UMDST Video Unit: A look back

The author in front of the blue screen setup taped to a door.

A frame from some test footage when I was still learning to use the camera before I learned it had a flip-out screen on the back. It’s blue fabric taped to a door with some lighting coming from behind the camera.

Looking back at all the videos, what have I learned? A lot of things are actually pretty easy to do in iMovie. Chroma keying (whether blue or green screening) in particular is pretty easy. I even set up my own with some blue fabric my room mate had lying around the apartment.

As long as the movie files are in the correct format, it’s very easy to do chroma keying in iMovie. However, the catch is making sure that everything is in the correct format, and will even sometimes throw a fit over a file that appears to be in the right format. The solution is to re-encode the video in a format that iMovie is ok with.

Re-encoding means that you are taking a video file and translating it into a different format.  Sometimes, files that have the same file extension are of slightly different formats. This is enough to make iMovie very unhappy. So much so that I’ve had to re-encode many of the clips I used in my projects before importing into iMovie.  So which programs can you re-encode with?

VLC and Handbrake are two cross-platform program you can use for this task. I prefer Handbrake because VLC has given me stuttery output, and I can’t figure out how to fix it. Also, I find Handbrake to be easier to use because its sole purpose is to transcode video. In contrast, VLC is a media player with a kitchen plumbing department worth of sinks, but the extra sinks are also all kind of hard to use. Despite this, you should definitely install VLC as an all-around media player because it supports more formats than almost anything else out there, and It’s also faster than iTunes. I think Quicktime player can also transcode video, but it doesn’t support as many kinds of video as VLC and Hanbrake. Regardless of which of transcoder you choose, if you configure it right, you should be able to get the clip in a format that iMovie will accept (.mp4 and .mov seem to be iMovie favorites).

A few sheets of character poses fanned out

As the picture shows, the individual sheets of paper are fairly see-through. This lets me trace the character images to get them to line up. The marks in the corners also help when photographing and cropping frames for import into iMovie.

So aside from iMovie being picky, what else have I learned? Motion-comic animation on paper is actually pretty quick. It’s less problematic than flash. I managed to keep away from flash entirely, which is probably a good thing given the times I’ve used it before, it wasn’t exactly the easiest to use. For simple motion-comics, thin printer paper can be used to onion skin character poses pretty well as I did for my third video.

The other important thing I learned is that sometimes, tripods will be unavailable. At that point, if you’re filming, you have to shoot creatively. Cabinets, tables, desks, and nightstands can all become good places to put a camera to shoot a scene. In my own case, I was borrowing a DSLR from a room mate, which meant I had to be careful to choose extra-steady places to put my camera.

Overall, I think I met my goals of pushing iMovie. I had it freeze up and crash one time when rendering the final movie (the most frequent solution is to make sure you have enough hard drive space). I’m not entirely happy with the quality, but what’s more important is that I got the videos done by when I was supposed to get them done. It didn’t feel good, but the point is that I got them “done”, where “done” means a  submittable state, by the deadline instead of trying to polish them afterward.

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