Monday, April 23, 2012

History of Digital Video Formats

Found this infographic. And thought i'd share.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Achieving Media Balance

My life is a constant battle between enjoying shooting videos, spending time editing videos, and being the creepy guy who is always lurking behind a camera... quietly watching....

I know how invasive shooting video can be for many people, and I try not to make my presence synonymous with everyone being documented. Camcorders are mostly invasive because of the sound recording. While a still camera can make you feel a bit like paparazzi with your friends, it's not like you're spying, as you are with the camcorder. A camcorder, you have to admit, crosses a line into surveillance. So while I cherish our family videos, I put the paraphernalia away frequently. I edit with sensitivity and respect requests for "radio silence" graciously. And I don't videotape everything.

I love still photography as well. It isn't the same as video and this is good. Video can tell a story one way, but well-chosen fractions of a second, frozen, are magical. Sometimes one image can capture an afternoon, or a vacation, far more elegantly and poetically than 30 minutes (or 3 hours!) of videotape. And sometimes one short edited video can be a memento from a trip or event better than hours of raw footage.

And sometimes, I leave the cameras all behind. Go commando, as it were. And participate fully in my life, without that third-person detachment that often accompanies the documenting process. Sometimes I have an even more special, more magical recollection of a place or time precisely because I don't have any physical evidence documenting its occurrence.

So learn video, enjoy video, but be mindful: with new hobbies one can tend to be zealous about overuse. I know. I've been there. Don't think you need to shoot everything, and don't forget that still photography is not only a great artform on its own, but good practice for the seeing, framing and composition that is required for good videography. And finally, put the cameras away from time to time and chill out. Media Balance. Good luck.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

We Fly!

Yesterday the kids and I "kidnapped" Jennifer and took her to an indoor skydiving place for a family adventure. Bringing a camcorder was a last-minute notion, and i only ended up shooting about 8 minutes of video. The biggest problem was that the skydiving place shoots photos and videos that they want to sell to customers,so they don't allow us to take our camcorder into the "zone" when we're flying or getting ready to fly. With shooting options so severely limited (for people flying: observers can shoot all they want) how to make a personal family video? I can't tell you how much i didn't want to BUY the stock video they were selling. I think it was $50 or something...

So this is the result. I ended up shooting little sequences before and after, with a tiny bit of the prep for the flight. I used video of OTHER people flying, with cut-aways of us watching them, as a way to show what the experience was like, and it also served to lay the groundwork for our excitement and nervousness leading up to our turn.

I purchased 5 still images of us flying (i resisted this, but it was a less expensive option, a few bucks a snapshot), and inserted them into the video with dissolves between them (i knew this would be good because their camera was locked down- so the only thing that changes between images is the subjects, not the background!), but the key to the success of using still photos was laying a bed of music under them.

The music was an interesting element. The skydiving place had a weird sort of canned music playing for much of the time. I didn't shoot with this intention, but I realized I possibly had a long enough stretch of this music from one or two of the shots to allow me to use it as the primary audio track. It's not exactly like a music video, but it did provide a good cohesive thread that was both music and ambiance. It worked pretty well as the "soundtrack" to the flights... and you'll see how I integrated it.

I also laid down a couple long shots of other people in the chamber, and then used cut-aways of picture only of my family watching, or the operator using the controls... by keeping the music flowing under the entire sequence it holds it together and keeps it from feeling jumpy.

So the video is 2:30 minutes long, cut in under 45 minutes, from 8 minutes of material. Easy.

We FLY! from m.h. rubin on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sketch Idea: Family GUITAR HERO Home Video.

The other day my kids were doing kidstuff - (son) building legos in the livingroom and (daughter) dancing to various songs on the stereo - and I really wanted to shoot some video of them doing their stuff, I knew grabbing my camcorder would negatively affect the moment and it would go from sweet to contrived. But I really did want to capture this somehow, and save it. I asked them if they minded me getting the camcorder and shooting some of what was going on that afternoon: my daughter didn't want to be recorded, and my son didn't care. Disappointed, I wondered if THEY wanted to make a video of something.

We talked about it for a bit and I proposed us finding a song we all like, maybe something from Guitar Hero that we enjoy, or maybe something else, and making a music video of them playing. We set up with the GUITAR HERO props -- the drumset and sticks, the guitar, the microphone -- and we divided up the roles: My son was going to do drums and guitar, my daughter was going to be lead singer.

I planned to shoot it as follows:

We queue up the song, son on drums, daughter on microphone, me on camera. Start shooting, start the song, shoot long unmoving shots of CU Daughter where you can see the drumming going on in the background, and then the opposite, CU of the Drummer, sometimes seeing the singer in the b.g. Frame up and shoot each performer quickly, hold it for a while, then move and reframe and hold still -- NEVER stopping the camcorder through the entire song. This is important. It has to be one continuous take, with long nicely framed shots, then pretty quick moves to the next position, which is determined on the fly. The less you move the better, of course.

When the song ends, stop recording. Then the drummer moves to another location in the same room, now playing the guitar. Shoot the whole thing again.

It would have been pretty easy then to have ample footage of the performance of the song, and synchronize the three tracks (the music from a CD in an audio track, the first and second recordings of the kids, where picture and sound were captured at the same time. In an application like Final Cut Express, it was very simple to lay down the music, lay down the first performance, slide it around until the audio track in the performance is aligned perfectly with the original recording of the song, then get rid of the audio from the performance, the picture will be resynchronized with the original music. This is nice. There's no ambient noise to deal with and makes the video seem professional. If you only use the sound from the camcorder, it will significantly impact the experience of the viewer. (Note: plan this ahead and only play music for your video that you in fact have the audio file for in a non-copyprotected way, such as an mp3 or AIF file off of a CD). I have absolutely no qualms about ripping professional music for the purpose of this video - this video is absolutely private, is non commercial, and will never be distributed. So however I get the music is my own business. That being said, you can't (or shouldn't) post your home videos on YouTube with ripped off music.

Anyway, the plan was simple enough, but once we started shooting, my young daughter decided she didn't want to sing a second take, and now wanted to dance. I was happy for this, but it made for a slightly more complex edit - 4 characters: the singer, the dancer, the lead guitar and the drummer, being played by two people. We didn't care enough to change clothes between takes so it really LOOKED like 4 different people, although that was a higher production value variation that would be cool. We just shifted around the seats in the livingroom, and did our two takes. Less than 15 minutes of preparation and execution. It also allowed me to shoot a little bit of a sketch of us putting this project together, doing any project as a family is a great time to see everyone being himself or herself, a great way to capture them for the family archives.

I spent a few hours synchronizing and cutting the video that evening, fun both with the kids help, and on my own. And the kids have loved watching themselves rock out. I think it's a fun variation on the experience they have playing GUITAR HERO/ROCK BAND, where they can imagine themselves rockstars. Now they can use media to construct that image of themselves, and see how that image is constructed. Just the other day my son happened to see a music video somewhere on a monitor, and he commented to me that "they did what we did..."

My kids asked that I not post the video. They didn't mind, however, a couple stills from the shoot being used to illustrate this.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Ideas for a Family History Project

Just got an email from an LDVB reader who is about to embark on a video interview with her parents for their 60th anniversary. What a great project! What a great way to honor your parents, and preserve their history and wisdoms for your family.

There are a million pretty easy ways to make a family video. For my parents 50th anniversary a few years ago I took on what turned out to be an ambitious project, but one that has always been one of my favorites: to make a big historical video for them. This was not going to be a simple sketch, but rather an aggregation of a many simple sketches. No single one was challenging, but the overall volume was. The final project was about 50 minutes long (which still fit nicely on a DVD or DV cassette). That would be too long if it were not comprised of twelve 2-6-minute sketches, some of which were already shot and edited.

Here are the concept and editing techniques in each sketch:

1. Found a couple short paragraphs in an old book describing the background of my mother’s grandfather. I recorded myself reading these paragraphs, and laid this down as an audio track. It was easy to clip out problems in my presentation, cut out some long pauses which would otherwise make it a little dull, and removed a line that didn’t make sense. It then ran about 1 minute. Then, once the audio track was good, I found as many super old photos as I could and scanned them into the computer, and dropped them in over the audio. This was a good iMovie HD project. (It works well with integrating iPhoto content and sound tracks recorded on the spot.)

2. I scanned in dozens and dozens of family pictures from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and then I found a couple songs that were popular in our household back then, played on car trips, and sung to us as kids. Since there were lots of pictures, I grouped them chronologically through an era, and then put in an audio collage of six song snippets to give the background. So it’s a sort of music video, still images against songs, no narration or ambient sound.

3. I found an old promotional video for a project of mine from 25 years ago. I just cut in the funny part.

I should note that pretty much each segment fades to black at the end, then fades up out of black to begin the next one, with only a second of pause between them. These are good locations for chapter stops if you’re building a sophisticated DVD (which isn’t required, but is nice.)

4. I interviewed my aunt once in her hotel room during a vacation, the camcorder at my side and aimed upward rather inconspicuously, and she pulled photos from an envelope and held them up for the camera and me and told me wonderful stories from each image. One of them was of her and my father as kids. Rather than include the entire interview, I just cut the story she told primarily of this one photo--I began with the long shot of her telling tales and holding up a couple photos, then I edited it slightly to tune it towards this single event, and used insert shots to cut-away from the interview to the photo itself, which I couldn’t borrow or scan, so I just shot the photo very clearly, holding very still, from very close for a number of seconds after we were done chatting. [Sketch E provides a typical example of this interview style]

They key here was that the interview with her was long –maybe 45 minutes -- and may continue to have many interesting uses over the years, but I didn’t edit the entire thing, only the part that I’d use in this anniversary video. That kind of focus kept the project on track and the workload manageable.

5. Some home video my sibling had transferred from old VHS tapes to digital, which I shortened (but didn’t really “edit”) and made into a small segment.

6. The centerpiece was a 20-minute excerpt from a 40-minute interview I had done with my parents a year ago. We sat in a park and the camera sat on the table next to me and framed in a 2-shot, I recorded them answering some questions about their interests today and how they evolved over the years, and what they’d like to see in the future.

Like most these interviews, I had (a) the camera away from my face, down at my side, framed up and left alone. They knew it was there but they quickly ended up talking to my face and not the lens; (b) A line of questioning that wasn’t random, but on topics of interest (“why’d you move to this town? How’d you get into stamp collecting? How’d did you meet?” etc.) They’d answer with stories and interact with each other nicely. (c) I cut the interview tighter by removing chunks of audio and video together, creating jump cuts throughout the interview, and then finding picture-only inserts to drop over the jumps – as many as I could find to make it “illustrated”. I succeeded here by shooting video the next day at home while I was asking for more detail on the stuff they talked about (“show me some of your favorite stamps” or “do you have your wedding dress, can you show it to me?) These video illustrations are important; some cut-aways can be from photos, certainly; but video cuts to video nicely and makes the whole project easier to watch if the inserts are shot well. These inserts facilitate the way the final video moves smoothly from parents talking and interacting, to them narrating a series of images. I cut the entire interview first, years ago. For the anniversary video, I just extracted two or three of the best questions and the answers and used that.

There were various short sketches I’d made over the prior 10 years that were just from my immediate family [For instance, Sketch I]-- I included a couple, but I didn’t want the final project weighted toward our part of the clan, so I tried to balance those with segments focused on my siblings too. I had interviewed some of my nephews and nieces over the years too, at summer gatherings, and I included a few short sketches that included those interviews, cut in the same way as the main one. The technique may be similar, but with different interviews, in different locations, and with different sorts of cut-away shots they all feel unique and fresh (e.g. I interviewed one nephew on a basketball court, talking about his love of the game, and used insert shots of him playing, dribbling and shooting. This was textured because I used a mixture of sound from the interview with him, and the live distinctive sound of him playing ball, although muted a bit for the background. It worked well.

A good anniversary video for your parents needn’t only be video of them – like an interview. Since it’s a gift for them, they often appreciate seeing material of the rest of their progeny and clan, over the years. At least in this 50th anniversary video project, it worked well.

What has worked for you? Please share your success stories here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Macworld '09

I'll be at Macworld this week, spending some time at the Peachpit booth talking about video and answering questions. I'm scheduled for a podcast at the booth around 2pm on Tuesday (January 6). Come by if you'd like to meet.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Still Photography

For the past month, mostly a little tired of shooting so much video, i decided to retreat to my ol' familiar still camera. I thought i'd miss video, being wed to as i have been for the better part of the past decade -- but i convinced myself, saying: it's bigger to lug around and it doesn't even capture sound! But i found it oddly freeing. I'm not giving up video, certainly. But mixing it up strengthens my visual skills and oddly enough, feels very similar as far as "getting coverage" is concerned. Almost all the same rules apply to the shooting -- getting wide and close, shots and reverse shots, thinking about lighting and framing... So I've come to the observation that still photography is a very good way to practice for video. If you can't make good still images, your videos will suffer greatly, and conversely, having nice photographs translates very well to having great video.

I did notice one more thing, however. The thing that makes video so significantly different from still photography is not the element of moving images so much as the element of sound. Adding sound makes video complex and more invasive. Photos are almost surreal, clinging as they do to fractions of seconds, but add sound and now your documentary borders on surveillance. You must be sensitive to this as you get into videography. Not only to be mindful of people's privacy but of your video's intense power to capture moments in image AND sound. Letting go of that work is at times a great relief, and what you're left with is still photography. Simple, elegant. Good homework.