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Alex: December 2008 Archives

text.pngIt's been a few years since we covered Final Cut's text features, and -- while everything we said then is still true -- it's time to update our advice.  If you just want simple text for credits, burned-in subtitles, or simple credit rolls, the text generators we described in that article are your ticket. 

But now that Final Cut Studio ships with LiveType, you'd be foolish not to investigate LiveType's incredibly easy-to-use interface for creating visually stunning titles and supers.  We've got a tutorial on matteing video to your titles in LiveType, and working through that tutorial will give you a feel for how the LiveType interface works.  Once you've got your title the way you like it, simply save, and follow our quick tip to bring it back into Final Cut (or Avid, if you prefer).

If you're interested in further tutorials on LiveType, drop me an email, and we'll get some in the pipeline.  And of course, we offer full instruction on LiveType as part of our Final Cut training.

Final Cut has a lot of strengths, but it also has some awfully confusing error messages.  Luckily, the "Insufficient Content for Edit" error is pretty straightforward: you're trying to use more source clip than you have available.

This can occur in a few circumstances: adding a transition, making a 3-point edit, or performing a replace edit.  Read on for specific details about each situation.

photoshop-3d-video-teaser.pngPhotoshop CS4 introduces a ton of new 3D capability, which, alongside its surprisingly decent video capabilities, positions it as a useful tool for 3D.  It goes beyond the Final Cut Studio's capabilities, but it's still worlds easier to use than most more ordinary 3D modeling software.  The main tradeoffs are extra render time, zero ability to actually create complex 3D models, and limited control over your finished scene.

PS CS4 provides two main advantages to video folks: it allows you to easily place simple 3D objects inside your video, and it allows you to map video to 3D primitives other than planes.  As an introduction to these features, today's tutorial will cover the basic process of mapping a video to a 3D shape within Photoshop.
spacesapple.pngIf you tried out our introduction to Mac OS' Spaces feature, and you liked Spaces, I've got a couple more tips that have helped me work more efficiently with Spaces.

The first is Kent Sutherland's free software, Warp.  When enabled, Warp allows you to move directly between Spaces simply by moving to the edge of the screen.  Your spaces are laid out just like they are in the Spaces preference pane -- normally in a square or rectangle.  So if you're in your #1 desktop, you can switch to your #2 desktop by moving to the right of your screen -- or to your #3 desktop by moving to the bottom of the screen. 

spacesapple.pngIf you're using the latest version of Mac OS X, your computer is capable of a feature called "Spaces."  And if you're like most of the FCP editors I know, you've never looked at that feature.  You're missing out.

Spaces puts an end to rearranging windows in order to see things, and it can save you a ton of Cmd+Tabs and awkward drag-and-drops.  It's especially useful when you're going back and forth between one full-screen app (like Final Cut) and other apps (Photoshop, LiveType, DVD Studio, etc.).
As you may be able to tell from my short and hurried posts of the past few days, I'm on the road on a tight schedule.  Today's tip is actually pretty cool, so I'll write it up in more detail and with screenshots sometime in the next few days -- in the meantime, here's a summary that might be enough for an "aha!" moment if it sounds familiar.

During one of our on-site Final Cut training courses today, an editor migrating from Avid asked whether you could add whole sets of filters to your "Favorite Filters" bin.  For example, say you like to get your trademark "Film Look" effect by combining a film grain filter, some kind of ragged-border matte, a levels adjustment and some kind of 3:2 pulldown thing.  You can't drag that "stack" of filters directly into your "Favorite Filters" bin, right?

You may be familiar with the Match Frame command -- it looks at the clip under your playhead, and loads the corresponding original source clip into your viewer.  If you're not familiar, you can get a quick idea by playing around with in it Final Cut (the keyboard shortcut is simply the letter "F"). 

This function can be useful in an incredible number of situations: for a quick example, if you place only the video track of a clip, then later decide that you need the audio too, you could go the intuitive way or the easy way.  You could dig for the original source, then spend 5 minutes trying to line up the audio tracks with your video ... or you could use Match Frame to bring up the original source clip, already marked with in and out points corresponding to the clip in your timeline. 

By default, Match Frame applies to the top layer of video in your timeline.  But what if you wanted to match to a clip lower in your stack of video clips -- or to an audio track?  The answer is simple, if a little unobvious: after you place your playhead, simply use the arrow tool to select the track you want to target.  The Match Frame command will give priority to your selection, and match to that track's original source.
Although most Final Cut users are familiar with the "Video Filters" that they can apply to their clips, fewer are comfortable working with the keyframes used to animate those filters over time.  For example, what if you wanted a clip to fade from color to black and white -- or to gradually blur (or unblur)?  Normally, you would either use keyframes or a duplicate copy of your source clip.  You can accomplish the same thing, though, with less mess by using familiar through edits and transitions.
supercharging-compressor.pngYou can find more compression settings articles in our Supercharging Compressor series index.

Update:  Sorry, I seem to have erroneously published an empty draft of this article.  My apologies.  Here's the text ...

As you may be aware, the DVD standard uses a form of video compression called MPEG-2.  There are a few aspects of this codec that can impact the quality of your finished video -- and many of them stem from the fact that the codec works not in terms of frames, like the rest of your video process, but in terms of "Groups of Pictures," or GOPs.
I'm still going back and forth with some programmer friends on just how reckless I should be in
my approach to "simplifying" FLVs in iWeb, so I'm afraid I'll have to string you on for a bit longer on that article.  But rest assured -- I've not forgotten, and the Frame Controls article is coming up relatively soon as well.

In the meantime, here's a piece that's hopefully more useful than most "filler" -- the technical story behind Portable Network Graphics, or PNGs.  Read on for what they are, where they came from, and (most importantly) when they're a good idea in the video production workflow.
supercharging-compressor.pngYou can find more compression settings articles in our Supercharging Compressor series index.

If you're using an Apple workflow, you're no doubt familiar with the ways in which Apple makes its Quicktime codec attractive for web and mobile delivery.  Exporting a .MOV "for the web" is as simple as, well, picking the "Web Streaming" preset in your application of choice.  Care to deliver to mobile devices?  Target iPhones and iPods with the presets of the same name.

This is an area where respectable people disagree -- and, if you do indeed disagree with me, I encourage you to voice your opinion in the comments.  But I strongly advocate avoiding Quicktime for web delivery.
pixel-aspect-ratios.pngWhy do your graphic supers have funny jagged edges in Photoshop, but they look fine on (television) screen?  For that matter, how can anamorphic formats cram so much width into a regular NTSC-type signal?  The answer, simply put, is that pixels come in all shapes and sizes.

Recall that pixels are the individual points of color that make up a picture on your screen.  While computer screens and similar displays usually use pixels that are square, televisions, historically, have not.  In fact, the concept of a "pixel" didn't figure into analog television signals at all -- the NTSC specification called for 480 "lines," but the signal within those lines did not specify discrete units of width.

When the notion of digital video became a reality, the standards bodies that be decided that -- for both NTSC and PAL -- there would be exactly 720 pixels per line.  Thus, the 480i resolutions we know and love: 720x480 NTSC, and 720x576 PAL.
chapter-marker-teaser.pngWhen you're producing a DVD using a Final Cut Studio workflow, you can add chapters in plenty of places.  FCP, DVD Studio Pro, iDVD ... all of them will graciously let you split your files up.  But if you're using our recommended workflow for producing DVDs, there are three rules you should follow:

  1. Add chapter markers in Final Cut
  2. ONLY add chapter markers in Final Cut
  3. Don't add chapter markers outside of Final Cut
Now, if you're on a tight deadline, we understand.  You can break our rules.  And if you're going against our advice and using "Export to Quicktime" rather than Compressor, it doesn't really matter which way you make your chapters (why).  But read on for an explanation of why adding your chapter markers directly on your Final Cut sequence is important.
supercharging-compressor.pngYou can find more compression settings articles in our Supercharging Compressor series index.

You can be plenty good at video work if you only know that bigger bitrates are usually better -- but if you're going to be a guru when it comes to the quality of your video output, it's worth taking a closer look at the concept from the ground up.

Luckily, it's a fairly simple concept.  Let's take NTSC video as our example: 30 frames per second, each 720 pixels wide and about 480 high.  Each broadcast-safe pixel, in RGB space, could take up 235 values for each color (red green and blue), so it needs 24 bits of information to describe it.  If we were to try to store a second of NTSC-type video completely uncompressed using this bitmap scheme, we would need

30 * 720 * 480 * 24 = 248,832,000 bits, or about 30MB -- per second!

Try slapping THAT on YouTube -- or a DVD, for that matter.
color-correction.pngYou can find more color correction articles in our Color Correction & Manipulation series index.

I know we just kicked off another series yesterday, but variety is the spice of life: over the coming weeks, I'll be regaling you with a whole lot of how-to's around color correction.  Some will be more general, others -- like this one -- will be software-specific.

To break the ice, let's get acquainted with Final Cut's color correction workflow.  Since I'm not in the office right now with our sample footage, I've grabbed an awesome clip of sumo wrestlers off of Wikimedia Commons.  The clip is crap in more ways than one, but it could sure use a little color correction ...

Get the sample media (1.5M H.264 MOV)
I promise I'll come up with better sample clips next time

...then read on!
supercharging-compressor.pngYou can find more compression settings articles in our Supercharging Compressor series index.

If you read our Final Cut to DVD tutorial, you may be wanting to dig a little deeper into the belly of Compressor.  I'll be writing at some length about the video settings in the coming weeks, but for an introduction, let's tweak a setting that's pretty noncontroversial.

(skip to Step-By-Step)
Out of the box, Compressor's DVD presets apply fairly aggressive dynamic range compression (see also) to your audio.  If we were only talking audio, we'd call this transformation simply a compressor -- but to avoid confusion, I'll call it a DRC for this article. 

In a nutshell, the DRC makes the loud parts of your audio quieter and the quiet parts louder, for a more consistent level of sound on your viewers' TV sets.  To be fair, DRCs are popular in broadcast media, they're often appropriate for audio that's being delivered specifically to TV sets, and Compressor uses a really solid algorithm from Dolby itself.  On the other hand, audiophiles loathe DRCs, and Compressor's default DRC algorithm is designed for movie theaters rather than DVD players.  If you haven't spent time mastering your audio tracks, you might be pleasantly surprised by the DRC's effects when you prepare your DVD -- but then again, you might not.

Personally, I hate surprises -- and when Compressor substantially modifies my audio without my say-so, I get a little annoyed.  So whether you want to turn the DRC off or just play with its preset values, read on for the (really quick!) step-by-step.
readersrespond.jpgSeveral of you wrote emails in response to my article on burning Final Cut sequences to DVD.  Thank you!  A few responses were particularly helpful, and their authors were kind enough to let me share them here.

Eric Mittan writes:

"You might also do a tutorial for getting out a REALLY "quick and dirty" DVD that doesn't even have a menu.  Here at the TV station, we're often throwing little videos to DVD, under 5 minutes even, for viewers or story subjects that want a copy of their piece.  Since I'm Chief Editor AND the IT guy, I went to all the editing stations and changed the preferences for bitrate in DVD studio pro to be pretty high by default, and then printed a copy of these instructions for all our editors and photographers:

export-fcp-to-dvd-icon.pngA friend of mine asked me the best way to get his Final Cut sequence on a DVD - and I was surprised to see that we didn't have a GeniusDV tutorial for that!  So here goes:

The textbook "easiest way," of course, is to export your sequence as a Quicktime movie, then drag the Quicktime movie into iDVD.  But that process degrades the quality of your video -- and it wastes the excellent tools that come with Final Cut Studio.

The "right way" doesn't take much more effort -- read on for a step-by-step!
tablet-and-pen.pngMotion 2 introduced support for pen-based Gestures -- meaning that folks with a graphics tablet and pen can perform a wide variety of actions without setting down their pen and switching to a mouse or keyboard.

For a quick overview, have a look at the cheat sheet (PDF) that Apple publishes.

Now, to be fair, most of the gestures have keyboard equivalents, and all of them appear in menus and other places around the interface.  But if you're manipulating objects with the pen, you'll probably enjoy being able to, say, delete or reorder the object you're "holding" just as naturally as you position and resize it.

letterimage.pngIn the old days of digital video, choosing text for titles and other supers was easy: Arial, Times, or Comic Sans - will "size 48" work?  But as the lines have blurred between all types of creative software, we video types are constantly getting more control over our text.  And that's a good thing: a professional approach to typography improves most video, and in some cases, makes or breaks the deal.

So here's a quick glossary of font-related terms, along with a handful of best practices.
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This page is a archive of recent entries written by Alex in December 2008.

Alex: September 2008 is the previous archive.

Alex: January 2009 is the next archive.

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