Memorial Day means different things to different people. In North Carolina, where I grew up, if you came from a family with multi-generational Southern roots (which I didn't), Memorial Day meant reuniting for a gravecleaning at the family burial plot, a tradition that dates to the Civil War. Clyde Edgerton had the first and last word on this tradition in The Floatplane Notebooks; in his funny, elegiac novel of familial love and lore, Memorial Day gravecleanings serve as a gateway to the joys, sorrows, and horrors of a shared Southern past.
This past Memorial Day provided me with a homecoming of sorts, though I barely left my house in Wisconsin. Some years back, a lifelong friend of mine asked me if I'd put together a DVD slideshow for his sister and her fiancé if they ever got married, and naturally I agreed. Well, lo and behold, they finally set a date of June 4, 2005, and ten days before their wedding day I received a FedEx package containing two CDs: one with 115 scanned photos to use in the slideshow, and the other with 16 songs suggested for the soundtrack.
Sometime in those intervening years slideshows became photo montages (just as newspapermen became journalists, and stewardesses became flight attendants), and the dimensions of the job I'd volunteered for grew significantly. This wasn't a professional gig since I didn't get paid, but since the primary destination of the video was a sizeable projection screen at the reception, I treated it as a real job.
Two months ago I served as a judge in the 4EVER Group's first Battle of the Videographers (see "Photo Finish," pp. 42-47), a photo-montage faceoff between two prominent videographers, Lucy Galbraith and Josh Fozzard. Galbraith's montage, smooth and straightforward, appealed to my own personal aesthetic; Fozzard's, by contrast, full of wild and innovative effects and visual motifs, elicited one "I gotta try that" after another, and has kept me up nights trying to deconstruct his techniques ever since.
Naturally, I aimed for a little of both in my montage, and 22 logged hours later, I had six minutes of video and seven DVDs, all labeled and packaged, to show for my efforts. As I worked to build a story from the photos, I found myself connecting the dots of times and events and contemplating the ways all the characters in the photos were connected to one another, and how many people (including myself) could have been just outside the frame at any given time.
I also marveled at how many tools it took to get the job done. My planned workflow (using my powerhouse Alienware MJ-12 7700a 3.2GHz laptop) went as follows: Adobe Photoshop CS to crop and clean the photos and build an opening image; Andrea Mosaic to create a photo mosaic; Roxio Sound Editor to rip, trim, fade, and mix the audio; Canopus Imaginate 2 to pan, zoom, and sync the images; Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 to sequence and link the various sections (separated by song); and Ulead DVD MovieFactory 4 to author and burn the DVD. I also planned to use Premiere to export 320x240 WMV files for uploading to a streaming server so my friend could approve sections along the way.
The first thing I discovered was that some cleaning tasks, like redeye and scratch removal, were easier in Ulead PhotoImpact and Roxio PhotoSuite than in Photoshop. One recurring theme of this project was the utility of Roxio's Easy Media Creator 7.5 suite; I can't recommend it highly enough as an iLife-for-Windows option when a simple task gets too complex in your first-option tool. For $99 it's a bargain to have a quick-and-easy audio editor, photo editor, video editor, CD ripper, and DVD creation tool at the ready.
Imaginate is peerless as a dedicated photo panning and zooming tool. Obviously, After Effects will take you places Imaginate never heard of, but getting into the After Effects business is a major commitment, and not one you necessarily have to make for many projects. As expected, Premiere got the job done when it came time to integrate the clips in the timeline, although it didn't do all that well for exporting the low-bitrate clips for Web review; I've always found Premiere's Web-encoding presets rather timid, and I didn't have time to work around them. Plus, my friend alternates between Mac and PC, so my most expedient choice turned out to be the extremely quick VideoCD export tool in Nero Vision Express for platform-independent MPEG-1 files.
My usual tool of choice for DVD authoring also let me down; not only would MovieFactory 4 not successfully burn the DVD I built to either of my DVD burners, but its PAL option was grayed out as well, and one prerequisite of this project was burning a PAL DVD for the father of the bride, who lives in Sydney, Australia. With less than four hours to spare before the FedEx pickup, I opted for the oft-maligned Roxio DVD Builder, which did everything I needed. If I'd had a complex DVD planned with nested or navigable chapter menus, DVD Builder would have been useless. But all I needed here was a first-play video and a top-level menu with custom background and audio and two buttons, Montage and Deleted Scenes. And DVD Builder supports PAL, too.
Next month I'll let you know how it played down south. And Down Under.