Digital Video: Pushing your NLE that little bit further

You know, digital video editing software has been going through some changes of late. It used to be the case that you'd have to part with embarrassingly large amounts of cash to get any kind of creative control over your video project, while a cheaper alternative would assume you wanted cheesy video effects instead of usable features. These days, budget titles have acquired increasingly sophisticated tools in an attempt to gain market share over their competitors - though cheese still plays a large part - and now occupy a mid-range market that previously didn't exist. This has left the software that comes free with your operating system or bundled with your new DVD burner/TV tuner/waffle toaster rushing to fill the entry-level space in a way that would make Henry David Thoreau say "See? I told you." (He came up with the phrase "nature abhors a vacuum", if you didn't already know).

Henry David Thoreau penned the phrase 'nature abhors a vacuum' and invented ridiculous facial hair. I may have made that last bit up.

Dub it up

One of the ways that software producers avoid souring the market for their high-end titles is by limiting their consumer non-linear editors (NLEs) to two video tracks (or less) - with the recent exception of Premiere Elements, which offers 99 video tracks for $179. However, there is a way you can get around this limitation and it's called overdubbing. Generally speaking, this term is used to describe adding an audio track to an existing recording, but the same technique can be applied to your video project, assuming you don't mind the extra work involved. I'll be creating a four-track picture-in-picture (PiP) composite using Ulead's VideoStudio 8 for this example, but the principle's the same for any editor with two video tracks. Unfortunately, this excludes Pinnacle Studio unless you've got the new Studio 9 Plus pack, which adds the additional video track you need. Before you start, however, here's a word of advice: don't use MPEG-2 files for overdubbing, as the constant re-encoding will make the end result look dreadful - use DV AVI files, or even uncompressed AVIs if your hard drive can take the strain.

The effect that I'm aiming for here is a video track with three PiP video overlays, each appearing in sequence, with an animated title over the top. I already have the four clips I want to use trimmed down to 10, 8, 6.5 and 5 seconds long, so the first step is to drop the main 10sec clip onto the main video track and then the 8sec clip onto the overlay track beneath it (See a screen shot). Note how the overlay clip is lined up with the end of the main clip, rather than the beginning. This means it will pop into view after two seconds and run until the end.

To change the default settings, I select the overlay clip then click on the Motion & Filter tab. This lets me manually adjust the size using the picture handles and dragging it to the top right corner, making sure I stay within the "title-safe guide" (the white box within the frame) as shown in this picture.

Go the extra mile

That's as much as VideoStudio will allow me to do for the moment, but I still have two other overlays and a title to add, so I export the timeline as a PAL DV file called pip1.avi, which VideoStudio automatically adds to the library pane. I can now replace the current clip on the timeline with pip1.avi, and the old overlay clip with my new 6.5sec clip. Moving the timeline cursor to a point where the preview shows my previous PiP, I can resize and reposition my second clip to suit the look I'm after (the same size as before, but positioned in the top centre of the screen), using the preview as a guide. I then export it as before, only this time calling it.

pip2.avi. I'll warn you now that there's usually a fair amount of trial and error to get the size/position right as software previews can be misleading, but stick with it. This process is repeated for my final, 5sec PiP, which I place in the top left of the screen.

Because VideoStudio has its own title track, I can also add my title at this point, before running my final export to give me the result you can see in this picture.. Admittedly, it's not as simple, convenient, or accurate as using a more advanced video editing package, but it's a handy trick to use if you want to stretch your creativity a little further than your NLE will normally let you.

COLOUR FILTERS

While I'm on the subject of getting more from your consumer NLE, here's another trick you can use with your two-track to make things look a bit swanky (it'll work on a multi-track editor, too). In whatever image editor you have installed, create a new image that's 720x576 pixels (the resolution of a single 4:3 PAL video frame). Use the gradient fill tool to create an image like the one shown in this picture and save it as a BMP or JPEG. Import this into your NLE and place it on the overlay track above your main video. By adjusting the transparency of the overlay track so that the underlying video shows through, you've got a graded filter effect, like the one in this picture.

It works best on relatively static scenes (landscapes in particular) as the filter becomes a little obvious when the camera position starts moving. It needn't be a graded filter, either; you can use the same technique for overall colour casts, too. For example, a dark blue filter can be used to create an impression of night time on footage that was shot during the day.

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Laurence Grayson

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