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Introduction to Computer Video Editing

Remember "Time Lines" from history class? The teacher would draw a line on the board and lay out the order things happened, darkly hinting that each item could appear on a pop-quiz and certainly on the mid-term test. You might have wondered if anything really useful would ever result, beyond you never being able to forget the date of issuance of the Magna Carta (1215).

It turns out that timeline models work really well to provide a simple and easy-to-understand visual method to organize digital video in your computer. Virtually all computer video editing software uses a timeline, from the simplest free utilities all the way through the state of the art tools George Lucas used to build and animate the final Star Wars movie. Every video movie is made up of a sequence of individual still pictures called "frames". In NTSC standard video (used in the U.S.) there are just under 30 frames per second. In parts of the world where they use the PAL standard, you have 25 frames per second. The standard for commercial film movies is 24 frames per second, and some video editing software can simulate 24 frames to get a 'film-like look'. A continuous group of frames is generally called a "clip". The word "clip" comes from manual film editing, where each group of frames is a physical piece of film that has been clipped with scissors and then trimmed to include only the frames that best show the shot.

In film editing, you decide on the order of your clips and then splice the pieces of film together into a "shot sequence" or scene. Traditionally, sequences are pre-planned using a visualization technique called a storyboard. Drawings or still pictures representing the action in each camera shot are hung on the storyboard and moved around until they look right. We do the same thing using a computer timeline, but the process is simple and fast: just drag and drop. The biggest difference is that on the computer you can instantly 'Undo' it if the resulting sequence doesn't look right. The editing we do on the computer is called "Non-Linear Editing" (NLE) because you can go instantly to any point in the video without having to rewind or fast-forward a film or tape. For that reason, computer video editing software is frequently called "NLE" software.

Pictured below is Microsoft Windows Movie Maker, which comes free with Windows XP and Vista (the Vista version supports the newer High Definition HDV format).

Windows Movie Maker (click on the graphic to open a larger version in a new window) normally shows a storyboard view with a preview window and a timeline for building your sequences. This fundamental design is typical of all computer video editing software, although the professional versions are far more complex and require study and experience to use effectively. For many casual video editors, Movie Maker, or Apple's iMovie which comes free on the Mac, are plenty powerful enough to create great looking movies, but simple enough to learn and master in a very short time.

The basic functions include:

  • Capturing video/audio into the computer
  • Cutting, Trimming, organizing clips
  • Splicing clips onto a timeline
  • Application of effects such as color/contrast correction, old-movie look, freeze-frame, fast/slow motion, etc.
  • Addition of creative transitions between clips
  • Basic Titling - adding captions or credits, usually non-moving
  • Sound editing including adding narration or background music
  • Burning finished movies to DVD or publishing to the web

Capturing Video/Audio into your computer
Before you can edit your video on your computer, the pictures and sound must be available to the computer in the form of digital computer files. If you shoot with a camcorder that uses tapes, it is necessary to play the tape on a device connected to the computer, usually via a FireWire interface. Your video editing software has a Capture mode that will convert the video and sound from your tape into computer files. On the very newest camcorders, which store video directly to computer memory cards or to portable hard drives, capturing is not necessary. Connecting the camcorder to the computer should make the video and audio files on the card or hard drive instantly available to the computer, and so to your video editing software.

If you are making videos using a simpler webcam device, your video editing software can be used in Capture mode to save your pictures and sound to computer files for later editing. There are also many other utility programs that will capture video onto your computer, but in order to be able to use the resulting files in your editing software, the file formats and compression codec used must be compatible. Otherwise your video editor will not be able to load or use the files.

Every different video editing software title uses more or less different terminology and methods. The procedures below are intended as general descriptions of functions that should apply to most video editing software, but any given program may have different capabilities and methods or require actions in a different order.

Using the Timeline
After you have captured your video into files (often called clips) on the computer hard drive, you will need to start a new editing project and to tell your video editing software which clips you want to use. Generally, you either drag and drop the clip files onto the editing screen, select them after clicking an "Add" button, or 'Open' them using a pull-down menu option. The clips for your project will appear in a staging area often called a 'bin'. Microsoft Movie Maker uses the Storyboard surface to show your selected clips for the project.

Each clip can generally be viewed in a preview window where you can trim off undesirable parts and split the clip into parts if you desire. Some editing software uses the timeline for trimming and splitting.

After selecting, splitting, and trimming the clips, nearly all video editing software allows you to simply drag the clips onto the timeline in the order you want them to be seen in the finished product. Clips on the timeline can be previewed at any time to see and hear how you are doing. As with any software, you should save the project often to avoid losing your work in case of a problem.

Applying Effects
Simple or free video editing software may only have a few effects (or none) that can be applied to your video clips. Typical effects include the ability to brighten or soften contrast, correct color balance, impose a black and white or sepia tint look, simulate slow or fast motion, sharpen, soften, or apply various artistic filters.

Advanced effects provided by higher end software may require that you have a faster computer with more RAM memory. Those effects are outside the scope of this article (covered in the more advanced areas) and include digital picture-in-picture, chroma and luma keying, and advanced alpha-channel (transparency) tricks.

Adding Transitions
Most video editing software enables you to give your videos a nice professional look by adding transitions between the shots. Transitions should be used only where appropriate to avoid becoming distracting. The simplest transition is a fade-out to black on one shot followed by a fade-in on the next shot. Dissolves, where one shot fades out and the next shot fades in simultaneously) are also very popular and can be done by any software that provides alpha-channel (transparency) capability.

Some more advanced transitions are provided even by most free software, and the professional level editors may include dozens of spectacular and customizable transitions. Before you go too wild adding transitions, however, you may want to keep in mind that the purpose is just to make your movie flow from one shot into another. If your transitions become the star of the show, it may be because you are compensating for a fundamentally dull video.

Basic Titling
Most video editing software provides a simple word processor to give you the ability to add in some simple static (non-moving) titles (i.e. "Bobby's First Christmas") superimposed over the video. More advanced software provides scrolling or crawling titles. Professional software often includes the ability to do highly advanced moving title effects, closed captioning, or multi-language dialog dubbing.

Sound Editing
Good quality sound is often overlooked by beginning movie makers, and that is a mistake. Simple video editing software may provide you with tools to add narration or a musical sound track. More advanced software enables you to add sound effects, equalize levels, filter out hiss, apply graphic equalizers, and remove pops and coughs. You might be surprised to learn how important sound editing is in Hollywood. Next time you watch a movie take note of how many professionals worked on sound in the film from technicians to editors to foley artists and more.

Publishing to DVD or web
Once your video masterpiece is finished, you'll want to share it with the world. Burning copies to DVD to give your friends and family is supported by most video editing software. Advanced 'DVD Authoring' can get rather complex, and if you want a lot of fancy menus like you see on Hollywood movies from the rental store, you may want to buy specialized software just for DVD creation. For simpler projects, or to export your video in a form where it can be uploaded to YouTube or Google Video, your free editor will probably do the job.

Video compression and format conversion (transcoding) are also very complex topics and if you get serious about choosing optimum compression codecs and balancing quality with file size, you will want to purchase better software for those purposes as well.

In summary, your Windows XP or Windows Vista computer or your Apple Mac all provide pretty capable free software (Windows Movie Maker and iMovie) to get started in computer video editing. Once you try it out, if you decide you are ready for more advanced capabilities, try one of the titles below to move to the next level.

Video Top Secrets Recommends:
Nero 7 Ultra Edition Enhanced

Provides you with everything you need to complete your digital media tasks on your PC or on your TV. This award-winning software provides you with over 20 applications in ONE solution with ease of use and cutting-edge technology. Whether you want to burn CDs or DVDs, edit your videos or digital photos, backup your favorite DVD movies, access your files from your TV, record your favorite TV programs, or complete an entire system backup, Nero 7 Ultra Edition offers offers a complete and comprehensive digital media solution.

The Enhanced version now includes new features to access your media files throughout your connected digital home, share files with family and friends, or take them with you on the go.

Photos and Video

  • Easily capture video from digital cameras, camcorders, video capture/TV tunercards and other devices
  • Enhanced Support for HDV cameras
  • Easy creation of CD and DVD movie discs: Support for all common formats such asVCD, SVCD, Mini-DVD, DVD-Video, DVDVR
  • Create Hollywood-style DVDs with 2D and animated 3D menu templates
  • Backup DVD9 to DVD5: add new content, chapters & keep subtitles
  • Support for all popular media formats including Nero Digital™ (MPEG-4)
  • Compress to fit Mobile, PDAs, Home Theater and HDTV standards
  • Capture, edit and export High-Definition (HD) video files
  • Rip audio CDs and create music mixes for your MP3s
  • Amazing sound quality with AAC & High Efficiency AAC (MPEG-4)
  • Convert favorite LPs and Tapes to CDs without pops and cracks
  • Create custom Playlists by artist, genre and title
  • Mix and Edit your music like a DJ with multiple audio tracks
  • Up to 7.1 recording, editing and mixing for HQ mastering
  • Convert your audio files to your preferred format to take on the go
  • Record, edit, remix and remaster your music like the professionals do
  • Add audio effects to any track

Sony Vegas Movie Studio + DVD

With Vegas Movie Studio + DVD you have an easy way to capture and edit digital video on your PC. With this powerful, easy-to-use video editing tool you can create memorable movies and slideshows in minutes. Just plug your camcorder or Digital camera into your PC to capture your media. Then, arrange your video clips or pictures on the timeline and add effects, transitions, titles, and music. You can even insert animated text and scrolling credits. Choose from hundreds of 2-D and 3-D transitions, and have fun experimenting with Hollywood-style effects. Make your own DVDs with menus, buttons, and links just like the ones produced in Hollywood. Choose from 25 customizable DVD templates. Exclusive Show Me How tutorials provide interactive, step-by-step help while you work.

  • Add special effects, transitions, titles, and music to your home movies for Hollywood-style results
  • Zoom, rotate, and pan across photos to create dynamic slideshows
  • Make your own DVDs complete with multiple menus, buttons, and links
  • Commemorate special events such as weddings and anniversaries
  • Create exciting, professional-looking business presentations

Ulead VideoStudio 10 Plus
  • Unmatched ease of use: Three ways to make movies, VideoStudio Editor, Movie Wizard, and DV-to-DVD Wizard, all provide easy, step-by-step editing. With flexible timeline and storyboard modes, an adjustable user interface, and many auto processes, you'll be making videos and discs in no time.
  • Full-featured DVD authoring: Create breathtaking standard and 16:9 widescreen video and slideshow discs. VideoStudio 10 Plus allows you to author HD DVD as well.
  • Powerful tools--ultimate quality: Use hundreds of customizable effects, filters, and transitions. VideoStudio 10 Plus includes six overlay tracks for making amazing picture-in-picture and montage effects. The Plus version also provides complete high-definition support, and you can create Dolby Digital 5.1 surround-sound tracks as well.
  • Movie wizard: Ideal for users new to video editing. Select from attractive themes and let auto-editing make your first edits. Use Smart Pan and Zoom to automatically create entertaining photo slideshows. You'll have a complete movie in only three steps.
  • DV-to-DVD Wizard: In just two easy steps you'll have an authored DVD--with menus, titles, transitions, and music. Transfer an entire tape to DVD without scanning it first. Create DVDs even faster now.
  • New video filters: Choose from over 45 video filters such as the new Anti-Shake filter that stabilizes video for better-looking movies. Also new are the Enhance Lighting filter that lightens clips that are too dark and the Fish Eye filter, which applies a rounded, bubble-like distortion to your video clips.
  • Chroma key: shoot your video subject against any uniformly colored background and then substitute the background of your choice. Overlay tracks: allow you to create picture-in-picture and montage effects.
  • Multi-Trim Editor with AccuCut Editing: Quickly extract multiple segments from videos with the Multi-Trim Editor. Use Multi-Trim's AccuCut Editing with Timeline Zoom to quickly find any frame for trimming, allowing you to make more precise cuts.
  • DVD Authoring: Create fully-interactive DVD motion menus and submenus, including 16:9 widescreen. Customize menus by resizing and positioning buttons. Apply menu transitions that segue smoothly between menus and DVD content, and menu filters that allow you to create movement even on static menus, for professional-looking DVDs.

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