Saturday, April 18, 2015

Making a movie

As I wrote yesterday, I started putting together a movie of our Italian holiday from 2014 in Microsoft Movie Maker 2.6. The project is almost completed so it's time to document what I did, probably as a guide for myself in the future but also in order to help anyone else in the same position.

Step One: converting MOD files to MWV
The raw footage in the camera is in MOD format, which is viewable on its own but not suitable for MMM. So all the clips have to be converted to a different format, WMV, which MMM can use. I found a program, Wondershare video converter, which performs the necessary conversion (it can handle a variety of formats). This program - at least, on the mobile computer - can convert four files at once, which makes converting all the files in a directory very easy. 

The video camera creates one directory per day (with 'useful' names like PRG001, PRG00A, etc); each video clip is saved into the day's directory with sequential names MOV0001.MOD, etc. The files are numbered in hexadecimal which isn't a problem for me but might cause a neophyte to scratch her head - MOV000F comes before MOV0010. Whilst this organisation is helpful, it also causes problems. 

This is important after the converter does its work as all the converted files end up in the same directory; there would be name clashes (i.e. MOV0001 from directory PRG001 and MOV0001 from PRG002 have the same name, which causes the latter to become MOV0001(1).WMV) which can be distracting. I once wrote a program to rename files, replacing a constant part of the file name (such as MOV00) with a new prefix; I think it time to find that program and to ensure that it works in the new situation.

Step Two: importing the files into Movie Maker
Once the files have been converted, it's time to introduce them to MMM. The converter stores all the converted files in one directory, but I moved them from there to another, project specific, directory. Apart from anything else, this will make backing up easier. The files - or clips, as MMM calls them - have to be imported into MMM; this doesn't create a new copy of each clip, but rather creates references within MMM to the files. 

MMM has two ways of ordering the sequence of clips: timeline and storyboard. Storyboard is a more abstract method, but it's better to use this at first. Several clips can be dragged into the storyboard at one go, saving time. The clips can then be organised according to subject matter. This is very useful as one might have footage of the same subject spread over several days; an establishing shot might be out of sequence with the footage that it is establishing. 

MMM allows one to split existing clips - this is useful if the beginning - or more frequently, the end - of a clip is unnecessary. There were one or two clips which petered out into an out of focus sky; I split these clips and removed the unnecessary parts. This way, only the interesting parts of the clips remain.

Another advantage of storyboard - and a valuable function of MMM - is that transitions between clips can be added easily. The most useful transition is what is called in music terms a cross-fade - film makers call it a dissolve. Simply put, the end of one clip fades away and is replaced by the beginning of the next clip. Scenery clips are not staged scenes of acting, so there is no natural beginning or end; a dissolve works very well. MMM has about twenty different types of dissolve, so whilst it's natural to use 'fade' most of the time, the other types have their uses.

Once all the clips have been set up in the storyboard, it's time to move to the timeline

Step Three: titles and fades
MMM allows one to introduce title cards into the flow of clips. There is one at the beginning of the movie and one before each section, explaining to the viewer what they are about to see. The timeline allows one to fade clips in and out (as opposed to cross-fading). I used this when I had a title card: the clip before the title card would fade out to black, and the clip after the title card would fade in from black. This makes the transitions smooth.

Step Four: sound
Some of the clips had natural sound: for example, when we were in the bus, traveling around the Amalfi coast, the guide was talking for most of the time and this narration was recorded cleanly. There is also a clip in a limoncello 'brewery' where someone is explaining how they create the drink. 

But there are also clips filmed from the top of an open air bus which have a great deal of extraneous and distracting noise. Obviously, I want to keep the sound in some cases and I want to lose it in other cases. It took me some time to discover that MMM - when viewed by timeline - allows one to set the volume on a per clip basis. I decided to mute every clip, then remove the mute on selected clips. So all the Sorrento footage is silent whereas the Amalfi footage has narration.

Step Five: music
Obviously, I'm not going to leave huge parts of the movie silent. MMM has an audio track which is intended both for music and post-production narration; I ignored the possibility of the latter. I allowed myself some humour in selecting music for the soundtrack: most of the footage of Capri is set to two different versions of 'The Isle of Capri', one sung by Frank Sinatra and the other by Al Bowlly. Most of the footage in Palermo has tunes from 'The Godfather' soundtrack. There are two short clips of Sorrento in the rain: here I used a song which we have on a disc with the approximate name 'Melancholy in September'.

For the rest of the movie, I found some generic Italian music on YouTube ('Guiseppe plays romantic music from Venice') - a long file which is an instrumental medley of various tunes. All of them sound 'Italian', but I don't know most of them. I cut this file up into various sections, dependent of the lengths required, then slotted them into the audio timeline.

The audio tracks can be split and faded in the same manner as the video clips. I only used this functionality once as I edited the tracks outside of MMM, but this would be useful for someone who isn't used to editing music.

Step Six: finalising and burning
Once everything is correct in the movie, it has to be finalised. Basically, this creates one long WMV file from all the parts. This takes about 25 minutes on my mobile, for a movie lasting 64 minutes.

The resulting WMV file can then be watched with a video player program. Doing so was useful, as I discovered a few mistakes in the movie (a missed transition and an extraneous clip were the major errors). But it's not enough: a dvd can't be burnt from such a file.

Enter DVD mastering software. This program takes a WMV file and creates an ISO image file which can then be burnt onto disc. This program also inserts chapter breaks (every five minutes), allowing easy navigation within the movie. I would prefer that the chapter breaks be logical, according to the subject matter, but I haven't figured out how to do this yet.

To be honest, I haven't actually succeeding in creating a dvd either. In my next attempt, I'm going to create an ISO file and burn this via Nero instead of allowing the mastering program to burn the DVD - my previous attempt failed with some mysterious error message.

I successfully created an ISO file with the DVD mastering software - this took about twenty minutes. Then I copied the resulting 3GB file to my thumb drive - another thirty minutes. Strangely enough, it only took four minutes to copy the file from the thumb drive to my home computer. Then I burnt the disk image onto dvd - and now I watching the result on television! It seems that the mobile computer is very slow at copying onto external media.

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