Making Movies

With the inclusion of Windows Movie Maker (WMM) in Windows XP and Windows Me, Microsoft follows Apple and its polished iMovie software into the world of consumer-grade digital video editing. But WMM is a very basic package aimed at beginners and, as such, probably won't offer much competition to high-end packages such as Adobe Premier. On the other hand, WMM's low bar of entry makes it ideal for getting your feet wet in the exciting—but confusing—world of digital video.

First, you need some hardware. This includes a video source—such as a camcorder, VCR, or DVD player, and a way to connect that source to the computer. The connection could be a USB dongle, such as Belkin's excellent Video Bus II, an IEEE-1394 (aka iLink or FireWire) card for a digital camera, a video card with video capture capabilities (ATI's Radeon is a good example), or a dedicated capture card or PCI card solution, such as the highly recommended Dazzle Digital Video Creator II. This last device is particularly interesting if you use an analog video source such as 8mm or VHS.

Regardless of the hardware you use, the goal is to capture some type of video onto the computer's hard drive and possibly edit that video into a finished movie you can send via email, post to the Web, or archive on a CD-ROM. This is where WMM enters the picture, and if you're not a video professional, this tool is ideal. It's easy to use, offers a relatively basic set of features, and, best of all, is included free with Windows. It has limitations, of course. WMM is limited to 320 x 240 resolution, too small for output to VHS.

But any video-editing package will bring some overhead along with it, and WMM is no exception. So before you get started, you should learn the language of video editing, WMM-style.

The Lingo In WMM parlance, the audio and video you're recording from the video source is considered source material. It can be a home movie from a camcorder, a VHS tape, a live TV show, an audio tape, or something similar. WMM uses audio/video capture hardware to import a source file from the video source. This file, which is stored locally on your hard drive, might be considered raw data because it's essentially unchanged from the original. But with WMM, you can take this raw source file, edit it, and combine it with other source files to create a finished movie. A WMM movie can consist of any combination of still images, audio, and video and is stored in a Windows Media format (Windows Media Audio—WMA or Windows Media Video—WMV). However, WMM can import a variety of media-format source files, including MP3 audio and MPG video. If you're interested in producing a movie in a different format (such as MPG), you need to use a different tool, such as Adobe Premier.

The WMM UI, which Figure 1 shows, is relatively straightforward and has three primary areas: collections, monitor, and workspace. You use the collections area to organize the still images, audio, and video that you combine to make finished movies. The monitor section lets you view video segments using a standard array of controls. And you edit your final movie in the workspace area at the bottom of the window. You can drag source files into this area to visually construct the movie, which you can display in storyboard or timeline format. We'll explore both formats in part two of this look at WMM.

WMM also lets you work with a variety of file types. WMM organizes each movie you create as a project (.mswmm). A project is analogous, vaguely, to a document in Microsoft Word. Specifically, a WMM project describes the various source files WMM uses to create a movie. After you've completed your project, you can also save it as a standalone movie file (.wmv) or audio file (.wma) that others can view or hear using Windows Media Player (WMP). WMM also has a collections file that contains information about your clip collections. Each time you import or record a video source, WMM breaks down the resulting source file into smaller clips and stores them in named collections within your project.

Importing and Editing

Next, let’s look at how you can use WMM to record video and audio in WMM; the techniques apply to the version of WMM found in both Windows XP and Windows Me.

The first step is to connect an external video source to your PC. (This example uses an analog camcorder and Belkin's USB-based Video Bus II.) The hardware details are relatively unimportant; whatever video source you use and however you connect it to your PC, you need to set up WMM so it knows to grab its audio and video from that source.

To set up WMM, launch the software and choose New, Project from the file menu to make sure you're working with a clean slate. Click Record to bring up the Record dialog box, where you can determine whether you're recording audio, video, or both; which device(s) you'll use; and other options. Make sure you select audio and video as the Record type and then choose the correct device (Video Bus II Audio for audio and Video Bus II Video for video).

In the Record dialog box, the Setting drop-down list will determine the recorded clip's quality. The options are based on the audio and video devices you select. Microsoft has created pre-set quality profiles (such as Video for Web servers—28.8 Kbps—and Video for Broadband NTSC—768 Kbps), but you can choose other if you want to fine-tune the results. In general, I like to choose the highest quality audio and video (through other—I like the source material to be of the highest possible quality). Later on, after you combine clips and other files and want to output final productions for various purposes (e.g., Web or email), you can choose to limit the quality. But it's good to start off with the best you can get.

After everything is set up correctly, press play on the camcorder, then press the Record button in the Record dialog box. You'll see the video playing in a preview window, and you can press the Stop button when you're finished recording. You don't have to worry about editing the source material; just grab the raw material with the understanding that you'll edit it into something more professional later.

When you press Stop, the Record dialog box closes, and WMM generates clips of your movie. Clips are logical sections of audio or, in this case, video that WMM automatically generates at specific break points; for video, this break point might be a scene change. The number of clips your video source generates depends on the video. WMM stores these clips in a new collection, which you can name—perhaps something such as First raw video source. WMM will ask you to save this source file to your hard disk, in My Videos by default.

You can now drag clips into the WMM Workspace—the area at the bottom of the screen that looks like a filmstrip. The Workspace displays in two modes: Storyboard (the default) or Timeline. The Storyboard view is the simpler of the two; it reserves one cell for each clip. You can drag the clips into the Workspace one at a time. If you want all the clips, just click the Collections area, press CTRL+A, and drag the clips into the Workspace.

Now you can play individual clips in the Preview window (select one and press the Play control under the Preview window) or play the entire set of clips in chronological order (Play Entire Storyboard/Timeline from the Play menu) to see how the raw footage looks. Before you begin to edit—where you add titles, wipes, and overdubbed audio—you should save your project. Remember that a WMM project consists of one or more collections. Your first (and only) collection currently consists of a single raw source file that WMM logically divides into clips. To save the project, select Save Project As from the File menu, choose a location for the project file, and give it a name. That's all there is to it.

Let's review the files you generated during this process. You saved the raw video footage as a Windows Media Video 8 (WMV 8) file. And you saved the WMM Project file with a MSWMM extension. The MSWMM file simply contains links to the source video(s) you worked with, the clips it generated, and the sequence of clips stored in the Workspace. In the future, you'll also add other file types, such as Windows Media Audio 8 (WMA 8) and bitmap files, to the project.

If you plan to work with a lot of videos, you might want to take a moment to consider file management. It's probably a good idea to create a subfolder for each project under My Videos so you can keep your projects and their related files separate from each other.

Editing Your Movie

Now I'll show you how to edit your video masterpiece into something you can show family and friends, and you'll discover how WMM creates videos of vastly differing qualities and file sizes. In this example, we'll be working with analog video captured with a USB-based dongle, which limits the resolution to 320 x 240. This resolution is fine for Web- and email-based video work. For a higher-resolution, fully digital production, you'll need a digital-video camcorder, a Firewire interface, and the version of Windows Movie Maker in Windows XP (the version in Windows Me is limited to 320 x 240 resolution regardless of the video source). But USB, any old analog video source, and either version of WMM are suitable for our work. The point is to get comfortable with the tools.

When you load WMM, be sure to load the project you created last time; even though the video clips and collections you previously created will load automatically, you'll lose any work you did in the Timeline/Storyboard area if you don't load the project. Now drag any clips you want in the final version of your video down to the Workspace area at the bottom of the screen. Click View, then Timeline to change the Workspace to Timeline view, as Figure 2 shows. This process gives you a time-based visual that's easier to work with when you want to make cuts and add titles and transitions.

Cutting Your Video

You need to cut, or crop, the raw video footage you previously recorded so that you retain only the parts you want. For this example, you'll crop footage from the beginning and end of the video, but you can go back and trim video wherever you like.

At the top of the Storyboard, you'll see a notched timeline, marked off in 10-second increments. If you click in this area, you can make the video monitor jump to specific frames in the project. First you need to find the very first second of video that will make it into the final movie. As you click in the Storyboard view, the cursor will change into a small up-arrow cursor and a vertical line will appear that delimits the point where you'll cut the video. After you find the point where you'd like the video to begin, choose Clip, then Set Start Trim Point, as Figure 3 shows, to delete the footage before that point.

Now perform the same task for the end point. When you find the correct point, choose Clip, then Set End Trim Point. To see the video as it now stands in its entirety, choose Play, then Play Entire Storyboard/Timeline.

Adding a Title

Every home movie deserves a good title. And although it isn't the most professional tool in the world, Windows has a perfectly workable solution: Microsoft Paint. Fire up Paint and create a bitmap image with a white background, using the Text tool to create a title (such as My First Home Movie). The trick is make sure that the image you create is the same resolution as the movie's final output; otherwise, you might see some ugly stretching in the final movie.

For our purposes, the resolution of the final video (and thus the title) is 320 x 240. Before you do anything else in Paint, type CTRL+E and set the resolution accordingly. Then create a title and save it into the same folder where your WMM project resides (hopefully somewhere under My Videos in My Documents). In this example, we'll call it title.bmp.

Now go back to WMM and choose Import from the File menu. Then navigate to the proper directory and choose title.bmp, which WMM will add to the list of clips in the current collection. You can drag this title down to the beginning of the Storyboard, before the video footage. By default, this process creates a title that sits onscreen for 5 seconds. If you choose Play, then Play Entire Storyboard/Timeline from the WMM menu, you can see how this looks, as Figure 4 shows.

Adding a Transition

The title works, but the transition from the title to the beginning of the video is rather jarring. You can add a cross-fade transition, which is the only type of transition WMM supports, to make this look better (more powerful products such as Adobe Premiere and Apple iMovie, which is Mac-only, support more diverse transitions).

Although the term cross-fade transition might seem technical, you already know what it is. This is the type of transition that occurs when the video and audio from one scene fade into the next. In WMM, you achieve a transition by simply dragging one clip in the Timeline into the clip next to it. By watching the time ticker at the top of the Timeline, you can control the length of time the fade lasts and where it begins in one clip and ends in the next.

Now you have a static title and a video segment, and you want to fade them into each other so that the title fades out as the video begins. First, click the Zoom In icon next to the Timeline to make it easier to see. Then select the video clip directly to the right of the title in the Timeline, then drag it to the left. As you do so, watch the time ticker to determine how far to drag it. For this first experiment, you might try dragging it 2 or 3 seconds to the left, so that it visually overlaps the title in the Timeline, as Figure 5 shows.

Choose Play, then Play Entire Storyboard/Timeline from the WMM menu. This time, the title will fade into the video—a smoother and more professional transition. You might also consider creating an end title and fading the end of the video segment into it. And here's a little trick: You can create black or white blank images and use them as transitions between two video clips. Experiment and you'll find that even a simple video tool like WMM is surprisingly powerful.

Saving the Movie

Now it's time to save the movie in a format you can view on the Web or send via email. You might want to save the movie a few times in different formats to see how the different settings affect the final product. To save the movie, click the cunningly named Save Movie button, which displays the Save Movie dialog box. You can choose a quality-setting template (Low quality, Medium quality, or High quality) or choose Other, then pick a Profile setting. What you see will vary from OS to OS; in Windows XP, WMM has more choices than it does in Windows Me. For now, just choose High Quality. Figure 6 shows the Save Movie dialog box.

In the Display information section of the dialog box, fill out the Title and other information, then click Save. WMM will prompt you to choose a location and a file name. Then the software will create your final movie and ask whether you'd like to watch it in Windows Media Player (WMP). Sit back and enjoy!

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