Archive for July, 2008

Color grading of the week, Part 1

A new series on my blog, an extreme color grading example each week.

Original picture by M_Eriksson, licensed under the CC-BY.

After extreme color grading
Click for a larger version

Step by step tutorial for shooting slowed-down music videos

I wrote in a hurry two months ago about how I shot my first music video, but having already shot my second one, I have done some adjustments into my workflow, which I will share with you below. As I have explained in the past, nearly all the professional music videos are slowed-down, even when they don’t look like they are. And of course you don’t need lots of money to shoot a music video, you can do it on a budget.

1. Acquire the audio CD of the song you want to shoot a video for. Compressed audio formats like MP3, OGG, and AAC won’t work correctly, you will end up with an A/V sync issue eventually, so get the original audio CD. Load the CD into iTunes. Go to “Edit”, “Preferences”, and change the importing format to WAVE like this:

Then, rip the CD with these settings via iTunes. The ripping will create a .wav file on your iTunes library folder, usually somewhere around here: C:\Documents and Settings\USERNAME\My Documents\My Music\iTunes\iTunes Music\ for Windows, or somewhere on your ~/Music/ folder if you are on a Mac.

2. Install Audacity 1.3x from here. Load Audacity, and then open into that audio editor the .wav file that was ripped earlier via iTunes. Click “Effects” and select “Change speed”. Make the audio’s speed 25% faster like this:

[Update: Changing the tempo instead of the speed also works, and it’s preferable, because the pitch is preserved. Just tweak the “tempo” plugin by 25%.]

Then, save the audio back as wave (.wav) with a different file name via Audacity.

3. Go back to iTunes. Load the sped up version of the song created by Audacity above to iTunes by adding it to the iTunes music library. Place an empty writable CD-R on your optical drive. Place the sped up song on the “Burn” playlist of iTunes. Burn the song as an audio CD twice. Keep one copy, and give one copy to the band to rehearse the speed up version a few days before the actual shooting.

4. When the shooting day arrives, use a portable audio CD player to get the singer to lipsync, or if you are shooting in the band’s rehearsal space, use their audio CD player which is possibly hooked into big speakers. Shoot your video with that sped up audio. If you are using a Canon camera, use “Cinemode” and “neutral color” to make the video look as desaturated as possible (the duller it looks, the better it color grades in post processing). Do a lot of takes. Shoot in 1080/50i if you use a PAL camera, or in 1080/60i or PF30 if you use an NTSC camera. I suggest that you don’t shoot in 24p, because by the moment you slow-down the video on step #6, you will need all the frames you can get to make it look smooth. Don’t worry, it won’t look like home video because of the slow-down involved. 1080/60i or PF30 are the best ways to shoot (compared to PAL modes or 24p) because the kind of slow down we do here is perfect mathematically: 60i/2=30/25%=24p. What this formula means is this: “After you de-interlace a 60i stream, you get 30p. Because we make that 30p stream 25% slower on step #6, we get a true 24p frame rate across time”. And that’s the frame rate we export at the end of step #8. If you are concerned about 60i having too high of a shutter speed, consider using PF30 (found on all new Canon HD cameras), which is as good as 60i in terms of the “mathematics” involved, but it uses lower shutter speeds. I would be using PF30 for my music video projects if my HV20 supported that. In fact, I hereby declare the Canon HV30 the best consumer HD camera right now to shoot music videos, because of its PF30 shooting mode and overall quality.

5. When the shooting is all done and you are ready to start editing, load the footage on your video editor. I will use Sony Vegas for my tutorial here, but Premiere and FCE/FCP are equally capable. Copy away to the video’s project folder, and place in the audio track, the originally ripped .wav file (not the sped up one, but the normal one you ripped on step #1). On Vegas, it’s very important to have the right project settings before you start editing. Click “File”, then “Project Properties”, and a new dialog will pop up. In there, click the right outmost icon called “Match Media”, the one that looks like a yellow folder. From there, select one of the files you will be editing with, and click “open”. Make sure “none/progressive” is always selected in the “field order” option, and for quality select “Best”. If you shot interlaced (e.g. in 50i or 60i), make sure that for the “de-interlacing method” you select “interpolate”. For NTSC 60i HDV for example, it would look like this (you can safely ignore additional settings not shown in my screenshot but found on Vegas Pro instead of Platinum).

6. Then, place a take of your footage (hint: dragging a clip from the project media tab to the timeline with the right mouse click rather than the left, allows you to place in the track the video across the timeline without its accompanied audio). Right click on the clip event in the timeline, click “properties”, check “disable resample”, and change the “playback rate” to 0.800. This change has effectively made the video slower now, which will sync perfectly to the non-sped up song. Now, left-click on the right side of the video take and drag it to the right to make the video longer. Stop when a little arrow appears, as in the picture below. We need to do that extra step because when we changed the playback speed to the slower 0.800x, Vegas doesn’t automatically resize the video in the timeline to fit the whole take.

7. Add more of your takes on different video tracks and adjust them as in step #6. Then, try to sync up the audio and video on each of these takes. It will take some practice, but it’s possible. On Vegas, if you select a clip in the timeline and then you keep the ALT key pressed while also pressing the numbers 1 or 3 in the enabled numerical keypad, it will move that clip frame by frame left or right in the timeline, so that can help you be more accurate with the audio syncing. You can even “lock” a clip in the timeline so you don’t move it accidentally while editing. Then, edit away. Be aggressive with cutting scenes, as rock videos require quick change of shots. Slow-down even more some shots that don’t require syncing. Color grade aggressively too at the very end.

8. Export in 24p (that is, 23.976 frame rate), progressive field order. I suggest h.264 at 12 mbps for video codec, and AAC 160 kbps for audio, with the MP4 container at 1280×720 resolution for HD, or at 874×480 if you shot in widescreen miniDV SD. This exporting also makes the video compatible with AppleTV, Vimeo, XBoX360 and PS3, so it would be easier to enjoy it in on an HDTV.

[9. OPTIONAL, for PAL users only]. If you need to export in 25p for PAL countries instead, you export your 24p video in step 8 using an intermediate lossless codec (e.g. Lagarith, Huffyuv, Cineform, DNxHD etc), and then you re-time it to 25p this way. Yes, this means that even if you live in a PAL country, you need an NTSC camera to follow this way of shooting music videos.

Now, go help your favorite local rock band!

Falling with the Rain

A very nice, relaxing video by Wayne Avanson. HD version here.

Oasis $0.00, Slade $9.99

We were watching some Audioslave, The White Stripes, and Oasis videos on Youtube tonight and I thought I check out iTunes to see if there’s a best-of album for Oasis. There is one such album, but it is not DRM-free, and it does not include the “Whatever” song which I like a lot. I ended up buying another album instead: Slade’s best-of, 21 songs for $9.99, DRM-free. A much better deal. Oasis have more songs that I like, but I am not willing to purchase under those terms.

C****m on Feel the Noizzzzze

Retired Nation

After buying me a beautiful necklace tonight, my JBQ took me out for an [expensive] dinner at a French restaurant. I told him that we should be careful how we spend money but he replied that he just doesn’t want to think about it because he is very stressed and calculating about work, and he just wants to relax and have some fun when he’s not working.

Eugenia: Maybe we should just move to Greece then. Nobody is stressed there, most people go to work whenever they feel like to, they have night life, live the good life — even with less money. We Greeks do nothing that we shouldn’t have to. We don’t invent anything either, we leave the cancer cure for the Americans to find. Then we import it.

JBQ: So you are telling me that you are retired as a nation. Hmmm…. it almost makes sense. You did what you had to do 2500 years ago and you lay back since then.


iPhone as a gaming device

EA said that the iPhone is more powerful than the DS, and now Sega is saying that it’s just as powerful as the Dreamcast. It makes perfect business sense to me for Apple to create an addon controller that attaches to the port and adds buttons on both sides of the device, and what not. Then release an API for it too, and let people design or port games to it. Honestly, why not?

Sony Vegas project properties with HV20/30

The NTSC HV20 cameras can record in 60i and PF24 modes, the PAL ones can do 50i and 25p, while the NTSC version of HV30 also adds PF30 support to the mix. The HV40 can also do true 24p. The common question that Vegas users have is “which project properties should I use for each mode before I start editing?”. So, load the “project properties” dialog and follow the info below:

1. 60i or 50i
If you shot using the default mode of your camera, simply use the supplied HDV 1080i template for either 60i (NTSC) or 50i (PAL). I recommend the “interpolate” de-interlacing method though and the “best” quality.

2. PF30
If you shot in PF30 mode with your NTSC Canon HD camera, select the HDV 1080/60i template, but change the “field order” to “progressive” and the de-interlacing method to “none”. Quality should always be set to “best”.

3. PF25
If you shot in PF25 mode with your PAL Canon HD camera, select the HDV 1080/50i template, but change the “field order” to “progressive” and the de-interlacing method to “none”. Quality should always be set to “best”.

4. PF24
By default, PF24 is just 60i, not true 24p. But if you do the extra work to remove pulldown (tutorial for HDV, and for AVCHD), you get a true progressive 24p stream which is and should be handled differently.
Case A: If you have not removed pulldown before you entered Vegas to start editing, then you should just use the supplied HDV 1080/60i template unmodified. I recommend the “interpolate” de-interlacing method for when exporting though.
Case B: If you have removed pulldown, then you use the HDV 1080/60i template, but change the “field order” to “progressive”, the de-interlacing method to “none” or “interpolate”, and the frame rate to “23.976” (type it exactly like this if it’s not available in the list). If Vegas does not recognize the footage as progressive, provided that you removed pulldown properly, look here for a workaround.

5. 24p
If you shot in 24p mode with your NTSC HV40 camera, select the HDV 1080/60i template, but change the “field order” to “progressive” and the de-interlacing method to “none”. Also, change the frame rate to exactly 23.976 fps (type it exactly like this if it’s not available in the list). Quality should always be set to “best”.

If you are using AVCHD cameras instead of HDV, use the “full HD” templates rather than the HDV ones (in the project properties dialog). For example, the full template will read 1920×1080 instead of 1440×1080, with aspect ratio 1.000 instead of 1.333. Only very few, older, AVCHD cameras are also 1440×1080 instead of 1920×1080 (e.g. the Canon HG10). Then, modify these templates the same way as described above.

7. Other cameras
If you are using a different source than HDV/AVCHD, then use step 1 of this tutorial to setup the right project properties.

And of course, if you are using these non-standard recording modes a lot, you can “save” a new template under a new name in the project properties dialog, so you won’t have to change these options again in the future manually, but you just pick them up from the template listing.

Regarding GTK+ 3.0

Some shit is flowing around about breaking compatibility for GTK+ 3.0. Imendio should stay clear of library code if that’s what they want to do. Thankfully, there are people who do get it, like Miguel de Icaza and Morten Welinder.

The hard part is keeping compatibility (something that even Apple doesn’t do right in between major OSX versions), and it seems that especially in the FOSS world, no one wants to do the hard things. In the world of Linux, coders should realize that it all comes down to “compatibility, compatibility, compatibility…” and not “developers, developers, developers…”.

Sony DVP-FX820 as an external video monitor

My friend Dominique arrived with a present (thanks!) for me tonight: the Sony DVP-FX820 portable DVD player. Which of course I will be using as an external video monitor for my HV20 camcorder through its video-in port, rather than as a DVD player.

The screen is vibrant and high-res enough that even through the lowly RCA cable it delivers a very good image quality. This device is a must have for amateur but serious filmmakers, especially if there is a 35mm adapter in the mix, because not only the large 8″ screen helps with focusing, but also because you can rotate it effortlessly (don’t forget that most 35mm adapters record with the image upside down).

However, the most interesting point for me was something else. It was the fact that the Sony monitor has a wider display zone than the HV20’s LCD screen (less overscan). Many times I fell into the trap: I would frame a shot that looks great on screen, but when I see it on my PC’s LCD, there are crap objects outside the safe zone that were not visible in the camera’s LCD, and that ruin my framing! Having a safe zone on the LCD of the camera might have been a useful thing back in the day, but today’s videos that end up only online, or on TVs that have a “dot by dot” mode (like mine), doesn’t make sense to design camera LCDs with these limitations anymore. So I was happy to see that this Sony player can see “more” of the actual shot and helps you frame more accurately (especially horizontally).

You will need a “Triple Phono Plug Coupler” (aka a female-to-female 3-way RCA adapter) to connect your camera to this device. The only other problem this setup has is that it’s bulky, as you will have to dangle along a full DVD drive all the time, so you might need something like this. Battery life is pretty good for what it is (reportedly over 5 hours, I haven’t tested it as of this writing), and the device comes with a car charger.

More discussion and info about it over at

New music video clip project

UPDATE 2: The video is done (haven’t slept all night, I was working on it). I am now waiting for final confirmation from the band.

UPDATE: Here’s a really small video sample. Work in progress! It’s 3:40 AM here. 🙂

For those who also read my husband’s blog, will already know that yesterday we had a great time shooting a music video clip for the all-female rock band Dolorata. We shot their song “You’ve Gotta Want It“. When we arrived at the band’s rehearsal space I was delighted to see that its exterior was all green! And so I used that fact to color grade it to the extreme and possibly add some chroma key elements too. Here are some ideas I got so far for post-processing: