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Oh how we underestimate things

February 4, 1998
by Alex Zavatone

or Don't underestimate the time and effort required to do good video.

Another day, another project. And this time it seems that there's a fun dynamic but organization is lacking. Especially when it comes to video production. Now I'm no video expert, I'll deferr that to the vernerable Pat McClellan but I have had my history filming for the San Francisco monday night rollerblade. This means all the edits you make are on the fly and you have to film, synch sound off the cd player and skate up and down hills that you don't want to walk all at the same time. Then we all get beer and watch ourselves being dangerous. So I've got a little bit of film skills and even though I hesitate to call myself a video production expert, I was really taken aback on one of my latest projects.

See, the person preparing the film for the project flew off to a foreign country, with a plain old high 8 cam corder, no tripod and few video skills. The result was 2 hours of video that I had to plod through on my AV mac to try and find usable sections to capture. Remember that standard video capture rates are $40 per second of film if done professionally. More if they have to hack through it. So it was after looking at LOTS of video where the camera was not stable, the image was not framed for a long enough period of time, gratuitious fades, etc, etc. that I came up with a set of guidelines for video production for CD rom titles. Remember that video production can take up a significant time in your project - almost as much as the programming and art production. The following is from my two emails to the producer regarding "how to film video for a title that does not suck."

Think of the shot as a subject or as a story. Make sure at the end of your shot, that you have successfully "explained" your subject or your shooting has told a complete story. Think about what you have to do to be able to say, "Got it."

Frame your subject and allow time for the eye (not yours, the viewer's) to understand what you are filming. Do not zoom or pan until the target subject has been framed for enough time to allow the viewer to clearly see what you are filming.

General video shooting rules.

KEEP THE CAMERA STEADY.

Pans and Zooms are relevant after the subject has been suffeciently explained by just pointing a stable camera at it and filming. 30 seconds is a good time to steady the camera on a subject.

If people are to be in the shot, ask them not to stare into the camera or not to walk in front of the camera if you are trying to get a certain shot. (I'm talking about the forklift carrying the steamed cork here). If they are not people who speak you language, it's good to have a translator.

When panning, it is very important to keep the camera steady and in focus.

When zooming it is more important to keep the camera steady and in focus.

Zoomed shots are much more likely to screw up. One breath and the camera will jiggle, ruining the shot.

Effects should be added in post process not at the time you are filming. By effects, I mean fades.

Using professional equipment like Betacam SP, tripod, a tripod, a tripod, steady cam jr and a dolly can make much better use of your time.

You can purchase a camera from "good guys" or another AV store, go to Portugal and then return it when you get back. Evil I know but trips to Portugal are pricey these days.

A camera with nicely controllable focus is a good thing to have.

General video production notes.

We need to set up a production plan for how and when to do what when it comes to the video. I am formulating one and it looks like this:
1) capture all the acceptable video (in progress)
1.1) back it up.
2) review all the video and get an idea of how they will work and where they will work.
3) edit the uncompressed video to remove schmutz and other unwanted ickies.
3.1) back it up
4) storyboard the video scenes and narrations for them
5) perform narrations and mix in narrations in to copies of the uncompressed, edited videos.
5.1) back it up
6) batch compress copies to target datarates.
7) review them and back them up.
8) integrate in to the director movie.

To capture the video, I am proceeding with the equipment that I have. Multiple capture strategies have indicated that the following config is best for video capture on my AV Mac.

Mac 8500/150 with 233 606e vid cap card. Svideo ins. Best capture software: Premier. - Also tried the software that came with my Mac 8500 by Avid and my 6100 by Fusion. Not good enough. With only 80 Mb Ram, I can not capture more than a few seconds to Ram. The internal scsi bus is faster than external so using a fast internal drive as the scratch disk for video storage gets me up to 1 more fps in recording. Best rate so far is 13.84 fps at 320 x 240. Compression. Component video. Apply compression AFTER not while the video is being captured.

After capture using a lossless codec and the most of the above steps are done, the batch compressor being used is MediaCleaner Pro (previously MovieCleaner Pro). I am going to be expecting a data rate of a 4 x cd rom. This is not 1200kps. It is determined by using data throughput measurement off several mac and pc 4x drives. We then take 90-95% of that as a safety factor to help eliminate skipping off a cd. Expect the dataRate to be < 600k.

Until delivery options, licensing options and Director support options with QT 3 are fixed, I am proceeding with cinepak compression and expecting QT 2.1.2 on mac and QT 2.1 (build 49 I think) on PC. QT 3 delivery is simply not an option at this date (4/14/98) These strategies should:

  1. get video safely captured and stored
  2. provide the methods to apply effects and post process.
  3. scrunch media down to 4x CD ROM compatable datarates.

Successful video production is a very intensive and time consuming process. It is as difficult as the programming in many cases. Setting up and agreeing on structure on which to proceed is vital at this point.

A Director user since 1987, Alex (Zav) Zavatone has worked on the engineering teams for both Director and Shockwave, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Recent investigations find him developing foundation classes for Director with asynchronous process management and other life threatening activities. In its early days, he had something to do with this Internet thing known as "DOUG". A noted ne'erdowell, slacker and laggard, Mr. Zavatone is nonetheless is trusted by children, small animals and the elderly. In his spare time, Mr. Zavatone rehabilitates lame desert trout.

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