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November 30 2010


MediaStorm’s 10 More Ways to Improve Your Multimedia Right Now

As a followup to a previous post, here are ten more ways to improve your work right now, no matter how challenging your original assets may be.

Make edits with purpose. Always ask why you are making an edit at a particular place. Is the cut motivated by action? A musical beat? A pause in narration? If you don’t have a reason, you need to find a new location for your edit. Every edit must be motivated.

When editing your visuals, don’t cut in the middle of a word. Doing so is confusing. Edit between words, or even better, edit according to written grammar: at a comma, a period, or to emphasize a word. Cutting after words like because and however is also effective.

Edit rhythmically. Make the first cut at the beginning of a spoken phrase. Time the first phrase so it ends right before a musical beat. Cut to another a second image on the musical beat. Pause a few frames before completing the audio under this second. It’s easier to understand once you see the rhythm in action. Check out the “Town Bar” section of Driftless at the 1:37 mark.

Limit the number of times your interview subject is on-screen. There are three main reasons to show your subject on-screen: 1) To introduce someone so the audience knows who is talking. 2) When the subject is expressing emotion that you want your audience to see. 3) As filler, i.e., when you have nothing else to use as coverage. Avoid situation three whenever possible. For an example of an emotional response, see the end of Kingsley’s Crossing.

Don’t start your project with text. The first 10 seconds of a project are crucial. It’s where you audience decides whether they trust you enough to stick around. Starting with text says that your work can’t sustain itself without first reading some background information. That’s not dramatic. There’s nothing wrong with using text, just try to avoid it first thing.

Make sure your text slides are long enough to comprehend. You should be able to read them to yourself at least twice. If not, lengthen them.

If you need to use explanatory text, don’t clump it together in a paragraph. Paragraphs are for print. Show one sentence at a time. If you need a second one, wait until you think the viewer has finished the first to bring the second on screen.

Choose your fonts wisely. Fonts are like attire. Pick one that best represents the occasion. Of the thousands of fonts available to you, which one best represents the spirit and mood of your work? Use that one.

Always lead with your strongest images. You may instinctively want to save your best work for the end. But if you don’t grab the viewers’ attention quickly, they won’t make it to the end. See the beginning of Marcus Bleasdale’s Rape of a Nation for an example.

Delete all dissolves between images. I’ve mentioned this one before but it’s worth repeating. The eye sees cuts. When we look from one object to another, we see a blink. We don’t see one object then dissolve to another. Remove all of your image dissolves and your work will improve immediately. For more on the eye and its relationship to editing, see Walter Murch’s excellent book In the Blink of an Eye.

Please add your own tips and tricks in the comments below.

July 15 2010


MediaStorm’s Guide to Using Apple’s ProRes 422 Codec

One of the questions I’m asked most frequently about Final Cut is, “When do I use Apple’s ProRes 422 codec?”

To tackle this question it’s first necessary to understand a few things about codecs.

Shooting video is a very intensive digital capture process. It requires cameras to capture lots of information in a short amount of time. To handle so much raw data, most cameras need to compress what they capture. A codec is essentially a compression scheme, a way to encapsulate so much material into a containable format.

Standard DV footage, for instance, uses a compression scheme referred to as the DV codec. Similarly, HD footage — 1080i60, 1080p, etc. — uses the HDV codec.

Codec takes its name from “encoder” and “decoder” since your computer must now decode the encoded file during playback.

When you create a new sequence in Final Cut, you are building what will become a new movie. Thus, you need to define what kind of codec you’ll be using when it’s played back. This is where you need to decide if ProRes 422 is the proper choice.

The answer is actually quite simple.

If you will be using only one kind of video in your project, HDV 1080p for example, then you should use 1080p’s native codec, HDV, for your sequence. If you’re using only DV footage, set your sequence codec to DV.

On the other hand, if your project includes more than one format — both DV and HDV material for example — then you’ll need to set your FCP sequence codec to ProRes 422.

The ProRes 422 codec is so powerful that it can contain two or more other codecs within it, without requiring extra rendering. It’s a truly remarkable ability.

For a technical description of how to set up your sequence’s codec, see Tips from the MediaStorm Final Cut Pro workflow.

In Final Cut 7, the latest version, Apple introduced three new flavors of 422. About 90 percent of the time, you’ll use the standard ProRes 422. But if you’d like more information on the other options, see Final Cut Pro 7. Expanded ProRes Family.

Finally, if you’re unsure of your file’s codec, open it in QuickTime, then use the shortcut key command-I to open the application’s Movie Inspector window.

There you’ll see all kinds of metadata including the clip’s length and file size as well as the codec it uses.

June 14 2010


MediaStorm’s Guide to Custom Final Cut Shortcuts

Frequently when working in Final Cut, I need to find the source of a clip. The most obvious way to do this is to right-click on the clip and select Reveal in Finder.

But I’d prefer to use a faster method, specifically a keyboard shortcut key.

To find a function’s shortcut, enter a keyword into the Help>Search field window. You’ll see all of the menu items that contain the word ‘reveal.’ Use the down arrow key to select Reveal in Finder.

A large blue arrow points to the item under the View menu.

Notice that there’s no shortcut key to the right of the menu. This indicates that Apple has not assigned a default keystroke to this task.

Not to worry. Final Cut provides a straightforward method for customizing your keyboard with new shortcut keys.

Choose Tools>Keyboard Layout>Customize or Option-H.

Final Cut launches the default keyboard layout window.

This tool illustrates each of Final Cut’s shortcut keys with an icon on the respective key. Note the tabs on top for modifier keys (command, option, control, etc.).

To the right of the default keyboard layout window is a series of expandable menus. Each contains a Final Cut function, an icon, and for some, a keyboard shortcut.

In the search box above this menu, type ‘reveal,’ You’ll see a number of results. At the bottom of the list is Reveal in Finder.

To create a custom shortcut, you’ll need to drag the function onto the keyboard. First though, click the lock at the lower left of the window in order to amend the default settings.

In most cases, you’ll want to add the function to an unused key combination. In my example, I wanted to include the F key, as Reveal in Finder is a form of ‘find.’

Sorting through the tab, you’ll see that in the control-option pane the F key is empty.

Simply drag the function from the left side of the keyboard layout window onto the right-side key.

Place the icon on the F key.

Lock the window again, and you’re good to go.

Now, when I want to find out the source location of a video or photograph, I just select the clip then use the custom keystroke control-option-F, and a Finder window will open, revealing the file.

The same workflow can be used for just about any Final Cut function that doesn’t use a default keystroke.

Tell us your favorite custom keystrokes in the comments.

June 10 2010


Problem importing .mov and .m4v files into FCP

I am having difficulties importing files into Final Cut Pro, even when I convert .avi files to .mov, they still require huge render times once they get dropped into timeline. The sequence settings appear to match so I am baffled.

Tags: video fcp

May 31 2010


Best way combine video/photo of varying file types

I have a few question about importing video. I use Final Cut Pro to edit but have problems making it play nice with various mix of file types I use - .avi, .mov, .jpg, etc. - a combo of video and still photos usually. How do I know which sequence settings will work best for each project? Another problem I am having is that even after I convert .avi files into .mov for import into FCP, I can't get transitions to work (except for audio ones). As well, I am wondering about best Export options. I export MPEG4 then convert to flv for Flash. Then I save a Flash swf at medium quality to reduce file size. Is this a logical workflow? I don't want to degrade file quality more than needed. If anyone has some tips or good links to help me understand this process better, it would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Tags: video fcp flash
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