Video Montages Tech Talk Tutorial – Part I

Embarking on your first journey to create a video montage for a wedding, bar or bat mitzvah, sweet 16 or quincea├▒eras can at first seem like an exciting adventure, a journey out west to new lands that seem open and inviting…

And then you encounter those hostile terms.

4:3; 16:9; widescreen; complete screen; NTSC; PAL; dpi; fps; drop frame; non-drop frame; hi-def; standard-def; import; export; HDMI; RCA; S-Video; part In/Out; Mpeg4; Quicktime; WAV, oh my!

The words, numbers and foreign jargon come flying at you in a way that will make your head spin!

Fortunately, this Thanksgiving, I’m here to help you make peace with the foreign terms; help you sit around the video montage presentation table with the abbreviations, numbers and terms as friends, ready to speak technical talk fluently. Or, at the minimum well enough to know how to pass the stuffing.

In this first part of the series, I will focus on getting you started and on your way to creating the montage itself, and save the editing, mastering and projection discussion for the continuing series of tutorials.

So, roll up your sleeves and get your pencils or keyboards ready!

No matter what software you use to create your video montage presentation, one of the first things you may encounter is a choice between NTSC or PAL. Here in the U.S., most systems will automatically set you up in NTSC, with PAL being a choice that you can change to. Don’t. Unless you are creating this montage to be played for someone in a country outside of the United States, you want to stay in NTSC. This is the system of video that was produced here decades ago when television and the broadcast system was invented.

The American engineers developed standards to make equipment compatible and have maintained these standards by the evolving film and video industry and its regularly improving product lines of cameras, television, broadcasting equipment (cable, satellite) and software delivery systems such as VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, etc. Way back then, the Europeans followed after the U.S., developing their system of television in a similar manner, improving some of the standards slightly, though the difference is comparatively inconsequential. For example instead of 24 frames-per-second (fps), their cameras run at 25 fps. The difference only serves to make equipment incompatible, which you may have noticed if you’ve travelled oversea and attempted to play a DVD in a foreign DVD player. It don’t work, homie!

The next choice you will probably encounter is whether or not to set up your project in 4:3 or 16:9. Your system may also ask this question in another way, such as complete-screen or widescreen. 4:3 and complete-screen are in this case essentially interchangeable, and the same is true with 16:9 and widescreen.

To explain this simply, 4:3/complete-screen will create your video montage project in closer to a square shape, the kind of shape that older TVs come in, while 16:9/widescreen will create your project in more of a rectangle shape, the kind of shape of new televisions where it is wider, more similar to a movie theatre screen.

Here’s the thing. For video montage presentations either choice is permissible.

You may be thinking, “Well, I want to go 16:9 just like my beautiful widescreen hi-def television. I’m of the present, nay the future, not stuck in the past with an old TV that’s got rabbit ears sticking out of it.

Well, keep up on a second there, partner.

How you make your choice is best determined based on the material you are employing for the montage. Most likely, 4:3/complete-screen is truly going to be a better choice for you more often than not, and I’ll tell you why. If you are working with historical video footage that has been shot over the years, most or all of that footage will have been produced 4:3/complete screen. So if you set up your project in widescreen, you are either going to simply add those black bars on the sides, or have the image stretched out across to fill the wider screen, resulting in your wife looking fatter, which is certainly not going to help your relationship.

The same basically holds true for photographs. Most photographs you will be working with for a montage are closer to the 4:3 format than 16:9, though a bit of cropping will be required for either. The cropping gets more challenging for 16:9 however when a photograph was shot portrait-style, i.e. taller in your hand like a person standing, instead of wider. Picture frames often come ready to stand on your table either way to adjust to which way the camera was turned when it took the shot. For a montage, when it’s a portrait photograph, if you want to see the whole photograph, you will have lots of black space on either side – and already more with 16:9 than 4:3.

But if you are creating a montage relying mostly on newly shot video, captured with a hi-def video camera, then chances are the footage is already widescreen – or as you would correctly say, “natively” 16:9. In this case, then choose widescreen for your format, also known as the aspect ratio. The photographs will be fine cropped to this size, and with the portrait shots you can either crop a 16:9 section out of the shot, or deal with the black bars.

Don’t worry – whichever format you choose, your montage will nevertheless play fine on all televisions, projectors and on the internet. The shape will be modificated in slightly different ways to adjust to how it is being displayed.

This format issue brings us to your next choice. Hi-def or standard def. Once again, you may be thinking you want to create your montage hi-def so that everyone can see just how good looking your family really is…every smile, wink and dimple.

But the same questions nevertheless apply.

Is the source material you are working with hi-def? This question is mostly geared toward the video footage, because the photos can be high resolution and look dramatically in high-definition, assuming they were originally shot high resolution on a digital camera, or scanned from a print at a high-resolution, which in this case is known as dpi or dots-per-inch (with the higher the number dpi, the higher the resolution). If the video footage was not shot high-definition, but rather standard definition – (essentially good quality prior to hi-def) it will not get any better looking if you create your project in hi-def. In fact, it could look worse if it gets stretched to fill the widescreen format that hi-def requires. Some televisions and dvd players tout their ability to “up-rez” to high definition, but the reality is your video image is never going to enhance in quality, it can only, at best, continue that quality when blown up to a bigger size.

The other drawback to editing your montage in hi-def, is it will require more memory and a faster, stronger computer to course of action the data while you are working. This can truly slow down your editing course of action and rule to a higher level of frustration. How new is your computer, and how fast is the processor?

So if your video is standard definition video, it probably makes more sense to create your montage “standard def.” When later in this article series I cover the projection of your montage at a live event, this same discussion will have its final conclusion in the manner of projection that best matches how the montage was produced – as far as aspect ratio and hi-def/standard def. Suffice it to say, if you are going to project your montage from a standard DVD, it can’t be high-def anyway.

And if you plan on uploading the montage to be watched on YouTube, once again standard def is going to be high-enough quality and in fact will most likely be down-rezzed from there! Once you go high-def, you have to go all the way and follow it by to the finished product and presentation to enjoy the benefits, otherwise you just wasted your time fretting over hi-def for nothing! Remember, already if you are doing a simple photo montage with no video footage, you have to think of the end-game which is projecting this at your event, and the project must be set up appropriately depending on how it will be shown.

Your editing system may also give you a choice of audio settings. Some do, some don’t. If you need to choose between non-drop-frame and drop-frame (which affects both video and audio), select drop-frame as this is most likely the better choice for most video applications that don’t require you working with material shot on actual film i.e. 35mm or 16mm motion picture film. The other audio setting choices may be a choice between 48K or 32K, 16 bit or 12 bit. All are permissible, however, given the options, I would recommend choosing 48K and 16bit. instead of giving a technical explanation on this, I suggest you just nod your head, and take my advice. On the more home-based non-specialized systems (that may work fine for your purposes,) these choices may not already come up.

Your project is now set up, you are most likely working in NTSC and have chosen either 4:3/complete-frame or 16:9/widescreen and you are ready to start creating your montage. Before you start channeling your inner Steven Spielberg, though, you have to first get the material into your project. Namely, the nevertheless photographs and video footage, and on most systems this will be a variation of the term “import.” A shared thread for video import is the ability of most video cameras to connect directly to your computer via a firewire cable, allowing a straight import of the video footage into your project.

If the footage was produced digitally, then a conversion of the digital files to the necessary format for your editing system will also be a function of importing. Each system will have its slightly rare manner of doing this, with PC systems and Mac-based software tackling this in their own way, and unfortunately this series would become unwieldy to explain all the different programs out there and the different configurations to get your material loaded and/or easy to reach.

So, like following along with a Julia Childs cooking show, you’ll have to go get all your elements yourself and put them on your table, and then in the next part of this series you’ll be ready to truly start learning how to cook your souffl├ę, whether it be the photo montage kind only, or a montage that combines photographs and video.

Happy Thanksgiving, and happy montaging!

Stay tuned for Video Montages Tech Talk Tutorial part 2…

Leave a Reply