Aug 2008

New HD Survival Handbook Has Great Advice

I just got my hands on a new hnadbook for HD written by Philip Hodgetts of Intelligent Assistance. Philip is a great guru and has helped me out of several jams in the past. This new book is a 212 page PDF that is reasonably priced at $15.95.

“The HD Survival Handbook was written to answer the myriad of questions that arise when a video professional moves from working in the Standard Definition world up to the more complex world of High Definition.

From essential background information a video professional is expected to know, to summaries of the latest gear that would take you hours of research on the web, this handbook has it covered. The HD workflows area will help you avoid the pitfalls that have trapped so many others and be ready to meet your customers' demand for HD.”

The book works with all NLEs, but has deeper coverage of Final Cut Studio. What’s also cool is that you can buy just the sections you need. Philip sells the Production, Post Production, and Distribution chapters as separate downloads.

Here are two sample pages:
Here are the table of contents for each section:

At New Media Expo

I am at
New Media Expo right now, attending classes and checking out new products and ideas. Emmanuel is here with a camera and we’ll be taping a bunch of interviews over the next 3 days. If you have a request of someone you’d like to hear from or a product reviewed, check out the list of tech (here) or speakers (here). We’ll do our best to get them for an interview.

Post a comment below and we’ll get some new episodes based on your requests.


MommyCast Interview

We had Gretchen Vogelzang from MommyCast speak at the DC Podcaster Alliance Meetup. She gave a great talk on how to attract an audience. The meeting audio is here (she starts about 30 minutes into the recording). Download the files Meeting audio for Sat., 8-9-08, Part 1 and Meeting audio for Sat., 8-9-08, Part 2. You can download the audio recording here for free. Some really good ideas, be sure to check it out.

Making Great Titles for your Next Video (Part 1)

You’re nearly finished with your video. You’ve picked the perfect music, gotten the editing done just right, and now its time to give credit where it’s due. No, there’s no need to tell your mom how much you love her (at least not in your video). But you do need to identify all those talking heads in your show. After all, it’s important to let your audience know who’s talking and why they should care.

Proper use of titles and lower-third graphics help your audience follow the action. They establish the credibility of your on-camera interviews. If you apply a few simple ‘rules’ they can even improve the quality of your entire piece and add to the overall style. Don’t freak out when I say rules; rather think of this as experienced advice. Choose to follow whatever makes sense for your show.

To build titles and lower-thirds, I recommend Adobe Photoshop. While there are several other tools out there, none have as big a user base or as many options. Think of Photoshop as a flexible friend, it’s great at getting you out of tight jams and creative bottlenecks. All of these tips will work with Photoshop 5.5 or newer (and most are timeless, working with all versions).

#1 – Build It Right

You have to get things started, might as well do it right. The first step to make great looking titles is to build them the right size. If your graphics get formatted incorrectly, they will have to be resized by your video software. This usually results in shakes, jitters, and strobing (while this may make for a good Saturday night, you won’t want this in your show).

The right size for graphics is a popular arguing point amongst video pros. The issue is that Photoshop 7 and earlier has used square pixels, which is the standard for computer graphics. The problem is that most video sources use a D1/DV pixel, which is rectangular in shape, or non-square. Don’t worry, short-term problem.

To make things easier, Photoshop 7 (and newer) has built-in templates. Use them. The sizes Adobe recommends work just fine and I have never had any problems with these dimensions.

#2 – Make a template

  1. Have an empty document open sized for your editing system (see above).
  2. Create a new (empty) layer, and name it Safe Title Area.
  3. Select All by pressing Cmd+A (Ctrl+A).
  4. Scale the active selection to 80% by choosing Select>Transform Selection, and then typing in 80% in the Options bar for width and height. Press Return (Enter).
  5. Load red as the foreground color. Then choose Edit>Stroke and specify four pixels centered. This is the title safe area.
  6. Lock the Safe Area Overlay layer by clicking on the Lock icon in the layer’s palette.
  7. Save your work.


Making Great Titles for your Next Video (Part 2)

This is part 2 in a series on making great-looking lower thirds with Photoshop.

#3 – Pick a cool font

Now that we’ve got most of the technical junk out of the way, let’s have some fun. Other than music, nothing says more about the character of your show than the fonts you use. Be sure to allow enough time (and possibly $$$) to pick a cool font. There are several options to consider when picking a font.
  • SERIF vs SANS-SERIF: Serifs are the little hooks on type. Serifed type (think Times) uses thick and thin strokes. Sans-Serif (think Helvetica) uses even-weighted strokes. Sans Serif usually reads better for video. If using serifed fonts, look for a bold or black version and avoid lines thinner that 3-pixels.
  • Style: Write 10 – 20 words down that describe your video. Get input from your client too. Use these words for guidance when looking at fonts.
  • Free or Paid: Free fonts (and overly cheap) fonts often have partial character sets. This may be an issue if you need special symbols (such as & ™ © or • ). You get what you pay for, but don’t worry, several independent font foundries sell great fonts for less than $25 per font.
  • Keep it in the Family: Some fonts belong to families (regular, bold, black, italic, etc). This is useful as you can use one font family and mix styles. This leads to a consistent design in your titles. If you want to mix fonts NEVER use more then two fonts in a title graphic.
  • Format: Many fonts come in different formats. Macs have historically used Postscript while PCs have used TrueType. Macintosh OSX can now read many “PC” true type fonts with no problem. A new format OpenType is also starting to pop up for sale.
  • Kerning: Some professional fonts have had the spacing between characters carefully tweaked. This balanciong is called pair kerning. If your type appears improperly balanced you will need to kern it. Move between characters using the left and right arrows. Hold down the Option key (Alt key) and press the left and right arrows to tighten or loosen pair-kerning.
Some places to look for unique (and often free) fonts:

#4 – Use good color

Can you match your own clothes in the morning? When you walk through a room do people point? By now you’ve likely figured out a few color basics (or have strategies that work). Here are a few more tips.
  • Avoid highly saturated colors. Bright reds and yellows will cause problems in video.
  • Use contrasting colors; if you were to use a color wheel, these would be colors opposite each other. If you want to use three colors, draw a triangle on the color wheel. Digital Anarchy sells a great product called ColorTheory that makes it easy to pick color combinations for two or more colors.
  • Pick up the Pantone book on color trends. This book offers interesting color combinations that always seem to end up the latest fashion.
  • Mix light and dark colors to maintain contrast. Dark on dark and light on light are VERY hard to read.
  • Use a contrasting edge on your type (such as a shadow or glow). This will improve readability.

#5 – Make it layered

If all you ever do is draw a box and put some words on it, you’re so retro that it’s not even cool. Video graphics these days use multiple layers and transparency to achieve good looks. I can go on for hundreds pages on layering techniques (see Photoshop for Nonlinear Editors, part of the DV Expert Series). Here’s some down & dirty tricks to take you to a higher level.
  • Use photos of textures in your bars. I often take pictures of light, reflections, lighting, water waves, etc. and mix these in with my graphics to add a natural depth. Simply place the texture above your bar and press Cmd + G (Ctrl + G) to group it. The texture is now applied just to the bar area below.
  • Use blending modes to achieve better looks. This is perhaps Photoshop’s coolest feature. While you can pick them from a list in the layer’s palette, I find it easier just to experiment. Highlight the layer you want to blend, pick the move tool (V), then press Shift + + or Shift + - to cycle through blend modes. Experiment, have fun, trust me it works!
  • Use layer masks to blend layers together. Use black and white gradients on your layer masks to create smooth transitions in mixing layers.
  • Fill an empty layer above your bar with a solid color or gradient. Tint your bar by setting this layer to the Color or Hue blending mode.

Making Great Titles for your Next Video (Part 3)

This is part 3 in a series on making great-looking lower thirds with Photoshop.

#6 – Layer Styles are your friend

While everyone knows about filters, many miss layer styles (or effects in older versions). These real-time effects combine good looks with speed and flexibility. When building titles, they are the way to go. You can use styles for shadows, glows, bevels, textures and more. Best of all they are stored within the document and can be easily modified.

Check out the following sites for more on Actions

If your edit system supports layered files, you’ll have to flatten your layer styles if you want to import the PSD document. I usually do this on a copy of the project, so I can go back to the original and make changes. The following steps can be saved as an action. Highlight the styled layer; then record the following action.
  1. Create a new layer and name it Flat. (It will be created by default right above selected layer.)
  2. Press Option+[ (Alt+[) to select the layer below to be flattened.
  3. Link to the layer named Flat.
  4. Choose merge linked from the palette’s submenu.
  5. Press STOP. (You can choose Option (Alt)+Merge Linked instead for targeted flattening).

#7 – Make it Readable

Video type needs to be big. When you are sitting less than two-feet away from your computer screen, 20 –point type looks great. When you are sitting 20+ feet away from the television, it’s worthless. Use bigger type. Here’s a simple test.
  1. Choose View> Actual Pixels.
  2. Press the F key twice to go to Full-Screen mode.
  3. Press Tab to hide your palettes.
  4. Stand up from your computer and look at it from the far corner of the room. How’s it look?
  5. Press the F key and tab to return to normal.

#8 – Make it See Through

Okay, you’re almost done. You just need to save the graphic for your edit system. Te best way to make sure everything comes in properly is to use a single layer graphic with an alpha channel. Depending on your edit system, you may need a PICT file or a TARGA file (check your owner’s manual).

There are several methods for creating alpha channels. In my opinion, this is the fastest and easiest.
  1. Turn off all layers you don’t want in the final graphic (including the background or placement image). Create a new (empty layer) and highlight it.
  2. Hold down the Option (Alt) key, choose Merge Visible. A composite layer is now created.
  3. Turn this layer off by clicking on the Eye icon.
  4. Hold down the Cmd (Ctrl) key and click on the layer name in the layer’s palette. The marching ants should encircle the layer.
  5. Switch to the Channels palette and click on the Save Selection as Channel button. Only have 1 alpha channel per document or your NLE will get confused.
  6. Choose File>Save As to Save A Copy as a PICT or TARGA with an alpha channel included. Photoshop 7 users who need TARGA files should download the free update to fix a bug with transparency

The Most Important Piece of Paperwork for Your Projects

I often preach extensively about project management at design and creative conferences around the globe. The one piece of paperwork that I always emphasize is completing a scoping document for a project then getting the client to sign off and accept it. This one piece of papaerwork can solve all sorts of problems and is really worth the 2-5 hours it takes to write. The outline is as follows.

Project Scoping Document

( 2 - 1 0 p a g e s )
  • Project Name
  • Executive Summary
  • Background
  • Project Scope (High Level)
  • Project Objectives
  • Deliverables
  • Organizations
  • Interfaces Required
  • Assumptions
  • Constraints
  • Evaluation Criteria
  • Risks
  • Rewards
  • Budgets
  • Schedules (Due Dates)
  • Project Team Readiness
  • Key Roles
  • Executive Sponsor
  • Project Manager
  • Business Experts
  • Technical Experts
  • Signature Lines - Sign Off “Charter”