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Video Clipping

FIG. 2: Apple’s QuickTime Player application offers a variety of tools for creating and editing video clips and soundtracks.

The best way to begin is by developing your writing chops on short video clips, which you can acquire in various ways. If your computer system has an analog or digital video input, you can capture video segments from a VCR or DV camera. In addition, a variety of shareware utilities (called rippers) let you import video directly to your hard disk from an internal DVD player. Of course, a great many QuickTime movies are available to download from the Web—everything from dancing babies to hollywood movie trailers.

When my Berklee students express an interest in writing for picture, I always recommend that they first put together a 1- to 2-minute demo that shows off their best work. It’s best to start with a short but strong portfolio piece, rather than a longer sequence that may end up seeming incomplete or weak in areas. After knocking your audience dead with a hard-hitting opener, you can present a more involved piece that is 4 to 5 minutes long.

Ideally, you should tell a story with your score, support the video images, or fill in parts of a narrative with background ambience. It is particularly exciting and challenging to score a clip that moves through several different moods or invokes a variety of psychological states. To produce this effect, you must vary tempo, dynamics, and tone colors to create music that dramatically underscores the action onscreen. The point is to demonstrate your ability to skillfully tailor engaging musical scores to a director’s vision.

Bandwidth Blues
After you select a video clip to score, you should make a low-resolution reference version of it to use with your sequencer. Displaying full-screen, full-motion, full-color digital video places enormous demands on a computer’s processing power, much more so than digital audio. Red Book audio (16-bit, 44.1 kHz, stereo) requires about 10 MB of storage for each minute of sound, whereas broadcast-quality video demands a whopping 36 MB for each second. That’s an awful lot of data for the average desktop machine to move continuously from disk to video RAM.

FIG. 3: The Sound Track option in the Get Info dialog box lets you set a number of audio parameters such as volume, panning, and EQ.

You must cut the video bandwidth down to a reasonable rate (say, a few hundred kilobytes per second) if you want to use a video clip with your sequencer. This prevents excessive disk reads of enormous files, and it significantly reduces the load on your computer’s CPU, which must simultaneously run MIDI, audio, and QuickTime. Moreover, it must process everything smoothly and in sync. Fortunately, the Pro version of QuickTime Player provides many features specifically designed to create high-quality, low-bandwidth versions of QuickTime movies for reference and for posting on the Web.

You can squeeze a movie down in many ways, though each degrades the quality to a certain extent. You can remove unused data, reduce the frame size, decrease the graphics bit depth, and apply various compression algorithms.

First, take a look at what you’re starting with: open your video clip with QuickTime Player and choose Get Info from the movie menu. This opens a small window that presents a lot of detailed information about the movie and provides access to useful parameters. A pop-up menu in the upper left corner lists the tracks associated with the movie. In the upper right corner, another pop-up menu lets you view the parameters relevant to each type of track. The Movie option displays general performance data and copyright information. The Video Track option displays information about your clip’s screen size, color depth, frame rate, duration, bandwidth, compression, and other important details. The Sound Track option displays several important parameters such as sample rate, resolution, duration, compression scheme, and volume settings (see Fig. 3).


Reprinted with permission from Magazine, January, 2001
© 2001, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved

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