Understanding timecode

on Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A video image is actually a series of still frames that flash rapidly by on-screen. Every frame is uniquely identified with a number called a timecode. All stored locations and durations of all the edits you perform on a movie project use timecodes for reference points, so a basic understanding of timecode is important. You’ll see and use timecode almost every time you work in a video-editing program like Pinnacle Studio or Apple iMovie. Timecode is often expressed like this:

hours : minutes : seconds :frames

The fourteenth frame of the third second of the twenty-eighth minute of the first hour of video is identified as:


You already know what hours, minutes, and seconds are. Frames aren’t units of time measurement, but rather, the individual still images that make up your video. The frame portion of timecode starts with zero (00) and counts up to a number determined by the frame rate of the video. In PAL video, frames are counted from 00 to 24 because the frame rate of PAL is 25 frames per second (fps). In NTSC, frames are counted from 00 to 29. The NTSC and PAL video standards are described in greater detail in Chapter 3. “Wait!” you exclaim. “Zero to 29 adds up to 30, not 29.97.”

You’re an observant one, aren’t you? As mentioned in Chapter 3, the frame rate of NTSC video is 29.97 fps. NTSC timecode actually skips the frame codes 00 and 01 in the first second of every minute, except every tenth minute. Work it out (you may use a calculator), and you see that this system of reverse leap-frames adds up to 29.97 fps. This is called drop-frame timecode. In some video-editing systems, drop-frame timecode is expressed with semicolons (;) between the numbers instead of colons (:).

Thus, in drop-frame timecode, the fourteenth frame of the third second of the twenty-eighth minute of the first hour of video is identified as


Why does NTSC video use drop-frame timecode? Back when everything was broadcast in black and white, NTSC video was an even 30 fps. For the conversion to color, more bandwidth was needed in the signal to broadcast color information. By dropping a couple of frames every minute, there was enough room left in the signal to broadcast color information, while at the same time keeping the video signals compatible with older black-and-white TVs.

Although the punctuation (for example, colons or semicolons) for separating the numerals of timecode into hours, minutes, seconds and frames is fairly standardized, some videoediting programs still go their own way. Pinnacle Studio, for example, uses a decimal point between seconds and frames. But whether the numbers are separated by colons, decimals, or magic crystals, the basic concept of timecode is the same.

Trimming out the unwanted parts


Professional Hollywood moviemakers typically shoot hundreds of hours of footage just to get enough acceptable material for a two-hour feature film. Because the pros shoot a lot of “waste” footage, don’t feel so bad if every single frame of video you shot isn’t totally perfect either. As you preview your clips, you’ll no doubt find bits that you want to cut from the final movie. The subject scratches his lip for a few moments at the beginning of the clip, which would be fine, except that it kind of looks like he’s picking his nose. We can’t have that in the final movie. Besides, the clip is about 11 seconds long, and we really only need about five seconds or so.
The solution is to trim the clip down to just the portion you want. The easiest way to trim a clip is to split it into smaller parts before you place it in your movie project:
  1. Open the clip you want to trim by clicking it in the browser, and move the play head to the exact spot where you want to split the clip. Use the playback controls under the preview window to move the play head. If you’re using the Scene 2 sample clip, place the play head about four seconds into the clip. If you’re using Pinnacle Studio, the timecode will actually read about 0:00:16.20 because the timecode is for the entire sample file and not just the selected clip.
  2. In Pinnacle Studio, right-click the clip in the browser and choose Split Scene from the menu that appears. In Apple iMovie, choose Edit➪Split Video Clip at Playhead. You now have two clips where before you had only one.
  3. To split the second clip again, choose the second clip by clicking it in the browser and move the play head about five seconds forward in the clip. Again, in Pinnacle Studio the timecode will actually read about 0:00:21.20 because the timecode displayed is for the entire sample file.
  4. Repeat Step 2 to split the clip again. You will now have three clips created from the one original clip. Splitting clips like I’ve shown here isn’t the only way to edit out unwanted portions of video. You can also trim clips once they’re placed in the timeline of your movie project. But splitting the clips before you add them to a project is often a much easier way to work because the unwanted parts are split off into separate clips that you can use (or not use) as you wish. In the next section, I show you how to add clips to the timeline or storyboard of your editing program to actually start turning your clips into a movie.

Don’t worry! Trimming a clip doesn’t delete the unused portions from your hard drive. When you trim a clip, you’re actually setting what the video pros call in points and out points. The software uses virtual markers to remember which portions of the video you chose to use during a particular edit. If you want to use the remaining video later, it’s still on your hard drive, ready for use. If you want, you can usually unsplit your clips that you have split as well. In Pinnacle Studio, hold down the Ctrl key and click on each of the clips that you split earlier.
When each clip is selected, right-click the clips and choose Combine Scenes. Unfortunately, Apple iMovie doesn’t have a simple tool for recombining clips that you have split. If you just split a clip, you can undo that action by choosing Edit➪Undo or pressing Ô+Z.

Previewing clips


As you gaze at the clips in your clip browser, you’ll notice that a thumbnail image is shown for each clip. This thumbnail usually shows the first frame of the clip; although it may suggest the clip’s basic content, you won’t really know exactly what the clip contains until you actually preview the whole thing. Previewing a clip is easy: Just click your chosen clip in the browser, and then click the Play button in the playback controls of your software’s preview window.
As the clip plays, notice that the play head under the preview window moves. You can move to any portion of a clip by clicking-and-dragging the play head with the mouse.
As you preview clips and identify portions you want to use in your movies, you’ll find precise, frame-by-frame control of the play head is crucial. The best way to get that precision is to use keyboard buttons instead of the mouse. If you’re using different editing software, check the manufacturer’s documentation for keyboard controls.

As you can see, some controls are fairly standardized across many different video-editing applications. In fact, the Spacebar also controls the Play/Stop/Pause function in professional-grade video editors like Adobe Premiere and Apple Final Cut Pro.
If you don’t like using the keyboard to try to move to just the right frame, you may want to invest in a multimedia controller such as the SpaceShuttle A/V from Contour A/V Solutions (www.contouravs.com). This device connects to your computer’s USB port and features a knob and dial that you can use to precisely control video playback. It’s so much easier than using the mouse or keyboard, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without one!

Organizing clips


Virtually all video-editing software stores clips in a grid-like area called a clip browser or album. Apple iMovie and Pinnacle Studio further subdivide clips by content. Each program has separate browser panels for video clips, audio clips, and still images. In Studio, you can access these panels using tabs along the left side of the clip browser or album, as it is called in Pinnacle’s documentation. In iMovie, you can access the panels using buttons at the bottom of the clip browser or pane, as Apple’s documentation calls it.

The clip browser doesn’t just store your clips, it also tells you some important information about them. One of the most important bits of info is the length of the clip. If you’re using the sample clips from the CD-ROM, you’ll notice the numerals 19.04 or 19:04 next to Scene 5. This tells you that the clip is 19 seconds and four frames long. If you don’t see names or lengths listed next to clips in the Studio clip browser, choose Album➪Details View. A video image is actually made up of a series of still images that flash by so quickly that they create the illusion of motion. These still images are called frames. Video usually has about 30 frames per second. The clip also has a name, of course, and you can change the name if you wish. If, for example, you think that “Bridge” would be a more descriptive name than “Scene 5,” click the clip once, wait a second, and then click the clip’s name once again. You can then type a new name if you want. When you’re done typing a new name, just press Enter or click in an empty part of the screen.

If you have a lot of clips in the browser, they might not all fit on one screen. In iMovie, simply scroll down (using the scroll bar on the right) to see more clips. In Pinnacle Studio, you can select different groups of clips from the menu at the top of the browser. If there are too many clips in a group to fit on a single page all at once, you can click the arrows to view additional pages.
In iMovie’s clip browser, you can manually rearrange clips by dragging them to new empty blocks in the grid. You can move the clips wherever you want. This handy feature allows you to sort clips on your own terms, rather than just have them listed alphabetically or in some other arbitrary order.

Working with Clips

on Friday, August 15, 2008

As you make movies, you’ll quickly find that “clip” is the basic denomination of the media that you work with. You’ll spend a lot of time with video clips, audio clips, and even still clips (you know, those things that used to be called “pictures” or “photos”).
A still clip usually consists of a single picture; an audio clip usually consists of a single song or sound effect; and a video clip usually consists of a single scene. A scene most often starts when you press the Record button on your camcorder, and ends when you stop recording again, even if only for a second. When you import video from your camcorder, most video-editing programs automatically detect these scenes and create individual clips for you. As you edit and create your movies, you’ll find this feature incredibly useful.

Starting a New Editing Project


Your first step in working on any movie project is to actually create the new project. This step is pretty easy. In fact, when you launch your video-editing program, it will usually start with a new, empty project. But if you need to create a new project for some reason or just want to be sure that you’re starting from a clean slate, choose File➪New Project. No matter if you’re using Apple iMovie, Pinnacle Studio, or almost any other video-editing program —a new, empty project window should appear.

After you have a new project started, your first step is usually to capture or import some video so you have something to edit. If you have some video to capture. Captured video will appear as clips in the clips pane (in iMovie) or the Album (in Studio), where it will be ready to use in your movies.
If you don’t have any video of your own to import or capture right now, you can still practice editing using sample videos from the CD-ROM that accompanies this book. If you plan to use those sample clips, insert the disc into your CD-ROM drive. To import the sample clips using Pinnacle Studio on a PC, follow these steps:
  1. Click the Edit view mode tab or choose View➪Edit to ensure that you’re in Edit mode. If this is the first time you’ve used Studio, you’ll probably see the sample clips from Pinnacle’s Photoshoot sample movie.
  2. Click the Select Video Files button in the clip browser The generic Open File window common to virtually all Windows programs appears.
  3. Browse to the folder Samples\Chapter8.
  4. Choose the newport file and click Open. The file is imported; Studio should automatically detect five scenes in the movie. If you’re using a Mac, import the clips into iMovie by following these steps:
    • Open iMovie and choose File➪Import. The generic Open File dialog box common to virtually all OS X programs appears.
    • Browse to the folder Samples\Chapter8 on the CD-ROM.
    • Click-and-drag over all five scene clips to select them and then click Open.

The five clips will be imported and will appear in the Clip browser. The Macintosh-compatible sample files on the CD are in Apple QuickTime format. If you’re using Apple iMovie, you need version 3 or higher of iMovie to import QuickTime-format video files.

After you have imported the clips, I recommend that you save and name the project by clicking File➪Save Project. Saving early is important because it not only preserves your work, but it is also required before you can perform certain editing tasks later on.

Basic Editing


By themselves, digital video cameras aren’t that big a deal. Sure, digital camcorders offer higher quality, but the video quality of analog Hi8 camcorders really wasn’t too bad. Digital video doesn’t suffer from generational loss (where some video quality is lost each time the video is copied or even played) like analog video does, but again, this isn’t something that should motivate millions of people to instantly trash their old analog camcorders.

But video editing . . . now, that’s cool. Until recently, high quality video productions with special effects, on-screen titles, and fancy transitions between scenes were magical productions made by pros using equipment that cost hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars. But thanks to the dual revolutions of digital camcorders and powerful personal computers, all you need for pro-quality video production is a computer, a digital camcorder, a little cable to connect them both, and some software. Within just a few mouse clicks, you’ll be making movie magic!

Ripping MP3 files in Windows


As I mention earlier, the process of turning audio files into MP3 files is sometimes called encoding or ripping. Microsoft provides a free audio-player program called Windows Media Player — WMP for short. It comes with Windows, and you can download the latest version from www.windowsmedia.com. Like Apple’s iTunes for the Macintosh, WMP allows you to copy music from audio CDs to your hard drive in a high-quality (yet compact) format. Unfortunately, as delivered, WMP does not rip files in MP3 format. Instead, it uses the Windows Media Audio (WMA) format.
Windows Media files are about as small as MP3 files, but it’s a proprietary format: Most video-editing programs (including Pinnacle Studio) cannot import WMA files directly. If you want to import music from CDs into a Studio movie project, it’s better to copy the music directly from within Studio.

If you really want to be able to copy music onto your hard drive in MP3 format, you’ll have to obtain commercially available MP3 encoding software. Such programs are available at most electronics stores, and you can also download software from Web sites such as www.tucows.com. I use a tool called CinePlayer from Sonic Solutions (www.cineplayer.com). This $20 tool works as a plug-in for Windows Media Player in Windows XP, and allows WMP to both encode MP3 files and play DVD movies. After it’s installed, I simply open Windows Media Player and choose Tools➪Options.
Then, on the Copy Music tab of the Options dialog box,
I can choose MPEG Layer-3 Audio in the Format drop-down box, and adjust quality settings as I see fit. The MPEG Layer-3 option is available here only because I have the CinePlayer plug-in installed. With these settings, WMP uses the MP3 format instead of WMA when I copy music to my hard disk.

How to Rip MP3 files on a Mac?


The process of turning an audio file into an MP3 file is sometimes called ripping or encoding. Apple has thoughtfully provided the capability to create MP3 files with its free audio-library-and-player program, iTunes. To download the latest version of iTunes, visit www.apple.com/itunes/ and follow the instructions there. After iTunes is installed on your computer, copying audio onto your hard drive in MP3 format is quite simple:
  1. Insert an audio CD into your CD-ROM drive.
  2. If iTunes doesn’t launch automatically, open the program using the Dock or your Applications folder.
  3. With the iTunes program window active choose iTunes➪Preferences. The iTunes Preferences dialog box opens.
  4. Click the Importing button at the top of the Preferences dialog box.
  5. Make sure that MP3 Encoder is selected in the Import Using menu, and then click OK. The iTunes Preferences dialog box closes and you are returned to the main iTunes window.
  6. Place check marks next to the songs you want to import. You can use the playback controls in the upper-left corner of the iTunes window to preview tracks.
  7. Click Import in the upper right corner of the iTunes screen.The songs are imported; the process may take several minutes. When it’s done, the imported songs are available through your iTunes library for use in iMovie projects.

Working with MP3 Audio


MP3 is one of the most common formats for sharing audio recordings today. MP3 is short for MPEG Layer-3, and MPEG is short for Motion Picture Experts Group, so really you can think of MP3 as an abbreviation of an abbreviation. I’m sure that in a few years an MP3 file will simply be called an “M” or “P” (or maybe even a “3”) file — but whatever their collective nickname, MP3 audio files are likely to remain popular.

The MP3 file format makes for very small files — you can easily store a lot of music on a hard drive or CD — and those files are easy to transfer over the Internet. Who am I kidding? You probably already know all about MP3 files. You might even have some MP3 files already stored on your computer. If so, using those MP3 files for background music in your movie projects is really easy:
  • In iMovie: Pull MP3 files directly from your iTunes library into iMovie, using the procedure described earlier in this chapter for importing CD Audio. Simply choose iTunes from the pull-down menu at the top of the audio pane.
  • In Studio: Choose Album➪Sound Effects to show the sound-effects album. Click the folder icon and browse to the folder on your hard drive that contains the MP3 files you want to use.
When a list of MP3 files appears in the album, simply drag-and-drop them on the background music track of your timeline. Storing audio on your hard disk is handy because the audio will be easier to plop into your movie projects. MP3 is a great format to use because the audio sounds about as good as CD audio, but it takes up a lot less storage space. If you’re not sure how to copy music from audio CDs onto your hard disk in MP3 format — the process of converting audio to the MP3 format is often called encoding or ripping — check out the next two sections.