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ATPM 10.12
December 2004


How To



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How To

by Sylvester Roque,

Simple Steps To Better Video

The last time we met I wrote about my experiences using iMovie to create a short silent movie clip. Just as that article was going to press, FrankenMac came to an untimely end and had to be replaced. I have finally gotten the replacement tweaked to my satisfaction (temporarily) with the exception that iMovie has recently been crashing. While I’m resolving that problem, it seems like a good time to think about what happens during the video editing process before a video editing program is even launched.

As you know, I am relatively new to iMovie. The last video capture work that I did involved a Windows box with occasional forays into editing using a Mac. I discovered the hard way that video editing software is not omnipotent. No matter how well designed the software is, it cannot correct every flaw in your raw video. It’s much better to start with the best possible footage and let the editing software tweak it than to try to fix bad footage.

Getting Off to a Good Start

Perhaps the most common method of getting video into applications such as iMovie is the video camera. During the last several years I have actually spent very little time using video cameras, but watching others use their cameras has convinced me that many people do not understand the features of their cameras. Although many modern cameras have features that help stabilize the picture or enhance sound, judging from some of the video I have seen recently these features are not being used. So, dear reader, I’m about to say something I rarely say. Start by reading the camera’s manual. Find out what features are available and how to use them.

While you are looking at documentation, check out the help files for your video-editing program. Often you will find such important information as the maximum size of a clip, a shooting tip or two, and information about which video formats the program will import. iMovie, for example, prefers to work in DV formats. It will import QuickTime movies created in other programs with certain limits. For example, I have several QuickTime files with file sizes around 1 GB. About halfway through the import process a warning message appears informing me that the file exceeds the program’s limits.

After you have had an opportunity to peruse the documentation and set up your camera, try taking your camera on a little video safari. What you shoot is not important, nor is it important that this be footage that you plan on keeping. Your goal is simply to get used the camera controls and test those special features.

On your video safari, test the camera in a variety of sound and lighting conditions to find out the camera’s strengths and limitations. Shoot a short clip with the special features off and then shoot the same clip with these features turned on to compare the difference. Many of these features do not simply toggle off or on but have multiple settings. Experiment with the settings to see what the effect will be.

This phase of the project is a little more like my usual poke it with a sharp stick method of doing things. In any case, do this well before that important event that you want to capture. Even if the footage you create isn’t quite up to par, don’t delete it right away.

What Do I Do Next

The next step is to put the information gleaned from your video safari into practice. The next time there’s a family gathering, birthday party, or other video-worthy event you will be ready.

Start your day of filming by making a short video clip at the venue where the event will be held. Like your video safari, this clip is not intended to be a keeper. If you can preview the clip in your viewfinder it will help you determine whether your camera is set up properly. Even small changes in lighting or where the camera is positioned may significantly impact the look of the final video. Don’t delete the clip; it may prove useful in later stages of editing.

Now the information from your video safari becomes very important. You will have a better idea of how to set up the camera and make the best use of whatever image stabilization features are at your disposal. Keep in mind that even with these features turned on, most cameras do not like sudden, sharp movements. Keep your camera and body movements as smooth and purposeful as possible.

As you are shooting the next blockbuster, remember to keep the movie clips short enough to be imported by your editing program. iMovie, and some other video editors, will perform this step for you. Whether you break the clips during shooting, or the editing software does it later, the goal is to keep clips short enough to be used by your software. In iMovie this generally means keeping clips to less than ten minutes each.

The Shoot Is Over

The party is over and you are back at home. It’s time to put those video clips into some kind of order. When you import your clips, be sure to import that first test clip that you shot when you got to the event. This clip might prove helpful if you need to clean up any bad audio.

iMovie does not have a lot of tools to clean up any audio echo or hum in your video. For that you need a little outside help. Here’s a little trick that may help if you have background noise you want to remove from your video. It’s easy, but you will need an audio editing program such as Amadeus to help. For this task we are going to remove some background noise from your video, and we shall assume that you have already installed your audio program. The specific steps will vary somewhat from program to program.

Open your audio program so that you have a blank file open. Make sure that your program is set to save the file in the same format as it started out in iMovie (usually AIFF).

Import your test clip into iMovie and select all of the clips. Extract the audio from the clips. The audio clips will appear in the time line. With the audio from your sample clip selected, choose Copy from the Edit menu.

Paste the audio that you just copied into your audio program. Depending upon the speed of your machine it may take a moment for the waveform to appear, so be patient.

In your audio program select a portion of the sound that represents the noise you want to remove. In Amadeus, go to the Effects menu and choose Denoising>Sample Noise. This will become the reference so that the noise can be removed. Once you have done this, go back to iMovie and select a piece of audio that you want to improve. Copy this file and past it into a new file in Amadeus. Now you are ready to put Amadeus to work. Remove the noise by returning to the Effects menu and choose Denoising>Supress Noise. Depending upon the length of the clip, this process may take some time, so patience is the watchword. When the process is completed save the file.

Although you could perform more audio editing tricks in Amadeus, don’t do anything that will shorten the length of the file. Trimming any length from the audio may lead to synchronization problems when the audio is copied back into the video editing program.

Using an outside program helps you get around some of the audio editing limitations of iMovie, but what do you do about some of the video limitations without springing for a much more expensive editing program? The solution might be plug-ins.

Plug-ins are essentially mini applications that extend the functionality of a larger host program. Most people are familiar with these add-on filters and effects through graphics programs such as Photoshop, but they also exist for video editors such as Final Cut and iMovie. A quick trip to any search engine will reveal a wide array of plug-ins for either editing program. Once you are sure the basic program won’t meet your needs, look to plug-ins as a possible solution.

The largest problem I have had with iMovie is file size limitations when video is imported. If this is a problem for you, look for a little outside help. I solved the problem by upgrading to QuickTime Pro but there are other programs such as Drop DV, which divide larger files into pieces that iMovie can handle.

I hope this gives you some quick and dirty solutions to some common video problems. In the coming months I’ll likely be putting more video tips to good use. I just got Final Cut Express and I’d like to put it through its paces.

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Reader Comments (2)

Megan O · December 4, 2007 - 05:48 EST #1
Thanks for the help on the noise reducing features of Amadeus! Really works wonders.
Sylvester Roque (ATPM Staff) · December 4, 2007 - 18:03 EST #2
I'm glad you found those comments helpful. I've used that trick on audio files several times. There may be better ways to clean up these kinds of problems but I am far from an audio guru.

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