PapaJohn Productions

Newsletter #116
Subdividing an Overly Complex Project

The subject has been with us since Movie Maker 2.0 was released. MM2 gave us the ability to add neat video effects and transitions, but with those features came increased demands on our computer's memory.
We can add RAM and tweak virtual memory settings to get more, but I've watched memory usage during lots of renderings and have yet to see Movie Maker use more than 2 GB... when it gets to that level, it stalls or crashes. I think the programmers who made Movie Maker assumed 2 GB was more than enough.
Adding memory will often make it reach that hurdle quicker but do nothing to help you get over it. If that's the case, it's time to sub-divide the project and successfully render it in parts. Then assemble the parts and save the final movie.
It's become a popular remedy for issues about rendering a movie, maybe too much so. Sometimes it's not the complexity of the project being the real issue... but for this newsletter let's assume it is.

One of my standard services is to do the sub-dividing for those who don't know how, or prefer to have someone else do it for them. I've yet to come across one that couldn't be subdivided, rendered and assembled.
Let's look at two projects I've subdivided for others. I'd rather use real-world cases than make something up.
One of them is a wedding project of over 2 hours. You don't need any of the source files to open someone else's project... you can see the titles and title overlays, but most of the clips will show the familiar big red X's.
Wedding Project
The other is a soccer project, about 8 times shorter in playing duration than the wedding video project. It's a bit over 26 minutes.
A quick look at the two shows similar complexity in terms of the numbers of things in the project. The wedding project is obviously made from video clips, as the audio track associated with the video is as full as the video track... video clips have associated audio but still pictures don't. The soccer video is a slide-show of still pix, with hardly any associated audio.
Another big difference is in transitions. The wedding video hardly has only a couple, but the soccer slide show looks like it uses a transition at every possible location. 
They each have about the same number of audio/music clips and almost no title overlays.
... before getting into it further, a note...

Vacation Corner...  we're putting the finishing touches on our plans and starting to round up the things we're taking. I was able to change the August 24th trip to bypass a stop in London. We now have a direct flight from Chicago to Zurich.
.... back to the main topic...

Assess the Project 
When I get an 'overly complex' project to subdivide, I first do an overall assessment to see if it's the right approach, and to see how feasible it is. 
I'll spot check the location and type of source files being used. If video clips are MPG files I'll ask about their source... to be sure we're not dealing with MPEG-2 files. Even without the source files, the properties of the clips in the Movie Maker project show their file location and full name.
The wedding project used mostly video clips with .wmv extensions.
Video Source File
and music files with .wav extensions
Source File
Wedding SplitOf course, as I'm PapaJohn and not the one who sent the project file, it'll look for the personally associated files in my folder.
After passing the source file checks... the next review is for convenient points to split the project.

Notes about the Wedding Project
The wedding project had an overall duration of 2 hrs, 7 minutes, 2.93 seconds. The sum of the parts needed to add up to that when the dividing was finished and the rendered parts were in the final project for assembly. If they don't add up to a total duration very close to the original, you need to check things to see what happened.
Keep a copy of the original complex project file to check against as you create the sub-projects. 
The figure at the right shows a clean break point at the half way mark... two video clips with no transition between them, and a change in music files at the same point, with no audio fading from one to the other.

Notes about the Soccer Project
The project had a duration of 26 minutes, 38.33 seconds. It was a typical slide-show, JPG images with durations of exactly 5 seconds each, and with a different transition between each.
The closest clean break I could find about mid-way was this one at just over 19 minutes. There was no transition used between a title clip and the following video clip... but splitting the project there would be right in the middle of a music file, and audio blips are much worse than slight visual ones.
Soccer - clean break
With 7 music pieces in the project, and no clear space between them, it appeared that one of the sub-projects would be the music track. If I saved that first I wouldn't have to think about how any of the divisions would effect the audio. 
Touch any of the video clips on the timeline with your mouse, use the Control-A keys to expand the selection to all of them, and press the Delete key... you'll have this subproject, just the music. Save it as a new project file with a name like Soccer-AudioTrack.
Soccer - audio
With the music in its own project, re-open the original project and strip away the music.
Touch one of the songs with the mouse, use Control-A to expand the selection to all the music, and then the Delete key...
Save the project to new file. At this point you'll have 3 project files... the full original, the visual part only, and the music.
Soccer - visual
In some cases that might be enough of a subdivision. Render the video and music to separate files and then bring them in as individual clips and combine them in a final rendering.
But that would be too easy. Let's assume it's not sufficient and break the video into two or more sub-projects.
If we split the visual at the 19 minute mark as shown earlier, it'd be easy to combine the two parts of the video track.

Notes about the Audio/Music Clips
Music and sound effects on the audio/music track can always be treated as a separate sub-project. The rendered audio track is often the same duration as the video track. Seeing them come together and ending at the same place in the final project provides some assurance that the dividing is going well.
Audio ChoicesIf you strip away all the clips on the video track, and all the title overlay clips, leaving just the audio/music... rendering it to a movie will result in an audio WMA file.
Use the high quality choice and save the rendered audio/music track for the final assembly.

Notes about Title Overlay PositionTitle Overlays 
Check the position of the first title overlay of the group you're going to copy from the master project to a new sub-project, so you can align it with the clips in the new project.
The soccer project had no title overlays, and there was only one in the wedding project. It was easy to position because it started at the same time as the final video and music clips.

Copy/Paste skills
Basic copy/paste skills are all you need to move batches of clips from an overly complex project into new sub-projects, and to position them as needed.
The steps to easily copy a batch of clips from any of the tracks into a new project are:
  1. select the first clip of the group you want
  2. hold the shift key down as you move to the last clip in the group and select it... all of the clips in the group will be selected. Don't worry if you don't get enough visual feedback... keep going and assume it'll happen right
  3. use the Control-C keys in combo to copy the batch of clips to the computer's clipboard. You won't see anything until you paste them into the new project
  4. open a new Movie Maker project (File > New Project) and paste the batch of clips into it... touch the timeline with your mouse before pasting to be sure they'll go to the right place. Use the Control-V keys in combo to do the pasting
  5. if you're pasting a batch of video clips, they'll all be snuggled to the left... if you're copying a set of audio/music clips or title overlays, you may need to position them on the timeline. After the pasting, zoom far enough into the timeline so you can see the starting point for the batch. You can drag them as a group for gross-tuning, and use the nudge left or right feature as needed for fine-tuning.
If you haven't done it yet, when you have nothing else to do, try copying/pasting a batch of clips from a project into a new one to see how it works. Fine tune your skills by practicing as needed. It's easier to do than to write about it.

Render the Parts.... and do the final assembly.
Render each of the sub-projects to DV-AVI files (or high quality WMV), and import them into Movie Maker with the auto-splitting option unchecked so they come in as single clips.
Put the parts on the timeline and render the complete finished project using the quality profile you need. High quality WMV files need the most memory, DV-AVI files need a moderate amount, and low quality WMV files need the least.


Conclusions and Closing
Subdividing an overly complex project into renderable parts is fairly easy... it just takes a high level of copy/paste skills, and a disciplined/organized approach to make any notes needed about which clips start where on the timeline. 
If you need to split a project such that the final assembly involves adding transitions, make a note of the transition names and their durations. I'll include such instructions with the sub-projects, saying something like ".... between parts C and D, add a fade transition of 5.4 seconds....". It's easier if there isn't a transition involved, but sometimes there is.
Calibrate the computer that is doing the rendering by splitting the project into just a couple parts and rendering one of them. If it can't get through one part, split that part again... and again... and again as needed. I had one project that needed to be split into parts that were each less than 5 minutes, even with my 2 GB of RAM. Once you determine the size and complexity of the sub-project that can be successfully rendered, you can do the project carving as needed.
I haven't mentioned how much RAM a computer needs to successfully do the renderings. It's not really important. If it's your computer that's doing it, you just need small enough projects to get fully over the rendering hurdles with the quality choice you need. The goal is to render it on your computer, not mine or someone else's. 

With our vacation to Europe less than two weeks away, I'm phasing out of newsgroup and forum postings for a while... next weeks newsletter will be the last one until I return.
Movie Maker and Photo Story will be on my mind as I shoot video throughout the trip, and Bernadette will have 5 and 7 megapixel cameras for the still shots.

Have a great week...