PapaJohn Productions

Newsletter #31 - Dec 11, 2004

Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story

 

 
 Help!! 'I Can't Save a Movie... or a Story' 

 
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.
Can't Save
 
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).
 

 
PS3-Not Enough Storage Space
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 see.
 
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 Maker 2.
 
Bigger Message
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...
 

 
Notes
 
 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 magazine rack at Meijer's.
 
 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 monitors).
 
The movies on my website played fine, with the Mac using its special Windows Media Player. But it can't play a Photo Story.
 
I 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 day.
 
 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 host.
 
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 experience. 
 
 
....on to the topic of the week
 

 
Movie Maker 2 - 'Can't Save a Movie'
 
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 2.
 
The starting project storyboard looked like this:
 
MM2 Project
 
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 file:
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 space.
 
To see what was happening, I found myself looking at 3 windows during the renderings:
  • the Save Movie Wizard progress window... looking at the percent finished and how many minutes to go.
  • 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 this point.
  • my file manager utility, watching the finished WMV file grow... how big is the file when MM2 says it's 50% complete? is there a direct correlation between percent complete and how many clips have been added to the growing WMV file?
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 the computer.
 
What's it saying and what does it mean? Here's how to read it.
MM2-Can't Save - Study
 
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 settings.
Virtual Memory Setting
 
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 complexity.
 
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 rendering.
 
PS3-Project
 
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.
PS3-TempFiles
 
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.
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.

 
Closing
 
Your system memory is critical to rendering a complex movie or story...
 
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 there. 
 

Have a great week...