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Newsletter #81 - Dec 10, 2005

Holiday Videos

We're in another wave of holidays... taking pictures and video... and mostly tucking them away as we think "... I'll get to them later...".
We (9 of us) did one of our now routine one-day trips to Chicago on Saturday... the goal of the day was to have fun, and we succeeded. Collecting digital evidence of it wasn't nearly as important, but we ended up with 16-1/2 minutes of video footage, 125 pix on my daughter's new 7 megapixel camera (most were blurry - she doesn't read manuals about how to use such things), and a couple dozen on Bernadette's 5 megapixel camera (most were sharp... but she lost lots of them when an accidental memory card re-formatting happened half way through the day, a first time event for the camera... in retrospect she said yes to something that she shouldn't have).
But instead of doing something later with the pictures and video, we did it while the memories were still fresh... Bernadette printed an 8x10 group picture for each to take home, and I put a 3-1/4 minute video online and emailed them (the visitors) a link before they had returned home.
  Allie (friend), Allie (grand) and Summer (friend)
Chicago GalsIn this issue I'll show you the movie project and take you through it's development. It's a typical holiday home video made so much better by adding special effects, transitions, a custom image overlay, and background music.... the kinds of things we can do so easily with Movie Maker.
Click the picture or this link to view the video
It wasn't snowing at the time... that's added by the Snowflakes effect in the Winter Fun Pack 2003...
The 3 girls were not standing in front of the railroad station line... they were added by a custom overlay, using one of the 5 megapixel still pix.
... and when you play the video you'll start hearing the approaching train, along with Christmas music... also added to what started simply as a video clip of a sign. The train sounds came later in the video, and the Christmas music was copied from a downloaded midi-music file. The project was simple enough to be done in one pass. 
... before getting into them, here are a few notes...

GalleryThe gallery in New York City is on 22nd Street and will be open by the time you read this... stop by if you get a chance, especially if you can make it when I'm there for the afternoons of Dec 17 and 18. 
I downloaded the latest v2.5 of Paint.NET, which doesn't have an expiration date. Between it's magic wand feature to remove colored pixels, and its option to save it as a PNG file with transparency preserved... you can go directly from Paint.NET to a custom overlay file for your project... no need to go via IrfanView to select the transparent color.
Using such an overlay is now a routine part of my videos, and I've expanded the Editing > Text > Custom Overlays page of the website to  fully cover how to do it. If you try it and have any questions or comments, please send a note. I'd be happy to tweak the page some more until it's easy and fun for anyone who wants to try them.
.... on to the main topic...

The Project
The storyboard/script...
There really isn't a script when for most home videos of vacations and family events like a day-trip to Chicago, and you can't force one. But you can add interest by selecting a focal point. I pick the point of interest only after viewing the source material. Actually I sit back and let the video footage tell me what to use, and then help it along with some fine tuning.
Of all our grands, Allie is the most social. She had invited her friend Allie, who had never been to Chicago, and another friend Summer. On the train ride home, their impromptu rehash of the visit to the Hershey chocolate shop provided the spark to the theme, and I had some footage to go with it. The 3 girls became the focal point (the other 6 who went take secondary or minor roles), with the Hershey shop their main event. 
I browsed the clips in the collection and selected the better ones of the 3 girls... dragging them to the storyboard in the sequence taken. They can be rearranged later.
Regardless of size or total length, I try to have an opening portion, a mid-point break of some sort, the rest of the main segment, and an ending. Here's the final project with some of the points marked.  
The opening
Have you noticed how long some of the big screen movie openings are? Some of them seem almost half way finished before the opening is finished... I kind of like them that way. In this 3-1/4 minute movie, I didn't consider the intro done until almost a full minute into the movie.
Our standard day-trip to Chicago is an 85 mile drive to a train station, followed by a 1-1/2 hour train-ride to the last stop at the corner of Randolph Street and Michigan Ave, in the heart of downtown Chicago. The video starts with the train, and then moves into a few assorted Chicago scenes... with a few to let you know it's the Christmas season.
This part of the editing takes the most work, as it sets the overall pace and tone, fixes the text titling options (font, font color, animation style, etc.), and determines the background music to carry throughout.
Some editing notes:
  • There was some snow on the ground, and it was cold... but not snowing. The Winter Fun Pack 2003 package provided the Snowflakes video effect for a number of clips, even one shot indoors (the carolers who seem to be outside a window, but were upstairs in a shopping mall).
  • Many of the special transitions and effects are from the third party Adorage package.
  • The custom image overlay of the 3 girls started with a still picture of them on Michigan Avenue, cropped and sized to 856x480 pixels... the background was removed by PhotoShop, and I saved it as Overlay1.png for the Overlay Starter Kit. I copied and pasted the overlay a half dozen times in the project to help provide some continuity of the main subject.
  • Two regular text overlays are in this opening section, almost totally overlapping the image overlays. If two overlapping text overlays are used, the clip at the right shows over the first one, but they go suddenly on or off without gradual fading.
  • The audio of the first clip... the railroad station sign... was poor and uninteresting... so I used the audio from another train clip that had picked up the 'horn', dragging the DV-AVI clip from the collection to the audio/music track and trimming it to fit.
  • The holiday music is another of the 2,500+ midi pieces from those old player piano rolls. I played the midi file in iTunes and captured it using the narration feature of Movie Maker.   
The middle
The middle makes a transition between the early and later parts... it can be as simple as the 1-1/2 second gap between the video clips shown here, a gap filled with the overlay image. The transition can be short or long... just something to ease the minds of the viewers as the video moves from one major part to another.
The scenes in the first part were somewhat disassociated. In the next part the scenes will be more in harmony with each other. The transition between the parts helps to break the mood, and set the stage for a new one.
The sub-story and ending
The second part has a sub-story, or at least what I could make of one. The girls were eager to recount their experience at the Hershey store. They practiced a few times and then did a final version... I used the clips of each, splitting them in various places, and mixing the train scenes with 'flash-backs' of store scenes.  
The ending was simply the final clip, some text... I didn't drag out the ending.

Conclusions and Closing
The video was a hit with those who took the trip, and others... I had sent out two drafts, the first with few of the special effects and transitions... the reactions were unanimous about how much better it was with the additions. It reminds me of the music video for the MaximumPC article... short videos of a few minutes that don't have a strong storyline can use the boost they get from a heavy sprinkling of special effects...
I'll be taking off for New York at the end of next week. I plan to have the week's newsletter sent early, before taking off.  

Have a great week...