Using QuickTime in a Production Environment

QuickTime is far and away the most flexible, versatile and powerful tool available to the video, film, animation and music industries. In a modern production house, where most work is already done on computers, there is no reason why QuickTime can’t be used for pre-production, as well as production and postproduction work. Using QuickTime as a workflow tool will help your company quickly share ideas, test footage, and sample graphics across the office — or across the globe.

Why Buy QuickTime Pro?

I cannot stress enough the importance of using QuickTime Pro as opposed to the regular QuickTime player.

In its basic installation on any computer, QuickTime is a fully functional player, able to play any .mov or .mpg file locally or through an Internet connection. This is what all free (and occasionally, paid) video players, such as the Windows Media Player, or Real Player, offer consumers. QuickTime even offers consumers some appealing extras for no additional cost, such as an absence of advertising.

However, Apple also produces what they term a "professional" version of QuickTime. It is, in fact, the exact same QuickTime software that’s installed on every Macintosh and available as a free download for both Mac and Windows, but with a bevy of functionality that users unlock with the purchase of a serial number.

"Oh dear," you’re thinking. "I have to buy something!" Yes you do, but believe me when I say that at $29.99, QuickTime Pro is the least expensive and most robust tool that any digital professional can have in their toolbox. Note that QuickTime Pro license keys are also provided free with some non-linear editing applications, such as Apple’s own Final Cut Pro.

The Functionality

Registering QuickTime allows any user to:

  • export files to any supported codec or architecture (including MPEG-1 and MPEG-4),
  • open an image sequence,
  • add audio and video layers, and extract the same,
  • enable or disable any track from playing, a functionality that becomes more important when you’re creating multimedia projects.

There is an additional purchase needed to export MPEG-2, but if you work with DVD, it’s an asset worth having.

But this isn’t all. An "in" and "out" marker is placed on every file you use in QuickTime Pro, allowing you to select a particular area to copy, cut, add or otherwise affect. One of the most simple, yet pleasant options available is that of playing back videos in full screen mode. By selecting "Full Screen?" from the Movie menu or using Command-F, you have the ability to play back a movie on either a black background, or by completely filling the screen–a valuable asset for presentations and any televisual experience that’s required.

Where QuickTime Pro Fits In

As I mentioned, this software is valuable not just in the production and post-production stages of development, but also in pre-production. Let’s consider each stage, and see what QuickTime Pro delivers.

Pre-production

All digital projects start analog — that is, they all start with the imagination of writers, directors and the other creative talent involved. Yet most of us work digitally, and, what’s more, most of us deliver digitally, so why not move our ideas to the digital realm as quickly as possible?

Concepts

Before creating, try research. If you’re working on a commercial spot, for example, where a style and editing consistent with a 1930s Hollywood musical is required, what better reference than a couple of Fred Astaire clips? Similar to designers in the print world who collect photographs, magazine pages and old ads in books to provide direction, those in the digital realm would be well advised to create collections of QuickTime video clips that will help keep your creative bearings on track.

But before you run out to convert the local video shop into a random access resource, there are two important things to keep in mind:

  1. Your QuickTime video clip library should be for personal reference use only
    Handing out even short clips of someone else’s work isn’t being creative, it’s just stealing.
  2. Staying organized is key
    Don’t try to load up a laptop or even a desktop with a ton of clips that you’ll only look at for a short time while you’re beginning a project. If you’re planning to build up a resource of clips for future reference, export them in a lower resolution than broadcast quality (see "Encoding video" below), then burn all the clips to CD-Rs or DVD-Rs. Then just keep them on the shelf right next to the dictionary and encyclopedia where they belong.

Pre-visualizing

Pre-visualization is not a new concept, yet surprisingly few people outside special effects companies seem to use it. Storyboards, while providing insight compositionally, do not fully explore how a scene will edit together.

By digitizing storyboards in the QuickTime format and trying out simple moves and edits in NLEs or motion graphics packages — many of which are built around QuickTime technologies — we can quickly begin to see which shots will be needed on set …before a camera is even picked up! For filmmakers, pre-viz has typically been a mental exercise of running through a given shoot before committing it to film, but by borrowing some of the most relevant pre-production exercises from the animation and special effects world, your production can really benefit.

Sharing footage

In filmmaking, film dailies serve a variety of purposes. They are used to check many details, including color, lighting and scenery. In the digital realm, dailies can fulfill several important tasks, though they’re typically different.

Shared project sites, where low-resolution versions of raw footage, graphics and rough edits can be used to help communicate progress, as well as to collaborate on ideas, can be invaluable, particularly when you’re dealing with clients. QuickTime movies over the Internet can serve as virtual meetings to test edits, music tracks and motion graphics.

Postproduction

While QuickTime’s benefits in the realm of post-production are relatively well known, it’s important to highlight its flexibility. No other video application can support as many codecs and resolutions as QuickTime, or will allow content to move between as many digital packages. QuickTime is like a Swiss army knife to the industry: its handiness seems limitless.

Beyond Post: Encoding Video

Video on the Web will continue to be a growing phenomenon; as bandwidth increases and the size of video files decreases, users expect more content to be made available for consumption. A distinct lack of understanding of how to gear video for network delivery is the primary reason why so many fail to successfully post quality video.

While some may disagree with this, the simple fact is that there are some limitations to what the technology can currently accomplish, and it’s important to be aware of them. This does not mean, however, that we should stop challenging the level of quality in the work we deliver.

Improving Web-Based Video

These tips should help you improve your Web-based video:

  1. Edit/design for the Web where possible
  2. Though it’s not always practical, if you’re planning to show work on the Web, don’t make the edit so rapidly paced that the player can’t refresh the image fast enough, and don’t design graphics so small that the become indiscernible in Web format.

  3. Use the right frame size
  4. Smaller frame sizes mean fewer pixels per frame, which equals less data per second in the long run. The largest size typically used for Web delivery is 320 x 240, or half the resolution of a standard television.

  5. Use lower frame rates
  6. You simply don’t need 29.97 or even 24 frames per second to have smooth motion video on the Internet. In general, start at 12 FPS and scale up or down accordingly. Fast-paced actions, like a person running, for example, may require more frames per second; slower action can typically use less.

  7. Don’t be afraid to crop
  8. Applications like Discreet’s Cleaner allow video to be cropped before scaling to the finished size, so that the main action is as large as possible. Don’t be afraid to dramatically trim the edges, but be sureo check that this cropping works for all scenes.

  9. Data rates are data rates
  10. Data rates are the amount of information — audio and video — that can be transferred in a given second. The same 56 Kbps we refer to as a "dial up connection" is this data rate. Be aware that the higher the data rate per second, the larger the file, thus the longer it will take for the file to reach the end user.

  11. If you’re trying to create a streaming file, the rules are very straightforward
  12. You can’t exceed the end user’s bandwidth per second, including a certain amount of overhead. One of the greatest benefits of QuickTime files in the area of encoding is their ability to "Fast Start," or download progressively. This means that a viewer will be able to begin watching a movie before the file has finished downloading.

Wired Video and Multimedia

QuickTime engenders itself to multimedia production and presentation more than any other video player.

For instance, it’s quite straightforward to embed QuickTime movies into programs such as Macromedia’s Director — a popular program for creating self-contained presentations and kiosk displays. Likewise, the open architecture of QuickTime has lent itself to companies like Totally Hip, of Vancouver, B.C., in creating programs to completely edit, script and control the QuickTime movie. And Live Stage Pro allows digital professionals to completely re-tool QuickTime’s interface, removing the silver frame altogether, as well as adding scripting that creates DVD-like functionality (such as chapters, alternate audio and captions).

Perhaps one of the most impressive examples of the functionality and design that’s currently available to the public is http://www.bmwfilms.com created by Fallon Worldwide. Each of their short films by well known directors is available for download and, when launched, opens in a sleek, customized interface that has alternate audio tracks available as well as QTVRs and other amazing technology. The only caveat to this beautiful presentation is that files sizes tend to be larger than 100 MB, effectively locking out all but the most dedicated of dial up users.

When functionality like this can be packaged in such a way to be more readily available to slower speed connections as well, we will begin to see seeing a great deal more work in this area.

QuickTime’s flexibility and usefulness make it an invaluable tool. The greatest asset digital professionals can afford themselves is to become a versed user of the medium. Spending time exploring its various capabilities will facilitate your creativity and make your work easier to manage.

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