Getting Started in Post Production


You've captured the moment on video, now what? You connect the camcorder into a TV and playback the unedited footage. Your family and friends eyes start to glaze over as every shaky frame, every obscure angle and every poorly lit scene comes out in its true, unaltered, raw form. You begin to witness scenes when the record button was unknowingly turned on; the harsh shadows because you shot directly into a light source; and the bad audio. The problems are endless and your captured audience wants to politely head for the door, feigning sickness or the need to feed the dog. Anything, just don't let me watch the cacophony on the screen.

Behind every great director (admit it, that's what is running through your mind when you hold the camera), is a great editor. Almost all of the respected filmmakers have an intimate knowledge of the editing process. Some of the greats were actually editors before they crossed over to become directors. One of Martin Scorsese's early jobs was editor on the feature film Woodstock. Joel and Ethan Coen (aka The Coen Brothers), edit all of their films together under the alias Roderick Jaynes. Review any interview with today's successful director, and you will uncover the filmmaker's intimate knowledge of the post process and their respect for one of their most important collaborators, the editor.

But you don't have the budget to hire an editor. Or any of the other skilled jobs in the Post Production process, including Sound Editor, Visual Effects Artist, Colorist, Compositor, Composer and much more. You are the sole entity to all that is video production, someone who needs to handle all the aspects of the production process. We are not trying to reduce the role of any of the aforementioned job descriptions or any of the other important positions available. This is a primer for the hobbyist who wants to take their original footage and edit it down to an enjoyable and watchable video.

When shooting video, there are two formats that are prevalent in today's media; video tape and solid state. Video tape is the same approach that has been available for decades; only the quality has improved and is recorded digitally. The data is recorded onto tape in a linear fashion, meaning the first frame appears at the head or beginning of the tape, and the last bit of video is at the end of the tape. With solid state, everything is recorded in a non-linear format, where all of the digital files or clips are randomly accessed off the card, without the need to fast forward or rewind tape.

In Post Production, these two concepts are significantly different in the capturing process. Capturing video is the method of downloading video from your camcorder into your computer's hard drive. With video tape, the length of time for capturing depends upon the length of the video. If you have one hour of video, it will take one hour to capture. This does not take into account if you want to break up said one hour video into smaller segments. This route will take significantly longer, as your need to stop your camera every time and setup the capture tool in your editing software for the next scene to be captured.

With most solid-state based camcorders (HDD, DVD, Flash memory), when you pause or stop recording, a new clip is created in the camera's memory. Therefore, if you pause the recording six times in the same one hour video recorded on video tape, there will be six individual clips in your camcorder ready for download. It's also worth noting that most of today's solid-state camcorders give you the ability to create more clips within the camera's menu function, giving you more available time to edit. When digitizing the video from these types of cameras, it's as simple as moving data from one drive to the other. The only time restriction depends on the size of the clips.

Grass Valley's ADVC-110
Grass Valley's ADVC-110 will convert analog tapes into digital with your editing software.

When choosing a camcorder, it is important to be educated in how the editing process will be addressed. Hardware is required only if the connections on your camcorder do not match the connections on your computer. Most consumer camcorders and computers come with either USB 2.0 and/or Firewire 400. If you need to address older analog equipment, like ones with RCA jacks, bi-directional converters will transcode the signal to enable your computer to recognize the incoming signal. A cost effective and reliable solution is the Grass Valley ADVC-110. But you will still need some type of editing software for capturing, editing and outputting your final project.

The Pinnacle Studio 12 family
The Pinnacle Studio 12 family

Pinnacle's Studio family of products offers a range of editing features across three different software packages for Windows XP and Vista. Studio 12 is the entry level software that can simplify the editing process and enable you to output videos for online applications like YouTube and Yahoo video. The built-in DVD authoring application gives you the ability to create animated menus and you can preview effects without rendering; all of this without upgrading your PC to the latest and greatest models.

Pinnacle Studio 12 Plus brings you to the next level with native HDV and AVCHD editing, the two most popular formats found in today's consumer camcorders. Plus also brings Picture in Picture editing and chroma key tools that will enhance your final project. The Scorefitter music generator automatically generates a soundtrack from any of 40 source tracks.

Finally, there is Pinnacle Studio 12 Ultimate. Ultimate ups the ante with Dolby 5.1 encoding for crisp surround sound audio. Additional third party plugs including Boris Graffiti for titles, Magic Bullet for film-like aesthetics, and proDAD VitaScene for artistic lighting are included.

Sony Vegas Movie Studio 9 Premium
Sony Vegas Movie Studio 9 Premium includes intuitive Editing and DVD Authoring interfaces, which makes it a nice entry level package the higher end Sony Vegas Pro 8.

Sony Vegas Movie Studio series of Windows based video editing is built on the same engine as their higher end package, Vegas Pro 8. First up is Vegas Movie Studio 9, combining sophisticated editing and DVD creation in one package. Letting you capture DV clips, edit on the timeline and export the final project onto CD, DVD, PSP, iPod and YouTube, Movie Studio 9 brings more versatility to the table. Other features include 4 video tracks and 4 audio tracks for multiple layering options, a color corrector for advanced video adjustments and 24p editing for the film look that some camcorders have today.

Vegas Movie Studio 9 Platinum includes all the tools of Movie Studio 9, but also includes HDV, and AVCHD video compatibility and export to Blu-ray. Premium also supports 5.1 surround sound audio mixing and features mixing and panning tools that allow you to create surround sound mixes from stereo source files. You can even repair mistakes made in the field with the advanced color correction and audio restoration.

If you really want to start out with some serious post production work without breaking the bank, the Vegas Movie Studio 9 Platinum Edition Pro Pack includes several bonus features, which are not found in the standard edition of the software package including Sound Forge Audio Studio 9 module, over 100 NewBlue video effects and transitions, five Cinescore themes, and more than 1000 professional sound effects.

Adobe Premiere Elements 7
Premiere Elements 7

Developers of the a string of professional video, image design, audio and web tools, Adobe's entry level Premiere Elements 7 includes the most important tools that are needed by the novice editor. The most powerful feature is the use of 99 video and 99 audio tracks for greater flexibility. Using native support for HDV, AVCHD and H.264, Premiere Elements gives you a host of options. The customizable interface lets you create a work area that caters to your strengths. Premiere Elements also includes a 1-year Plus Membership to for downloadable themes, special effects, and helpful tutorials and 20GB of online storage for video backup and online sharing.

Apple Final Cut Express 4
Apple Final Cut Express 4 has a similar interface as its Pro version counterpart, so upgrading will be without a steep learning curve.

On the Mac side there is Apple Final Cut Express 4, for users who need more than what has to offer. With a similar interface to Final Cut Pro 6 editing application of Final Cut Studio 2, Express supports multiple layers for advanced effects and transitions and includes the LiveType character generator. Other tools include three-wheel color corrector, picture-in-picture, multi-layered collage effects and the ability to work with multi-layered Photoshop files. Express also includes a host of powerful audio features, including cross fades, reverb, EQ, echo, mixing audio on various tracks using pans, level adjustments, and a 3-band equalizer. For the budding documentarian, you can record voiceover tracks for narrations.

Whether you are shooting on DV or HDV, or have a Mac or Windows computer, there are many options to complete a video project. Many of today's entry level software in the right hands will produce slick looking videos with eye catching graphics and clean audio mixing that just a few years ago would have been unheard of for a beginner.