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Software and Equipment You Use

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Carla Cardello
Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 1:49:18 pm

I am in my first professional job with the opportunity to request new software and equipment. The guy before me had no video training, just a background in IS, so the company wanted someone with a video perspective. His latest videos are pretty decent, considering he's had four years to learn from mistakes, but there is also room for improvement. For example, he used Sony Vegas rather than Avid Xpress because Vegas is easier to learn. This is true after messing around with the program, but easy doesn't always means professional. There's a reason most job openings say "experience in Avid or Final Cut Pro." I think I've seen maybe two postings out of a few hundred that used Vegas.

I am an independent videographer for a manufacturing company, meaning I have nobody within the company to ask for video advice. Seeing as this is my first real job after college (graduated in May 2009), I don't have any "well when I worked at this company, we did this." Bad because I don't have any experience to fall back on, but good because I can pretty much do what I want (within budget and legal boundaries, of course).

The style of videos will be informational, mainly safety and training. Maybe some marketing videos, but my main goals are to produce new videos and update old ones. Trust me, a lot of the videos need work. With these types of videos, I have very limited creative freedom. I can have fun with the intro, ending, and transitions between topics, but everything else is straight-forward.

Equipment: I don't have too much of leeway because they recently ordered a new camera - Sony HDV 1080i. Never shot in HD, so that'll be something to learn. I also have a wide-angle lens because some of these machines are big and hard to get in one shot. I have a Lowell lighting kit. As for audio, I have a sound booth. Microphones look a
little limited (no lavs), but I'm not sure how much interviewing I'll be doing. One guy suggested maybe a green screen, but I don't know much about them except you need a lot of good lighting so the subject doesn't blend into the background.

Software: This is what I have now. There's Avid - Avid Xpress Studio, Avid FX, Avid 3D, and Avid DVD. Then there's Sony Vegas, DVD Architect, Pro Tools, Sorenson Squeeze, and Sonicfire Pro. Here is
what I'm thinking. There is an Adobe package called CS 5 Production Premium, found here http://www.adobe.com/products/creativesuite/production/

1. I know the main softwares in the editing industry are Final Cut Pro, Avid, and After Effects. I don't have a mac, so no FCP, so that leaves Avid. I'm guessing use Avid instead of Vegas because like I said earlier, who uses Vegas? My boss asked if I had the latest version of Avid Xpress. When I searched for the latest version, apparently Xpress is discontinued and was highly recommended to upgrade to Media Composer. Good idea? Or would I be sufficient enough with Xpress? It probably won't be awhile until I actually start editing, and by then I'd miss the budget deadline if I wait to see Xpress's potential.

2. After Effects. Pretty much every editor swears by it. I have Avid FX, which is supposedly the same concept, but should I bother learning it? I know the basics of AE because I taught myself via online tutorials. Still lots left to learn, but I at least know the potential of what I could be doing. My thinking is to go for it because if Avid FX was any good, wouldn't Avid editors be using it rather than having both Avid and Adobe? Another thing to consider is I don't have creative leeway. My videos are pretty much boring information. However, I have opportunities to liven things up a bit during the intro, ending, and transitions ("here are the five safety steps" and have text and background with five small video boxes at once rather than straight video shots. If that visual even makes sense). I know AE is more than just text or boxes flying. I can work with masks and probably some other features to enhance the video itself.

3. The Adobe Production Premium package has 9 softwares. I would use AE, Photoshop Extended (which lists video features, which looks way
cooler than plain PS), and possibly Illustrator for graphics. That leaves Premiere (won't use), Flash Catalyst (won't use), Flash Professional (very slight chance), Soundbooth (I have Pro Tools but could possibly use this), OnLocation (doubt it), and Encore (could use). It's actually cheaper to buy the package rather than just AE and PS, so I'll probably just get everything. Just wondering if you had any input on any of the software listed.

I am open to any advice you have, whether it's software, equipment, shooting, cool tricks, tips, or even about this being my first "real" job in general.

Thanks!


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Alan Lloyd
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 2:49:11 pm

Lots to talk about here.

First off, there are people who do very good work with Vegas, as well as Avid, Final Cut, and Premiere Pro. What you are seeing is the output of someone who is still not quite an editor, and it has more to do with storytelling and pacing than the particular tool used for the job.

After Effects is just that - effects. I would not like to try and cut a show in it, though it's incredibly useful for specific parts of shows.

The Premiere Pro you'd get with a full CS5 purchase is a very powerful and capable editing program - as much as anything in the market today. It also integrates very well with After Effects, Photoshop, and Encore - much better, in fact, than anything else out there will.

I think you'd find On Location useful with a bit of experience. You get your recording right there, as a file, without having to capture, plus having the monitoring and test instrumentation is a very strong positive - you can see if your signal and image are what you want them to be, and it also has good file management capabilities for sorting good and bad takes.

You mentioned nothing of lighting. It's critical, without it you're making radio. I'd look at getting a good number of smaller instruments, for this reason: If you're doing training video on various pieces of equipment, it's rare that you'd be showing the entire thing at once, other than for an intro and close. You'll be concentrating on specific parts, and highlighting them/achieving separation/visual definition is what you'll be looking for. It's amazing how useful small, easily mounted heads can be in those situations. Also look into a variety of different clamps and mounts for this purpose.

A greenscreen can be nice, if you have a lot of need to put someone into an environment you can't get them into in practical terms. The inside of a machine, perhaps? Here is where On Location will really help, as you will be able to see very clearly if your greenscreen is lit evenly and the exposure is correct. I would not make it a priority, though. Lighting, editing (both craft - first - and software), and audio for any narration would take precedence.

And do feel free to keep asking questions. If we don't ask questions, how will any of us ever find anything out?


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Mark Suszko
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 4:40:10 pm

There was no need to Diss Vegas: it is a very capable and format-agile tool in the hand of a skilled user.

I'm bothered a tad, Carla, that you're all over the map regarding which editing software to use, when you already seem to have at least two NLE's available. I'll say this about that: every NLE system out there can do a cut, a dissolve, a fade, layer some graphics. And that there is 99 percent of most video. You learn any one of them, you can transition to another one with little fuss. The technical pushing of the buttons to make cuts or dissolves is secondary to learning when and how *aesthetically* to make the cuts, to best tell the story. Nobody in an audience looks at a video or movie and says: "Oh, I can tell that was cut specifically on an AVID, because it was good". Doesn't work like that.

So what to pick?

What matters in choosing an NLE most, is to choose the one you feel most comfortable using, the one that seems most intuitive to you, the user. Because you will be spending a LOT of time using this package, you should use one that's fun and easy for your way of working. And the more you like it, the more time you spend with it, and thus the time leads to learning and experimenting and then to mastery and the more sophisticated skills. TIME is what makes you a better editor, not the specific tool. You are jumping around from Vegas to Adobe's complete suite to Avid and that doesn't make a lot of sense, practically or financially. Waste too much money for your boss, your ROI looks bad and the department can wind up outsourced.
The smarter play is to first analyze what kind of work you'll do most, predict what else will need to be done in the coming 2 years, then see which system supports those kinds of work best, while being comfortable for you to use.

You need to prove that it is cheaper to keep you in house, and you do that by improving the quality and turn-around time and solving their communications need, while keeping the costs low. The metrics for costs are easy to follow, as is turn-around time. The metric for proving you're doing it *better* is harder to define. You can do that with surveys and quizzess before and after the viewing, or by measuring some aspect of the work that should improve after the video is shown. For example, if you make a training video for call center operators that shows tricks of reducing the length of call sessions, you should be able to measure those sessions before and after and hopefully point to improved productivity after your video has been seen. Stuff like that, gets you raises and promotions or at least, survival.


You are going to need lav mics at some point, at least one hardwired lav should be on the wish list for purchases. If you train people to use software, a screen recording app like snapzpro or camtasia or similar, should be on the wish list. If you will be shooting people lecturing the audience, a prompter might be a good investment, though this may also be something you can rent a few times first to reduce costs.

Greenscreen is a handy tool to have, can get you out of a jam sometimes, but don't look for excuses to use it when you don't specifically need it. Remember ROI and the fact that green screen work adds time and expense to make it good, and you don't want to do anything that's not good.

What's in your Lowel light kit now? Got a Rifa softbox? I love those things, quick and easy to make interviews look good anywhere.

The other thing you brought up that caught my attention was the fatalistic description of what products you have to make. We can discuss wish lists of tech gear all day here, but really, the number one thing you can do to improve corporate media projects is to improve the WRITING of the scripts, the structure of the programming. A crappy script, shot in high def, is still not worth watching. And it is at the scripting stage that the most improvements can be made at the lowest cost in time and thus money. This is where I shill for my friend John Morley's book on corporate scriptwriting. If you can get some control over the process of shaping the project and scripting it better, everything else falls into place from that point forward, and your results will be outstanding.

Let the unskilled keep stumbling on making bad, boring scripts, and their frustration with you will slowly build. TV is magic, you know; you just press a button or invoke some menu, and it's all instantly complete as well as entertaining and good quality. That's how civilians think about it... if they think about it at all.

When their badly-structured messages go thru your tech process and still come out weak, even though that's not your fault, you and your department will be the easy scapegoat, not them. Sieze more control over the pre-production aspects of the work, and you will get better control over your own destiny in the department. This is not easy, it takes a lot of diplomacy and incremental improvements, so as to not insult the clients while at the same time educating them and selling them on the idea that your two cents really matter to achieving their goal. They are the content experts, but that doesn't automatically equate to them being expert in how to best present their information. That's what they pay you for. Be their consultant, their resource, their intermediary; try to offer help early in the process, help guide the formation of the creative treatment. That's the overall key. Solving the communications problem effectively. Everything else is just a means to that end. And you will also get more personal fulfillment out of the job if you do it this way.


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Noah Kadner
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 6:09:58 pm

Carla- Creative Cow is a public board that Google indexes daily. In the future you might want be a little less candid about your job and co-workers. Just a suggestion...

Noah

Check out my book: RED: The Ultimate Guide to Using the Revolutionary Camera!
Unlock the secrets of 24p, HD and Final Cut Studio with Call Box Training. Featuring the Sony EX1 Guidebook, Panasonic HVX200, Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon 7D.
Learn DSLR Cinematography.


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Alan Lloyd
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 9:50:11 pm

Mark said:

Nobody in an audience looks at a video or movie and says: "Oh, I can tell that was cut specifically on an AVID, because it was good". Doesn't work like that.


Sad but true: I was in (correspondence) discussions on something a few years ago and the "other folks" were mentioning, in the midst of their endless, semi-grinder-y circumlocution, that they wanted HD.

Iffy project going in, but what the hey...

(Me): OK, fine, what are you looking for? P2? HDV? Something else?

(Other dude): "Well, we're using Final Cut Pro, so HDV won't do."

(Me): Says nothing further, discontinues discussion with sanity intact.

They are out there.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 9:53:48 pm

I would be rich if I got paid for every time I had to explain to someone that 16 by 9 letterboxing an SD video does not make it HD.


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Carla Cardello
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 10:46:39 pm

Yes, I know I'm all over the map, which is why I was posting for advice. There is so much available, so why do people use what they use? Obviously preference, but didn't know if so-and-so couldn't do this with software x but could in software y. Just doing some research.

I didn't go into detail about the products and scripting because that wasn't what I was asking about, but here's more info. I was hired to do training and safety videos. Not sure how much control over scripting I'll have. What I mean by that is yes I'll have control over what goes with which shots, how long something should be, what order I want things, etc. But especially with safety videos, legal gets involved. A lot. You can't simply just "climb" into a machine. It's something like "enter the machine using the three-point contact method." Then there are certain paragraphs that must be at the beginning of every video. Then as far as content, I will be told what needs to be in the video in order to properly train someone. I may have some leeway in wording, but it all goes back to legal. I'll fight for as much control in scripting as I can, but I also have to make legal happy. I do know I will be writing the scripts myself. I just have to get it approved. A lot.


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Carla Cardello
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 10:19:56 pm

Yea I know After Effects is effects. I figured I could use it for text and maybe even masks and lighting. I have a lot left to learn with it, but I do know the basics with keyframes and such.

Hmm I thought I mentioned lighting? Whoops. I have two lighting kits. One old one and one brand new one. I have found an array of random clips throughout the office, and your idea is a good one. I was actually thinking of playing around with the lighting in the editing process. For example, if there is a control panel, maybe highlight what the narrator is talking about.


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Alan Lloyd
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 10:49:55 pm

My error - you mentioned a Lowel kit kind of in passing.

Highlighting you can do in post, but there's nothing like a streak or splash of light to turn a flat slab of painted metal into something nicely textured, and you don't have to roto around someone's hand pointing at something.

It also offers very nice separation between planes in an image, creating depth where it may not be apparent.

I have become a real fan of the little Lowel "L-lights" - they have doors and can take a standard screw base, so you can use the 100 watt MR-16 screw base lamps they're designed for, or a regular 20-100 watt bulb, or (because they have ceramic sockets) a 300W photoflood in a China ball for soft, flattering daylight. They're very small, and will go just about anywhere. I have three in my basic kit, along with two 300W Arri Fresnels, an Arri 150, a 650W open-face with both doors and a Chimera ring, and a Tota with a ring. I use them as accents in interviews, and for small splashes on a web-based adult-oriented vampire puppet show I work on as a "labor of love" project. One of those on a Cardellini will go almost anywhere.


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grinner hester
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 7:59:20 pm

MC5 has some nice features. It'd be worth venturing into. You'll need After Effects. Every Avid editor leans on After Effects as Avid has not updated their DVE since the first MC 5 was realesed more than 15 years ago. I know they have Avid FX but it's hardly worth messing with, especially since you'll be getting After Effects.
You can throw some cool plgins on After Effects too, giving you 3D capabilities without having to buy a 3D app. You'll always be extruding, bevelling and lighting logos. You'll dig being able to do this in After Effects. I recomend Sapphire effects for your Avid. Lots of bang for the buck.
And speaking of bang for the buck, step back and rething going the mac route with FCP and Motion. good stuff.



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Mark Suszko
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 9:30:17 pm

It's less about the hardware, Grinner, than it is about the wetware.
The driver's the biggest difference between any two race cars on any given day of racing, I think you'd agree.


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Noah Kadner
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 11:27:36 pm

"It's less about the hardware, Grinner, than it is about the wetware.
The driver's the biggest difference between any two race cars on any given day of racing, I think you'd agree."

Careful- that's contrary to the 'conventional wisdom' in this biz...

Noah

Check out my book: RED: The Ultimate Guide to Using the Revolutionary Camera!
Unlock the secrets of 24p, HD and Final Cut Studio with Call Box Training. Featuring the Sony EX1 Guidebook, Panasonic HVX200, Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Canon 7D.
Learn DSLR Cinematography.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 11:40:02 pm

I claim to be neither.


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Carla Cardello
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 11:31:15 pm

So that's why Avid editors use AE. Didn't know that. Kinda wondered since there was Avid FX.

I would love to get a mac, but I doubt they'll let me do a complete system change. Would be nice though!


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Mark Suszko
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 20, 2010 at 11:59:56 pm

Premiere is available on either platform, mac or PC. At this moment, though I rock FCStudio on an octo-core, I would have to admit the latest Adobe bundled package is superior on a feature for feature basis. Doesn't mean I'm going out to buy it tomorrow, though. And superiority claims in these things are like tides; they come and go.

Frankly, if I were her, I'd probably stick with the existing edit systems that are already paid for, until there was a compelling reason to upgrade or change. Like ability to compress for web, or use a specific needed codec. For plain vanilla training vids, probably the technical priority should be to streamline workflow and shorten the turn-around time to delivery. That may suggest updates to the storage drives. Shooting with the HD camcorder is going to up your storage needs over SD production. Do you have sufficient scratch drive space and ram for the computer you have? How fast can you crunch a file to put it online or to make a DVD? These are more pressing issues in a corporate setting.

The HD camera will show more flaws in a shot than SD, so better lighting and better shot composition and art direction are going to become needs.

As someone who spends a lot of time making the equivalent of corporate training vids like this, and has for over 20 years, I take exception when people assume there's nothing "creative" you can do with them. If you have the right idea, you'd be surprised at what the clients will support, as long as it achieves the communication goal. Even on the worst example, the most constrained and limited thing they hand you; there is room to innovate *something* that elevates the material, even just a little bit. When people act like training has to be boring, it's because they've given up thinking about how to make it better. This is not a knock at anybody in particular, I just feel I have to defend my genre' a little bit from some stereotypical thinking.



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Alan Lloyd
Re: Software and Equipment You Use
on Jul 21, 2010 at 1:11:36 pm

Is there a turbo-encabulator in her future?


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