Part II: Video Montages Tech Talk Tutorial

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This article is part two in our continuing series on the technical side of creating video montages for weddings, sweet 16s, quinceañeras or bar/bat mitzvahs. If you haven’t read part one, please Google that first, before reading part two.

When we last left off, you had successfully navigated past the PAL/NTSC choice, decided whether you wanted your montage to be 4:3/Full Frame or 16:9/Widescreen, and chose whether or not to create your video montage in hi-definition video, commonly referred to as hi-def, or in standard definition video, also known as standard def.

You should have also figured out how to import your photos and video clips into your project and now you are ready to get started.

An entertaining montage for an event such as a wedding, bar or bat mitzvah, sweet 16 or quinceañeras is most effective when it tells a story. Rather than merely going from photograph to photograph while some music plays in the background, you want the montage to enlighten the audience as to who the subject of the montage is – what makes he, she (or they), the person(s) they are, as demonstrated through the photos, video clips, music, voice-over and graphics. I won’t spend too much time explaining how to best accomplish this, as this series is focused primarily on the technical aspects of creating a montage and that falls a bit more into the creative zone, but there is some overlap here, so I will touch upon some of the technical tools utilized to create an effective montage.

The basic elements that comprise a montage are as follows:

  1. Picture/images
  2. Sound
  3. Titles or Graphics;
  4. Transitions;
  5. Special Effects

“Picture,” or the images seen in a montage are primarily (a) the holding for a period of time on a photograph; or (b) allowing a video clip to play for a certain duration.

With photographs, the montage will be infinitely more enjoyable if you can utilize “camera movement” during the time the photograph is on screen. Different software packages will allow you to create these moves in different ways, with the end result enabling a “camera move” to zoom in on the photograph, zoom out, or move in any manner across the image. The speed at which the move will occur is dependent on how long the photograph is on screen, and how big a move you program.

For example, let’s say you have a nice, wide photograph of a person standing on a beach and the full figure of the person is only about half the height of the photograph. If the photograph will be on screen for two seconds and you program the computer to start by showing the entire photograph and then you want it to end up close-up on the person’s face – well that’s a big move to happen in two seconds and the movement to get there will be relatively quick. It will appear slower if you lengthen the duration that the photograph stays on screen, or if you choose a final point that is not as drastically different as the starting point – such as going from the full photograph to end up framing the person from his head down to his knees rather than just his face. This would then require a slower camera move to get there.

Like in a movie, camera moves also serve to point out aspects of the photograph to the viewer. They help “tell a story.” If you start close-up on the photograph and then “pull-out” to reveal another object or person, the viewer gets a certain feeling conveyed, i.e. “Look there’s little Mikey having fun on the beach. Oh, he’s there with cousin Bobby!” Or, if you start wide on a photograph of a bunch of people, the viewer will first take in the whole group at once…but if you then zoom in on one particular person, the camera move will focus the viewer’s attention to to perhaps point something out about that person, i.e. “look at Lisa’s expression! She’s rolling her eyes at the person standing next to her.” In this manner, you can make a static photograph much more exciting and informative by relaying the information a little at a time.

Keep in mind that camera moves also are effective when they are not repeatedly the same, but rather varied, i.e. sometimes starting wide and moving closer; other times starting close and pulling back wide.

Video clips should be chosen to help add to the story about the person featured in the montage. Be careful to not use too long of a clip – keep asking yourself what is the shortest length where the purpose of the clip has been conveyed, and then move on to the next material.

Sound can either be the audio coming from the video clip, or a music selection, voice-over or sound effect, or a combination of all. Obviously with photographs there isn’t going to be any natural sound, so all of the above can be used to make the photograph more interesting. Also, just because a video clip has sound to it, doesn’t mean you can’t have more sound – such as music or sound effects you add to it. Also, there may be instances where you don’t want to hear the natural sound from the video clip but instead want to only use the clip for its visuals, with a different soundtrack behind it. Picture and audio should always be thought of as two separate items – and you have unlimited freedom to change either no matter whether there was anything there in the first place. Again, these choices are what combine to help you tell a story through the montage.

Titles or graphics are elements created in your editing system (or elsewhere) that convey visual information. Titles can appear over black (or other colors or backgrounds), or they can be added on top of a photograph or video clip. Titles and graphics can be an effective way to impart information in your “story” and also serve to add some variety to the visual impact of your montage, so that the viewer gets a momentary break from looking at photos and video clips. This can serve to separate sections of the montage for a purpose, or to build-up to a particular photograph or video.

Transitions are the methods in which you change from visual to visual. The simplest is known as a cut, which is merely replacing one visual with the next on a particular frame of video or point in time. For montages, cuts can be effective when they occur in time with – or to – a beat of the music. Cuts can also be jarring either purposely or not.

A softer or more gentle way to change from one image to another is with a dissolve or wipe effect. A dissolve is a gradual replacement of one image with another over a period of time – which can be adjusted in length. Essentially one image fades out while the other fades in, creating a more lyrical change from one to the other. A “wipe” can come in many different fashions. The image can slide off the screen while the other image slides on; it can twirl, bend, break-apart; shrink; etc. There are circle wipes, page-turn wipes, pixel wipes, etc. As computers have gotten more sophisticated and software packages more developed, the amount of “preset” wipes has only increased.

A word of caution. Beware of the wipes!

They may seem cool when you first look at them, but if you use too many too often they can be distracting and ultimately seem cheesy or cheap rather than cool – the opposite effect that you were perhaps thinking. In my opinion, cuts and dissolves are the “classiest” tools, with the occasional use of a creative wipe an effective way to bring some variation to the montage. But use them sparingly! Just cause you got it, doesn’t mean you have to use it!

Special effects can also be effective if used occasionally. One trend that has found its way into event montages but starts to go into the “cheesy” zone, is the use of green-screen compositing with video clips. This is where a character in a clip (usually newly created for this purpose) is inserted or composited into another background or moving image, such as a well-known movie. The biggest beef I have with this, is not so much the idea, itself, but rather the poor quality of the compositing work. Green-screen/compositing is difficult to do well. I, in fact, directed a mainstream movie where we shot two-thirds of the movie in front of a green-screen. It was a movie called Gamebox 1.0 (look for it on video or television!), and the story involved a video game tester who finds himself literally inside a video game, and the only way out is to win the game. (The upcoming movie Tron has a similar premise). So I am very familiar with green-screen work. In order to do green-screen right, the correct tools need to be used and it needs to be shot in a certain way to make the integration look believable. If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all, in my opinion! There, I’ve said my peace.

Obviously with special effects in general, if it “adds” to the story of the montage, then great, do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t do it. Sometimes simplicity is the best way to tell a story.

It’s now time for you to get busy putting the montage together utilizing all the elements described above. Happy montaging!

That concludes part two of our series…

Stay tuned for Video Montages Tech Talk Tutorial part 3 which will cover the technical aspects of completing a montage and preparing for its big-screen debut.

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