Wednesday, March 08, 2006

From Our Mailbag

Dear Jim,

I have a pretty large project in mind, but have not a clue where to start! I have at least 10 hours of old home movie footage on about 12 vhs video tapes. I want to 'digitally remaster' the footage after capturing into Premiere so I have the best quality footage as is possible. I then want to output to DVD. All this is in the hopes of preserving my family's archival footage for the future, on a DVD-based format that will outlast any magnetic based tape (vhs).

  • Q1: Do I capture my vhs footage as mpeg2? or is this a conversion from avi after the event?
  • Q2: Is there a good 'cleaning up' tool or software that would suit my needs?
  • Q3: Is there a place I can go to get a tutorial - or even a book, using a particular piece of software?

I have scoured the web for a month and have looked at all manner of sites from police crime video tape to professional applications but all to no avail !!! Thanks for reading this and PLEASE respond if you think you could help with this mammoth task, thanx :: Tommy B.



I've been working on the same kind of project for a while - lots of planning time (thinking about) and recently, some real activity. Mine involves almost 60-hours of priceless home video. Some of the material is from the 80's using the early "home-video outfits" that consisted of a separate recorder and vidicon camera. Later versions involve VHS-C and even S-VHS camcorders. All sorts of birthdays, holidays, weddings, and other events; and numerous people who are no longer with us. Almost all of it was shot in existing light, some by a very inexperienced cameraperson (me). I started out with the goal of moving the images from the aging VHS tape to something more stable and durable. Also, I wanted to get it into the "digital domain" so that any future copies would minimize generation loss.

My opinion - it will eventually come down to how much money, time, and effort you are willing to spend to preserve your history.

Here's what I'm doing: First, I sorted the old tapes by date and divided most of the source material into 45-60minute projects. This is manageable from a hard-drive standpoint, and conveniently fits on a miniDV tape, VHS tape, and of course a DVD. I use a capture card to capture the analog audio and video to hard-drive (as an avi file).

The raw material is then opened in Adobe Premiere for clean up. I first go through and pull out all the real junk - start of the tape, low battery, crash-edits, footage (pictures of feet when someone forgot to turn off the camera), 8-minutes of the inside of the camera bag, and other distracting elements. Make this a project by itself within Premiere because you may choose to save the unedited version to DVD.

Then, you'll need to make some decisions here about how much you want to re-write history - I've been careful NOT to start editing out events and people. That boat you couldn't wait to get rid of in 1988, was the same boat you couldn't wait to buy in 1987! AND That Nehru Jacket you HAD to have might be embarassing to think about, but everyone will enjoy reminiscing about their crazy fad clothing. Save that footage of Aunt Jeanne's tumbling into the lake - someday even she will appreciate it.

Then I put some simple titles that indicate the event and date. You might want to identify any place or people that current/future generations might not know. I also put a billboard title at the beginning of the project to indicate the source of the video and any known technical information (camera, microphone, etc) and the date of this transfer.

Then, (and here is where the real time-cost exists) I tweak the video using levels and saturation controls in Premiere. This has to be carefully done on a scene-by-scene basis. There is significant time involved both in the tweaking of the controls and the rendering time, but you can greatly improve some existing-light video.

I've searched-there's no magic button, plug-in, or procedure that will make that wobbly hand-held old camcorder look as good as an $80K broadcast camera on a rock-solid tripod. You can purchase some plug-ins that might help here - Vixen or Video Finesse (and others) provide proc-amp type controls within Premiere. Vixen also has the ability to do some picture noise-reduction. Both tools used to have downloadable demos.

If you really want to burn some time, you could also try some audio filters and tweaks to accommodate those built-in microphones in camcorders. There's even the possibility of using a plug-in to stabilize that old hand-held video (SteadyHand?) You'll just need to strike a balance between improving the original camera footage and the amount of time it takes to finish the project. On the web and in numerous books, you can find hints and ideas to fix (or at least improve) specific problems with your footage.

Premiere allows you to output the timeline directly to DVD, but I prefer to output MPEG2 format for DVD authoring. While you're are still in Premiere, export some still-frames for your photo album and to use on the DVD case. I use Adobe Encore for authoring, but there are any number of good DVD authoring programs out there. If there is enough room on the DVD, I also store the project files, titles, and artwork used for DVD case and labels. Any notes I made during the 'production' go into a 3-ring binder.

Some of the 'major events,' like young Jon's Pinewood Derby victory, older son Jim's Boy Scout Eagle presentation, or the big Marching Band competition, can also be made into a separate program, complete with titles, graphics, music or narration.

If you want to be a real hero, you can make additional copies to hand out to some of the people involved.

One thought - Set yourself a reasonable timeframe to complete each DVD. Otherwise you might tweak your footage endlessly. One other thought - look at this as a long-term labor-of-love where you'll also learn a lot about shooting, editing, and enhancing your skills. It'll be a lot more fun!

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