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My 2008 Web Video Blog

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Where's the New News? - September 2008

Clearly, I haven't spent much time here for a while. The world has gone HDV and although a huge number of videographers at all levels continue to use Standard Def camcorders, the work flow has become so much simpler in the past few years that you don't see the questions you used to on the forum groups. Nobody worries about IRQs for capture cards, or the sustained speed of hard drives. But my interest in all things video is undiminished. I've just moved it to my blog, a bit easier to post to than the web site, and still addressing the world of digital video in general and web site video in particular. Come visit. Better yet register on the site for notice from Feedburner whenever a new post goes up. Hope to see you there.

My eBook Now Available, July 2007

To be busier we often need to be better informed. All around us change is rampant. Flash developers in Bangalore and Mumbai are bidding on work from North America. New forms of digital entertainment and enterprise are quickly entering the mainstream. Sources of information and opinion are countless and monitoring events of interest is too demanding for most working professionals.

In writing "New Digital Business Models", I have attempted to share some learning and describe opportunities and challenges for digital content creators in the new flat world. Doing business in the Google era turns old business models upside down. If you would like a copy of this 1st edition, use the email link on the left and enter "TheBook" in the subject line. I will forward your copy by return email in PDF format.

Book Cover

Website Video Blog, May 2007

Like a few gazillion other people, I've started a blog. Mine is connected in subject matter to our NetVideoMaker.Com site, but because it's a blog and not a business web site, I use it more loosely than NVM, and some of my posts are directed to videographers and digital content creators like myself. Please visit and feel free to add comments to anything that interests you. I'll be talking about my new eBook, greenscreen projects and new products available from NVM. I hope you'll join me.

And speaking of greenscreen, if you have a chromakey tool but lack the means to create your own clips, Ozzy Osbourne is here to help. That's right. Ozzy is offering a song's worth of downloads, all shot against a green backdrop, which together will make a music video. It should be fun! For however long it lasts you can start your downloads right here.

Exciting New Products, May 2007

I have been a busy boy for the past month. If you've been reading here lately you know that my new web site addresses business people who see the value in greeting their web visitors in video. Now I have perfected the creation of transparent, floating video - something I call SiteGreeter - and a product I'm betting you haven't seen elsewhere. Take a look at the demo and put your imagination into high gear.

My other ongoing project is an eBook on New Digital Business Models. We all know that the world is changing rapidly around us. Competition, even at the level of the individual, is going global. Innovation routinely creates new tools, new possibilities and new challenges to our commitment to learn and grow, to stay ahead of the pack. For videographers and content creators in other digital media making a living while seeing the broad picture is very difficult. To decide if the book is for you, download the introduction in PDF format, right here. I'm still working on the final chapters so, if you like what you read, come back to find out when it will be complete, or email me with a request to be contacted about it.

Promotional Postcard for NVM.Com

A Working Winter, April 2007

Looking back in this section I'm shocked that I haven't made an entry since before the snow fell around here. Now it's gone. I haven't been idle, but I have been working in another area. The July 06 entry below introduces Ultra 2, a keying application for DV that has opened a very big door to quality greenscreen production in miniDV/DVCAM. There is an HDV version available as well, but I'm working in DV. The result of many months of effort is a new service company, making its web debut at NetVideoMaker.Com. The site describes the powerful combination of video and search engine marketing to bring people actively searching for a service right to the door of the client providing the service. Search on "dental implants toronto" and up pops a sponsored link, connected to a video on the client's web site. The video offers free information on the subject of the search. When a visitor has watched it, he or she is in a position to make contact by email or telephone, and more likely to thanks to having both the opportunity to greet the professional involved and to receiving helpful and free information.

The centrepiece of NetVideoMaker.Com is the demonstration video, shot entirely against a greenscreen and edited using Ultra 2 and its optional collections of virtual backgrounds. Those without any video production background who've seen it are universally amazed when the greenscreen "trick" is revealed.

The other bit of training up I've had to do to get here is in creating Flash video output from original AVI output. The new VP6 codec finally brought Flash video into contention, although it still lags Windows Media Video in quality for file size. OTOH, it goes everywhere, including MAC, and the application I use also makes Flash banners and other cool animated stuff. Take a look, and feel free to ask questions or make comments about what you see there.

Promotional Postcard for NVM.Com

Something on the Small Screen, September 2006

I've mentioned my first documentary a few times in recent months, but now it's a reality, released on DVD Video through the web site I built for the purpose. As challenging as producing it was, it's another big job to sell it without a marketing budget. The usual route, after pestering friends and family, is to seek free publicity. I sent out media kits to local papers and to radio and TV shows with a copy of the DVD, a media release and cover letter. The first to respond was Toronto's #1 TV morning show, called Breakfast Television. I got almost exactly four minutes to answer questions while they showed some clips. By the time I got home I had notices of payment received from Paypal and they continued to come in for several days. It was no flood but it was encouraging, as were some of the emails and calls I received. I still don't know if it's possible to cover the costs involved but the experiences along the way have been mostly great.

Something on the Big Screen, August 2006

I don't get a lot of commercial video work but when I do it's usually an adventure. Last month a former client invited me to create a piece for the newly installed flat panel display in the resort lobby. They offer a number of adventurous options to guests and wanted them captured in pursuasive segments to encourage higher sales. We're talking floatplane sightseeing tours over the lake, ATV safaris, trail riding, boat/motor rentals and of course, golf.
I began shooting just after sunrise, at the golf course next door. Then I shot from a four seater Cessna as we landed on a narrow hidden lake where their wilderness camp is located. One adventure after another until, twelve hours later, I had it all on tape. A few days later I delivered the finished DVD (first play/looping) and had the pleasure of watching it with the client, whose high five told me all I needed to know.

Hollywood, Here I Come! July 2006

Since I first got a look at the web site video I've been fascinated by a piece of software from Serious Magic, called Ultra 2. Recently I downloaded their trial version, and purchased a portable green screen, which you see in the picture to the right. The two things together allow me to "key" out the green and put the resulting image on top of any other image, including numerous virtual sets provided by Serious Magic, some in the software, the majority available separately in libraries, which are not inexpensive.
To make life easier, my friend Jim and I set up in his yard, using the bright sunshine to avoid setting up banks of soft boxes. It was just a trial so we weren't overly concerned about matching lighting conditions to the background. If you haven't seen Ultra 2, or aren't familiar with the concept of green screen shooting, take a look at this screen shot from the trial software. Put any green screen clip into the window on the left of the screen, and any background or virtual set into the right hand pane. Instantly the key is displayed over top of the chosen background. When you use some of the virtual sets that begin with long pans that end with the "talent" in position it can be very impressive stuff.
Now take a look at a video clip from this session. If you look closely at either the screen shot or the video, you may notice some garbage around my left forearm. Where a part of me didn't have the green screen behind it, the key doesn't work. Just something to remember when we're doing something serious. Another thing to remember is to buy the software, so everything you do doesn't have DEMO written large across it.

Feedback from Filmmakers, May 2006

Early in April I took my first short film to a meeting of digital filmmakers here in Toronto. It was an opportunity to get feedback from more experienced players before finishing the final edit. Discussion after viewing was lively and candid. One aspect that got a lot of input was music. With one exception the musical selections I used under the narration were royalty free tracks from various suppliers. People either loved or hated the opening music and feelings were strong enough that I had to take a second look, or listen, at the choice I'd made. While I was still auditioning alternate music an email from the Video Business Advisory introduced a new supplier, namely Stock20.com, who were offering a free song with registration. I sampled some of their tracks and found them to be well suited to my kind of narrative video work. And when you decide to buy a track you have the option of downloading a zip file containing numerous versions of the piece, in various lengths, which is a real bonus. They also offer a referral program which lets you earn more free tracks by making others aware of the site. If you need versatile music tracks in your productions I'd encourage you to check them out via this link.
Over the past few months I've learned what I think most people involved in a creative endeavor eventually do - that you can tweak and fiddle and edit and amend forever. So I've told myself this project is finished. I hope to offer it for sale on its own web site by the end of June.

My First Documentary, April 2006

In July of 2005 a friend's remark over lunch began a journey that is nearing completion after ten long months. Here in Toronto, Canada we have a geological feature in the harbour called The Toronto Islands. This cluster of islands protected by a continuous spine of land facing the open lake has a long and fascinating history of settlement, struggle and heroic achievement. Researching its past has taken me into uncharted water, where I have time and again encountered the kindness of strangers.
I'm hopeful of marketing the project as DVD Video and am sometimes overwhelmed by the amount of work and number of tasks this objective involves. Just creating an inventory of disks for sale requires a master and art work, pages of clearance paperwork establishing my right to use the images and music I have, money (of course), a PayPal account for taking credit cards, and a registration with the Province to be able to collect taxes on local sales. And that's one heading on the to-do list. For a sneak peak at the work, visit the evolving site -The Toronto Islands

High-End Digital, February 2006

If you've ever wondered what $200,000 would get you in a camera, look no further. This is the Sony HD-f950, a true high definition digital camera capturing such a high data rate that it doesn't use tape at all.
Only about 100 exist today, and one of those is owned by the Pixel Corps in San Francisco. Their founder, Alex Lindsay, was in Toronto recently, a stop in a tour devoted to demonstrating the merits of so much camera in doing greenscreen work - the heart and soul of special effects movies, commercials and other visual media. In fact, this camera was used to shoot both Sin City and Starwars, Revenge of the Sith.

The camera body, lens and viewfinder add up to that big number, but you aren't done yet. To capture the stream requires hardware up the wazoo. The capture process will fill up a 240 GB drive in minutes. Pixel Corps is experimenting with the work flow, toward the objective of creating a system that would allow participants in the creative process - a sci-fi movie for example - to view work in progress from anywhere a high speed Internet connection is available. Today, many young digital video enthusiasts are interested in the green screen process because of how central it has become to movie making. Many films today shoot actors in front of a green screen and add the backgrounds later. Serious Magic sells a screen and software combo for those of us using DV, but DV doesn't key well for reasons a bit too technical to discuss here. HD at a 4:4:4 sampling rate contains enough colour data and resolution to make credible keying work beautifully, and the expense of the camera is quickly eliminated in the improved productivity of the entire process. Fewer expensive man-hours downstream, day after day eventually makes economic sense of the purchase, if you're in the business, that is.

Alex and his crew have a second f950 available to them, thanks to a Pixel Corps member in San Francisco, who wrote a cheque for his!

A Little HDV - September 2005

If you regularly devour video magazines, and certainly if you use or have used Vegas Video in your editing, you will likely know the name of Douglas Spotted Eagle. "Spot" as his friends call him is an authority on audio, with multiple Grammy nominations to prove it. He is also hugely well informed on the video side and I saw that for myself last week during a Sony-sponsored three hour seminar at Theatre D here in Toronto. The subject was HDV, both the hardware and software sides of producing high definition video. I have followed the bubble of interest generated particularly by the introduction of Sony's Z1U and FX1 HDV camcorders, and I have struggled to understand the many new issues introduced by working with demanding data rates to produce projects that, at the consumer level, aren't yet well supported anywhere but on the PC. For example, were you to complete a project in HDV with your new camcorder, you'd need a Blue-Ray DVD disk to burn it to, a player that will read your disk, AND a TV set that can display 1080 lines of horizontal resolution. Along the way you would also have to have built or bought a RAID array of hard disks, a dual processor PC, and software plugins for your editing application, like Cineform HD for Premiere. And none of this would have been worthwhile unless you had first learned to use the HDV camcorder, with its many features beyond even the better DV camcorders like the PD-170/VX2100 variety. If it's so demanding of time and money, why are these new camcorders getting so much attention? It's because, in addition to their high definition talents, they also produce the same SD (standard definition) data stream as your current DV camcorder, by downsampling the HDV image as you transfer it to your PC. This means you continue to work in DV today, while building a library of tapes with HDV content, for the day you're ready to work in that format, or your client wants it, if you're making some money at this hobby. Not only does it downsample on the fly but the images that result are as good or better than what you're getting now. And, as always, the prices are coming down. Sony has a new HDV camcorder coming to market, smaller than the FX1 and with fewer bells and whistles, for about USD$2,700, which is about what I recall paying for my VX2000 three years ago. So, if you're a serious video enthusiast and are thinking about replacing your camcorder, you can safely move to HDV without actually having to work with it until you're ready, if ever. Meanwhile you'll have a state of the art camera shooting beautiful widescreen images you can view on your laptop, or desktop LCD monitor. And, if HDV is out of reach for now, you might take heart in one comment Spot made about the technology - the audio captured in the MPEG Transport Stream is not CD quality, not as good as a DV camcorder captures. Spot uses a Sony mini-disk recorder velcroed to his Z1U, instead of the on-board audio - but then he's a Grammy winner for sound, so he's a little picky.

Trying Something New - June 2005

Since leaving the world of career employment in May of 2004 I have done contract work in my former field and worked hard at creating a new media business, producing video, primarily for the Internet, for hospitality clients. Anyone who has gone down the same road knows how challenging it is to begin from scratch and make a living, and I'm not there yet. So, when I ran across Google's AdSense program on a travel video web site operated by a video production house, I looked into it. The result is apparent at the bottom of a number of pages on this site. AdSense appears quite clever in determining the subject of the page and delivering small ad links relevant to the topic(s) addressed. Whether or not the ads will help to pay for the site remains to be seen, but I don't think they're in the way of enjoying the content and you're welcome to ignore them if that's your preference.

Back, with some work done, March 2005

Okay, it has been rather a long time since I made an appearance here, and no, I haven't been in jail. I've been busy. Man have I been busy, relocating my home and office, tuning up a new life as an independant, business building and of course, celebrating life's good things back at the turn of the year. But here I am, reconnected and ready to rumble, revising the site on my notebook, wirelessly connected to the 'net via a router and my spiffy new hi-speed cable modem. What I have to share today is three video segments, all WMV9 encodings at 512 mbps. My old workhorse PC, a PIII-450 MHz, stutters a little running them from the web, but the notebook and editing PC have no problem digesting them. They are three of four segments I've been working on for a while now, to promote a beautiful resort property ninety minutes east of Toronto, and run by folks I've come to know and like very much. The versions I've put up are the most current, incorporating stills and video shot the first weekend in March, to add to last summer's footage. Each runs just under two minutes and is tailored to a particular guest interest. Just click on the name and off you go:

Software for Enthusiasts, November 2004

I recently made one software purchase and am evaluating a second, both of them of interest to those of us who can't get enough neat stuff for video work. The first is called Imaginate, from Canopus, an application for adding motion to still images both via drag and drop preset motion paths and by simple keyframing decisions you make yourself. I know of nothing that will do a better, faster job of panning and zooming on high resolution stills, for the money. My copy plugs into Premiere 6.5 (Pro too if I used it) and also functions as a stand-alone, exporting DV AVI files you can bring back into a non-linear editor. You can look at a short sample, done with the trial version, by clicking HERE.

The other is called DV Rack, from Serious Magic. This is a more expensive and more sophisticated piece of software that turns a modern laptop into a broadcast monitor, with vector scope and waveform monitor, in the field or studio, captures video live to a hard drive, allows you to see two levels of zebras, monitor audio, and make adjustments to your camera setttings, provided the camera offers settings options (as my VX2000 does). The direct-to-drive capture is a wonderful thing - no tape to capture at real time, although you can shoot tape as a back up. No drop outs or other tape-related glitches, no waiting to see the shot. At the moment Serious Magic is offering a USD$200 rebate on purchase, which makes it about USD$295 - not inexpensive and not of great use to everyone with a digital camcorder but worth a look at their web site.

DV Rack main screen.

Working for Experience, October 2004

A few weeks ago I received an email from someone looking for a videographer to volunteer time on what was intended to become a pilot for a series pitch to a well-known cable channel. The producer, a former journalist with big city papers, had an ambitious shooting schedule, only late day, only clear skies, and I wasn't sure I wanted to make that big a committment, but I agreed to an introductory shoot, and found myself in the rear of a four-seater Cessna shooting pilot training. I went a second time and got much better results, thanks to the experience of the first flight. Working exposure and focus, taking audio from both the airplane intercomm and a shotgun mic, getting in-cockpit footage properly exposed, then switching to shooting the fall colours below - it was quite a workout, and got to be fun. And I didn't have to worry about meeting the demanding schedule. The producer fell off the roof of his house while doing some renovation work. He broke his arm badly and won't be flying again this year. Apparently it's safer 3000 feet up than closer to the ground.

Still from a draft series opener.

Editing for Mood with Music - September, 2004

This weekend I went back to footage I had captured in June, following a whirlwind trip to NYC, to buy some gear at B & H and take in a seminar at AIVF (Ass'n of International Video and Filmmakers). I hadn't shot a lot and was stumped as to what to do with it when I first tried. This time I looked for music first, and once I'd found something that felt right, I went back in to edit to it. Once it was done and I had some time to think about it, I realized I had done another piece a year before, also edited to a music track, but very different in intent and feeling. The older piece was an attempt to take the viewer on a fast-paced visit to an old area of Toronto then recently renovated into upscale shops, restaurants, galleries and the like. The new piece is much more somber and brooding, built around 9/11, both the Towers site and the city in general. Watching them both will take you under four minutes in total. I think you will admit it's an interesting study in what music can do to turn clips into a story.
This is the fast-paced format.
This is the somber, brooding format.

Went Away & Made Something - August, 2004

I took my own recent advice while on vacation in Quebec in early August. It can be challenging to balance the need to shoot with the need to make sure your partner enjoys the trip, and I have found that the result is usually far less footage than from trips taken solo. But if you apply what you've learned about framing, light, exposure, coverage for editing, and a level camera, what you DO have time to shoot should be worth the work. This finished video had a higher than usual ratio of minutes used to minutes shot, which tells me that focusing on what I was doing during my infrequent shooting episodes paid off in more usable segments than average. Or maybe I just threw in stuff I should have left out. You be the judge.

Overlooking the St Lawrence from the Citadelle

Get Away & Make Something - July, 2004

I recently gave myself a four-day vacation at the Elmhirst's Resort on the north shore of Rice Lake, in Southern Ontario. While there I worked hard at adding to my familiarity with the manual controls on my VX2000, and trying some new things. When I stay somewhere beautiful, with beautiful surroundings I shoot with the idea of making a short promotional video - sometimes they get bought and help pay for the trip. I'm pleased with the result of the effort that came from this outing, now playing on the video page.

Flags on the property describe the citizenship of most visitors, some returning over 30 years!

Video in The Big Apple - June, 2004

June is my birth month and this year I gave myself a special present - a trip to New York City to shop at B&H, and attend my first meeting as a member of the AIVF (Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers). Checked into my hotel and back on the street I hiked across Manhattan to the Mecca of video gear, from whom I have web-ordered much of my kit, including the VX2000 clutched in my sweaty mitt. The temperature hit a record high for the day but nothing slowed my quest for a fluid tripod head, and new tripod with optional ball--leveling centre column. You have to see B&H to believe it. Beyond being Toyland for image makers they have a system unlike anything I've seen in my 30-year retail career. Conveyor belts run through display counters, and overhead, moving your purchases to a central check-out area where first you pay and then you pick up. I got the expert help and hands-on learning I needed to make my selection and fifteen minutes later was gratefully seated on the patio of the nearby Tupelo Grill, where alone at a table for four I spread out my loot and assembled everything. The next morning, at the World Trade Centre site, I discovered just how indispensible the ball leveler system is for quick set up. Twist one way to loosen the ball, move the camera while watching the level, twist to lock it down and in seconds you're shooting from a stable and level platform regardless of the ground you're on.

While in New York I attended an AIVF seminar on negotiating documentary rights, a new area of interest for me now that I have more time available. If you're serious about video, use the link above to visit their site and consider the merits of becoming a member.

Accessory Envy - May, 2004

My "Beyond Home Video" page has a new entry on treating Videographer's Disease, the test for which is how badly you want a 3-CCD camcorder. Anyone heading down that road is just asking for a case of accessory envy as the list of add-ons is truly endless. The new article includes seven pages of images with commentary, including pictures from a recent visit to Terry's "DV Shop" in Toronto. It won't solve your envy problem but it may give you some new targets to fixate on!

High Tech Home Theatre - April, 2004

Just about every big box electronics retailer in North America sports a TV area with 6" to 60" screens. If you're like me you will have spent more than a few minutes drooling in front of a widescreen Plasma or rear projection LCD in the past year. The state of home-based technology today is truly mind-boggling and nothing moreso than the DLP chip that powers this new generation of LCD television. Short for Digital Light Processing, the DLP chip surface is composed of countless tiny mirrors, each less than one-fifth the width of a human hair. Each mirror is controlled separately and can tilt toward or away from a light source to be bright or dim/dark. Each mirror represents a pixel on the screen and the length of time a group of mirrors is tilted toward or away from the light generates a greyscale range from black to white. When the light source is projected through a spinning colour wheel and timed properly, chrominance (colour) is added to luminance (the greyscale spectrum). Single-chip home systems can reproduce more than 16 million colours, but if that isn't enough, systems being built for cinema projection use one chip for each of red, blue and green, to generate something like 35 trillion colours. Like all projectors, TV sets using the technology need a lamp change after a few years, maintenance the owner can handle without a service call. My digital wish list collapsed when I added a Samsung HLN437W to it, but I'll get the mess cleaned up and get on with figuring out where the money is going to come from. The thought of watching my own DVDs on one of these makes my nose bleed.

TOP:close up of mirrors on a DLP chip BOTTOM: colour wheel between light and chip (c) www.dlp.com

More Lighting - March, 2004

When your curiosity about lighting leads you to tinkering with it you quickly find that it's a whole new art form. I haven't bought my first light kit yet but I picked up some bits and pieces recently and this weekend seemed the right time to make an attempt. I used a two-headed quartz-halogen work lamp with a 45" umbrella (velcrod and rubber banded to the light's handle) and a 22" silver reflector clamped to my one legitimate light stand to set up interview lighting with yours truly as the subject. You can see the results, with my narration right HERE (expanded content-April). And when you're done, visit a page from someone who actually knows what he's doing with a small light kit. Wayne Orr is a professional cameraman with some amazing credits and a true generosity when it comes to helping others climb the knowledge tree. This page is his demonstration of what minimal tools can accomplish. If your browser shrinks the picture to fit your screen, hover your mouse over the bottom right corner until a box with arrows in each corner appears. Click it and the pic will expand to its native size, which will make reading it a whole lot easier! And thanks to Wayne for steering me toward the JTL Everlight kit I intend to buy before summer arrives. You can take a look at that too, on this retailer's site. I haven't bought from them, so can't make any referrals here, but their images of the kit are quite helpful in understanding what you get for your US$500. Be sure to enlarge the picture - the new one is a different view of the lights and softboxes - and if you look closely at the face of one of the lights you can make out a small hole below the lamp, where the umbrella shaft fits. Saves a lot of grief with velcro and looks much more professional. The umbrella bounces the light source back onto your subject, creating a soft light with soft shadow.

Great Help with Good Lighting - March, 2004

Two years ago this month I built my first dedicated editing PC, and this summer will be the second anniversary of my VX2000 purchase. Both of these events signalled my growing addiction to digital video making, and my faith that I could somehow earn back the thousands of dollars they represented! Since then I've continued to re-invest in expanding my kit and lately I have been getting closer to two more key purchases - a good wireless mic system and a basic lighting kit. Lighting really interests me, all the more since my fall 2003 visit to my still image pro friend in B.C., whose casual lighting seminar to me is on my web video page. I'm closing in on the equipment I'll buy and one of the suppliers publishes a lighting handbook you need to download if you are at all interested in the subject. Download the zipped PDF HERE. This document includes the illustrated set ups for each resulting image AND the author's expanded notes. The handbook from ARRI, which includes the images but not the notes is available, in PDF, HERE. Both of these references contain great material, and if it's a little ahead of where you are right now, make a couple of visits to a local camera or rental house and browse the equipment. As usual, the more you see, the clearer things become. I'm about two weeks ahead of you in taking my own advice here. And, by the way, I HAVE made the money to pay for my PC and VX2000 from spare time video work. In fact I'm still a little ahead of the game! But with my wish list, that won't last long.

 Bill Holshevnikoff, www.power-of-lighting.com

The Power of Video - March, 2004

A chance meeting last summer led to an assignment to shoot an entertainer at work. The finished project went onto 500 CDs for the artist to distribute to booking agents looking for talent. Recently, Billy called me to report on how the video on CD was being received. You can listen in HERE (mp3 file). The short answer is "very well!". Apparently between 6 and 7 of every ten disks mailed out results in a booking, and that is an amazing rate of return. Billy has two versions (hi speed and dial-up) of a teaser for the full video, which runs 23 minutes, up on his web site. If you'd like to take a look at the five minute piece, it's right HERE.

Billy's Video Title Shot

Favourite Web Format Survey Data - March, 2004

If you're interested in making web video files of your own work, you will have to decide which format to choose, unless you have the time and server space to make two or more, which isn't likely. To help you make that decision, take a look at the Encoding for the Web page on this site, where the latest (2004) data on installed player base and visitor preference appear. Thanks to streamingmedia.com and their Industry Sourcebook for this data from the Aberdeen Group in Boston, MA.

Random Thoughts - February, 2004

Many would-be digital camcorder owners have major trouble making a decision on their first purchase. The majority want it for occasions with family and friends, some imagine great snow- or skateboard video, others are drawn to the idea of making films and documentaries. This article from Canada's Hub magazine doesn't address its subject (comparing two Canon units) but it does hit most of the buttons involved in making a choice between consumer and prosumer equipment. My two criticisms are that it doesn't spell out the difference between electronic and optical image stabilization (optical is much better) and that it suggests a monopod if you think setting up a tripod is too much hassle. What you shoot is all you ever have of the moments captured. You don't want them waving back and forth like a cork in the ocean.

Budding digital video editors usually read widely on equipment issues and one of the first things they're told is to install a separate hard drive for video content. Newcomers may not welcome a further suggestion but here it is: have two separate hard drives for video. When you finish a project you can send it to VHS tape quite easily from one drive. But, when you want to make a DVD version, or a VCD (for CD video) or a file for the web or email, exporting from the same drive you're writing your new file to adds a lot of time to the process, and ties up your PC until it's done. As an example, yesterday I mistakenly exported a one-hour windows media video (wmv) file to the same drive the project was on. It took three hours and fifteen minutes to make the file. Today I redid the export, sending this one to an external firewire hard drive. The process took less than two hours. That's a huge difference, and gets even bigger if someone is paying you for a series of similar videos on a time table.

My Kind of Camera! - February, 2004

Many video makers are gadget freaks. I'm one of them and THIS gadget tops my list! Friend Michael Ellis spent some time in New Orleans in January and watched this baby zoom down narrow streets, around wires and over parked cars filming a television commercial for a new truck. It sends its images wirelessly to a ground station. I would have to put this in the "dream job" category. All work and all play.

remote control helicopter camera shooting in New Orleans

Something for Nothing - January, 2004

A big thank you to Steve Yankee,whose video newsletter of January 19th contained a link to free web hosting for three years, and his endorsement after checking it out personally. The offer expires(d) January 21st so I jumped on it and it really seems to be for real. I have access to 500 MB of disk space, six times what I pay my hosting service $80/month for, and I've successfully tested it for delivering video via Windows Media Player. What it means is a ton of space to post more and better quality work, linking each file to this site so when you play it there's no sign that it's any different from any other videos on the site. I should give credit where it's due. The makers of this generous offer are www.1and1.com and their service as I've experienced it, from sign up to uploading is excellent.

If you have a high speed connection, you could help me test the reliability of this host for streaming (actually progressive download) video, by clicking HERE to watch as much or as little as you like of a video file ("Visiting Jumpy" returns!), then sending me a quick note on how it worked, or didn't. Thanks to those who take the time.

New Year's Video Resolution - January, 2004

My partner and I awoke this fall to the fact of homeless cats in and near our yard. Trying to help has opened our eyes to the size of the problem and the need for more of us to care. One of our contributions in the New Year will be a documentary on what's happening and how to help, wherever you live. If you'd like to know more right away, HERE is a good place to start. For a two-minute intro (252 kbps) CLICK HERE.What you will see is more of an exercise than anything, as I haven't yet shot much real footage and no interviews or visits to feral cat feeding sites yet. This version is being hosted on a new server, the performance of which I'll be testing for the next several weeks. If you have problems viewing it with a high speed connection I would appreciate your sending me a quick note about what happened.

stray cat awaiting 2nd vet visit - new home next..

Cheap, visible storage - December, 2003

It seems that the pile of gear involved in digital video artistry just keeps growing. With two camera bags and a metal case I was finding it time-consuming to pack what I needed for any given shoot. Then I found this four-drawer, clear plastic storage unit, at a local supermarket, for CDN$25! Now all my accessories are stored with like bits, visible, dust-free and ready to be selected for duty. This is a great solution for now and about as inexpensive as anything I've purchased to support my habit. Maybe it should go on your Christmas list?

clear drawers let you see what you've got.

Lighting Interview Style - December, 2003

I had some audio problems with this casual shoot, and made some dumb exposure decisions at times, but the content of this lighting lesson will interest any newcomer to digital video, and you can watch it right here.

Doug Johnson in his own lighting set up.

Digital Journey - November, 2003

Pro photographer and old friend Doug Johnson hosts a cable access show on photography tips, and invited me to "guest" on two episodes shot during my recent visit to British Columbia. One of the shows featured video tips for newcomers, which you can watch, with a high speed connection, from my video page. I am fascinated by the journey this little sub 5-minute video has taken; shot on a full size VHS camcorder, transferred to DV on a Media 100 system I believe, then crushed by the Indeo 5.1 codec into a 53 MB(!) AVI and handed off for streaming (!),

Doug Johnson's Cable Access Show in Chilliwack
The cable company-made compression takes minutes to load to the media player -even with high speed access - and looks pretty bad. In Premiere 6.5 I converted it to a windows media video (wmv) of less than 8 MB which looks arguably better than the original, which you can view if you have the patience, in The Big Picture section of Doug's web site. Select the misnamed file "Landscape."
Doug gave me a fantastic lesson in lighting during my stay. Look for that as a streaming video in the next couple of weeks.

Friends with Cameras - October, 2003

Just back from a week in beautiful (soggy) British Columbia where I stayed with two old friends in different settings and shot video to my heart's content. This picture was shot by my old pal Doug Johnson of Deluxe Studios in Chilliwack, BC, about an hour east of Vancouver. I have some lovely video from the trip, if I do say so myself, (but you can be the judge on the video page) - for a "Return to Denman Island" piece, some early morning scenery in Victoria's inner harbour and sunny sailing on the BC Ferries through the Gulf Islands.

me and my VX2000

Old Film to Video - October, 2003

Many families have a box of regular or super 8 movie film resting somewhere in the house, unwatched for years and slowly deteriorating. I recently had the chance to convert a reel for a friend, with help from another friend who spent the past 20 years running an audio visual department for a major Canadian corporation. We set up a screen, loaded the reel onto an old and very basic 8 mm projector and projected an image about a foot wide. I set up my Sony VX2000 next to the projector, and at the same height.

a (1969) film frame pulled from digital conversion

I connected a small TV to the camcorder and changed the shutter speed while monitoring the image in stand-by. In this case a 1/15th setting removed the flicker effect and the results were surprisingly good from a thirty-five year old film. If your camcorder can't set shutter speed, try the presets. If none of them works you'll have to find a projector with infinitely variable speed, to match the projector to your auto shutter speed. Once you've recorded the film to digital video it's a simple matter to transfer it to your hard drive and edit. I was fascinated at the quality of still frames pulled from the digital transfer. As with bad video there is almost always one frame of any sequence that is still enough to extract as a decent image, and many such images may add wonderful memories to the family photo album.

Finally! A REAL Camcorder Shoot-off, September, 2003

The middle ground of miniDV camcorders is heavily populated, with many models and a seemingly endless feature list. Getting correct information and making a decision is challenging, but hope is on the horizon! ComcorderInfo.com has partnered with sponsor B&H PhotoVideo to test 36 models in three price ranges and what they're testing is video quality - not still pics, not wireless MPEG-4, not disk versus tape, just the quality of the video you'll shoot. This page links both the original article and each shoot off as it's published every Monday. Whether you're in the market or just want to see how your pick measures up this is a welcome resource.

The Perils of "Point & Click" Video, September, 2003

There are two kinds of amateur still photographer, the point and click variety, taking snapshots, often with a disposable camera, and the enthusiast, armed with a full kit and always looking for the right shot. One wants to preserve memories and the other wants to preserve images. I believe the world of video shooters can be similarly divided. I have a new client in my part time "production house" who makes the point. My assignment is to transfer twenty 8mm tapes to the computer, edit the content and create a series of DVDs so that the material is both organized and preserved. The oldest of the tapes was shot in 1989, and there's a roll of Kodachrome II 8mm film involved that's even older - 1969. In a Christmas scene from '89 the box the video camera came in is visible and until its recent demise it preserved family gatherings for a decade.
I've reviewed an hour of content so far, over five tapes. I have seen half-minute clips of the cat hardly moving, zooms and pans that damage othewise well composed scenes, close ups of a darling little girl, except for her being completely out of focus, grainy images in too little light, weak audio and virtually no cut-away material. And of course every frame was shot hand held so steady shots are scarce as hens teeth. If you're going to buy and use a video camera today you owe it to the future to think about what and how you're shooting. The idea of preserving memories for future viewing (a DVD-R may last 100 years) is a great one, but only if what you've preserved will be watched. When I get to editing this material, will I be allowed to cut most of the half-minute cat scenes? They may be important to the shooter and his wife, as they face the inevitable loss of their aging feline friend, but what grown up niece or nephew will sit still in front of the plasma screen for overlong cat content? Can I cut the out-of-focus stuff, taking the audio with it? If there was cutaway material I could save the audio, but there isn't. There may be still images from the same events that could stand in over the audio but preparing and using them will add to my time and the client's cost. As it is he will spend as much with me as he did on the video camera that brought him here. It's too bad he didn't spend a little on video magazines, maybe a beginner's course in shooting, back when he bought the camera. Those thirteen years of special occasions, cottage escapes and tender moments would have a much more enthusiastic audience in future years.
FOOTNOTEOne of the gems hiding in all of the material I'm slogging through is the potential for pulling stills from the video. Despite the shaky cam, auto focus run wild aspect of much of it there are many instances where a perfectly focused, well lit frame exists. Exported from an editing system these become digital still images of reasonable quality for small prints, or email. AND, they can sometimes replace the shaky footage itself, allowing you to save the segment and its audio. That's something to remember as you make your editing decisions.

Expanded Audio Tools - REVISED, August, 2003

I try to get the odd video job to support my equipment habit, and I've found that a picture is worth a thousand words. Most of my work has come from sending out samples, and recently the videos I made during a vacation break brought me two customers from those we met on the trip. One of the jobs requires taking audio from a sound board direct to the VX2000. To accomplish that I bought the BeachTek DXA-4, a little box with two XLR inputs, and a miniplug output to the camera. To test it I hooked my VCR's audio out to a Radio Shack mixer, then from there to channel one of the BeachTek. I put my shotgun mic in channel two. Set the BeachTek to stereo and you get the line level input (mixer) on the left channel and the mic on the right. Set for mono you get both inputs mixed to left and right. I chose stereo in order to be able to work on each track separately in my editing software. The results were actually thrilling to me, and now I feel confident about doing the job well. The other bit of gear I added was a Bescor MX600 twin video light, switchable from 20 - 40 watts, with barn doors and a 9v battery pack with belt clip. I'm expecting this unit to brighten faces in dim conditions, and to remove hard shadows in sunlight. With all this gear hanging off the camera I can't just grab and go, but when I go I get satisfying results. You can take a look at my baby HERE.
NEW. The shoot went well and was a terriffic learning experience. My partner shot B-roll with my Sony D-8 and this one minute sample demonstrates how you can cut the two cameras together to give the illusion of live switching. The entertainer is Billy Bridger, shot during a lunch cruise on the Island Star, out of Kingston (Ontario) harbour.

Shooting in Extremes - July, 2003

Anyone who has ever packed a kit for shooting at the beach or in the woods will enjoy this article by Chip Curry, offered up in the "Features" section at DV.com. It tells the story of one-man filmmaker Sam Burbank shooting for National Geographic on Devon Island, a polar desert with the most Mars-like conditions on earth. From one extreme to the other, Curry also describes Burbank working in the southern Utah desert where his choice to join the study crew meant shooting from within a real space suit, unable to see the viewfinder or properly manipulate the camera controls. The wealth of advice on everything from attitude to kit essentials is well worth the minor hassle of registering, if you haven't already done so to regularly view this site's great content. This link will take you to a page where the article is currently (July 30/03) the headline story.

New Hoffman Trailer - July, 2003

If you enjoyed the B.B. King/Joan Baez clips from the first trailer I made from David Hoffman's "Making Documentary Films and Reality Videos" you'll want to watch a different side of the filmmaker in the new trailer, posted July 10, 2003. The six minute high speed clip also describes how he persuaded Paul Simon to provide the song "Old Friends" to one of his more touching pieces of work. And for those not pulled by heart strings, there's a great jump scene from a helicopter! View the trailer from my video page. UPDATE! Since I bought my copy of this great DVD the price has been reduced from $49.95 to $29.95 (USD).

Best Editing Tip Ever - July, 2003

If you've visited before you have probably noticed the addition of a section on going beyond home movies. It's probably not fair to many home video projects but I meant it to suggest that the content would be of more interest to someone dreaming of a larger audience for their work some day. The tip just added is a gem for anyone who ever shoots video. Not only does it dramatically change the look of your work, whatever the subject, but it could not be easier to accomplish, requires no new equipment, no special learning - nothing but the eyes you've got now. The image on the right will take on new meaning once you've read and considered the tip. Check it out under "The Best Editing Advice."

shot changes, eyes don't move.

Calling all Filmmakers - June, 2003

This is special! I loved David Hoffman's "Making Documentary Films & Reality Videos" DVD so much that I contacted him in sunny California to ask if I could exhibit clips from it at The Content Shop. He agreed and the first result is available for viewing (high speed only I'm afraid) on the video page. Mr. Hoffman and The Hoffman Collection are the subject of the inaugural article on the new "Beyond Home Video" section of the site. For more details on this gem for aspiring filmmakers click here.


My new toys - June, 2003

I like nothing but the best. However, that's not within my budget, so I'm willing to compromise. Perhaps "buy the best you can afford" is the right advice for most of us. Many knowledgable forum contributors push fairly expensive microphones, audio mixers, lenses and so on in answering the old "what should I buy?" question, and there's nothing wrong with recommending high end solutions. If you're going to earn a living with your camera you want durability and reliability in your kit. But what if you just want to make better pictures and sound for your own satisfaction? I bought my new Azden shotgun mic to improve the audio in spontaneous interviews with people I stop and talk to in markets and shopping lanes.

my VX2000 with new friends

It gets most of its audio from straight ahead which avoids crowd noise and other distractions. It uses a mini-pin connection and a small, inexpensive battery, and it looks great too! The lens hood I added to my earlier purchase of the Canon wide angle lens. It prevents most of the flaring that sunlight often creates. Both accessories improve the quality of my stuff and both were in my price range. (Incidentally, if you mount the lens hood as illustrated here you will find yourself shooting its left and right edges when you're fully wide. It fits any old way but there's only one right way, a quarter turn from what you see in the photo. Yes, I found out the hard way.) UPDATE! Here's another hard-way lesson. This is a good mic for the price but it doesn't come with a shock mount. If you mount it as I did in the picture you are likely to pick up camera and zoom noise as background to your intended audio. I now mount it on the shoe of the mini Rover, which gets it about six inches away from the camera body, solves the sound problem and gives me an open hot shoe for an on-camera light - one of my next purchases.

Another Exercise in Genre - June 2003

I've remarked before that between projects I like to try things out. One of the exercises I think most useful is that of using something you've shot to work in a genre, be it news, training/tutorial, travel, advertising, or showcase. With some footage from a real estate redevelopment in downtown Toronto (an old distillery property transformed to cobblestone lanes and storefronts) I spent a morning first finding some fast-paced music and then editing my visuals to it. I could have used more of the fifteen minutes I had, but the audio I selected (from the HulaBear.com collection) only ran one minute, so that's what I worked to. I'm reasonably pleased with the result. Watching it tells me I'm continuing to learn and grow as an editing enthusiast. Not ready for prime time yet, but it's the journey that provides all the fun in the process. Due to the fast cuts and camera movement I felt I had to encode it at a higher bit rate than I generally use so if your high speed connection isn't in top form you might have some buffering issues. You might want to save it to your hard drive if that happens and view it from there.

A Cautionary Tale - May 2003

If you edit on a PC you have to keep it running in top shape. If this isn't your strong suit you're either going to have to learn or face many frustrations. I have a brother who put the nearly new family PC in the basement when it "blew up". Were he not four hours from me I'm sure I could have returned it to health in an hour. A friend with many years around the PC recently lost his connection to email and the Internet. Unable to fix it himself he called in the cable company, whose tech told him he'd have to reinstall Windows XP. This new PC came pre-loaded and he was anxious about the process and what he might lose if it went wrong. So he dusted off his old machine and got back on the web. Of course, something had to be done and after ten days or so he had a nephew come over to take a look. In fifteen minutes he had deleted the existing network connection, created a new one and had everything back to normal.The moral of the story is get a second opinion. Nobody knows it all. That's why I love forum groups. Whatever your problem or wish, someone has been there and done that. Find him or her, or get an experienced friend/relative/hired gun to take a look before you start taking drastic measures. If you aren't familiar with the google search engine, you're missing one of the most helpful tools in the PC universe. Google will find you the forum you need. Of course, if your problem, like my friend, is that you can't surf at all, call the friend or relative. Major surgery is a last resort. Get a second opinion.

Fun with Effects - May 2003

Computer editing software, particularly at the better end, is filled with options that many of us never find, or finding them, never master. When I don't have a specific project to work on I look for ways to accomplish something I'm curious about. Last night I wondered if I could import a still image from the livingroom of a recent interviewee's home, and superimpose a part of the interview on the wide screen television set in the shot. It took a little fiddling with the Transform filter in Adobe Premiere version 6, but I think it came off quite convincingly. Click HERE to play a few seconds in WIndows Media Player. There are so many "professional" results available to those who employ patience and curiousity.

Expand your Horizons - May 2003

Many camcorders gather dust between birthday parties and family vacations. That's a shame because your camera can add much more than memories to your life. Of course, you need to have taken the plunge into computer video editing to get the most out of owning a digital (or analogue) camcorder but if you have, consider this; take it with you when you go market shopping. Bring a spare battery and a lens puffer, and experiment! Walk along the fruit and vegetable bins with your LCD open, trying to hold as steady as possible while you "dolly" past the goodies. Shoot vendor signs, shoppers from behind, children reacting - your own too of course if you have them. Ask some of the vendors if they mind being filmed and if not, try an interview about how long they've been involved, where their produce, or whatever, comes from. Record a minute or two with the lens cap on, to give you some continuous audio for editing without choppy sound breaks. I just did a short project of this kind (high speed stream here), and had a ton of fun meeting new people and talking cameras with some who approached me. A week later I went back with a VHS copy for the "star" of the show and a miniCD-R for the Market Manager. Turns out he's a Mac-based hobbyist graphics guy who understood a lot about digital video and audio editing. He asked if he could pull stills from the CD for the Market website! Whether you shoot markets, squirrels in the yard or an interview with your drycleaner, you learn more because you're focused on the moment, you meet people and you come home with a project to expand your editing skills. To paraphrase the shoe champs "Just Shoot It".

Ripping Your Own DVDs - April 2003

If you make your own DVDs the day will come when your only source of some video project you made is the DVD you burned. You can pull the material back to your hard drive AND convert it back to AVI using a combination of two free pieces of software. I've tried it successfully over the past couple of weeks and I'm very impressed with how relatively simple the process is. First you want to download DVD Decrypter. This well written app uses a familiar interface for navigating to the files you want, then quickly "rips" them from the DVD to the folder of your choice. You can immediately play the results in a viewer like PowerDVD, but if you want to change the format another free app called DVD2AVI will accomplish that task at better than real time. If your authoring app writes audio to the A03 (Dolby Digital) format, it will also simultaneously convert that to WAV. When you select a .vob file for conversion DVD Decrypter will ask you what video codec you want to use in the conversion process. I use the Canopus codec because it's native to my DV Raptor card. Then I bring the video (AVI) and audio (WAV) into Premiere where it is instantly recognized. I've found that there is a lot of interlace flicker in the video track as displayed on a TV monitor, but not on the PC monitor. Setting the field options to "always deinterlace" solves that and the ouput to TV is excellent. The setting requires a render so there is some time involved but if you have no other archive for the material but the DVD source, and you need to reedit or use parts of the clip for a new project, the time is well spent.

Amazing Projection Technology (March, 2003)

Many of us dream of projection TV at home but can't afford the technology. Some who can don't have suitable space for hanging or placing a digital projector out of the way but still lined up with the screen. Silicon Optix won't buy you the projector but they will solve your space problem, with an integrated circuit that corrects geometric distortion caused by placing the projector at an angle to the screen, both horizontal and vertical. In real time the chip analyzes the position of the projector in relation to the screen and changes the shape of every pixel that needs adjustment to make the image rectangular and clear. The same technology works on digital images distorted by wide angle or fish eye lenses, straightening out the image without taking away the extra coverage captured by the lens. Check out their flash animation to better understand the advantages.

Geometry-correcting chip

Room to Burn (February, 2003)

When a new hardware installation goes well it is grounds for celebration. I ran out of disk space working on a long interview piece and another internal drive wasn't an option. So I decided to take the firewire plunge and am I ever glad I did! The unit pictured is a LaCie 120 GB external firewire Hard Drive. I plugged it into the firewire port of my Audigy Platinum sound card and Windows 2000 Pro managed the installation perfectly. I was able to bring back my firewire network thanks to the second 1394 port in the back of the drive enclosure, and to move 30 GB from my primarly video drive in a matter of moments. What a relief. Now I can concentrate on editing and forget about managing disk space.

Lacie d2 firewire drive

Home-Made Broadcast Effects (February, 2003)

When I don't have a video project on the go I like to practise effects and techniques, saving small projects to refresh my memory later on. The one illustrated here uses a matte, quad picture in picture over the matte, a moving title and transparency, to allow the main video to show in a rectangle below the other layers. The matte was

The effect in Premiere
made in Photoshop, using an action safe template to set the boundaries of the coloured blocks. The quad picture in picture placed in the lower left using Premiere's motion tool is actually a piece of video already edited as you see it. It's simply zoomed down and dragged to the location I wanted it. The title containing my web address is a static Premiere title with the motion effect applied so it enters left and exits right as the clip runs. The Content Shop logo and the text below were added as layers in Photoshop. The resulting matte has a layer keyed out (transparent), where you see my lovely niece Alexandra, playing with her brother, Simon. Click Here to bring up Windows Media Player and view the 14-second clip, less than 500 kb. If you're on dial-up, you probably already know you can right click and save the file, to view it without buffer interrupts.
Another trick I had to use to make this clip was to create a wav file containing silence. I didn't want a sound track but windows media video can't be encoded without an audio track. I used CoolEdit 2000 to create a new wav file and inserted silence. I set the duration for one minute, and when I need it I import it into a Premiere project and lay it into audio track one, adjusting the length accordingly.When the clip plays on a PC you see black bars on all four sides. On a TV however only the top and bottom are black. Making it to action safe dimensions means that the TVs overscan hides the vertical bars. If you want some help creating a similar effect, send me an email. With enough interest I'd be glad to do a web tutorial.

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