BOOT CAMP 327 (25/05/04)




Using a PC to turn your cherished home video movies into DVDs is really very simple, all you need is a reasonably up to date multimedia desktop or laptop with a DVD writer, a video input or FireWire port – see last week’s Boot Camp – plus some inexpensive and simple to use software but before we get started a few words on what is involved. The camcorder to DVD process breaks down into four basic steps: capture, edit, render and burn.


The capture part is where recordings on tape in your camcorder or VCR are copied, in digital form, onto the PC’s hard disc drive. Editing involves splitting the video into a sequence of short scenes, which can be trimmed and assembled into the required order. Effects, such as transitions (fades, wipes, dissolves etc.) can then be inserted between the scenes, titles may be added and the finished movie split into chapters that will be accessible via a ‘menu’ to give your production that extra polish. Rendering is where the effects are incorporated into the footage and the movie is converted into a form readable by a DVD player. Burning creates the finished disc.


In the past you would have needed two or possibly three separate applications to accomplish those tasks. Editing and rendering software has tended to be expensive, temperamental and difficult to use moreover the results were often disappointing but within the past few months a number programs have appeared that simplify the whole process and make it possible for just about anyone, without any editing or production skills, to create slick and professional looking movies on DVD.


Two programs that fall into this category are Pinnacle Studio 9 ( and Ulead VideoStudio 8, ( both of which can be found selling for less than £50. (Incidentally, the numbers are important as earlier versions of both programs were flawed).      


I won’t delve too deeply into the inner working of these programs. Suffice it to say they are both quite similar, designed with novices in mind and reasonably intuitive so you can create simple movies almost straight away, but if you want to add some eye-catching flourishes, or turn your backyard epic into a blockbuster these programs have plenty of creative features to play around with.


It’s best to start with the default settings for both programs, which are set to create a DVD with the highest picture and sound quality lasting for between an hour and ninety minutes However, even an hour can seem like an eternity where home movies are concerned so I would begin by making a few ‘themed’ DVDs – drawing together material from a particular year or an event -- lasting no longer than 30 minutes or so. (Your audiences will thank you!).


Once footage from your tapes has been copied to the PC you end up with one or more very large video files that need to be broken down into scenes. I suggest that you use these program’s Auto Scene Detection systems. In the main they work very well, creating natural breaks where you pressed the camcorder’s stop/start button; the newly created scenes are then stored in a ‘Library’, the contents of which is displayed on the screen.


The next stage is to preview the scenes and drag and drop the ones you want to use from the Library onto the ‘Storyboard’. Once there each scene can be ‘trimmed’ or ‘split’ into several clips. Aim to reduce each clipped scene to 10 seconds or less, unless something really interesting is happening. At this stage you can afford to be really brutal; don’t worry, you can go back and change your mind as many times as you like as the scenes in the Library remain intact no matter how much they are chopped about on the Storyboard.


Scene transitions are dragged and dropped from an ‘effects’ library into the spaces between scenes on the storyboard. Both programs spoil you for choice with dozens of fancy swirls and twirls but if over-used your movie will take forever to render and end up looking like a dog’s dinner. Use them sparingly, stick with basic ‘cuts’ between linked scenes and only use simple wipes and fades to signify a change of location or the passage of time.


Both programs come with lots of ready made templates for titles and end credits – just drag and drop the ones you want from a library into the storyboard -- but you’ll find it much more satisfying to create your own using the programs built in title editors. Editing sound is easy too but for your first few attempts I would stick with the original recording’s soundtrack that accompanies each scene or clip or just add a simple spoken commentary or some background music. 


Finally, view a full-screen preview and when you are happy with your movie set the chapter thumbnails and add a DVD menu from the template library. Rendering can be a very slow business and may take several hours, depending on the length of the movie, how many effects and transitions you’ve used and your PC’s specification. Once that has finished both programs will then automatically proceed to the disc burning stage, which on most recent PCs should only take a few minutes. If you are pleased with your effort don’t forget to run off an extra copy or two for friends and relatives before you delete the master movie files from your PC to make room for your next production. 


Next week – Mobile memory





Small still image, ‘grabbed’ from the start of each scene, used to illustrate DVD chapter menus



Basic editing techniques for removing the dull bits at the beginning and end of scenes and chopping out mistakes by creating two or more clips from a single scene



Representation of a movie as a series of thumbnail images showing the start of each scene




Video editing programs are hugely complex applications and can really put a strain on your computer hardware and operating system, pushing both to their limits so crashes and lockups are not uncommon. It is vitally important that you get into the habit of saving your project every 15 to 20 minutes otherwise when the inevitable happens you will end loosing your work and wasting a lot of time and effort.

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