I've made two-and-a-half vids since then, and while I don't pretend to be an expert at vidding yet, I have managed to answer some of my first-time gumby questions through trial and error; so I thought I'd put together a very basic guide that includes those hard-won facts. I'm also going to list the software I use, which is mostly freeware, shareware or cheapware for the PC.
Warning: Make sure you have good anti-virus software installed before you start downloading stuff off the web. It should protect you from malware and spyware as well as the usual viruses, trojans, worms etc. I make no guarantees that the software I'm reccing here is 100% safe; although obviously, I've scanned it and it's working fine on my computer.
- A video editor
- A video clipper
- A video reformatting tool
The Video Editor is the application which allows you to put the soundtrack together with the visuals and add effects. I use Windows MovieMaker, which is great to learn on as it's very very simple and free with recent PCs. However, there are a few tricks to using it, and also some limitations which will start to bug you by the time you've finished your first vid.
- On the version of Movie Maker that I have, you can only import Widows Media files (wmv), which means you have to covert your avi source material before you can use it.
- It's much easier to use files if you split them before you import them into MovieMaker, which I'll describe below.
- Save a new version every time you start a new editing session -- that way you can revert any changes easily.
- Use "blank" stills that you've created in a Paint package as space fillers to help you get the timing right. I just have a plain black square that I insert and stretch along the video timeline as needed. I also use it at the beginning of the vid, so that there's a couple of beats of "dead" air before the song starts. This means that when you export the vid, the first few seconds of song don't get chopped off in the export process.
- There's only one video and one audio track, which means your options are very limited in terms of fancy effects.
- You also can't lock your clips into place, which is hugely annoying, as it means getting timing right is a real bitch, and an edit in one place mucks up the whole rest of the following timeline.
Alternate software options:
Once you've tried out MovieMaker and decided that, yes, you like vidding and want to buy a real editor, there are several good options. Here's a run down of their features and prices: lifehacker's "Six Best Video Editing Applications".
You need a Video Clipper so that you can sample short bits of footage that you want to use in your vid. The best way to do this is to watch the footage in a player (like VLC Media Player), and note the start and end times of the segments you want. Then go into a video clipping application, mark those bits, and let it chop them up for you. You then import the chopped up segments into your Video Editor.
I had real trouble finding a freeware clipper that didn't have lots of hidden catches -- like giving your stats and email to sales collection sites or spyware. Be very wary of that.
I'm currently using: Easy Video Splitter, which also has instructions on free registration (which may or may not be dodgy), at doeasier.org. Easy Video Splitter works fine. It doesn't have quite the fineness of control that I'd like, but it has some nice features and it's good enough to get you usable clips, which you can then adjust within the Video Editor. If you know of a better splitter, please let me know in comments.
ETA: acari recommends the clipper VirtualDubMod, which now that I think about it, I've read other recommendations for too. I can't remember why I didn't use this one myself. I plan to investigate. ETA 2: grimmhill reports that there might be a trojan in the version of VirtualDubMod ze downloaded (alternatively, it might be the virus scanner being too vigorous). Take extra care if you download it yourselves.
Video Reformatting Software
With Windows MovieMaker, you must import Windows Media files (wmv), or the application will automatically quit. That means, once you've clipped your avi file into usable bits, you need to convert the bits into the right format.
Again, I had trouble finding a good free application, but I'm currently using Format Factory, and I'm very happy with it. It's easy to use, intuitive and has lots of different conversion formats available. But again, if you know of good alternatives, please let me know.
Once you have a Video Editor, and can cut up clips and convert file formats, there are a few extra bits and pieces it's useful to have so that you can add snazzy stuff to your songvid.
The Beginner's Toolkit of Extras
- A paint program
- An audio recording program
- A video player
- A video hosting service
This is absolutely invaluable for making manipulations, title cards, and also simple effects. For instance, you can take a colour still shot, manip it to crop out something you don't want (or put something in you do), and then give it several effects -- black and white, sepia, super-saturated colour, objects in some versions and not others, etc. Because these different stills can then be 'played' in sequence within the Video Editor, you get the illusion that things are appearing or disappearing, or the colours are changing.
I've used this to do stuff like fade in from a black and white still to the same visual in colour -- it adds some interest and movement to your vid in areas that are often static, like the credits. I've also manipped the Atlantis patch onto a jacket, and moved people from indoors into an outdoor setting, stuff like that. Stills can also be useful in terms of timing parts of your vid -- sometimes with a simple editor like MovieMaker, it's easier to get the effect you want by using sequential stills than trying to use short moving clips.
I currently use Paint.NET, which is dead easy to use, and has quite a lot of effects tools; but I'm also trying out GIMP, which is more sophisticated -- people compare it to Adobe Photoshop.
The thing about transformative works is that it's not just the visuals that we can play with. We can also transform the audio tracks in several ways. MovieMaker only has a single audio track (not counting the audio track that's associated with the footage you use), so you need to do your song manipulation before you import it.
For instance, you can shorten a song, add a voice over, or add in audio effects (to give you an idea of the effects out there, here's a library: Free Royalty Free Stock Music for Education).
The best software for creating these kinds of multi-track soundtracks is Audacity. It's pretty much an industry standard for amateurs and educators, and it's free. You need to buy a headset with microphone in order to get decent sound quality in your voice recordings, and it takes a bit of practice to get good at the bells and whistles. But you can hit the ground running and make something usable pretty much straight away.
The need for a good Video Player is self-evident, yes? You need to test out your finished vid before you send it into the world, because it will look different in a player than it did in the Video Editor. Plus, you need to watch source footage so you can choose your clips. What you're looking for is a player with good pause, slo-mo and fast forward features, plus an accurate clock.
My favourite is VLC Media Player. It's reliable, versatile, plays everything, and is easy to download and install. It can also take screen captures, and a heap of other stuff.
Once your epic is complete, you need a way to get it to people. This requires a video hosting service. The main contenders are the live streaming sites, and the download sites. Usually vidders offer both, so that people can choose what works best for their bandwidth and/or personal collection preferences.
I currently use FileFront, because it offers both streaming and downloading services, and, most importantly, the interface doesn't drive me crazy.
Other popular services:
Streaming: YouTube, iMeem, vimeo
Downloading: SendSpace, MediaFire YouSendIt, MegaUpload
Advanced Vidding Guide
If you are really keen, you will also need stuff like video and audio rippers, and effects packages, but I haven't used those, so I'm not going to talk about them. If you're interested, a really good guide that goes into a lot of detail can be found here: A&E's Technical Guides to All Things Audio and Video mk 2.
You now know pretty much everything I do about vidding. If you have questions, suggestions or recommendations, please feel free to comment. I'm sure there's still heaps of useful things to learn.
ETA: I should have said -- I'm at Swancon all weekend. I'll answer questions when I get back home.