PapaJohn Productions
Newsletter #98 - April 8, 2006

Visually Seamless 


If you haven't wrestled with the fine-tuning of a video to achieve smooth visual flow over a number of clips, you may not appreciate this week's subject... with tips to achieve it. 
Sample VideoStart by viewing this 2+ minute sample that I put together to illustrate some points. Click on the link or the picture.
When viewing it, I'm hoping you won't notice anything special beyond the morphing clips... sometimes the absence of jerkiness, audio glitches, and other artifacts isn't noticed, but their presence is.
This sample uses 21 separate clips... try counting how many you see as you watch it before getting into the tutorial below.
the Quest for a Seamless Video


When I started editing home movies, a transition was made by cutting the film with a razor, and splicing the selected clips back together with glue or tape... there were no video effects except ones you could add when shooting the footage.
Movie Maker 1 let me do the same straight cuts a lot easier using the computer. Beyond that it supported overlapping clips with an automatically applied fade or dissolve transition. Anything more creative than that needed to be done with other software. Even so, it was a big step forward.
Today we have hundreds of built-in and add on transitions to pick from, and an infinite assortment of custom made ones using XML code...

Transitions other than straight cuts are often trying to achieve some kind of smooth change from one scene to another. Morphing fits into that category, even though the change happens from the beginning of a clip to the end...
A forum poster the other day referenced a utility from I downloaded it and two others: Squirtz Lite, Squirtz Morph, and Squirtz Water Reflections. Playing with the Morph app led me to the topic for this week.
The morphing app got me into thinking about the smooth visual flow of a video from one end to the other, not just of the morphed clip... let's go through a sample project that uses video clips, still pictures, Photo Stories, and morphed clips.... and strings them together in a smoothly flowing project.
... before getting into it further, here's a couple notes...

Last week's newsletter resulted in positive and more than usual feedback... thanks.
The Vista Corner... since last week I've
... all went flawlessly... no bugs to report this week.
Transitions and effects are always in the limelight

I just finished restructuring the XML - Persian Section of the site, folding my Custom Overlays page into it. As part of my review, I copied and pasted all the XML info in that section into a new set of XML files and checked them in Movie Maker... to once again verify they work as noted... and yes, they do.

Some of the menu pages and branches have moved... as I continue to morph the site from its original focus on 'problem-solving' to one of 'doing amazing things'.  

On the subject of 3rd party packages... there's something new on the near horizon that I'll be announcing as soon as it's ready, hopefully by next week.

.... back to the main topic...

The Sample Project
Let's look at the project by viewing the storyboard. As a topic, I was trying to integrate the idea of morphing with Darwinian evolution, and achieve a fairly seamless visual flow. I looked through my stock of clips, picked some, and jumped right into the editing.
General notes
  • My experience is that the smoothest flow happens from one clip to the next when the source files align in pixel dimensions. With my goal being a 640x480 online video for the newsletter, I made each of the movie source files 640x480. Source files for the stories used as clips were larger, but the stories were saved to 640x480 sizes.
  • Transitioning from one to the next, when a video clip is involved, can be seamless if you take a screen shot of the clip at the exact point you cut or trim it, or start or end it. Taking snapshots in the timeline gets you 320x240 jpg images, so to keep the snapshots aligned with the goal of 640x480, take them in the collection... with a source video of 640x480 the snapshot will be that size.
  • To edit clips at 640x480 through multiple renderings, I use a custom profile with an extra high bitrate as an alternate to using DV-AVI clips.
Let's go through each clip on the storyboard... focusing on things done to maintain a seamless visual flow.
In the first row...
1 - PhotoStory... we'll start with a Hubble telescope image (ssc2005-11a2.jpg) of 3,000 by 1,681 pixels (5 megapixels). 3 copies of the same picture to be able to change the motion direction a couple times. No transitions between each, and with the start of each picture being at the same point as the end of the previous one. Photo Story is a great tool, if for nothing more than making such a seamless clip. I saved the 20 second story with the 640x480 size option.
2 - After importing the story into MM2, I took a snapshot of its last frame... to pause in the whiteness of the galaxy. Rather than lingering at that point in the story, the snapshot of the last frame lets you linger as long as you want in the movie, changing the duration of the still picture as needed. Using a frame snapshot instead of a white image makes the whiteness the same shade.
3 - The lightning/thunder clip is the only part of the video that has some dynamic action, to juxtapose the calm smooth flowing of the rest. The still picture of the galaxy whiteness fading into it is one of 3 points in the movie that uses a standard transition, a fade of a second long. The scene is from my camcorder in the Big Sur area of California, cropped in VirtualDub to remove the road and part of a car at the lower right... with fake lightning/thunder added by a custom XML title overlay and a stock sound effect. 
4 - Another snapshot, the last frame of the stormy clip, used to ease the transition from the video clip with dynamic motion to another video clip with motion but less dynamic.
5 - The fish are swimming at 1/2 speed compared to the original camcorder footage.
6 - A still shot of the last frame... to stop the motion on the big fish used as the first picture for the morphing of the fish to the turtle.
Project - Storyboard
On the second row
7 - The first of a number of morph clips... the snapshot of the fish was 640x480... the image of the turtle was a scan from a book of copyright free images, cropped and sized to be a 640x480 BMP image... and I flipped the turtle image horizontally so it was facing the same direction as the fish before it, and the live turtle that follows.
8 - The same image used for the morphing clip ahead of it... using this almost 3 second image lets the flow of the video pause a bit before going into the next movement.
9 - The next movement is another morph, 5 seconds to go from the turtle illustration to the first frame of the live turtle clip.
10 - The snapshot of the first frame of the live turtle clip has a duration of 1-1/2 seconds. The still picture is again used to briefly pause the motion. 
11 - The video of the turtle runs for almost 8 seconds. The original footage was taken by someone testing his new High Definition Sony camcorder. It was sent to me as a 1080i video clip... I re-rendered it to a 640x480 wmv source file for this project. 
12 - Another pausing snapshot, this one of the last frame of the real turtle clip. The alignment stayed good, but you can see an abrupt change in sharpness when the video changes into this still picture. I didn't see that when using the snapshot taken from the first frame... rather than stop to explore it, I kept going.
Moving on to the 3rd line of clips
13 - A 5 second morph from the live turtle to a monkey illustration...
14 - The monkey illustration is another scan from the same book of copyright free images... cropped and resized to 640x480.
15 - The first monkey image morphs into a larger monkey face, another scanned illustration sized at 640x480.
16 - The monkey face sits there for 1-1/2 seconds, another pause in movement using a frame snapshot from Movie Maker. 
17 - The monkey face morphs over 5 seconds to a girl's face.
18 - The girl is a Movie Maker snapshot from the first frame of a Photo Story saved at 640x480.
The last line of the composite storyboard
19 - Similar to the first Photo Story in the project, the girl's face is a high rez 8-1/2 megapixel image, this one from a magazine disc. 3 copies are used in the PS3 project, with motion settings going from the full image to as closely as possible into the eye.
20 - To get all the way into the iris of the eye... a Movie Maker snapshot of the final frame of the first story is used as the only source picture for a second story of the girl's face... to continue the motion into the blackness.
21 - Once all the way into the eye, a standard clip is used for brief closing credits.
The music is 'Halfway Home' by Randon Myles
Now that you've seen the use of some morph clips, let's go into the making of them, using Sqirlz Morph. 

Sqirlz Morph - mini-tutorial
The morph app is pretty easy to use...
You've now got an AVI file rendered with the WMV9 compressor, which works fine in Movie Maker. You may have noticed other options for saving the animation... a flash SWF file, or an animated GIF. They work too.
Sqirlz Morph
That's enough to help you start using it. There are other features you can explore, such as using more than 2 images at the same time for a more complex morph. 

Conclusions and Closing
I think the visual smoothness you can achieve when bouncing around from story to still pix, to video clip, to a morphed clip... to whatever, is as good as you can want or expect it to be!!!
The Squirtz Water Reflection app works as well as the morphing one, and can handle adding water to video files, not just still pictures. I haven't tried doing anything yet with Squirtz Lite.
I talked with Randon the other night about what to say if someone is interested in using his music, as his website isn't setup yet to do it... the bottom line is I'm free to act as his agent and sell his music for non-commercial or small-scale commercial use like mine. I have 4 of his albums (62 tracks total) and most of what I'm making lately uses pieces from them. If you hear anything you'd like to use, ask for a price or make an offer for a track or album. For larger commercial uses, you should contact Randon Myles via his website

Have a great week...