PapaJohn Productions
Newsletter #126 - Nov 26, 2006
Make a Video Postcard

The idea for this issue started with a top regular forum poster asking for a tutorial about making a video postcard.
... and with the holiday season here, it's as good a time as any to do it.
Advancements in the skills of users, available tools, and broadband distribution make such a project easier, more fun, and with better results.
This is the first of what I expect to be a series of topical cards, spending a bit of time setting up templates for routine use.

The video postcard runs 2-3/4 minutes. It's a widescreen card, saved using the Video for LAN (768 kbps) profile and uploaded to the mydeo streaming service. The pictures of the postcard front above and back below are alternate links to view it.
The video file is a bit over 15 MB, a bit too large for routine emailing, making it perfect for online distribution.

I made the video postcard from scratch... using a number of graphics and video tools.
camcorder footage of a family outing to Chicago this past Saturday
an MM2 video snapshot of one of the frames from the video - Chicago's famous 'Water Tower'
two scanned images... the fancy scrollwork for the back of the card, and the small squarish picture for a make-believe stamp.
IrfanView to crop and resize the scanned images to make the front and back images for the card, using the scanned images, carving out the transparent area of the reverse to be able to see the video beneath it, writing the text on the front, adding the stamp and making the post-mark, and saving the front and back images as .png files to use as custom overlays in Movie Maker.
VirtualDub to rotate the source video 7 degrees to align with the tilt I had given the card.
a downloaded midi file for holiday background music, capturing it into MM2 as a narration (WMA file).
a holiday themed Windows Media Player 11 visualization captured by the Windows Media Encoder
using the card front and back as custom image overlays... with an xml file to make them work
a few special video effects and transitions made by Pixelan and Adorage
Movie Maker 2.1 of course to put it all together and make the movie
the mydeo streaming service to sent it to all who want to view it
... before getting into details, here's a few notes...

Vista Corner... I did a couple things this week. First I stepped through the process of plugging my camcorder in and importing video clips into the Photo Gallery, using the option of making individual files for each scene. I took screen shots at each step to use on my website. The process worked fine, but it's limited to importing into WMV files and doesn't make the same offer for DV-AVI.
Then I did some checking of long-term MM2.1 issues to see how and if they were resolved in Vista: the 'What Frames do you see?' issue explored in newsletter #55, the missing 27th frame when saving to DV-AVI, and the generational loss issues presented in newsletter #48. The issues seem to be still with us in Vista, perhaps more significantly. 
When previewing a clip with 100 numbered frames, I saw two frames with #29, three with #96, and didn't see #98 or #99. When saving a new movie in DV-AVI format, the 27th frame was dropped, but there were two with #30. When saving to WMV, there were lots of missing and added frames.
I have more studying to do before presenting the results. Issues could be in the viewing rather than the file itself, or a combo of issues between the file and the viewing software. I'd rather test and present results than speculate about what the issues might be.
YouTube... After reading the latest Wired magazine article about YouTube/Google, I spent a little time exploring my YouTube account, and found it a bit more advanced than the last time I visited. I customized my 'Channel' by applying the same bluish background image I use for newsletters and my website, organized selected sets of my videos into a couple playlists: video doodles, and Chuck Bentley's 'Carnival in Venice' podcasts. I'm still on the learning curve, getting my share of error messages as I create and edit playlists, so you may not yet see what you expect. It offers a long-term online storage place for videos I've removed from the website to save space.
By jumping in a bit more, I'm participating in the big online video experiment.

As this link is a special for 50% off the usual annual service price... for newsletter readers... good to Dec 31.... I'll keep it as a sticky note until then.
.... back to the main topic...

Making a Video Postcard - Tutorial
I'll walk you through it in 12 steps... substitute your own tools if you use different ones.
1 - Capture the camcorder footage
My footage is from a family outing to Chicago on Saturday, using MM2 with a firewire connection to my mini-DV camcorder. Most of the clips I took were in standard 4:3 mode, but some were taken in widescreen 16:9 mode.
For the video clips of the game-playing in ESPN Zone, I changed the camcorder to shoot in progressive mode instead of interlaced. I wanted to test the flickering or banding when shooting video screens, to see if it varies between modes. I don't think I could tell.
There were not outstanding stand-alone scenes, just 17+ minutes of assorted clips. The editing will need to make it into something worth viewing. The presentation will need to be more of the WOW than the content, and from the first wave of feedback, I succeeded.

2 - Use MM2 to take a video snapshot of one of the frames from the video to use as background.
The famous 'Water Tower' view is what I used. I took the snapshot of the video clip in the collection... Movie Maker saved it as an 856x480 pixel jpg file.
The pixel dimensions of the snapshot tell me to make the overlay and other images to use in the project at those dimensions to align with the video. 

Postcard frame scan3 - Scan some images
I often use books of 'thousands of copyright-free images'. There's a pretty good selection at Barnes & Noble. The images are oldies but goodies... and free to use.
The one with the fancy scrollwork was to use on the back of the card, with an area to frame the video.
stamp imageThe other was a small squarish picture to make into a postage stamp.

4 - Scan at full size for good resolution, and crop and resize images as needed using IrfanView (newsletter #13).
I resized the scrollwork frame from its original 952x1608 pixels to fit nicely into the 856x480 pixel dimensions of the video.
I resized the image for the stamp from 463x540 pixels to a smaller size that looks appropriate when placed on the corner of the postcard. The image wasn't of a stamp, but looked like an easy one to add a denomination.

5 - Use (newsletter #77) to manipulate the images.
I use it when needing something more than IrfanView or Paint... I wanted to be able to rotate at any angle, carve out a transparent area to see the video playing in the background, and build the images in layers.
In addition to adding a 10 to indicate the quasi-stamp's value, I punched the edges a bit with a circular eraser brush to make it look a bit more stamp-like.
I colored the stamp blue to more easily see the perforations, added some straight lines for cancellation marks, along with a bolder circle at the left, the name 'Chicago', and the date. The cancellation gives the aura of you being the receiver... use just the stamp if you want to give the aura of the sender.
I apply the text as it normally goes... horizontally... then cut the area of text out and paste it back in. When pasting gives you the option of rotating to any angle you want. I do that with all the objects I need to rotate.
Using the magic wand and eraser, I removed the central area within the scroll work so it was a transparent area... to see the video beneath it when used as a custom image overlay.
When finished adding and tweaking things in, I saved the front and back images as .png files, a file type you can either import into MM2 to use as a picture clip, or use as a custom title 'image' overlay without importing (see step 9 below).

VDub - add filter6 - VirtualDub (newsletter #16) to rotate a video file
For the postcard, I had rotated the image in about 7 degrees, so I wanted to rotate the video the same amount.
Open the video file in VirtualDub, apply the 'rotate2' filter, and double click it to open the settings box.
Guess at the angle, and then select the preview feature. I had the image open in so I could eyeball the angles between it and the preview in VirtualDub.... close is good enough.
Specify Degrees
I specified the compressor as the Panasonic DV codec, and saved the rotated movie to a new DV-AVI file.

7 - get background music
The Archival Preservation of Player Piano Music Rolls has, among many thousands of other tunes, midi files of holiday music.
I leave them in midi format, play them in WMP, and record in MM2.1 as they play, coming in as WMA narration files... using the Stereo Mix option in the narration settings window.

8 - get other clips for fun and WOW
As the midi file was playing in WMP11, I noticed the visualization with a holiday theme. I turned around right after the narration and used the Windows Media Encoder (newsletter #43) to capture some.
Once I setup the capture session, I tend to overdue it and put lots of footage in my library. The star in the closing credits of the postcard is a small part of what I captured.
The alignment of the names in the credits with the star's position was coincidental.

9 - Make or tweak an xml file for the title overlay images
The two saved png files from step 5 were the front and back of the postcard. I used them as overlay1.png and overlay2.png in my title overlay starter kit (website > Edit Movies > XML - Persian Section > Script Types > Custom Overlays).  
The kit has starter images to replace as needed, like I did here. The xml file to make them work was already in place and no changes were needed to it.

10 - Select special video effects and transitions
I used a few special video effects and transitions made by Pixelan and Adorage were used.... things like the snowflakes from the Winter Fun Pack 2003 and the sparkles transitioning in a couple places.
I used the sparkles to kind of get your attention when changing from the front of the postcard to the back, instead of flipping it over.

11 - Use Movie Maker 2.1 to put it all together and save the video postcard
I made the card in widescreen 16:9 mode, but 13 of the 17 minutes of video footage were shot in standard 4:3 mode. I had enough clips for the short sample postcard, but for a longer home video, I used VirtualDub to crop the standard footage to align it with the widescreen shape.
When saving the movie, I opted for the Video for LAN (768 kbps) profile, my current 'standard' when uploading movies for online viewing... to mydeo, YouTube, my website, wherever.

12 - Upload the video postcard to a website
I used the mydeo streaming service and distributed the link.
As often happens, no sooner do you send out notices with the link than you think of something to change. If it was on my own website I'd just swap out the file with the new one and the link wouldn't be broken... but I haven't seen an online video hosting service yet that allows the changing a video without having to use a new URL for the new one. That leaves a trail of broken links, so I submitted a suggestion to mydeo to add such a feature.

What's Next?
Feedback about this postcard from family and friends was extremely positive, and I like the subject... I'm thinking about how and where to put an expanding set of topical video postcards (maybe greeting cards too) on my website. 
By splitting the postcard, it can make neat opening and closing clips for a longer movie. Use the postcard reverse image in Photo Story 3 and make a clip that zooms into the transparent opening, have the movie show full screen, and then make a 2nd story clip to zoom back out to the postcard for the closing credits.
A note about viewing on Macs... I stopped as usual in the Apple store in Chicago on Saturday to check how things looked from their perspective. I know that WMV9 movies from my website play fine... but I keep forgetting that neither the neptune or mydeo servers support Mac users. I didn't check YouTube but I assume the Macs can see them. Keep thinking about who your audience is and how well they can see your work. For example, we live in the Windows perspective, but 1/3 of those who visit my website are not using Internet Explorer to view it. 

Have a great week...