Thursday, February 28, 2013

Effects in Video Production

In dealing with new and aspiring young video producers I find there is a desire to be competent in the hardware and software needed to produce the project. They want to know everything about the hardware used in the video production. They become fascinated with the editing software and all of the features found within. They go to great lengths to use as much effects in their videos because it looks "cool". It is here they experience their failure.

Software like Adobe's Premiere Pro and Apple's Final Cut Pro offer a rich tool-set of features. Among these features are loads of special effects such as transitions, movements, A/V effects, etc. The desire is to try each of the effects out and see what they can do. It is not bad to understand the tools you have in your arsenal, however it does not mean that you need to use all or any of them. There are times that you need to do something to add "interest" to the video, but that is all. I once had a video professor tell me to make sure I found every effects the software had to offer. Once I had memorized every effect available, then I was to forget they existed. I believe this was the best advice I had received in editing video.

We have to remember the most important objective is how to best communicate to our audience. We can understand every feature in the hardware and software we own, but that does not mean that we have to use it in our projects. The goal is to communicate. Our objective is to place the viewer in the center of the action. Most of the post-editing effects in your toolbox will distract from the message you are trying to send. A simple spin transition or page peel can frustrate your audience and should be used only in situations that demand it.

My advice to people getting into video production is to understand your equipment and use it to place your audience at the center of the action. Like my professor said, memorize every effect available and forget they exist.

Go and tell the story!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Shooting the Action

Most video producers (professional or amateur) watch what others do. They get ideas and see how new techniques look on film. Sometimes they even try to incorporate these ideas into their own work. As I look at both professional and amateur video I see a lot of differences. One of the largest differences I see in the amateur world is the "live-to-tape" shooting method. "Live-to-tape" is continuous shooting of everything that happens. The majority of YouTube videos seem to be shot in this method with very little post-editing taking place. Is there anything wrong with this method? Absolutely not! However, it has its time and place. If you are shooting a "LIVE" event and only have one camera, there are no other options. You have to record directly to film/disk with little or no opportunity to divide the action into sequences.

Is there a better way to shoot the action if you are shooting a controlled content piece? Absolutely! You can take your film to the next level by planning your shoot. Spend some time mapping out the event and make a script if possible. Once you have a good idea of the objective, the subject(s), and the flow, then you need to divide the entire action into smaller sequences. These sequences sometimes are termed as "acts" or "scenes". In a sequence you can record separate shots utilizing different viewpoints and supporting material. Producing more film with better angles and additional supporting subject matter makes a better overall production. This means that anyone involved may have to follow a production schedule and script.

Moving your video production into a series of sequences means that more post-editing will be involved. It will take more time and energy, however the results will be worth it. So the next time you want to pickup a camera and make a YouTube video, do everything you can make it the best video possible!

Keep Shooting!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

People; The Difference Between a Good Video Shoot and Bad Video Shoot

Sometimes people ask "how can I make my videos better?" My immediate answer is "you are on the right track". No, I am not the solution, however the question poses the solution. Multiple people make video shoots better. When a person realizes that his video production is in need of some help and is willing to reach out to others then the project will increase in quality.

One person can do a lot in making a video, however a team can do a lot more. No one person is the expert in everything. You will find technical people who know cameras. These individuals can make recommendations on purchases, on camera setup, and advise when you are asking more than the camera can do.

You can find technical people who know sound. These individuals can be experts in their field and drastically improve a critical element to your video production. Likewise, there are people who know video editing and can help out in that area. There are lighting experts, field production experts, directors, producers, and the list goes on. You do not have to have an expert in every field available when you do a video production. If you do, you may as well be working in a movie production house in Hollywood.

The key, however, is having others identify problems in your work. This will begin the process of improving your final product. Having people look at your projects can reveal things that you may not see when putting it all together. So it is advisable to bring others into the mix. 

I know I mentioned earlier when you realize you need help you need to reach out. However, let me add one more piece of advice. Even if you don't think you need help, reach out. Always get others to review your projects. Everyone could use improvement!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Streaming; Solution for Quality Across Multiple Bandwidths

We have had the discussion of optimizing your video streaming by trying to determine the optimal video quality for the bandwidth of the majority of your viewers. You can read about that discussion here. You don't have to settle for a reduced video quality stream because you have a few viewers that can only watch your streams over cellular data. There is a solution.

Utilizing the Adobe Flash Live Media Encoder you can assign multiple output streams to be sent to the multicasting service or server. Look at the following image.

On the lower left hand corner you will see three different Bit Rates all selected. These Bit Rates each produce a video stream sent to the multicaster. In this case you will have three streams being sent from your computer. Depending on your audio settings the audio content will be added to each stream. As you can see in the picture Adobe calculates the stream sizes and tells you to total upload bandwidth needed for your setup. Just make sure you have enough "upload" bandwidth to handle your configuration. You can test your upload/download bandwidth by running a speed test here. Choose the closest server and run the test.  

This is the easy part of the configuration. The other half of the setup depends on the multicaster and the software you are using for the player in your browser. First, the multicaster may charge you for each stream you send to them. If this is the case your setup could incur some higher fees. Second, if you have a multicasting service that allows multiple feeds, then you need to configure the player in your browser to test the bandwidth of the client and provide the appropriate stream with the greatest quality.

Many players are very different in design and setup. You need to refer to the documentation or product forums of the player you use. If you have not decided on a player and the multicaster does not provide there are plenty to choose from. Just do some research to see the capabilities of each of the products on the market before making a decision.

As always, start with one stream and work your way up. Taking one step at a time will be easier in the long run.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Streaming; Optimize Stream Settings

The number one complaint I get from people viewing my streams is their video is buffering or the video drops out. Every complaint I hear I take seriously because it could be a sign I have problems on my setup. 99% of the time the problem is on the viewer's end. I always ask them to give me a speed test result as the first step and then I will try to work out the problem. Actually the last complaint had a download speed of 22kbps. I am sorry, but you are not going to watch video at that speed no matter what I do.

Streaming quality is based on a compromise. To the end user quality is usually referred to as the ability to view the stream without any interruption. Some users are concerned about the resolution of the video because they want to view the stream full-screen on a computer, or send it to their TV screen. Therefore, when designing your setup, you must set your quality goal and design your output to achieve that goal.

The compromise as mentioned is better quality requires more bandwidth.  If you want to run your videos in high definition at a resolution that would be suitable for full-screen or television, then you limit your audience to higher quality broadband service. If your goal is to reach every user no matter if they are on cellular data service then you have to cut the quality of your stream. There are options to output multiple quality streams but we will not get to that level in this discussion. We will hold that for another day.

If you are using Adobe's Flash Live Media Encoder then you have a screen that looks like the following:

Notice on the lower left section of the screen. You have input size and Bit Rate. The input size needs to be the input size of the video you are trying to stream. Make sure you select the maintain aspect ratio box so your video does not look distorted when it is on your website or video player. The Bit Rate section is very important. It is here that you can maintain or reduce quality. Notice that I have three listed in my setup. I am letting the player decide on the bandwidth quality to determine which stream to send to the client. In today's discussion we will only look at one of the settings.

My first line has the lowest video quality I am sending. My recommendation is that you start testing with only one stream and get it functioning at your highest quality and then work from there.

The drop-down list under the Bit Rate section will show you all of the options available for your to stream.  Choose your desired Bit Rate and allow the output size to be automatically selected. If it is not automatically determined when you choose your Bit Rate then you may not have the "Maintain Aspect Ratio" box selected. If you want a decent quality feed my recommendation would be to start with a 500Kbps feed in the Bit Rate selection and begin your testing.

Video Bit Rate alone does not determine total output bandwidth. There is one other factor that adds to the equation and that is the Bit Rate of your audio feed. This section looks like the following:

My recommendation is to choose Mp3 as your format and Bit Rate of 128 Kbps. The application will display your upload bandwidth (which in most cases is the same as the client streaming download bandwidth needed) requirement. The addition of the two Bit Rate amounts (audio and video) gives you the total.

On the right hand side of the screen you will find the address and file name needed by the multicasting service. They will provide you the information needed for these sections. One additional feature found in Adobe's Flash Live Media Encoder is the option to save your stream to a file. This is useful in case you want to use a service like YouTube or Vimeo to host archives of your streams.

Get started streaming and enjoy your new avenue of sharing your ideas!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Streaming; Software to Multicaster

Streaming requires utilizing a multicasting server or a multicasting service. Most people opt to use the service because of the expense and knowledge of the technology involved in setting up your own server. Setting up your own server requires a fairly beefy machine, however most of the expense can be found in the bandwidth necessary to provide feeds for everyone who wants to see your live content. For every outbound feed to a viewer you need upload bandwidth comparable to your stream settings. For example, if you stream your content at 512 Kbps and 100 people simultaneously view your feed, then your upload bandwidth requirement is 512,000 Kbps.

512 Kbps X 100 = 51.2 Mbps (upload bandwidth needed)

Finding an Internet Service Provider to offer you a 52 Mbps upload speed is almost impossible unless you are using asynchronus data connection in fiber optics which can be extremely expensive. Therefore, the best bet is to use an outside multicasting service that has the needed bandwidth to provide streams to your viewers.

Once you have decided on a multicasting service and you have your video and audio feeds coming into your computer then you need to send your programming out. To do this you need a piece of software that connects your feed to the multicaster. There are plenty to choose from, but if you are on a budget I would recommend Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder.

Adobe Information can be found HERE.

This software is very configurable taking your media stream and connecting it to a multicasting server. It gives you flexibility to configure the parameters of your stream quality and bandwidth. It also has the ability to save your stream to a file for editing or uploading to your favorite video archive and playback service like Vimeo.

The Flash Media Encoder is a fairly simple software to configure and use. Spend some time testing your settings to assure you have the best streams for your viewers. Too much bandwidth restricts your viewers to broadband and too small bandwidth reduces video quality. There are compromises so you have to test to see what works best for you.

The best thing about Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder is that the software is a free download from Adobe. Have fun streaming!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Streaming; From the Camera to the Computer

There are a lot of people doing streaming these days. We stream ballgames, church services, local political events, and the list goes on and on. There are all kinds of tools to do the job of getting your video the the website. Many people, however, have difficulties getting audio and video from a camera and an audio source to the computer. Some have tried, with unfavorable results, connecting to a sound card for audio and video to a different video capture component. This can sometimes result in frequent pauses in either the audio or video stream.

The correct way of connecting audio and video, whether from the same or different sources, is through a capture card or a video converter. A capture card is a card that mounts inside of a computer that accepts both audio and video and processes it directly into the bus of the mother board. Most software applications that look for the audio/video streams will recognize the output of a capture card.

Another type of capture/converter device is an audio/video converter. I have used various types of these devices and most I have not been very happy with. One, however, has served me very well in various applications. It is a Canopus branded product within the Grass Valley product lineup. You can find their products at the following location.

Grass Valley Converters

Depending on your setup one of these converters will take your component, composite, s-video, audio source, or HDMI feed and convert it to an input acceptable by your computer. Look to see the type of conversion by product model and find the one that matches your camera outputs and your computer inputs.  I have used these for years and have never experienced a failure. Grass Valley is a maker of professional and consumer equipment for your audio and video needs. Hope this helps in your search for a converter for your video projects.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Techniques of Directing a Video Shoot

When it comes to directing a television production, there are various techniques people use to achieve their goal. These techniques, although different, are aimed at the same goal of reproducing the desired content of their production. The different techniques, however, produce drastically different results. For example, many directors get into a shot habit. They start with a wide shot and then move into a close-up of the speaking, followed by a crowd reaction. This routine is repeated constantly throughout the entire program resulting in a dull and boring product.

Other directors spend their time instructing camera operators to get "artistic" shots. These shots are unique and unusual and in many cases very pleasing to the eye. The result, however, is a distraction to the viewer. Don't get me wrong on this issue, there needs to be some elements of the artistic shots but it certainly does not need to dominate the screen.

The director who has the experience and wisdom produces the best looking products. This director is very smooth in his transitions and balances camera shots to help the viewer experience the action he or she is watching. His goal is to place the viewer within the action on the screen. The viewer does not need to feel as if they are evaluating the type of camera shot and does not need to be able to predict the next camera angle.

Directing is not just pointing the cameras at the subject and then switching between them. It is developing a way of creating the story before the user. It involves camera angles, lighting techniques, understanding of the action he is shooting, and understanding who is the intended audience.

If you are directing program take a copy of the video home with you and watch it a week later. Make notes of what is interesting about the program and make notes what is distracting about it. Ask yourself the following questions. Am I drawn into the program I am watching? Am I distracted by camera angles or camera activity? Can I predict what is getting ready to happen next with the shot angle or zoom? Do I feel as if I am sitting in the audience of the event?

Always work to become a better director! Your audience will thank you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Changing Game of Television and Radio

I have invested in a lot of time in the broadcast industry and over the past 5 years I have seen more change happen in Television and Radio than has occurred over the past 20 years. In the 1980's and 1990's radio stations were manned by a disk-jockey or air-personality on every shift, no matter the size of the station. Today only the larger market stations employ a full crew. Most of the smaller stations utilize a simulcast service for most, if not all, of their daily schedule.

Radio today is being challenged by Internet radio services such as iHeartRadio and Pandora. These services can be accessed over cellular data plans and offer a more tailored radio experience. Small station start-ups or music services can obtain a world wide audience without the significant costs of a regional or local radio station. This is presenting competition at levels never seen before.

Television has also experienced change. In the past, television stations or networks determined what programs or shows to air basically at the last minute. Today traditional television is being challenged by cable networks specializing in niche programming. Even more of a problem for traditional television are services such as Hulu and Netflix. With the introduction of On Demand TV (Roku and Apple TV) traditional television doesn't stand much of a chance. This is not to mention what online services such as YouTube has done to the industry.

YouTube has changed the rules to the entire game. One individual can film an event, documentary, or whatever is on his mind, with a single camera and poor audio equipment and have a world wide following in minutes. This person can advertise their video by email and social media with practically no cost. He or she can allow advertisers the ability to show ads on their videos which in turn makes the film producer a few dollars to support his or her Internet video making addiction.

The Internet and home based video producers are changing the game of television. With immediate access to both excellent and poor video content, YouTube viewers enjoy sifting through millions of online videos and share their favorites with their friends. What is the next step for television and radio? Are you the next Internet Video Producer?

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Most Common Question about Video in Media

Being in media I receive a lot of questions every day from other organizations seeking to do the same thing we are. One of the most frequent questions I hear is "what camera(s) do I need to get for my organization"? Essentially one would think this would be an easy question but in all actuality it is very difficult. The type of camera depends on numerous factors. These factors can range from the purpose of needing the camera, the storage and output requirements, and the amount of money allocated to purchase the equipment. Not knowing any of this information makes that question very difficult.

The primary question any organization should ask is how do we need to convey our message to our intended audience. Once a person begins to work that question out, then the answers will start to become more obvious.

Utilizing cameras to reproduce a setting onto someone's television set is not as simple as pointing and shooting a camera. Much planning and understanding of the film process must be completed well in advance of warming up the camera. Successful videography is all about storytelling. It is not just conveying a picture from one location to another but rather painting a picture of what is happening. The goal is to make the viewer feel as if he or she is actually sitting where your intended environment. This not only includes visual but also audio.

One rule of thumb is to remember that cameras lie. Every time you power one up it will start deceiving you until it is powered down. Most cameras are two dimensional. They see things flat without depth or much contrast. Therefore, a successful director, reporter, or videographer must look for the proper equipment and know how to set it up to fool the viewer into thinking he or she is actually on location.

Second, even though most cameras are equipped with microphones their quality is so poor that it becomes a distraction to the viewer. Audio quality is critical to good video. Keep in mind that radio was around long before television and storytelling was being performed on radio with great success. Therefore, great attention must be paid to audio for a project to be successful.

Think about how you want to covey your story. Are you going to need more than one camera to make it happen? Is this camera going to be stationary or portable? Are you going to need special lenses to create interest and convey your story in a more realistic manner? How are you going to collect the sound? Are you going to post-edit your project, or is this going to be a LIVE event? As you begin to answer these questions I will help you with information on the products that are on the market as well as the techniques to shoot better video.