PapaJohn Productions

Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story
Newsletter #90 - February 11, 2006

Stories and Movies - Shapes and Sizes
I was looking at the opening page of my website... thinking about how to tweak it again with something to both WOW and help the first time visitor... and at the same time do something practical. Whatever it was, it had to meet my self-imposed criteria of using only stories, movies, and wma audio files to supplement the images and text on the page. I don't use Flash videos, animated GIFs, or popups of any kind.
The first bold horizontal divider line got my attention. I made odd-shaped wide short movies before and wondered it I could make a Photo Story even shorter and wider to turn the static line into an attractive animation. And instead of a line with no function, how about using the embedded video as a dynamic link?
It ended up as a 800x24 pixel movie. Besides looking cool, it's a link to a new page that offers my multimedia services.
Main Page - Divider and Link 
It was fun making... and interesting to see how a story or movie of this size displays in various players or viewers. And as usual, I learned a couple things that I'll share with you.
In November and December I ran into differences in the display of widescreen movies and stories in the Windows Media Player versus Sonic's MyDVD, and saw my widescreen DVD videos showing up as standard 4:3 mode on the super-sized displays at the galleries in San Francisco and New York. Turning this black line into an animated link reminded me of those experiences... and in this case the differences were much easier to see.
You make a story or movie at a specific size, and expect to see it that way in your viewer or player. But the viewers have minds of their own and show it how they think it'll look best, sometimes not how you expect. In such cases you don't know if there's something wrong with the video file, the player, or both. 
I wanted this issue to be about how different viewers display things differently... and secondarily about how I turned the line into a movie. But the subjects are so closely related that I'll do them together... it ended up as a tutorial about making the odd-shaped video mixed with commentary about viewers.  You can't see a video without a viewer, and there's not much to look at in a viewer without a file...
... before getting into them, here are a few notes...

The Vista Corner... 
Vista - Photo GalleryI added another new page to the Vista section... this one about the Photo Gallery. Bill Gates, in his keynote speech at the recent CES said something like:
You expect memories to be part of Windows, and the Windows Photo Gallery is the hub of the memories experience in Vista. It gives you an opportunity to see a snapshot view of all the memories you care about, including digital photos and digital video.
I finished the outline of a new book about Movie Maker in Vista... and the outline also shapes changes I'll be making to the website as Vista beta versions roll out.

The focus will continue to be Photo Story and Movie Maker, but it'll expand to include Vista's Photo Gallery, Slideshow, and the Windows Media Player.  

My note last week about adding 4 CDs to my library of music prompted a reader to ask for an issue about obtaining and selecting background music. It's a great topic and will be the subject of next week's issue.

Rollyo is a new search engine... with an option to search a specific website or a personally defined set of websites (up to 25 of them).
RollyoI added it to my website... and set it up so your searches cover my site and the 3 forum sites I frequent...,, and
I've made about 20,000 posts so far to various newsgroups and forums, and have 236 website pages. I need the search feature as much as, or more than, anyone. What did I say? Where is it? Storing data in a structured way, or dynamically searching through it, is an everyday challenge in an analog or digital environment.

Blogging continues to get more and more in the limelight. Dean Rowe's blog says the Movie Maker Team might kickoff a team blog... and Microsoft rolled out a free blogging feature MSN Spaces. I started my 3rd or 4th attempt at it. The new link on the Online > Blogs, Vlogs, Podcasts page.
.... back to the main topic...

the Odd Shaped/Sized Video
the Shape and SizeFile Properties
When making such an odd-sized clip, it's easy to know how it's supposed to look versus how you see it in a player.
Movie Maker's monitor shows both stories and movies of that size as standard 4:3 aspect ratio or 16:9 widescreen... but take a snapshot of a frame and you get the true size... that's how I got the picture above for the opening section. And the properties of the clip show as 800x24.
Windows Media Player 10 displays a movie of that size with the same distortion as Movie Maker's monitor. In the file properties window, WMP tells you what it's doing... taking a video clip that is 800x24, which is an aspect ratio of 33.3:1 and displaying it as standard 4:3. See the properties info at the right... it tells you the actual aspect ratio and what it's displaying.
However, a story of 800x24 looks fine in WMP10.
... and the beta of WMP11 in Vista displays both stories and movies at the actual pixel dimensions.
What you see in a monitor or viewer depends on how it wants to display it. You have to learn the difference between knowing what size something is and being able to see it at that size. If a player doesn't show it right, use a different one.
What Size is it? 
I made the clip first a custom PS3 profile of 800x24, and then used Movie Maker to convert the story into a movie with another custom profile of 800x24. The conversion was to reduce the file size, not change the size. We'll get to that in a minute.
Viewing in WMP10
It's easy to see the distortion when viewing the clip in WMP10. This is a movie in it... the story looks right.
Viewing in WMP10
Here's the same movie playing in IrfanView's multimedia player... 
Viewing in IrfanView
I don't want to go down a list of viewers/players and note which ones distort versus which ones don't... let's move into making the clip.

Making the 800x24 Pixel Clip
Starting Picture
The picture at the left was one of a group of high quality images from ablestock on a disc in a monthly design magazine... the image was 4072x2712 pixels, about 7 megapixels.  
Image with text - half size
I used IrfanView to crop the section at the right, and add the text.
From there it was to Photo Story to use its great panning feature... I wanted it to scroll downwards.
Picture times 20 in height
But Photo Story works only at a standard aspect ratio of 4:3, and has only rendering profiles for that aspect ratio. To make the shorter wider story, we need a custom profile with a video size of 800x24 pixels.
For things to work out right with such an odd size, you need to distort the image before importing, by either squeezing it in sideways or stretching it upwards... you then trust the rendering with the custom profile to make the finished story look just right, even if it looks way out of whack in some viewers.

To render a widescreen 16:9 story, the math is such that we squeeze the images by multiplying their original widths by 75%. High quality images squeezed that much are close enough to normal that they are easy to work with.
The squeezing needed for this story is much more severe... the ratio of width to height for a video of 800x24 pixels is 33.3:1. We would have to squeeze the image to 5% of it's original width. If we multiplied the original width by 5%, it would work but we'd be resampling significantly downwards and losing too much image quality... we don't want to drop pixels if we can achieve a much better result by adding some.
The math when going in this direction says to grab the top of the picture and pull it upwards so it's 20 times its original height. The resizing will result in it looking like the image at the right, 20 times the height of the small but normal looking image above it.
The horizontal slice with the added text was 2960x743 pixels before multiplying the height by 20. The vertical exaggeration resulted in an image 14,860 pixels high, which passed a limit of Photo Story.
The limit for the height or width of a picture in Photo Story 3 is 7,200 pixels... you don't need to remember it, as an error message pops up when you try to import one that's larger. 
When you hit that message, it's time to resize it to something below the limit. No math needed for that resizing.... I used IrfanView for all the resizings, and opted to maintain the aspect ratio.

That got it into Photo Story. But after doing the motion settings to do the scrolling downwards, I tried to preview it and got an error message of ... 'not enough memory .....'... even with my 2 GB of RAM and having only a single picture in the project. I had to reduce the pixel size some more. When it was down to a height of 5,400 pixels, it previewed and rendered fine.
Tip 1: Just as in Movie Maker, when a project is too complex to be rendered to a movie, a single extremely high resolution picture in Photo Story can give you the same error message... but with a single picture you can't divide the project into parts as you do a movie. What you need to do is resize it to reduce the number of pixels it has to deal with.
Tip 2: In Movie Maker you can only apply a transition between two clips... but in Photo Story you can have the first picture with a transition in from blackness, without having to use a black picture. I used one here for added interest.
The story looked good on the website... but the file size was 580 KB... breaking a personal rule of thumb to keep website images/embedded items at less than 100 KB. Only one of the 406 website images on my site today is larger than this story file, and it's buried down on a page that only people who want to see it will go through the downloading. This file would be downloaded as part of the first page, so every visitor would be paying the price of the download... excessive time for something they don't need or want... and I'd be paying the bandwidth cost for website maintenance.
It was time to trim the fat by shaving profile settings... there wasn't any audio so trimming the fat would be the video settings, lowering them until the visual quality dropped below the threshold of acceptable.

Trimming the Custom Story Profile
It won't let you drop the audio track completely, even if there is no narration or music.... but you can reduce file size by reducing the audio to a setting of 0 kbps mono
The image size was where I wanted it. I cut the frames per second from 30 to 24 and increased the key frame interval to 8 seconds. The rendered file size was getting smaller with each adjustment, and the visual quality was hanging in there fine.
I then lowered the video quality setting 5 or 10 points at a time until it was down to 40, until the increasing pixilization reached my visual threshold. But the file size was still at the 200 KB level.
In addition to the file being still too big, an embedded story can't be viewed on a Mac or on a Firefox browser without some optional plug-in (if one exists). At this point I wasn't sure I'd be successful. I could live with Mac and Firefox users not seeing it, but I didn't want to have such a file size...

Exploring the Movie Alternative
200+ KB for a 6 second video... that's 2 MB for a minute... yet with the 24 pixel height it was only 5% the size of full video... I knew there was some overhead to pay for getting any story or movie, but my experience is such that a story file is only 10% or so the size of a movie file. Even so, it was time to try a movie.
Going back to the story and its profile, this time to get a very high quality one to use as the source file for a movie... back to a quality setting of 95, with a story file size of 580 KB.
It was time to make and tweak a custom profile for Movie Maker. A video size of 800x24 pixels, audio at 0 kbps mono, frame rate of 24, CBR video bit rate of 50 kbps... various tests to see how well the quality would hang in as the settings resulted in lower quality.
The file sizes were surprisingly much smaller than the story ... using the WMV-V7 codec - 78 KB file which looked good... WMV-V8 codec - 73 KB file looked equally good.... WMV-V9 codec - even better size of 50 KB...
... BUT the quality of the version 9 codec movie was the pits... something had happened with only the change in the codec!!! I stopped here and rolled out the file made with the V8 codec, thinking I might be in good shape if I had to stop there.
But my Vista system wouldn't show the V7 or V8 files in the browser window... it wanted either V9 or the Photo Story.... if it was V7 or V8 it opened the file and stopped with the first frame, which was just plain blackness.
.... a bit later, after studying the V9 issue...
The issue I ran into with Movie Maker and the V9 codec is interesting.MM2 Settings My Movie Maker 2 setting was at widescreen 16:9... as I was testing why the 3 almost identical custom profiles were working fine for V7 and V8, but failing miserably with V9, I noticed in the lower left data info area of the saving wizard that the video dimensions when selecting the V7 and V8 profiles were 800x24 pixels, but the dimensions when selecting the V9 codec showed as 44x24 pixels.... and that's what I was getting. The quality in the browser was from displaying a file of 44x24 at 800x24.
It resolved itself when I changed the working option from widescreen 16:9 to standard 4:3... the rendered file was then 800x24, the same size I was getting with the V7 and V8 codecs, and the size I wanted.
I had resolved the quality issue with the V9 codec and settled on an 84 KB file, someone larger than the V7 or V8 files... but it was below my 100 KB size and it played fine on my Windows 98, XP and Vista systems... and should be viewable on Firefox and Mac browsers.
Today the site has the V9 movie playing... once it's downloaded for the first page, it plays from the local cache for other pages, so I rolled it out to another 20 or so pages...
Now that I know it works, I'll develop new ones and swap them out at times... if for no reason but to keep things changing and more interesting.

Conclusions and Closing
Seeing this 800x24 pixel video display at the right size in Vista's WMP11 and IrfanView... and look like a squished postage stamp in Movie Maker and WMP10... it drove home the fact that different viewers present files differently.
We as producers and distributors of our movies and stories have to understand that viewers may not see them the way we want or expect. The galleries didn't show my widescreen movies as I wanted... and Vista's Windows Media Player didn't squeeze this new movie as I expected. I've learned to accept the unexpected and adapt to it... sometimes enjoy it!! 
If viewers say they can't see something, or don't see it right.... I believe them, and don't say there's something wrong with their system.

Have a great week...