Thursday, July 23, 2009

Video-Editing Resource Roundup

For the past few weeks I’ve had a primary side-project at work that has been exceedingly challenging.

Our group had to produce a video that showcased the services we provide our customers.

Writing the script for two of the four segments was no big deal.  It would have made Obama’s script-writers cry.

However just because I can write didn’t mean it was “in-the-can”.

We still had to organize the video shots, narration track, and do the editing work.

I’m pretty comfortable working with audio files but video?  That would be a first.

We did have a semi-pro member of a sister-IT group who has considerable video-editing experience (and Adobe product availability).

But as I was trying to get the concept across to everyone, it became clear to me that a script and video footage just wasn’t going to ensure the vision made it from my brain to the big-screen.

I had to dive in to video production work, and fast.


Having watched way too many Disney DVD “extended” features, I knew that one of the most critical tools visual production artists use is the “storyboard.”

By visually crafting a series of story-boards with descriptions of the plot/elements, it is much easier to see the concept in action.

There are a number of adequate freeware and Open Source products for storyboarding.

In the end I adopted (and highly recommend) Celtx - Integrated Media Pre-Production; a free product.

It is very easy to install and get going.  I didn’t read the manual at all.

In addition to an easy to understand and use “storyboard” tool, it also contains script-writing tools conforming to several different media genres, scheduling and organizing tools.

Between the web and screenshots from our video taping files, I was able to quickly copy the narration script segments into respective story-board frames and output the entire package to a paper document (PDF) for distribution to the workgroup members.

In no time flat everyone was able to see exactly what it was I was describing.


Next up was the primary audio-narrative.

For this I had to wait until after the normal production hours had ended so I could ensure quiet.

I used my USB mike/headset kit to capture my voice.

Then I used Audacity to record and edit the captured WAV file that I made of my narrative recording. (See also Audacity Portable.)

Overall I have very few edits to make to the audio-file.  I did drop the pitch down just a few points to make my voice a bit deeper and more like those of professional narrators as heard on nature shows and stuff.  To me my recorded voice comes across just a bit higher-pitched that I like to hear.  Lavie didn’t even recognize it was me until I pointed it out and then she purred.

Video-Editing – Round One

With the sound in the can, and all the video files, stock stills, and other team pictures captured and uploaded to the remote server for our in-house video pro to work with, I should have been done.

However, I figured that maybe it wouldn’t hurt as a backup plan to try to create my own rough-cut director’s edition; just in case.

I’ve never attempted to do any video editing before, but thought I had the concept down pretty well.

I just needed to identify a tool that would be fast, easy, free, and flexibly enough to allow a first-time video editor to produce something our team wouldn’t be embarrassed about when it was presented to the organization.

I quickly found that there were quite a few wonderful tools out there, but they all had some kind of draw-back:

  • Virtualdub – freeware – and VirtualDub Portable – GNU GPL licensed. 

  • Wax – freeware – Quite powerful with a range of flexible input/output format support.

  • Zwei-Stein Video Editor 3.01 – freeware – Quirky interface and attitude.  I suspect it brings a lot to the table if I really knew what it was all talking about…likely for folks already graduated to the deeper end of the video-editing pool.

  • Jahshaka – freeware – Not updated for a while (about a year?) and comments from other bloggers suggest that some features just aren’t implemented enough.  That was enough to keep me from installing it for a trial-run, as I had done for the others mentioned above.  Still, might be worth a look.

All provided what looked at first glance to be more-than decent tools for video-editing.  However it soon became apparent that these were not necessarily for the novice.  Extended use or previous video-editing skills would probably make them more useful than to a first-time video-editor.

I also absolutely was floored by this singular-standout in video editing software:

I think there is a actually a bit of a distinction between the two locations above, but I’m not certain. Check out both as they all have a wealth of resources.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a Linux-loaded system handy with the RAM and CPU’s I though necessary to really put this program through the paces.  That said, it will likely be high on the list for me to do so.  It really seems like a true professional-grade video-editing product that is on-par with Adobe’s offering.  And based on the documentation and screens-shots I read, seemed it would be something I use pretty quickly, but then leave a tremendous amount of “extras” as I grew in the concepts and skills needed.

For additional offerings check out this List of open source video editing software packages over at Wikipedia.

Video-Editing – Round Two

So I regrouped and came at it from a Windows-shop angle.  That meant bowing-down to the great god of Redmond.

I knew that Microsoft offered an XP version of Movie Maker, a Vista version of Movie Maker, a Windows 7 version of Movie Maker, and then there was Movie Maker (Live) beta.

Confused?  Yeah.  I was also because none of them are exactly the same thing and each one brings certain features to the table.  Additionally, they aren’t necessarily platform agnostic so in most cases you might not be able to use the one you like on the Windows OS you’ve got.

First up was Movie Maker beta - Windows Live.  Unfortunately, for some reason, I wasn’t able to install it on my XP system.  It did go on my Vista/Windows 7 system with no complaint.  That ruled out me using it on my work platform (XP Pro) for the moment while at work.

When I did get home, I installed it on my Windows 7 RC system (x64) and I must say, it did seem very fast and easy to work with. I did have to apply a patch from MS to extend the expiration date. However about ten minutes into the editing process I ran into a serious—nay, fatal—issue.  I was able to import and trim my video clips and insert still images. I was also able to import my WAV narrative file.  So far it was very simple and easy to use. What I wasn’t able to do was to “trim” or cut that WAV file for when I wanted to drop in a video segment that had it’s own audio track. . Bummer.

Although I remain hopeful based on posts from the Windows Live Photo & Video Blog that additional features such as this (and others) will be coming in future releases of Windows Live Movie Maker edition, it just didn’t provide the more “advanced” features I needed.  So I had to punt.

I did know, from my research, that Microsoft also shipped a different version of Movie Maker with Vista (Home Premium/Ultimate).

So I rebooted and logged into my Vista 32-bit system instead. Sure enough there it was. And it supported all the audio-track splitting/cutting I needed.  In no time at all (well it was about 2 AM when I wrapped things up) I really did have the director’s cut edition of our video production in the can.  All done from my laptop with a USB hard-drive serving me the video/still files needed during the crafting process, while I was in bed.

Hollywood here I come!

Seriously, I did find it an incredibly intuitive application to use for a newbie to video-editing.  I confess I did seek the “help file” out once or twice but found it remarkably unhelpful.

I was able to mute the stock video footage audio so my background narrative audio came through.

I could drag/drop the stills into the time-line and extend the time they would stay up on screen.

I was able to “trim” the ends of all the video files with no issue.  I found I could even cut video segments out entirely and reshuffle their sequence.  Sweet!

It really was a full-featured, non-linear editing program and I love it!

My only regret was that I couldn’t use it on the Windows 7 x64 bit load to get the additional performance that OS brings to the table. 

Nor did I have time to puzzle out the audio transitions (fade audio up/down) between segments as well as as the video transitions.  I wish I did but time wasn’t available.

Only later when researching this blog post did I discover that I could have probably downloaded the “Vista” version of Movie Maker (2.6) onto the Windows 7 system I also am dual-booting.

Now I know (although some commenter's seem to report experiencing limited issues with using it on Windows 7).  It also seems to be “stripped” of some features of the native Movie Maker 2.6 version in Vista proper according to some posters.

If you are needing, in my humble opinion, the most flexible and powerful Windows Movie Maker build there is currently, I would recommend checking it out.  Just be aware that the packer used for it might set off some AV alerts.  That doesn’t mean it is infected, but that it uses a file-packing process common to malware as well, which most AV’s will blindingly alert on.

Movie Maker 2.1 (XP)

Finally, not offend, some folks seem to believe the original Movie Maker for XP 2.1 is the best that ever was.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to install it on my Windows XP Pro system, and there was no helpful download-link from the Microsoft download page.  So I never got the chance to try it out.

So I’ve got no flight-time with Movie Maker 2.1 (XP).  That said, here are some links that might be helpful.

Final Odds n Ends

I also needed to capture some screencasts from my system so I found this list of screencasting software from Wikipedia quite helpful in selecting one to use for my needs.

I had some video footage in an MP4 format that Movie Maker didn’t recognize.  Luckily I found Jacek Pazera’s MP4 to AVI Converter 1.3 free utility.  It did a rapid and bang-up job getting those pesky MP4 files into a format I could use with no fuss.  I ran rapid-quick on the x64 Windows 7 system.

I’ve also used many of the media converters from A-Software Plus with great success. They are format-specific and do a great job of converting audio and video formats from one mode to another.

Update: Thanks to JMisner for pointing out in a comment post that the downloads from A-Software Plus might bring along a bit more than is expected.  Per suggestion, I re-downloaded one of the packages and used Universal Extractor to open up the setup file.  Besides the main extracted application file(s) found in the {app} extraction folder, there is also a {temp} folder created that contained two files; rkinstall.exe and rkverify.exe with file properties clearly identifying them as from TMRG, Inc..  A quick search on the Internet across all three key-terms found that many many references are made to these files.  Like JMisner, I’m not yet certain what “exactly” they do but they seem related to installing an ad-injector to serve up additional/targeted ads during the browsing experience.  Not cool in my opinion.  On the original system I used one of the converters on, the commercial AV product didn’t complain one bit (got to recheck that system now). On my home system my Sunbelt Software VIPRE jumped all over the file rkverify.exe during the Universal Extractor process.  I had to “pause” it to get the full extraction to take place.  So big-thanks to JMisner for catching this. I’ll do some more monitoring work to see what is going on and post more later. For now, I’ve de-linked the reference link in the post above. I would suggest moving on as there are other such apps that don’t bring this headache along with it.  A-Software might be using the TMRG,INC files to bring it revenue so they can offer these tools “free” and it is certainly their right to do so.  Aside from these two “extras”, the applications themselves seem to work great as promised. Just be aware that they are “free” with a catch.  If you are a geek and are willing to do the manual extraction process of the software to get just the encoder/decoder/converter portion, I’ve put the link below.  If you aren’t a geek and don’t mind having these extra features along for the ride, then install away.  Your call.


Granted, I’m no systems newbie although I am new to video editing, so I brought a strong measure of confidence and can-do to the table.  True newbies might find it a bit more challenging.  That said, I suspect my daughter Alvis could have done even faster work than I did.

It was very, very fun and having these incredible tools—all free—at my disposal ensured I have now been bitten by the video-editing production bug.

Once comfortable with these, there are additional commercial and freeware software video-editing packages, as well as those that ship OEM with various digital cameras and other related hardware which might be bumps-up from Microsoft Movie Maker line.  That said, for most home-users and SOHO business users, this might be more than sufficient.



--Claus V.


JMisner said...

Hi Claus,

Great post. Just wanted to chime in on one of the last download recommendations.

The A-Software Plus software was found to be spyware by myself. What type of spyware remains to be seen, however it sprung out at me in the EULA, which I find myself skimming through lately. Here's just the first few sentences from the AVI to MP4 installer:

"In order to provide this free download, RelevantKnowledge software, provided by TMRG, Inc., a comScore, Inc. company, is included in this download. This software allows millions of participants in an online market research community to voice their opinions by allowing their online browsing and purchasing behavior to be monitored, collected, aggregated, and once anonymized, used to generate market reports which our clients use to understand Internet trends and patterns and other market research purposes."

I stopped reading there, seen enough! However, I've found by dumping the installer in Universal Extractor, you can find the lone executable which seems absent of any spyware installation. Could be wrong.

Just an FYI :)

Claus said...

@ JMisner - Big Thanks for that catch! I've quickly checked and posted additional information related to your tip.

I'm hoping to have some time to do some addition looksies into just what exactly this is doing and going on. Already lots on the web on it but I want to see what exactly this particular package does.

Curious that one commerical AV product didn't catch it but when I re-did just now on my home system that different AV product did.

Sharp eyes! Nice to know that some folks really read the posts in detail.


--Claus V.