Newsletter #31 - Dec 11, 2004
Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story
'I Can't Save a Movie... or a
It's a pretty common issue when using Movie Maker
2. I'm sure you've experienced or at least heard
about it in. If you haven't seen it yet when
using Photo Story 3, it'll be there as you make your
stories more complex.
Sometimes the message is right on target, sometimes
it's partially right, and other times it's totally
off-base... the Problem Solving > Can't Save a Movie page of my
site is devoted to the topic.
It seems that the number of daily posts about the topic is
increasing, so it's a good time to go over what we know about it... I'll
start by forcing error messages in both apps, and then look closer at
what's happening to cause them.
As with all computer software, there are constraints. If we know
what they are, we can work with or around them. My laptop has been working
fine with both Movie Maker and Photo Story. It has about 21 GB of free hard
drive space and is defragged... I'll push the limits of MM2 and PS3 to get
the error messages and see what I can learn...
... what I saw confirmed something I knew. Increasing
'project complexity' increases the need for memory. When the
needs exceed what's available, you get the classic error message
about not being able to save the movie or story. What I learned was an
easy way to meter it as the rendering happens... to watch the memory
filling up and the project needs hitting the brick wall.
I'll start with an extremely simple Movie Maker
2 project with just 5 clips - 2 video clips
(WMV) and 3 still images (JPG) from the Microsoft Fun Pack. I added a
different transition to each, making a 35 second timeline,
and rendered it to a High Quality 1.5 Mbps NTSC (720x480) WMV
file... it rendered and played fine.
I doubled the project size by copying and pasting all the
clips on the timeline and rendered again. As each doubling rendered fine, I
kept raising the ante until it wouldn't render.
Projects with 5 clips, 10, 20, 40, 80, 160, and 320
rendered fine. Then, early in the attempt to render the next doubling
to 640 clips, I got the classic error message I was looking for.
The source files were there, the saving location hadn't
changed, and there was over 20 GB of free disk space. ... the error message is
wrong, and it's time to dig a bit deeper into the reason(s).
I did Photo Story 3 from the other
direction, starting with a story that I knew from experience wouldn't render. It
wouldn't do it when I first tried. It had only 4 pictures and no
narrations or background music, but it had plenty of complexity as you'll
It wouldn't do the last step of rendering the story. Here's
the error message I got when I tried...
What kind of storage? Disk space? My laptop has
21 GB free and is working fine. There's really nothing wrong.
As I tested and watched the rendering process some more, I
bumped into another error message, one similar to the message in Movie
At least this one brought up the subject of '... not enough
memory...' as a possible reason, something missing from the MM2 message.
It's the real reason for both of my test projects.
That's what I wanted!! - Movie Maker
2 and Photo Story 3 projects that consistently give me error
messages about not being able to save on a healthy well-tuned laptop with lots
of free hard drive space.
Now I can explore the two projects to
see what's happening up to and through the error messages... and learn from
what I see.
... before getting into the two projects, a
few notes about things going on...
• Maximum PC's quarterly Winter
Edition is on the newsstands. Look for it with the 6
page tutorial 'Making a Killer Movie with Movie Maker 2'. The first
reported sighting was at a local Walgreen's store, and I saw it on the
• We went to Chicago on Tuesday and I made my usual visit
to the Apple store on Michigan Avenue. I checked my
website and online movies/stories on a new Mac G5 with twin 30
inch high definition++ LCD monitors. Great system!!! ($11,000 for the
computer and 2
movies on my website played fine, with the Mac using its special Windows
Media Player. But it can't play a Photo
also checked my videos on the Neptune and found they don't
play on a Mac; I got a message saying something like '... sorry, the
Windows Media 9 movies won't play on a Mac...'. even though I had just played
them using links to WMV files on my server. I checked with
Neptune about that issue and found their service doesn't support playing WMV
files on Macs... gotta use Quick Time or Flash files... maybe some
• Speaking of Neptune, I'm working with them
to roll out a new page on my site, one devoted to their service. It's the
only online hosting service listed in Movie Maker when you opt to save a
movie directly to a web
The new page will be a complete tutorial about setting up and
using the service, including such things as custom profiles for
the best playback
....on to the topic of the
Movie Maker 2 - 'Can't Save a
The test project started
with 5 clips: 2 video clips (WMV), and 3 pictures (JPG) from
the Fun Pack... 5 simple clips and all from Microsoft. I didn't want
any codec or other issues to cloud the testing.
For transitions I used 2 standard
ones included in MM2 and 2 custom ones made with Transition Maker
The starting project storyboard looked like
I copied and pasted this pattern over and over to
make the project big enough to get the standard error message about not being
able to save.
The time it took to render the test movies
increased with the number of clips... so did the size of the rendered
movies. There was a direct relationship
between the number of clips in the movie and the size of the saved movie
5 clips = 3.4 MB WMV file
10 - 6.6 MB
20 - 13.3
40 - 26.4
80 - 52.9
160 - 105.6
320 - 211.3
640 - got the error message before seeing
any % progress
Is the error message right when the
project has 640 clips? Not really, not unless you consider '... enough disk
space...' to relate to the allotted virtual memory space, a special corner
of the hard drive. I still had over 20 GB of free hard drive
To see what was
happening, I found myself looking at 3 windows during the renderings:
the Windows Task
Manager... watching CPU usage stay up there at 100% -
normal for rendering, checking the amount of RAM left... usually running
with more than half of it available, and the most interesting of
all... how much memory was currently Committed versus the Limit and Peak?
they were all moving up and up in tandem, but as the total and peak
approached the Limit, the Limit would be revised upwards a bit more... I was
expecting the real constraint to be the Limit - when the memory used hits
the Peak, things would stop and/or the rendered file would be
corrupt.... at least that was my theory at
When my first attempt to render the 640 clip
project failed, I followed the usual advice... free up disc space, defrag,
reboot and try again with nothing else besides Movie Maker running. When it
couldn't get to first base on the 2nd try, I declared the
project "too complex to render".
What happened? The complexity issue is all about
computer memory. To watch what's happening during the render, use the
info at the lower left of the Task Manager, the 'Commit Charge' info (see the
circled area of the figure below). That's the meter.
It says the peak for this session is pretty close
to the limit, which means the memory used at some point since I turned the
computer on has hit a brick wall, the
current Limit for
What's it saying and what does it
mean? Here's how to read it.
Commit Charge (K) - the
current memory usage and capabilities of the system... different for each system
and adjustable via virtual memory settings (Start > Control Panel >
Performance and Maintenance > System > Advanced tab > Performance
Settings > Advanced tab > Virtual memory > Change). The
figure below and to the right shows my laptop's current
Total - the physical
memory + virtual memory (page file) currently in use.
Limit - total available on the system
- (512 MB of physical memory or RAM) + virtual memory (the maximum
size of 1536 MB - see the figure at the right).
Peak - the highest amount of memory
usage reached in the current session (since turning the computer on)... check at
the end of a session (just before closing down the computer) to see if it
is high relative to the limit, which indicates the need for more physical memory
or making the virtual memory maximum bigger.
My rendering processes went fine until the
project needed more memory that the Limit... at which point I got the error
message. This was the bottom line for Movie Maker.
Photo Story 3
- 'Can't Save a Story'
The test project I used started
with 4 pictures and it wouldn't render the story.
The first and third pictures were high
resolution 11 megapixels (4072x2712 pixels). The second was
a low resolution (320x240) picture. And the fourth
one was super large, the maximum for a Photo Story
picture (7200x7200 pixels). You would expect large pictures to add
I was doing some panning and zooming in the story, and not
adding any narration or background music.
Another big addition to the project complexity wasn't
really in the project file. It was the profile. I was rendering to a
high definition custom 1704x960 widescreen profile. This was not your
average story project.
Why wouldn't it render? Let's look at what happens during the
Saving the story happens in a number of steps, the
last one being the rendering of the WMV file. This project used two steps
as there was no audio from narrations or background music.
step 1 - "preparing video"
- this step took 22 minutes, making a batch of temporary jpg
files to use in the rendering process. They are
essentially keyframes used when showing you a preview or rendering the
video. The list of these temporary files is at the right.
The number of temporary jpg files for each
of the pictures in the story varies with the size of the imported
picture, along with the selections and motions you choose for the story.
For the 4th picture, I took a copy of the 3rd
one and resampled it to be 7200x7200 pixels, the maximum size for
a picture imported into Photo Story 3. It's handled as image 3,
with 17 temporary files made from it. It takes 65 seconds to
pan from one small area (579x434 pixels) to another one of the
same size. It is panning about 1/3 of the way across the picture without
changing the selection size. Even though the imported picture is huge,
the 17 temporary files are fairly small in size.
As Photo Story did this step, peak memory usage remained well
below the limit... CPU usage was low... it was an easy process for the
computer to handle and it finished fine (just the step, not the rendering
which is the next step).
step 2 - "generating
video" - this last step was too much for my
system. Photo Story 3 had to use all those temporary files and render the
story using my custom 1704x960 profile.
It didn't get very far before telling me there was '...not
enough storage...'. Peak memory usage jumped to 2004160 and the Limit had
moved up to 2012592... similar to the MM2 experience. Available and needed
memory had two-blocked again, this time in Photo Story.
... pressing OK to the error message deleted the folder
of temporary files and things returned to normal. But rendering
of the wmv story file never started.
It's a situation very similar to Movie Maker
project rendering... when the memory limit is reached, things stop.... you get
some kind of error message, corrupt files or both. Checking the data in the
Task Manger and knowing what your maximum memory setting is are the keys to
knowing what happened.
Can you guess which of the 4 pictures was the reason for bumping
into the memory constraint? Nope, it wasn't the biggest picture. To
find out, I rendered each of them alone, using the same
panning, zooming and durations. 3 rendered and one didn't. But one of those
that rendered didn't play back as expected.
Your system memory is critical to rendering a complex movie
The successfully rendered movie with 320 clips had 128 video
clips and 192 jpg pictures, and used 248 transitions. The playing time was
37 minutes, 28 seconds. Although it rendered fine, my experience is
that it's easier to make movies on my laptop if I break down projects over
15 minutes into sub-projects.
The performance of my laptop when running Photo
Story 3 is something I'm still assessing. Writing this
newsletter is a step toward understanding what's involved.
Over the few days I've been spending on this newsletter,
deliberately crash-testing MM2 and PS3, I didn't experience any problems
with either of them.... the brick walls of memory constraints are understandable
and it's good to have a meter to watch. It's like driving with a gas
gauge.... if things stop working, you have a good clue and can take it from
Have a great week...