It is AMAZING to see what a huge difference high quality video footage can make when creating an instructional curriculum DVD. I’ve been working on importing and editing video which was taken by a professional videographer using an almost brand-new Sony XDCAM camcorder and at least $5000 worth of portable lighting equipment. It was remarkable to see the videographer literally “paint with light” as he framed the scenes for each shot he recorded for us. Rather than import the final video clips from tape or DVD, since his camera saved HD video clips directly as MP4 clips to flash memory cards, I asked his videography company to copy all the clips onto an external firewire drive (the first 1 TB version I’ve ever used to date, incidentally) and I used the Sony XDCAM HD software to import clips directly into Final Cut Pro.

Importing video to Final Cut Pro from Sony XDCAM

After bringing the clips into FCP, I’m working on editing them into three different sequences and will then burn them to DVD using DVD Studio Pro.

Final Cut Pro editing of the curriculum DVD

Earlier this fall, I attempted to create this curriculum DVD using my own camcorder (which is a Digital 8 camcorder, probably about 10 years old) as well as a MacBook Pro iSight camera using Screenflow software. Compared to the video quality of this professionally shot footage, that DVD creation effort seems analogous to a well intentioned toddler trying to build a full-scale castle using tinker toys.

Hang On, Monkey!
Creative Commons License photo credit: rustykeller

My first video editing experiences with Final Cut Pro were back in 2003, when I created a series of interview videos for the Texas Technology Leadership Academy. I found FCP to have a VERY steep learning curve relative to the other i-applications I’d used in the past (iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, etc.) As a non-destructive video editing environment, however, FCP has innumerable advantages over a powerful but much simpler video editing program like iMovie. In that video editing project, one of my mistakes was not capturing enough B-roll video footage to intersperse with the “talking head” video interview footage.

My most advanced “formal” introduction to higher-end video production equipment and techniques came in the summer of 2004, when I participated in the week long Digital Media Academy course on “digital storytelling” held on the campus of Stanford University. I think that workshop took place before I was using Flickr, and I’m actually not sure what the URL might be to photos I took of the event. At any rate, that was an amazing experience and really opened my eyes to the world of XLR microphones, shotgun and high-quality lapel mics, high-end video cameras, multi-camera shoots, and more. Dean Mermell was our class instructor and he was amazing. I was VERY inspired by my experience at DMA and would recommend their courses to anyone with the means and time to take them. Dean self-published a book on CafePress in 2006 titled “A Digital Storyteller’s Handbook: Modern Filmmaking for the Intelligent Beginner.” I have not read it but since Dean is the author and was a fantastic instructor at DMA, I’m sure this is a great book and resource.

Whether I’m creating a video project with high-end footage or inexpensive equipment, the planning and storyboarding process remains absolutely essential. Thankfully in the project I’m working on now, I had some great assistance in that planning and scripting process.

I am really blown away by the high quality of both the video and audio in the footage I’m using for this project. Starting with such high quality footage, it seems likely the final product I create will be worthwhile. It’s AMAZING to see the difference top-quality lighting, mics / audio recording equipment, as well as a camera can make.

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  • http://www.ideasandthoughts.org/ Dean Shareski

    I’ve used FCExpress a bit but not enough to feel comfortable. For most of my quick projects, imovie 08 or 06 work just fine.

    I want to get into FCE more and I think it’s more than enough for me right now so I’m not sure I need to go pro.

    I’ve got a new Sony HD camera that takes gorgeous footage. I agree, great lighting and sound is very underrated. This is why I think there is a huge distinction between what we do with flip type cameras and higher quality ones. It’s all about purpose and audience. I continue to emphasize that with teachers and students. Flips are great for capturing “moment in time” footage but it’s not great for planned and purposeful video.

    So are you using this on your notebook or a desktop? I did my FCE work on my MBPro with little problems. i do have 4GB of RAM. Also have you worked with FCE or just Final Cut?

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Dean: I’m doing this on a 15 inch MacBook Pro laptop with 4 GB of RAM. No problems so far. I’m loving this laptop.

    I haven’t worked with FCE at all, just FCP. My sense is that the new iMovie is less powerful in some ways as an encouragement to move more advanced video editing amateurs to FCE. I’m not sure if that is the case or not. I’m glad to be making this move, although it’s intimidating how many adjustments and options are available in FCP. I think it is an even deeper and more complex software world than PhotoShop, and THAT’S an amazing program to try and understand fully as well.

  • http://veesphotos.wordpress.com Bruce Vigneault

    Great story. I tried to move FClight a few years ago and gave it up because imovie was easy and quick. But, now I’m getting to itch to try it again as I have started collecting more lighting from due to my digital photography. I don’t have a lot of pressure though. I’ve just been creating short clips for my blog and labs in my science classes.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Bruce: What is FCFlight? Do you have a link to it?

  • http://veesphotos.wordpress.com Bruce Vigneault

    Sorry, I didn’t catch the typo. It is Final Cut light (suppose to be express). I’m not doing very good multi-tasking tonight. I’m reading blogs, finishing up pictures from our Teen Summit at school and watching the Red Wings. (at least they’re winning).

  • http://carrotrevolution.blogspot.com David Gran

    Wes and Dean-

    FCE is only a slightly paired down version of FCP. I haven’t used Express in a long time, but my understanding is that the main difference between the two is that you can’t keyframe effects in FCE – really only important if you’re using special effects besides green screening.

    So in terms of it being an ‘easier’ version of FCP -not so much. It just leaves out some of the advanced features.

    With my students (high school) I find that starting in Imovie helps the students understand the basics of editing without getting too technical- then we move to Final Cut Pro, and learn different parts of it in pieces.

    With FCP there are a couple of important inter-related areas to cover- like editing, keyframing, sound and image control. In that way, I don’t necessarily agree that its a more complicated software than Photoshop. It just looks more intimidating :). However, I’ve been using Photoshop since version 2 (when it was still in black and white on my leeetle Mac SE) – and I still learn more about it with each new project. Part of that is because it has changed so much in the last 15 years, but also because different tools, effects, and styles, can be used in such a multitude of ways.

    Thanks for the informative post with all the great links, Wes!

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