Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Digital Video and Documentary Making

I was pretty chuffed to see Steven Downes quoting me in his blog recently, and saw him mentioning that he was looking to set up for digital video to make documentaries. I thought I'd help the old boy (a 46 year old digital native) out a bit with a post on what I know and reckon about it, seeing as I've made a few in my time.

The camera

Back in 2000 I bought the Sony DCR TRV110 E. It was the first of the Digital 8 products, and I don't think they made one better! I bought another Sony D8 about 2 years later and it just doesn't compare to the strength, performance, and practical design of the original.

The reasons I reckon TRV110E is the best has to do with strength, utility and versatility. It plays and records to Hi8, V8 and D8 tapes! That means if I'm out and about on a Sunday morning and find myself suddenly out of stock, even if I'm in the most backward, hillbilly, hick town of Sydney's inner West, I will find a tape I can use. (Most servos and super markets for some strange reason don't stock anything but these). Hi8 and V8 are really cheap too, and I reckon they are stronger than the miniDVs. Drop a miniDV tape and see how good it works... The TRV110E has RCA in/out (not the mini jack conversion type that will piss you off, but the good old yellow, red and white). It has an on board preamp so those little lapel mics go straight in no worries. And of course the DV in out. Sony's night vision is the best too.

Capturing and Editing.

Without a doubt, iMovie that comes standard with any Mac these days is the kick arse, do everything, easy to use program to capture and edit movies on. But not all of us have the luxury of iMovie being available to us. The movie maker that comes with WinXP is pretty straight forward but typically, only plays and creates files in the windows format. I'm still waiting for a good open source video capture and edit program, JahTools seem to be getting there, but they're off in some strange 3D animation land last I looked.

So I use Adobe Premier. Recently I bought a new laptop seeing as the Sony VAIOs are down in price in Australia at last, so I picked one up with Premier Standard on it. Haven't had a belt of it yet, but looks similar at first glance. Nothing on Adobe's site about "standard" but "elements" seems to be the new hobby user. No idea if it supports all the formats you need these days (Sorenson, MPG4, AVI for vi at least, and WAV, MP3 would be nice for audio).

(After thought!! I should have mentioned the Avid Free DV of course. Not used it, but I'm sure its very good and Avid gear is used by many pros I know)

The thing about Premier video editing to remember is that it works best if you have 2 physically separate hard drives to work on. One for the application (generally C) and one for the captured movie files. This seems to optimise the processes but that's about as far as I know about that.

Its good to have at least 512 ram, and I seem to get by with a 1.6gig processor just fine. They say that your drives should be 7200rpm, but I get by with 5200 on laptops. If your computer doesn't have a DV in out port you can get a DV in/out card to slide in to that big open space on the side of the laptop... wata they call it.. the PCYC or something...? And DV cards for desktops are real cheap. Check the port size on your camera and computer, and be sure to get the right firewire cable.

Flash (the MX generation) has some pretty cool things in video and is very easy to understand and use...

I reckon the best way to start is to first practice editing in camera. There's nothing worse than having to capture and edit huge amounts of useless footage. A good camera person gets the shot, and in a good sequence if possible. The TRV110E has a good little in camera editing function.
Always look around you for stable surfaces to shoot from. It not only helps you take steady pictures, but often gives you an angle you might never have thought of. Usually, I never need a tripod with this technique.
After you have captured the footage and ready to edit, I think its good to start with a soundtrack before you think about the images. The beats and moods of music really help to make editing fun and easy. I generally treat the audio track as the most important part of video making. I think its important to have an audio track that can stand alone, for uses in radio and podcastinig for example, and you can usually play any audio track to video and it works in some way, which means video is quite flexible with how the audio mixes in with the pictures... the eye can hear music! something to think about.

Hope this helps a bit. Looking forward to seeing/hearing your first efforts.

Update: Here's a number of digital video editors for Linux! and a very informative article on how to get set up cheaply for serious production

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1 comment:

janelle said...

Thanks for that Lee,my first experience has been with DCR-TRV265E down in Lucas Cave at Jenolan - the night vision still is a bit grey but the rest is surprisingly beautiful.Biggest hassle I had was XP - Media 10 and the unplain english manual instructions trying to get it from camcorder to PC- still trying to work out how to edit with the camera- I agree with you- do it on the camera then fine tune. I'll take your tip on the sound track first.