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February 14, 2008

WANTED: Thicker Skin Please

One thing I’ve realized recently is that posting personal projects on YouTube (videos, songs, photo slideshows, or otherwise) can be a very humbling experience. I say this because for those of you keeping up with my blog, you know that I’ve become fairly entrenched in the contest submission side of things. I now have perfect strangers leaving questionable feedback for me (note: friends and family can only say nice things or I disown them) and I’m feeling a bit like I did in high school when someone made fun of my outfit, or worse, criticized my essay in English class for being “lame.”

At 35 I see that I’m nearly as sensitive as I was 20 years ago when it comes to my work, especially projects as intimate as a video or song that I’ve written. (I once dabbled in stand up comedy and ditched that pretty quickly). Easy Media Creator has helped me churn these puppies out a dime a dozen, but sadly hasn’t changed the emotional part of the process for me. And, despite the time that goes into each project (fast turn or lengthy), each end result is still a very unique and intimate window into my world. Thus, when the “not-so-glowing-reviews” come in it kinda stings! I can only imagine how celebs deal with it every day. ;)

carrieandgolf.jpg

An interesting case study for you readers: I recently entered a 1800Flowers contest in which the proposition was to create a video valentine that illustrated a first date, first love, etc. in honor of Valentine’s Day. I wrote a song that I felt very confident about and created an accompanying video of my actual boyfriend (his appearance wasn’t altered to spare his identity) and threw it to the masses. Everything that came in by way of feedback was very positive initially. People saying that the song had been stuck in their head all day, and that it was so cute they hoped I’d win, etc. Then, just as the close of the contest drew nearer and I thought I might actually have this one in the bag, a dark horse came up outta nowhere! Some young “punk” (yes I can use this word now that I’m in my thirties) threw his hat in with – admittedly – a fairly well-made video and fun song about how he “scored his girl.” He has a beefy subscriber base and as such, was able to get immediate traction/click thru on this new vid. Now, instead of using his powers of fan base for good, he used them for evil. He instructed his legions of lemmings to vote for his submission (makes sense) but then to also go through and trash all the other submitters’ work! This is the part of the process that can feel terribly “unfair.” I love using that word even as an adult. My mom always said “life isn’t fair” but I keep thinking maybe one day it will be! One day hard work and kindness will win out! Won’t it? Nah, probably not.

Soooo, long story short, here are my tips on how to “possibly” win a YouTube contest (though it hasn’t yet worked for me):

1. Get as many subscribers as you can PRIOR to the contest start date (that way, when you upload your contest video your subscribers will be notified and will watch your submission right away and give you a solid rating).

2. Stick to the contest guidelines. If the rules say to limit your work to 30 seconds, make sure your vid is 30 seconds. (Hint: If you have a 30 second audio track, Creator can sync your video to your audio and ensure you don’t exceed the time limit).

3. Stay on topic. I wrote a “feel good” song with positive and fun imagery because I imagine 1800Flowers' target audience is your typical 25 to 55 year old, working person (i.e. has some disposable income) who enjoys a little mush when they are thinking of buying flowers. (I mean, who wants to listen to rap when they are in the mood for love anyway?! My bitterness is emerging…).

A winner is going to be announced on YouTube’s homepage ON Valentines Day so you can check to see who wins. I think at this point I’d be happy for any one of the finalists OTHER than the kid who trashed everyone else. Karma please work this time! Please?

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Had to update you all with the coolest friggin' technology! I just figured out how to SELL my original music (as an unsigned artist of course), using a service called Snocap! Check this out!!! (And the cart featured here even works!) ;)

February 21, 2008

Decoding & Encoding

All right. It’s time, long past to get rid of the ol’ VCR once and for all. We’ve been in the 21st century for a few years, yet I still have shelves of magnetic media gathering dust. Yes, I have been investing in digital copies of my favorite films, but I don’t think a major studio is about to release my home movies on DVD.

Here’s how I’m doing it.

Using the composite connectors (those cables with the red, white, and yellow connectors), I connected my computer (with the help of the Dazzle DVD-100 included with Roxio Easy Media Creator 10 Deluxe Suite) to the video-out jacks on my VCR. Yeah, this does mean moving the VCR into my office, but it’s the final stage before getting rid of the VCR altogether.

Under the Video Tab in EMC 10, I selected “Capture Video.” (I could have also used “Plug & Burn,” but I want to edit my videos before authoring the perfect DVD.)

There are a few things I found out when capturing video from my VCR. Under “Capture Settings,” using the default quality of “DV,” chews up a LOT of hard drive space. Yes, it is the highest quality setting. When editing video you typically want to go with the highest quality setting to minimize the flaws that can crop up when re-encoding video after editing. (It’s the analogy of making a photocopy of a photocopy.)

But there’s a limit to how high you need to go with the quality. A single layer DVD holds less than 5 GB of data. Capturing an hour of video at DVD quality takes over 12 GB of space. Also, consider the quality of the original source tape.

I’ve achieved good results using the “DVD HQ” setting (mpeg-2 at 8 Mbps) which uses up less than 3.5 GB per hour. This is still higher quality than VHS, which means I won’t lose any quality when editing the video.

For a more in depth discussion on quality selection and capturing from VHS tapes, check out this forum thread on VideoHelp.com.

All right. I’ve got everything hooked up, and I’ve selected the quality setting. After clicking on the capture button, I start playing the tape. This way I make sure that I don’t miss the first couple of seconds. (I can always trim it afterwards.)

decoding2.jpg

There I am, in the top hat and tails, not to mention a beard that could provide shelter for a small village. How things have changed. I haven’t seen that beard in ages. (Last I heard, it was heading on a trek toward Alaska.)

Once the preset capture length is reached, the video is saved to the hard drive, ready for editing. That however, it a topic for another time.

What have been your experiences in capturing video from a VCR? Do you have any preferences on the quality setting?

I look forward to hearing from you.

March 14, 2008

Disc Label Spin Art

If you're lucky enough to already have a direct-to-disc printer already (a few Canon, Epson and HP inkjets have a special CD/DVD tray), you can skip this article. On the other hand, if you burn a lot of discs and you're interested in fast, top-quality CD/DVD printing, the new Dymo DiscPainter is the coolest kid on the block.

DiscPainter.jpg

This unique printer works by printing while the disc spins, from the inside out, keeping the print head steady as the tray moves under it. The end result is fascinating to watch, much like making spin art paintings at the school fair. I saw it at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, and had to try it out for two reasons: first, stick-on labels are just not good for use in many drives, especially cars and slot-loading Macs, where they can gum up the works; second, I'm creating more and more video and photo CDs as gifts for relatives, and Sharpies just don't cut it anymore.

The DiscPainter comes with a few blank CDs to get you started, as well as an ink cartridge good for about 100 discs. It works with both PCs and Macs, and can be used with the Label Creator software in Easy Media Creator 10, as well as the Disc Cover application included with Toast 9 Titanium. After a bit of experimentation I got things working perfectly on both platforms. Here are some tips for getting great results right off the bat:

Choose the Right Media: Be sure to buy special "inkjet-printable" CDs or DVDs for use with the DiscPainter or any other direct-to-disc printer. These have coatings designed to absorb the ink so that it does not smudge and the colors show up properly. They come in a variety of surfaces: matter white, glossy white, silver and colored. They also vary in how much of the inside "hub" of the disc is printable.

I tried several types, and my clear favorite was glossy white, which yielded the most vibrant colors and most professional-looking results. I also liked the hub-printable disc better since they provide more space for background images and text. Buy a few small samples and test before buying in quantity, however, since there was at least one brand that didn't take the ink properly. The Dymo discs and Verbatim inkjet printable CDs both worked well for me.


DiscPainterEMC9.jpg


Using with Label Creator on a PC: In the Print dialog box, choose the DiscPainter as your printer, and then set both Properties and Preferences. In Printer Properties, choose either "hub-printable" or "non-hub-printable," depending on whether your disc has a print area that goes all the way to the middle or not. Also select the desired print quality and ink density for your disc. Different densities are used for matte white, glossy white and silver or colored discs. With the matte Verbatim discs I used the lowest ink density, higher densities obscured detail.

Finally, since the DiscPainter is too new to be listed as a predefined "Paper Type," I selected the Epson PM-4000PX as a proxy, then adjusted the offsets slightly to center the image on the DiscPainter. To adjust offsets, click Preferences, then use Fine Tuning settings of -.8 for vertical, and -1.6 for horizontal.

Using with Disc Cover on a Mac: Printing in Toast 9's Disc Cover involves two steps. After pressing the Print button, select the Output (Direct to CD/DVD), Tray Type (Dymo DiscPainter), and Printer (Dymo DiscPainter) in the window that pops up. If you will be printing at Best quality, also choose 600 dpi output.

DiscPainterToast1.jpg

Clicking Next brings you to the standard Mac print dialog, where you can set DiscPainter-specific Printer Features like hub diameter and ink density. For Best quality on matte Verbatim discs, I used Matte1. For the correct inside and outside print diameters, check your disc manufacturer's Web site or product label, or simply measure the disc in mms.

DiscPainterToast2.jpg

I'm now dreaming up all the ways I'm going to use my DiscPainter, including a few holiday projects that I'd better get started on pronto!

August 9, 2008

Changing the world one video at a time...

If you've been keeping up with my articles, admittedly sporadically posted as of late, you know that despite falling well outside of the established "target audience" I am in fact a digital media enthusiast. Since my last post, I've uncovered a few more neat tips, tricks and apps.

Inspired yet again by a YouTube contest, this time sponsored by Timberland (outdoor gear not the producer/rapper spelled slightly differently in case you were confused), I was urged to create an entry in support of making the world a more sustainable, "green" place to live. It just so happens this is something I've been paying closer and closer attention to lately...in addition to volunteering for a very cool, very forward-thinking "green production" company in the Bay Area, I've also been inspired by our very own CEO here at Sonic who has thrown his hat into the green arena by building electric cars in his spare time! Go Dave!

Blah, blah, blah too much background information and I'm probably losing your attention fast, right? Well, here's where things get interesting. I wanted to create a video using what's known as "green screen" technology (or blue screen but since we're trying to be green here I'll go with that). This is a technique by which one can extract oneself from a setting by using a green backdrop during video capture and then swapping in a background of choice during post-production (mountains, the beach, a busy street, you get the idea). My thought was to illustrate the different ways in which our world is being steadily depleted of its natural resources by inserting myself into those scenarios.

My first attempt to create a green screen failed. I picked up some yellow-green wrapping paper at a local Paper Source and lined my bedroom wall with it. When I took the footage against this paper and reviewed it afterward I realized the color was totally off (too much yellow would make it difficult to extract the background and not the pigmentation from my skin) plus the paper was too shiny. Sigh.

Example of baaaad green screen:

badgreenscreen.bmp

Then, on a whim, I took this ratty old green blanket that I bought at the Buena Vista several years ago (after one too many Irish coffees) and draped it over my sofa. I planted myself in front of it, took the video footage again and to my amazement was able to use what is known as "keying" to extract myself from the background, ultimately rendering a silhouette that could be placed anywhere!

Example of good (albeit cheap) green screen:

bettergreenscreen.bmp

Here's what it looks like when I swap out the green blanket for a cool background:

EKsnapshotrev.bmp

Having never done something like this before I had to quickly teach myself to use Adobe After Affects, a pro product that is not cheap and not easy to use. I was determined however, and I dedicated an entire weekend to learning it well enough to get the video I needed. I had written a "green song" and composed a music bed for it (using an application similar to GarageBand but for the PC). Here's the catch: After Affects does not support audio and the audio app I used does not support video. Hmm. Can you see where I'm going with this? Enter Easy Media Creator stage right.

After much ado getting my keying and backgrounds all lined up in After Affects I was able to output a video file that I could then easily import into Videowave (built into Creator). From there I added my original song to the project, created start and end screens and tightened up the transitions a bit so the track and the video were better aligned.

Let me just interrupt my own technical blather for a moment to say that I generally don't have the patience to do my own laundry, however, faced with this triumverate of digital media challenges I didn't even notice day turning into night then turning into day again. I was a mad scientist in my very own video lab. Waaahaaaahaaaa! (Evil laugh. Did I need to tell you that?)

I was one of only a few who entered this EarthKeeper contest (definitely the only music video). I think most might have been scared off by the prospect of trying to save the world. But on my whiteboard at work there is a two-columned matrix entitled "Carrie v The World." My colleague put that up there as a joke because I am always out to fight the good fight. Interestingly, with this latest venture, I think I'll have to add a column that reads "Carrie Saves The World!"

Check out my efforts below and let me know what you think. I can give you even more information about every painstaking point in the production process but ONLY if you ask.

Helpful hints:
1. Use that nifty tool "Paint" that hides under "Start menu, All Programs, Accessories" to modify, enhance or edit images for your production. It's easy to use and super helpful.
2. Don't forget about Lynda.com - an excellent resource for learning the latest tools and techniques in digital media, design, and development - all at your own pace.
3. Check out a super cool app called CamStudio. It's free and it will capture a video file of anything - other video files, an interesting web page, a cool banner ad you want to show someone else, etc. I used it for another project but I'll save that for my next article!
4. Most importantly, don't forget to have fun!

About Easy Media Creator

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to MyMoments in the Easy Media Creator category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Burning & Copy is the previous category.

Mobile is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.