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Digital Video in a Nutshell

Here is a brief overview of the steps needed to take in order to create a digital video. More complete information can be found on "The Willamette Digital Video Portfolio Project" web site (Advice, Examples, How-tos, etc.) -

PLAN: Understand how, why and for whom you want to use video, then plan the video step by step. Time spent on planning out a video storyboard will save many hours in editing tasks later on. This important step is frequently overlooked by inexperienced video makers, but usually people make this mistake only once! You can seek help or advice at any time from IDC staff (Jo or Chris) to get started.

EQUIP: Gather together the proper hardware and software resources. These can vary but should consist of the following, at least:

  • A computer equipped with a video capture card , at least 256 MB RAM, 500 MH processor, and 10 GB hard disk space (preferably more).
  • Software to capture, edit and compress the video (such as iMovie or Windows Movie Maker).
  • A digital video camera - complete with DV tapes and a charged battery.
  • A firewire cable (to connect your camera to the computer).
  • A microphone that works with your camera, if audio is required (may require batteries).
  • A means of storing your video, usually network space, media such as a CD ROM, or an external hard drive.
  • A means of distributing your video (usually a network location, a streaming server, or media such as a CD ROM or DVD, depending on size).

STAFF: Assemble any needed support staff, actors or assistance. Enthusiasm helps, so offer rewards such as credits, resumes lines and other forms of fame. We found theater students to be especially willing and able actors.

SHOOT: Pay attention to lighting, background noise and other basic photography issues, then shoot the video.

MOVE: Transfer your video from the camera to your computer via the firewire cable and the capture card. Be aware that you'll need sufficient disk space to succeed at this step.

EDIT: Edit the video (includes gathering together and ensuring copyright permissions on any additional still shots, audio files, or other content) using the video editing software. Plan to spend most of your time on this step (less if you completed Step #1).

COMPRESS: Compress the video according to its intended use using video editing software. This step can also take a lot of time, depending on the size of your video.

SHARE: Distribute the video according to its intended use. Common options include streaming, modem, LAN, and CD ROM.

Digital Video Tips

This section summarizes some, but not all, of the most important digital video lessons we learned over the past few years. We are still learning.

Video takes only a little time to shoot, but a lot of time to edit and compress. Early attempts at making more complex movies taught us the vital importance of planning and storyboarding. A few minutes planning will save hours, or even days, in editing later on (we learned the hard way).

Sound is often the most important part of video; don't bother working with video that requires audio unless you are certain that your sound capture capabilities are adequate. This may mean you will need to purchase a high-quality microphone with an independent power source from the camera.

Awareness of photographic lighting principles remains important, but with digital video we found that ambient lighting serves most all of our needs. Exceptions are longer videos that require natural lighting. For example, in one video a short conversation takes place, while the sun appears to plunge from full afternoon light to dusk in about three minutes!

Unless you are making only a few small movies, it is extremely advisable to have a video storage plan, since video files can take up a huge amount of disk space. Fortunately, external drives and other storage resources are relatively inexpensive.

Consider what software is best suited to your project. If you are make a simple, short film, products such as iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, Pinnicle Studio, or ULead VideoStudio will probably serve your needs. These products all do a reasonable job of helping users capture video (provided you have the right hardware), edit and organize clips on a timeline, and add sound, titles, credits and some special effects. Best of all, they are all easy to learn and use. Output options may be quite limited, however. For example, iMovie only exports completed videos to Quicktime format (note that Quicktime Pro has a small set of editing features as well). More advance users may want to invest in Adobe Premier, Adobe After Effects, an Avid product or Final Cut Pro, which will provide advanced editing and exporting features. We have found Cleaner to be a very useful additional product for compressing videos. For voice-annotated screen capture movies, we use Camtasia or Screencast.

Software links:

Windows - Movie Maker 2.6 (free download)

Windows - Live Movie Maker 2011 (free download)

Windows - ULEAD DigitalStudio

Adobe Premier Elements

Apple - iMovie (often comes installed with Apple computers)

Apple - Final Cut Express

Software Tutorials:

Movie Maker 2.6

Live Movie Maker

ULEAD DigitalStudio

iMovie HD

iMovie '09


Continued use taught us that video capturing and editing requires a very large amount of disk space, RAM and processor speed. We would not recommend attempting to make movies on computers with less than 500 Megahertz processing speed, 256 Megabytes of RAM, or 10 Gigabytes of hard drive space. Far preferable are computers with at least 1 Gigabyte processors, 512 Megabytes of RAM, and 40 or more Gigabytes of hard disk space. Powerful video memory is advisable as well. Other indispensable equipment includes a firewire so you can link your camera to your computer, a video capture card, and a CD ROM burner. When shooting your video, a tripod may not be required but can be extremely useful, particularly for "talking head" or videos that require zooming.