhz, an unheard-of 256MB of RAM, etc.).
Then it dawned on me that I can now do more advanced video work than I could with the above system, with a $1,600 laptop and a $9.95 program. Heck, you don't even need a video camera to use iMovie.
Thanks to Apple, more and more people are exploring digital video, but I wasn't sure if people realized how far we've come in such a short time. The whole art form has been liberated and simplified. I recently set up a Bryce server farm in my house to render animation between three Macs and a PC. It took about 30 minutes of setup time. Six years ago, that type of computing power would have been nearly impossible without several SGI machines and $1,000,000. Apple has opened the door to new filmmakers who have no idea how lucky they are.
Anyway, Photo to Movie inspired me to do a tutorial on making your own documentary movie. And although I can't promise that our work will ever measure up to that of Mr. Burns, it doesn't mean we can't aspire to do great work! It is important to note that this isn't an article on video art. The purpose of this piece is to empower and inspire your imagination. When it comes to art, you're on your own. Also, this is not a highly technical article on editing video. This is just a fun exercise to get your feet wet.
When making our documentary video, we need to make the decision of what it will be about. Remember, video is story/concept driven, so pick items that have a narrative thread. I thought that I would use some photos from my childhood on the farm.
My first decision is about how many photos I plan to use. Part of this decision has to do with the length of the audio track. So, if you plan on setting your movie to music, you need to do a quick and dirty calculation of time per shot. So, let's get our audio piece lined up, shall we?
As a source of audio, you can use any MP3 file or even pull a CD track right from your CD-ROM while in iMovie. I decided to use an audio track from one of the selections up on iDisk. There is a folder in Software->Extras called FreePlay Music. Inside you'll find hundreds of royalty-free MP3 audio clips for use in your movies. The clips' length ranges from 10 seconds to several minutes.
Quick Tip: If you view the tracks in Column View, you can sample the audio before you download.
Now take the length of the audio track and divide it by the amount of images we've selected. My audio track is 2:03, so I convert that to seconds and drop the extra three seconds so I can work with a simple number. Later, I can always fudge the length of (trim) my clips to accommodate the extra three seconds. I take 120 seconds and divide it by the number of photos I'm using. In my case, I decided on six photos, which gives me 20 seconds per clip. Now, I know that 20 seconds doesn't sound like a lot of time, but go over to your TV and count to yourself for 20 seconds. How many shot changes do you see in the typical commercial?
I took my six photos, and scanned them all on one sheet. This saves me a great deal of scanning time. If you're using iPhoto, you can mimic Photoshop's editing abilities by importing the image several times and then cropping each copy, or just scan individual photos. Let's not forget you can use any images for this, not just scanned photos.
Let's talk about image resolution for a moment. Later, when we get to the Photo to Movie application, we want to avoid getting artifacts in our video (the same goes for iMovie), so when I scanned my image, I opted for a minimum of 300 dots per inch (dpi) to prevent unwanted distortions. You can get away with 72 dpi images for video, but when zooming in and out of an image, it is best to start with a higher resolution.
Since the look of the video we are trying to mimic is that of a Ken Burns B&W documentary, I decided to alter my photos by:
Converting them to grayscale (In iPhoto, change them to Black and White.)
Adjusting the curves (in iPhoto, play with the Brightness and Contrast), and adding some grain and imperfections to each image. I don't want the photos to appear perfect, or the illusion of time will be lost.
Go ahead and save the file as a jpeg or Photoshop file, and duplicate this process with each additional photo.
In order to save time, it is smart to plan out your movie before you begin to edit it. For me, I took the original photos and laid them out in the order in which I wanted them to appear. If you are planning to add narration to your movie, you may want to take this time to write the script that will go with each photo, and then time how long it takes for you to speak it (this is where the stopwatch comes in handy). You may want to use little sticky notes beneath each image (and I'm referring to actual pieces of paper). If using purely digital images, you can insert them into a Word doc, type the text there, and then print it out.
Originally, I thought of doing a narration for my movie, but I changed my mind because I thought the power of the music and the images would be diluted with words.
It is rare to find an application that does what it should in such a simple and straightforward way. And although it is missing a few features (which I hear are coming) that I would like to see as a professional video editor, it does such a respectable job for the price that I hardly miss them.
We begin by dragging our first image into the image well of the application. We see two squares. The green square is the Start Frame, or where our "camera" is when the movie begins. We can adjust the scale of this frame to give the illusion of zooming in a camera lens. Move the Start frame to where you want the clip to begin, and the End Frame (red box) to where you want the clip to end. Then set the duration of the clip; in this case, I set mine to 20 seconds.
A word about artistic interpretation -- since the world of art is a subjective one, I can't really tell you how to line up your camera shots for this. I can, however, give you some advice. I suggest that you place your end frame at a point that holds some significance or is the most powerful point in the image. This is the image that your viewer will ultimately be left with. Whatever you decide to do, just remember each image will have its own special meaning, so try to decipher that when making each clip.
Once we've set the start and end frame, we can preview the clip by using the Play button. If we're happy with the preview, we can go ahead and render this clip.
Under the File menu, you'll find a menu item called Advanced Options (this drops down a hidden drawer). Here we have the option of changing the duration of the clip to a more specific time frame, but we also have some control over the Acceleration/Deceleration of the clip, and the option to hold the camera at the start frame/end frame for a period of time to lend more impact to the image.
For example, say the duration of the clip is set to:
The camera will first hold the start frame in position for two seconds. It will go slow initially, speeding up until 10 seconds into the clip, then track over the image at the same rate until 15 seconds into the clip. Finally, it will slow down until it reaches the end frame, where it will stop and hold for two seconds.
For my own images, I went ahead and selected a four-second hold at the start frame, no hold on the end frame, and no acceleration or deceleration. I have plans to use a certain transition (cross dissolve) in iMovie, so holding the camera at the end frame won't be necessary.
Once you are happy with the clip, go ahead and hit Make Movie. Name the video clip and save it to a location, like the Movies folder. Be careful to select the DV Stream format, and if you live in North America, select NTSC as the Video Standard. Finally, if this video is going to tape, you should select high-quality rendering.
Now, I decided to skip a narration, but I did want to discuss a few points for those that decide to use it. There are a few ways to record your narration; one solution is to record the audio directly into iMovie.
If you take a peek in the iMovie application, you'll see a button called Audio. Here you'll find a line-level meter and, if your microphone is connected, you may see the meter spike as it detects sound. The problem with recording here is that some of you may run into a problem where iMovie has difficulty recording audio because of disk speed. It may not be able to keep up. If this happens to you, you'll need another third-party solution to record your audio. A good free solution, called Audio In, can be found on VersionTracker. The interface needs some work, but the price is right, and it does a respectable job.
I recorded a few samples and found that iMovie wouldn't recognize the AIFF format of the Audio In files. I'm not sure why this is, but in case this happens to you, I have a fast workaround. When you record your narration tracks with Audio In, it saves them to the desktop. Drag the files into the Library of iTunes. Then from iTunes, select Advanced->Convert Selection to MP3. Then just export the MP3 file to a folder.
So far, we've built all of the components we'll require to build our movie. Now, I was going to write a quick and dirty tutorial on iMovie, but we've just published an excellent intro by N.D. Woods. I will defer to his current (and future) article(s) for those details, but I do want to cover some specifics regarding our movie.
Step one is to locate and import all of the video clips we made with Photo to Movie, and let's not forget our audio tracks.
Drag the imported clips down to the timeline in the orderin which you would like them to appear. I suggest you use the tab with the little eyeball, which gives you a visual representation of the story narrative.
Mr. Woods has a discussion on the technical aspects of using transitions, but I wanted to add a point that had more to do with the artistic aspect.
A transition is the change from one scene to the next. It can be a straight cut, or an effect. In iMovie, the transitions are effects that bring two different scenes together. You don't have to use transitions; good examples of some of the best straight cuts ever can be found in the movie Lawrence of Arabia. In one scene, Lawrence has a lit match in his fingers and the moment he blows it out, there is a straight cut to the sun rising in the desert. Stunning!
However, transition effects can add a lot of substance to the images. The trick when using transitions in a short piece are using them sparingly and limiting the variety. In publishing, the rule of thumb is to limit your font choice; the same applies here. One of my biggest pet peeves when I see a PowerPoint presentation is when someone has used every available type of transition. Sometimes, less is more.
I use three transitions in my movie. The first, Fade In, is applied at the beginning of the first clip. It gives me a nice, "slow" entry into my movie, which fits the style of the music. The second transition I use, Cross Dissolve, is used between each clip. One of my favorites, this transition dissolves one clip out while fading the next clip in. The blend of the two clips has a nice "soft" and soothing feeling. Finally, my last transition is at the end of the movie. I use a Fade Out just as the last chord of music starts to fade.
The whole point of this article was to give you some sense of the power you have right there in your computer. You don't need the best equipment and you don't need a $1,000 video camera to get some value out of iMovie. A scanner or digital camera, a $10 shareware app, and an OS X Mac, and you're making movies.
In total, this movie took approximately one and a half hours to complete, and by using the Video Out on my iBook, I was able to transfer it to VHS with very little effort. So without further adieu, I present My Childhood.
Alan Graham is the creator of the Best of Blogs book series and is a frequent writer on the O'Reilly Network.
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