Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story
PapaJohn's Newsletter #58 - June 18, 2005

Civil War Project - Making the Final Movie
Newsletter #42 (Feb 26) started a little video project about the Civil War. Rounding up source material included such things as scanning an old history book and map, taking screen shots from the NASA World Wind software, making a photo story of an animated map route, and converting an MPEG-2 documentary video downloaded from the online Prelinger Archives. The issue ended with some source material, but no theme to focus on. The 4 year war seemed too large in scope.
Concludes SeriesNewsletter #46 (March 26) studied the material and narrowed the focus to Gettysburg. In it, we made some photo stories from the scanned map, World Wind images, and the old history book. We also brought in some visualization snippets from iTunes and WMP, and started to think about audio.
Newsletter #51 (April 30) started to integrate the collected material toward the final video. To add some special effects, camcorder footage of a Chicago fireworks display was captured... and run through VirtualDub. The newsletter issue ended with a 2 minute snippet of the battle scene, one of the source files for the final movie of this issue.

In this issue we'll finish this mini-series, bringing in a music piece and editing the inputs collected in the previous issues into a little movie.
The movie is finished and on neptune. It's 9:18 in duration, a 54 MB file with a total bitrate of 778 kbps... rendered with the Video for LAN (768 kbps) profile choice, one of the standard ones in MM2.

some notes... before going further 

Only one of the three who had registered showed up, so it was a small class... but a good one. The regular monthly sessions are off and running.
.... on to the main topic

Prepping (Another Custom Profile Emerges)...
The distribution goal for this project is easy... it's an online video that assumes you have a broadband connection. One of the good things about focusing on a Movie Maker 2 audience is that I know you are running Windows XP... or you wouldn't be using MM2.
As mentioned last week, Google's new service isn't ready for video submittals, so my choices are uploading it to neptune or my website... I opted for neptune, where I've been putting my better material lately. Their server is for hosting images and video. My son's server where my website is located mostly does database activities.

DV-AVI or High Quality WMV for intermediate rendering steps? Let's try WMV for a change.
The original source video clips for this project were DV-AVI files... although the initial goal was for an online video, I still like to do the intermediate renderings using DV-AVI. If I do a dozen generations of renderings as I add PIP or other special effects, I only want the quality hit to be in the last one, where I can choose how much of a hit to take.
But having studied generational and other issues with DV-AVI files, I'd been wanting to experiment with making higher quality than usual WMV files, and using those in project steps in place of DV-AVI and it's generational losses and audio issues... this project was a good chance to do it.
I made a custom profile with comparable settings to a high quality MPEG-2 file for a DVD, using 8000 kbps as the video bitrate. With it I re-rendered the clips and stories already made as DV-AVI files for issues 42, 46, and 51... the starting point for this issue.
Here are the properties of one of the new files made with the profile, using MM2 to check. I've circled a few key figures.
Source File Properties
The bitrate is about 4 times the highest of the canned settings for Movie Maker... the file sizes are large, about 1/4 of DV-AVI, and rendering times are significant, more so than to DV-AVI... press the button and walk away for a while. Those are costs associated with higher quality.
My laptop has been laboring lately with DV-AVI source files... mostly in the smoothness of preview playing... these WMV source files resolved most of it. And they looked great.
I made the profile to render 640x480 wmv files when computer-based viewing is the goal.
I published some info about the new profile and received a suggestion to use the video WMV8 codec with a setting of QVBR100 instead. It would render faster and be almost lossless... I made another profile and did some testing, comparing DV-AVI renderings to the WMV8 and WMV9 profiles. The rendering times and file sizes for the final project, using the 3 options, were:
The WMV8 profile easily won the speed and size round... and all 3 looked equally good with a quick check.
To look closer at visual quality differences, I went through 9 generations of re-renderings, took some snapshots in MM2, and compared them for visual differences.
After many re-renderings, all the files looked pretty good. The first difference to catch me eye was the blue lines evolving to black one with a blue highlighting under it in the WMV9 files. The DV-AVI held up well with the well known dropping of the 27th frame, causing the file size to shrink a tad with each generation. The WMV8 rendering help up just about as well, although it's file size went down by about 40% from generation 1 to generation 9 ... the file sizes for the WMV9 renderings stayed pretty constant... it was just those blue lines changing to black. 
The picture below shows three pairs of images, each pair from frames of the 1st and 9th generations of renderings. The frames were close in position but not exactly the same:
The starting point for all 3 pairs was the same project and source files. I took the snapshots with MM2 from the clips in the collection. The segments are cropped from the full frames but shown full-size.
In theory, DV-AVI is only re-rendered where something changes, so there shouldn't be any generational changes... but a WMV is re-rendered each time, so successive saves should result in some visual loss.
9 Generations
Give this round to DV-AVI, followed by the WMV8 codec.
You may or may not be surprised to see how well both the WMV8 and 9 codecs hold up through 9 generations of renderings. Don't let the thought of a few generations of renderings ahead of you in a project deter you from using a WMV profile as an alternative to DV-AVI.
I used the WMV9 profile for this project, which only had to go through 2 generations of renderings. One generation to make the set of source files to work better on my laptop, and the 2nd generation the final output which went to neptune.

The Project....
I had started the final assembly on my laptop, with the source files being DV-AVI on its hard drive... for my evening sessions at Barnes & Noble. But the lack of smooth previewing got me to moving the source files to my external USB2 drive... which I only use at home.
The new WMV files let me get back to the laptop drive for a while, until project complexity started slowing things down again. Again moving the new WMV files to the external drive helped a lot, but I was still limited to home-based work.
On my desk next to my laptop at home is a 3 GHz desktop... one that I move the external drive back and forth between the laptop and it.... I ended up plugging it into that computer as I got into the home-stretch doing the fine tuning.
This might sound like more effort than it was.... it was Monday morning when I re-rendered the source files to the higher quality WMV files, late Monday when I started editing the final project, and mid-day Wednesday when it was done and being uploaded to neptune. A part time effort over a day and a half.
Most of the time consuming prep work was done for the earlier newsletters. It was simply a matter of assembling the well built parts and doing the overall fine tuning. I didn't rebuild any of the pieces this week. It was time to take things that worked and use some creativity in putting them together. I did bring in a new music file.
Audio/music often sets the project bounds. The section of the William Tell Overture was just about the right duration (I mean the total of the 4 sub-clips I split the music into). Beyond opening the video, it added some continuity to a couple later book stories, and then again for the closing credits section... tying the ending to the opening.
Timeline Notes
Video track - 3 visualization clips, 10 PS3 stories, 5 video snippets, and a couple still pix.
Transitions - just a smattering of 19 fades by overlapping the video clips... nothing special except 5 or 6 of them were unusually long... as much as a 36 second overlap.
Audio steam of the video - some of the stories had no audio and some clips with audio were muted so the stronger audio of the Audio/Music track could be heard without excessive fading in or out. 
Audio/Music - the William Tell Overture was a late add-in to the project... I'd been listening to many of the player piano midi files over the past few weeks and selected one that would build suspense throughout...  for those who know the rest of the piece and have an association with it and an old TV show, I ended it at the point the Lone Ranger would be riding in.
I split it a few times and moved the pieces to align with the clips that had no audio.
The closer view of part of the timeline in the image below shows the use of one particular audio clip. The audio was on the video clip named G2 - Gettysburg - Aerial View. The fade transitions of the clip for visual effects resulted in the audio also fading in and out with the adjacent clips... I wanted the video to fade but not the audio. So I copied the video clip a second time, to the Audio/Music track. By doing that the audio segment played at full level throughout while the video faded.
Title Overlay - 4 clips... nothing special. I've sort of adopted the Verdana font and use it in my website, newsletters... and even videos. I'll use something else when there's good reason, otherwise Verdana is my overall font consistency for style purposes.

Conclusions and Closing
The project is finished... with my laptop off to the repair shop so long, it took a while to get around to finishing it, and I didn't expect it to work out as well as it did.
After viewing it a couple times, I put it on neptune Wednesday night and posted the link a few places on Thursday. One of the first to respond gave me some hugs, and she was from South Carolina, the state that started the war...
Comments have been extremely positive. One asked how I got the panning of a book page to change directions; when I told him, he said he'd have to give PS3 another try. What can look so subtle to many can be interesting or even exciting to others.
The project used one of the downloaded player piano midi files, my first use of one. If I use one a week, I'll get through them all in 50 years.... a really great resource.

Have a great holiday weekend...