YouTube and other online video sharing services are all the rage — getting plenty of attention along with some hefty lawsuits, such as Viacom's $1 billion complaint that YouTube has been allowing people to illegally post segments of the media company's copyrighted programs from MTV, Comedy Central and other channels.
While it's true that some users ignore YouTube's admonition: "Do not upload copyrighted material for which you don't own the rights or have permission from the owner" there are plenty of people posting their own video which is exactly what these services are designed for.
If you've ever been tempted to create your own video: take heart. It's not that hard, and if you have a PC or a Mac, chances are you have all the software you need. As far as a camera is concerned, all you need is a digital video (DV) camcorder, a webcam or even a cell phone or a digital still camera that takes video.
Recently, I've been using Movie Maker in Windows Vista to create videos for personal use and for CBSNews.com. Prior to that, I was using Movie Maker on Windows XP. My son Will uses iMovie, which is a highly acclaimed video editor for the Macintosh.
There are also a number of third party programs available including Studio from Pinnacle Systems and Video Wave, the video editing tool that comes with Roxio Easy Media Creator Suite, as well as some higher-end systems including FinalCut Pro for the Macintosh.
If you're using a DV digital video recorder, your computer needs to be equipped with a "firewire" (technically called a "1394" port) to connect your camcorder. All Macs have such a port as do many Windows PCs. If you have a PC without a firewire port, you can add one via an internal slot on a desktop machine or a PC card for a laptop. There are also some video cameras such as Pure Digital's Point-and-Shoot Camera that connect via a USB port. If you're capturing video with your still camera (many have a camcorder mode) you can transfer it to the PC via the USB port or a PC card reader that can copy the video from the camera's memory card.
If you're using a camcorder, Windows or Mac will load the appropriate software to let you capture the video as soon as you connect your camera to the computer. And while different editing programs have slightly different methods, just about all will attempt to divide your video into clips that you can then drag into a timeline or storyboard where you can trim them, split them or combine them. If you're using a still camera or USB video camera, your software will probably copy the video file to the computer, but your video editing program will have an import function that allows you to use that video.
About the hardest part of video editing is trimming and splitting, which you'll need to do to break up long video sequences or chop off unwanted material. Often you'll have to hunt around for a good place to start and stop the scene, and sometimes you'll want to be able to split a cut to take out material you don't need. One of the best ways to bore an audience is to create an overly long video that only parents, grandparents and loyal employees would ever dream of watching.
When you do cut, it's sometimes impossible to get a smooth transition between scenes. But just like the pros, you can make rough cuts invisible to the viewer by adding transitions between them that distract the viewer's attention during scene shifts. Movie Maker, for example, has dozens of available transitions including "wipes" that help to merge two disparate scenes.
Most programs also have special effects that can distort or enhance scenes. One of my favorite effects in Movie Maker, called "Ease in," makes it look as if the camera operator zoomed in on the shot. You can also "ease out" and pan so that it looks as if the camera were moving from side to side.
Some of these effects can not only enhance moving images but do wonders for slide shows. I've been using Movie Maker to create slide shows for both personal and professional use. The beauty here is that you don't have to even own a camcorder. You can import photographs, add an audio sound track and use some of the special effects to make it look as if your photos were almost videos. Use of the "ease in," "ease out" and pan, for example, create a cinematic effect with still pictures that can be quite impressive.
Because Movie Maker lets you add an audio track to your video, users have the option to drag a number of digital pictures to the program's timeline and then import a piece of music or your own audio narration. If you plan to post your creation to the Internet, be aware that you're not supposed to use copyrighted music on any video that you share with the public. What I like doing is to create my own narration, which I do by plugging a microphone into my PC's sound card, and just talking about the pictures. With a little finesse I'm able to get the sound track to follow exactly with the changes in the photos, providing a very nice effect.
I did one that chronicled by wife and my trip to Lake Louise in Canada where the photos roughly illustrated the narration. If you have access to an audio editing program such as Audacity (which you can download for free) or Adobe Audition, you can use that to create and edit your sound track, but you can also use Movie Maker's Narrate Timeline feature to add a narration to the show from within the program. iMovie has its own audio recording feature on Macs, or you could use GarageBand to create and edit an audio narration.
While it's unlikely that your creation will win you an Academy Award, it might be eligible for a YouTube Video Award. On March 25 the video sharing site owned by Google will honor some the more creative contributors to its service. It's too late to enter for this year's award — but there's always next year.
By Larry Magid