Monday, September 6, 2010

The Basic Home Video Editing Studio

An important part of the joy in shooting and creating video masterpieces is the post processing, or editing, of the video and audio files captured by camera(s) and audio recorder(s). Once the province of dedicated editing houses, with the advent of high definition digital video cameras and high fidelity digital audio recorders, the third party software houses have kept pace. Now, with enough dedication and perseverance, the amateur videographer can create a respectably polished final video product that only a short time ago would have been virtually impossible within a household budget. Most significantly, the creative process can now expand enormously well beyond the actual video shooting and sound recording. Best of all: it's fun! :)

Let's keep in mind that the home video editing studio is, and forever will be, a Work-in-Progress. As you and I both gain in knowledge and experience the equipment and software will evolve. Techniques will improve, new ways of creating and editing will's all good! The above shot of my home studio is really simplicity in itself. Here are a few notes:

1. Dual monitors: so handy when working with a Non Linear Editor (NLE) such as Adobe's Premiere Pro CS5. Here I've got the CS5 workspace on the left monitor, with the second monitor dedicated to a full-screen of the video preview. This was very handy for the "voice-over talent", my wife Karen, to watch as she spoke about the embroidery subject in the video.

2. Zoom H4N audio recorder: with a Rode Videomic shotgun microphone plugged into the H4N recorder, I had a very simple but effective audio mixing station that I could operate while Karen was speaking into the Videomic. I recently acquired a remote switch for the H4N which was worth it's weight in gold in organizing the controls of this unit.

3. Sennheiser headphone: any quality headphone will do, but it's a must to monitor the quality and level of sound entering the H4N.

4. Not shown: just off-screen is my PC. It's a 2.67 Hz quad-core with 12 Gigs of DDR ram, along with a couple of external 2 Tb harddrives for storage and backup. Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 is now 64-bit, so the extra ram is utilized and is a major help when it comes to manipulating and rendering huge video files.

5. Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 - a godsend to Canon dslr video shooters. It's important to have specified Nvidia video cards (mine's a GTX285 - a gamer's favourite!) installed in your PC to take advantage of the new Mercury Playback engine that optimally utilizes the Nvidia card's GPU to smoothly scrub and playback the otherwise-awkward H.264 codec files courtesy of Canon. Earlier versions of Premiere Pro would choke on these files, so it was necessary to use a third party transcoder, such as Cineform's excellent Neoscene, to pre-render the Canon video files into a usable format. However, this took time and resulted in a set of much larger video files to store and manipulate. No longer necessary with CS5.

A note on the audio:

I was never happy with the voice-over quality using my Sennheiser headphone/microphone plugged into my computer's Realtek audio card. The voice quality just seemed thin, flat, reedy, and nasal to me. Today I stumbled upon an excellent blog post by Dave Dugdale that described a quick & easy sound mixing station using a Zoom H4N audio recorder connected via USB to your PC with a Rode Videomic shotgun microphone plugged in turn into the H4N. The Sennheiser headphone/mic is certainly good quality, but besides the lacking (to me) sound quality there was an annoying feedback in the headphones no matter how low the headset mike was turned down -- very distracting to anyone trying to record! If you shifted the headset off your ears while recording into the attached mike (very awkward!!!) the mike would pick up the feedback, resulting in a faint echo being picked up and recorded -- not good.

The Rode Videomic hooked into the H4N provided very clean yet full audio quality. No worries of feedback since it was no longer necessary for the voice-over talent to wear a headphone while actually recording (I wore it for sound input monitoring). Here is the result, you be the judge:

Voice-over Sound Comparo - H4N + Rode Videomic vs Sennheiser Headphone Mic from David Rilstone on Vimeo.

Karen, doing both voice-overs, did not read from a script but instead recorded freestyle directly to the video as it was being previewed. She prefers the Sennheiser to the H4N/Rode Videomic, but I feel the Sennheiser sounds disembodied compared to the H4N/Rode's richer, fuller tone.

By the way, this was the finished video (using the Sennheiser - customer's always right!):

Ladybug on a Towel from David Rilstone on Vimeo.
Music royalty-free by Kevin MacLeod.

Certainly another method of voice-over recording is to record Karen directly into the H4N itself, or with the Rode Videomic hooked into the H4N (but not hooked by USB into the PC), then syncing into the video later. We actually tried this, but there were disadvantages. Just by the very nature of unscripted free form recording there will be false starts and other verbal glitches. This results in a whole bunch of sound files that need to be sorted out during final editing -- a real nightmare to keep organized. The other alternative is to just go back to the beginning after each flub and start all over........not fun. Been there, not worth the t-shirt!!! Things get a little stale after the tenth full repeat, or so.

This is a window into my video editing studio thus far. It's been a lot of fun and a real challenge to learn my way through this. As always, any comments and suggestions are very welcome -- please make sure you post 'em in the Comment section below!

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