This website contains various video kit reviews and field tests of professional video cameras and technology for videographers and producers of corporate videos and company films.
Video Artisan has been writing equipment reviews for nearly 30-years. Articles concentrate on professional videography tools and those that use them within their work. This includes professional video cameras, editing systems, camera support systems, lighting and editing solutions.
In addition, this website includes articles on various aspects of video production and using video as a business tool. These are equally aimed at either video professionals or end-users wishing to create their own video content. Video Artisan believes in helping everyone to create effective video content as this promotes the use of video in general.
Please contact Kevin Cook for suggestions on additional content on this website. Please also contact us if you have a specific question relating to video production. email@example.com or call 020 83602 3356
Filming internal video communications can often be dull and uninteresting – especially when you are not directly involved in the activity. However, every now and then a video communications job comes in which is rewarding, challenging, exciting and pushes us beyond our usual comfort zone. This job was an excellent example and not only put my filming skills and kit to the test but also tested my nerves and ability to rise (or should I say “descent”) to the challenge.
When Video Communications becomes great PR!
As part of their corporate social responsibility programme, on 20th August The Dorchester Hotel organised a sponsored abseil down the front of their iconic building in London’s Mayfair in aid of Cancer Research. With over 60 members of staff taking part, and under the guidance of abseiling specialists, Eiger Safety, the event was filmed by Video Artisan as a memento for those involved and to provide the hotel with some excellent PR opportunities.
It is not uncommon for an event such as this to pass by unnoticed, but by commissioning a video communications film you get two stabs at gaining as much publicity as possible. This was not only important for the hotel but also for Cancer Research and those members of staff who showed great spirit in making the descent, many of which were taking part in their own time. However, there wasn’t much chance of this event going unnoticed as the abseil was set up on the front of The Dorchester in full view of passers by, guests coming and going from the hotel as well as members of the press who had gathered below.
The right kit for the job
Unlike other video communications jobs this one required some specialist kit to give the viewer a much better view of the action and a sense drama. Apart from the obligatory safety kit (climbing hats, harnesses and other abseiling paraphernalia), Video Artisan had the opportunity to put their latest acquisition to good use – namely a JVC Adixxion Action Camera (GC-XA2BE) which was attached to the climbing hat of the main abseil instructor who was accompanying the volunteers as they descended down the building. The main action filming was carried out using our JVC GY-HM650.
Having looked at the features and benefits of all the alternative action cameras, Video Artisan chose the JVC Action Camera for a number of reasons. We regularly use the GY-HM650 camera on video communications projects and were looking to add a small POV camera to capture shots that are otherwise impossible. The Dorchester Hotel abseil gave us an excellent opportunity to put the camera to the test and provided us with an abseiler’s view of the activity. Apart from matching nicely with our GY-HM650, one of the main reasons for buying the Adixxion was its robustness. There were lots of opportunities for the camera to get knocked whist the abseilers made the descent down the hotel facia – and the last thing you need to worry about is the camera being damaged or, worst still, being knocked off its mounting and causing a hazard to the crowd below.
We’ve also used the Adixxion on another corporate shoot for a golf tutoring product which required a shot from the golf ball’s perspective (blog coming soon) and it would have been impossible to use anything other than a small POV to achieve this. In the next couple of weeks we’ll also be using the camera’s 5m depth waterproof feature (without the need for any additional housing) on a shoot in the Dominican Republic. With a whole host of mounting options and accessories I can see the Adixxion being used time and time again. The other features that really sold it to me are that it uses a full-sized SD card, has a preview screen built in, can shoot up to 50/60fps in 1920×1080 resolution and has both side and bottom mounting positions.
Keeping video communications safe
There were of course many safety issues to keep in mind throughout the day. The real action was at the top of the climb as the abseilers were prepared to go over the edge, so not only did we have to make sure that I was properly secured but also the main camera and anything attached to it. Filming the climbers’ reactions as they went over was very important, meaning that for much of the time we had to lean right over the edge to catch the action as they made their initial descent.
We also had to film some of the action as they reached the ground (which had its own risks) and meant that we were constantly having to rig and de-rig as we made our way from ground to roof and back again. In these situations it would be very easy to lose sight of your own safety and that of those around you but thankfully the guys at Eiger Safety were keeping a constant eye on all activities whilst making sure it was a great experience for those taking part whilst ensuring that we always had the best shots.
The final challenge
Having witnessed close-up the buzz and excitement throughout the day I simply couldn’t refuse the offer of having a go down the ropes myself. I have worked with Eiger Safety on their promotional video and have filmed in some amazing situations as they carried out their various height-safety services but never actually managed to do any abseiling myself. I can’t honestly say I’m fearful of heights but don’t mind admitting this was outside of my comfort zone. But, having watched so many people who were truly nervous going down for the benefit of others, I couldn’t resist their offer.
Your next video communications project
I like to think I have proved my dedication to helping organisations create excellent video communications – so next time you are doing something which is worth telling others about then I am your man. Any challenge accepted – as long as it is safe!
In the past week Anthony McTiffen at AKM Music has kindly sent me their latest two albums for review. Whilst both are worthy additions to any video producer’s library of copyright-free music, they are both quite different in style and appeal. The first, ‘AK166 Electric Guitar Pop’, is pretty much what it says on the tin – driving American soft-rock which lends itself to corporate films which need a music underscore to push them along. The second, ‘AK167 Weird & Wonderful Vol 2’, is an eclectic mix of tracks which are calling out for all manner of images to be cut to them.
To put it another way, AK166 is a follower and AK167 is a leader.
This is not going to be a detailed review of each track on this album as they are all very similar. They are of course different, and their subtle variations are enough to warrant their place on the album, but they all follow a very similar theme and style. If I had to put a sound-alike label on the music it would range from Bruce Springsteen, to Asia, to soft-Stones to High-School Reunion – and pretty much every one of them could work as a theme tune on an American sitcom.
I can’t say that I’ll be copying this album to my phone and listening to it in the car, but it’s certainly got its uses. I particularly like the fact that all 10 tracks come in full-length, loop and short versions – which is especially helpful on music which I believe will mainly be used under the images to give them a lift. Combining all versions you can pretty much extend the music to any length which is always helpful.
This is what I’d call an inspirational album. The music ranges from harmonic voice-effect tracks to classical piano pieces – mixed up with Latin, Jazz, Funk, Surfin Dog and others (Surfin Dog will be explained). There is a pattern or style which links all the tracks but often on a “weird and wonderful” level. You’d certainly not expect to find tracks ‘10 Bachman’ and ‘23 Junkbot’ on the same shelf as each other let alone the same album – but somehow it all works.
AKM Music describe this album as, “A real mix of moods, quirky, curious, light, bright and playful Pizzicato strings, classical string quartets groovy surf guitar, elements of madness and good humour. Fresh and fun. For something different add a little weird and wonderful.”
I’ll definitely be using one or more of these tracks at some time in the near future, but I also think it might help with the auditioning process by giving me a wide selection of musical styles to explore and trial on an edit. I find that a complete shift away in musical style from my initial ideas often brings out a completely different and more meaningful edit so this album should really help and inspire – and if there’s nothing on it that matches perfectly it will at least give me clues as to where I should be looking.
I hope that I do get to use some of the tracks on this album as there’s not only some very listenable music on it but also quite a few tracks which are crying out to be visualised. Here’s a few of my favourites…
2 – Klak KloK [1:00]
This conjures visions of a ‘Mission Impossible’ with its piano driven and high-hat tapping rhythm. It’s jazzy and it’s, “in pursuit of suspect on foot” ducking in and out of doorways, through crowds, down stairs…. It’s tension – in a ‘Man from Uncle’ kind of way.
4 – Meadow [0:59]
I imagined seeing this on a trailer for a new and youthful day-time TV magazine programme for the under 80s presented by the Chuckle Brothers. You know it’s going to be light and possibly funny. In truth it’s hard to imagine where this will end up being used but its got character and its plucky strings, strumming bass and piano signatures leave you feeling very positive.
5 – Der [2:19]
Expect to hear the word “Der” a lot on this one as it’s a harmonised voice-effect track with calypso bongo breaks. You also get the occasional “Wooo” too but the lyrics are still easy to remember. It builds in complexity towards the end – right down to the last, extended and harmonised “der”. I like this kind of track because it’s hard to imagine where you might use it, but if you ever do it’s so perfect you’d think it was written specially.
8 – Spring Onions [2:41] If I ever had to do a spoof Blues Brothers film this track would help me pull it off. It could match perfectly to lines such as, “There’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses.” Again I don’t know if I’ll ever actually get to use it but I hope I do.
12 – LED [1:20] A medium-paced rhythmic electronic score which I could imagine being used on a car commercial. Not just any car though, the Coolthrash 8000 with super-booster charged engine and hand-crafted mermaid skin trim, walnut dash and more computing power than Belgium. Luxury, style, dosh!
14 – Rainbow Drops [1:17]
I’m a massive Elbow fan and it would be an amazing compliment if I ever compared a piece of copyright-free music to theirs. However, with the wizard that he is, I bet if Elbow’s lead singer and lyricist, Guy Garvey, was let loose on penning words to this it would hold up pretty well. The pictures would therefore need to be something equally deep and meaningful – but that’s really handy if you need to create any motivational content. The ending is a bit of a non-event though.
15 – Latino Disco [3:20]
Purely selfish I know, but as I produce quite a bit of ballroom dance related content this track is going to be really handy. At over 3-mins long the track develops through different stages – some less complex and reflective, others more full on, but all following a disco-fied Cha Cha rhythm (I know because I’ve tried doing a Cha Cha to it).
18 – Surfin Dog [1:25]
This is on my favourites list just because it is so well titled. I can actually imagine a dog surfing to it – so much so that I’m seriously thinking of getting a dog and training it to surf just so I can use this track. It’s also another score I could use in my Blues Brother spoof.
19 – Terraformer [4:16]
A great track for producing a documentary or serious package on a hi-tech company/product. Slow in pace, with whirly orchestral whooshes and whale-like sound FX – driven on by piano and drums interspersed with less complex passages. Would suit anything pharmaceuticals, time-lapse construction, architectural and futuristic subject.
22 – Edge of Beyond [5:44]
We’re at the end of a Quentin Tarantino film where the hero is looking at the death and destruction surrounding him and thinking, “WTF was that all about?”. They walk off into the sunset and the end credits start (and the music plays on through them). Very spaghetti, very steel guitar – very hard to find the right bit of film to use it on but perfect when you do.
24 – Shotgun Runway [2:04]
I can’t get a fashion show catwalk out of my mind on this one, after which we all popped of to the nearest rave. It’s not fast paced by any means, but it’s got an incredibly strong beat to it and lends itself to hard cutting, artistic picture grading and perfect for music-driven caption/graphic animations.
Whilst the above are my favourites I think all 25-tracks are worthy of space on this album – and when any of these are used on a project the music is going to play a major role in telling the story. When I’d finished listening to it I had to go the AKM Music website to preview Vol 1 (AK090 – The Weird and Wonderful) as I’d not heard it before. It was good, but I think Vol 2 is way better on would certainly sit somewhere in my top-5 list of AKM Music albums. Buy it – if only to try out my lyrics for track 20!
Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon)
Note: Get 20% off either the CD or CD DOWNLOAD with this promo code ‘HDSLR1’. Click the links in the album titles above to audition.
Ever since the new regulations on radio microphone frequencies were introduced in the UK at the end of 2012, the days were numbered for my trusty old Sony UWP series radio mic system (consisting of the URX-P1 UHF dual-diversity receiver and UTX-B1 transmitter). Whilst super-reliable and excellent quality, this combo is limited to channels 67-69 which the government sold off to expand the frequencies available for mobile phones (cheers!).
After the new regulations came into place radio mics had to switch over to channel 38 if they were capable of doing so – and the old UWP series were not. Apparently there are ways to upgrade this receiver/transmitter system but it entails changing the main board in each unit (way beyond my technical skills) – but I’d already made up my mind that it was time to move on to something new with some additional features that would make wireless microphone use even more adaptable and reliable.
There have been many new and compliant radio mic solutions on the market since these changes were announced but I’d resisted them all for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’d managed to carry on using my old UWP series without interference or conflict with the authorities. Naughty I know but when needs must the devil drives! Secondly, I was so pleased with their performance that I was reluctant to change to anything new and untested. To me, Sony have always represented belt and braces technology so any move away from this brand was a turnoff. Any replacement would also have to have the same dual-diversity capability, be robust, compact, easy to use and within the same kind of budget as the original UWP series (sub £500).
Introducing the UWP-D11
I first set eyes on the new UWP-D11 at BVE 2014 where I was filming interviews with various exhibitors about their new products aimed squarely at professional videographers. This included filming an interview with Álvaro Ortiz at Sony about the various bits of technology they were showing for the first time in the UK – which included the UWP-D series (http://vimeo.com/87877656). I knew there and then that I’d found my replacement so it was only a matter of time before I got one.
The D11 package is a direct replacement for my old system, though I have to admit that a UTX-P03 Plug-on transmitter (part of the D16 package) is still on my wish list. Whilst the vast majority of my work is adequately covered by the D11 package (which includes an omni-directional lavalier microphone, windshield, belt clips and cold-shoe mount) there are occasions where I use a wired handheld reporter-type microphone and it would be great to go completely wire-free between mic and receiver. Having said that, the D11’s portable transmitter (URX-B03) has a mini-jack input, with adjustable attenuation, allowing you to connect other microphones with differing sound pressure levels. The input can also be switched between mic and line level so I could, for instance, feed the transmitter with an output from my Tascam DR-60D mixer-recorder enabling me to feed up to three microphone inputs into the URX-B03 and transmit that back to the receiver (URX-P03).
The UWP-D11 difference
The UWP-D features Sony’s Hybrid Digital Processing which combines the sound quality of digital audio processing with the reliability of analogue FM modulation. This helps improve the signal exchange between transmitter and receiver resulting in a stronger and more natural sound recording. As a true dual diversity system, continuation of signal is maintained by the URX-P03 always using the strongest signal picked up either of the two independent receivers.
The D11 package offers wide frequency coverage with up to 72 MHz bandwidth across a wide range of channels. The Sony website lists seven different carrier frequency versions of the D11 so it’s important to source the right model from an authorised Sony dealer for the country/region you are using it in as regulations do vary. This should result in a product that works out of the box, without fear of interference or causing interference to others on restricted channels/frequencies.
Ease of use was high on my list of priorities and the D11 achieves this will some very useful features. The large, bright display panels (11.5mm x 27.8mm) on both transmitter and receiver give you an instant indication of status. This includes channel and bandwidth settings, battery strength and audio level meter on both units. The transmitter also includes a mic or line setting indicator, a transmission indicator and transmission strength setting indicator. The receiver also has signal strength status (showing the dual receivers ‘a’ and ‘b’ independently – and which one it is presently using) – so at any one time you can see what each unit is set to and whether there’s communication and signal passing between the two.
The audio level meter also includes a peak indicator which displays solid black on the screen when you overload the input. Both units also have two light indicators on the top edge of the body – one for Power (Power/Muting button on transmitter) and another marked ‘RF’ on the receiver and ‘Audio’ on the transmitter. Under normal conditions the transmitter’s Audio light will flicker green to reflect the movement in the audio level – but if you do manage to overload the input on the transmitter this light will temporarily turn red which is very easy to spot. If you lose signal at the receiver your green light will go out altogether – otherwise it remains on constantly.
The power lights will also give you further information on battery condition (each unit takes two AA batteries) – with a solid green light displaying under good battery conditions, flashing green when the battery power is getting low, flashing orange when the audio is set to muted/disabled (switched on and off using a short press of the power button on the transmitter) and, finally, solid orange when the batteries are being charged.
This is one of the major advances on the UWP-D series in that you can charge Ni-MH batteries within the units by connecting them via their USB connectors (Micro B type) to a suitable supply (for instance, a laptop or any other standard USB power supply). In addition, you can also use the USB connector to power the unit without the need to have batteries installed – plus this USB connection is also used for updating firmware.
UWP-D11 Menu Controls & Settings
Changing the parameters is carried out through a very simple menu system which is navigated via the ‘Set’, ‘+’ and ‘-’ buttons. Besides the power button these are the only controls on the units. There is an advanced menu setting which enables you to change the commander settings, lock power switches, alter screen brightness, battery type etc. – but for normal operation the simple menu mode gives you everything you’re likely to want to change in the field.
Both units also contain an infrared red detector. By default the UK model comes set to channels 33-35 so you’ll need to change this to channels 38-40. You do this by selecting the ‘Band’ setting in the menu on the receiver (using the ‘+’ ‘-’ and then ‘Set’ buttons) and toggle through to the desired channel set. Once adjusted you’ll see that the RF signal is lost between the two units until you click menu again and then the ‘Auto Set – Yes’ mode – at which point the RF light will flash and the unit will go through searching mode and communicate with the transmitter via infrared. Once coupled via infrared the transmitter display will show the channel setting on the receiver and ask you if you want to sync the units. Select ‘yes’ and the transmitter will change to the same channel/frequency and two units will connect via RF again. You’ll see the signal strength indicators return on the receiver and the audio level will match that on the transmitter.
If you are in an environment where there’s a number of radio devices being used the receiver also has a function that allows you to scan the channel band to see if there’s anything being used on the same frequency – and then select a frequency which is unused. Within the advanced menu you can also use the ‘Active Channel Scan’ function, which allows you to tune in multiple receivers to the same transmitter. In addition you can also manually adjust the channel/frequency by holding down the ‘Set’ button on the receiver and then pressing the ‘+’ ‘-’ buttons. Again, once set you’ll need to select the ‘Auto Set’ button and go through the syncing process with the transmitter.
This all sounds complicated but in practice the D11 package allows you to be operating on a clean, interference-free and legal channel very quickly.
UWP-D11 Ins and Outs
Besides the USB connector the transmitter has only one mini-jack connector which also carries power to the supplied microphone. This has a screw-on collar fitting to stop the microphone becoming inadvertently disconnected from the unit. The receiver has two standard mini-jack connectors – one marked ‘Output’ for connecting to your camera or recording device and the other marked ‘Phones’ for headphone monitoring. You can adjust the level on the output via the menu to match your recording device (±12dB) – as well as changing the monitoring level on the headphones. The receiver also has and additional multi-pin auxiliary connector for connecting accessories – but I’ve got no idea what these might be!
There’s lots of things that I really like about the UWP-D11 package – but the two things which jump out at me are its robust build and ease of use. The main body is made of metal and feels like it would fair well in the often drop-hazard world of ENG production. In other words, they’re tough little buggers but weigh in at under 180g including batteries. They’re also slightly smaller than my old retired UWP system making them ideal for use on DSLRs as well as traditional video cameras.
The other major advantages are the USB power supply or, more importantly to me, the ability to charge batteries within the unit whilst in the field. Not only could this save your bacon but it also means you do not need to buy yet another charger unit. I’ve not had to put this to the test yet but I’m sure I will.
I’m also really looking forward to coupling the system with my Tascam DR-60D mixer/recorder – which will open up a whole new range of wireless audio solutions for me. I do a fair bit of conference work and often there’s no AV technical handling audio – or when there is the feed from their desk is not exactly perfect. Faced with these situations I could add get up to three mics placed on stage, mixed through the DR-60D and out to the transmitter once set to line input – and then wirelessly transmit this back to the receiver at the camera without the need to run and gaffer-tape cables. I can imagine this feature/combination to be highly appealing to wedding videographers filming top-table speeches too.
The UWP-D series are also compatible with Sony’s WL-800, UWP and Freedom series systems, allowing you to switch between different commanding modes. Like any bit of technology you’re going to have to read the manual (supplied on CDROM) but, thankfully, not religiously and only when you want to dig deeper into its capabilities.
So, I’m legal at last – and ready to deal quickly with any audio situation that might arise without interference of other devices. Well done Sony.
Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon.)
Note: Check out the Sony website for your nearest authorised dealer.
AKM Music has recently released two new albums that caught my eye as a business film producer – AK164 Media Toolkit and AK165 Smile Be Happy. I’m always interested in extending my copyright-free music archive as you can’t have too much of it when trying to find the right music score for your films. These two albums fall into two very different camps.
Before I move on to talk about these albums, I need to quickly mention a special ‘End of Tax Year’ offer from AKM Music which runs out on 4th April. If you buy 3 or more CDs or CD downloads you can get an amazing 35% off! All you have to do is use this promo code at the checkout CDOFF14.
To give you inspiration you might want to check out some of my other reviews of their music – Here, here, here and here!
AKM 164 – Media Toolkit
This album is a collection of sound effects to help you emphasise movement, edits and graphical on-screen action within your films. But their use goes beyond this and can help tell your story and create tension or generally add depth to your soundtrack. It’s important for me to say that this is not a collection of Foley effects (sound effects which are used to synchronise on screen action – such as doors closing or windows breaking) but rather evocative synthesised effects. There’s a great Wiki page on the full scope and use of Sound Effects, but needless to say this album is still a worthy addition to your collection.
The album is grouped into nine types of effects ranging from Hits, Whooshes, Stabs and Explosions to Transitions, Underscores and Soundbeds. The Underscores and Soundbeds sections seem a little out of place to me as they’re basically musical arrangements for use as underscores for live action sound or voiceovers. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still useful and produced to the same high standard that we are used to from AKM Music – but they’re not, in my mind, true sound effects.
In the past I’ve had to mess about creating these kind of synthetic sound effects from scratch and, whilst very satisfying, can take an incredible amount of time which you rarely get paid for and more often than not go unnoticed (if they are done right!). It’s also worth saying that I don’t get the opportunity (or desire) to use sound effects on every film I produce – but when you do need them they’re very useful indeed.
I can see AKM 164 being my go-to album whenever this need arises. It’s going to be particularly useful on opening/closing title sequences and graphics where I want to emphasise an animation. There are also some very handy transitional sounds that will help link scenes together.
AK165 – Smile Be Happy
This one was quite a surprise to me – and a pleasant one at that. I was expecting to hear the usual collection of bright, upbeat and jovial scores to help you add a sense of fun or even comedy to a film. What you actually get is a collection of music that’s got a very wide programme-type appeal – and will no doubt suit as the main theme on wedding films and documentaries as well as corporate films that need a gentle sense of fun about them.
Each track has a full version plus at least two shorter versions (60-second and 30-second). Some of the tracks also come with alternative edits too. I really appreciate having these shorter and alternate edits to hand and will often mix between them in post when I’m cutting a track to a specific length.
Apart from one track (‘Summer in New York’ – which doesn’t quite fit in for me), they all follow a similar theme which conjures up visions of New England or Shaker-style buildings on warm summer days. Quite a few contain voice or whistle effects, so give a very happy, carefree feeling. I’ve seen quite a few really great wedding films lately and they’ve all used similar music to this. The title track, ‘Smile Be Happy’ is probably the best example of this.
The tracks are all mid-tempo with either ukulele/banjo, acoustic guitar or piano as lead instrument. The music is simple, without masses of instruments mixed together but rather something that two or three people could perform live. The ones containing voice effects are very non-descriptive and contain the occasional, “whoo hoo”, “dum dum” or “la la la” type voice sounds – so are completely language-agnostic.
As I said earlier, this album is going to appeal to a very wide range of programme types. In fact I can’t say for sure that I’ve not already heard it being used on a wedding film – or maybe even a TV commercial or two (the latest Lloyds Bank animated one uses something very similar). I have a project in mind for it right now. For the past couple of years I’ve been thinking of making a documentary about beekeepers (being one myself) and one of the tracks on this album would be perfect for it – giving the film a happy, gentle, earth-friendly feel about it.
Whilst you’d probably not find these two albums appearing on the same film, they are both worthy of shelf space in your copyright-free music archive. ‘AK165 – The Media Tool Kit’ might be a something that you buy and only very occasionally need – but when you do need it there’s nothing else that’s going to hit the spot.
‘AK165 – Smile Be Happy’ on the other hand is going to appeal to a much wider audience and, I dare say, will be one of AKM best sellers over time.
Kevin Cook F.Inst.V. (Hon.)
Additional Info – AKM Music at BVE
I recently caught up with Anthony McTiffen, the man behind AKM Music at the BVE exhibition at Excel. I was there to interview those exhibitors who had products and services aimed specifically at the professional videographer and it gave me the opportunity to quiz Anthony about the benefits of using copyright-free / royalty-free music within your productions. Click here to see the full collection of short interviews filmed at BVE.
I’m massively impressed with my Edius system from DVC – head over heels in love with it to be more precise. It’s as steady and reliable as you can get and does 99% of what I want to do in a quick and logical way. However, the one thing that always fills me with envy is seeing some of the more sexy things other producers seem to be able to do, with ease, with their titles and graphic effects. Edius basic QuickTitler is just that, pretty basic.
Towards the end of last year I came to the conclusion that I really had to start getting my head around Adobe After Effects as it seemed to be the program of choice for the videographers whose work had inspired me. I’d flirted with it for many years previously, in various editions, but it simply wouldn’t stick in my head. Unless I’m using a program day-in day-out it doesn’t take long for me to have to re-learn basics in order to get results out in a reasonable amount of time.
Determined to get going with After Effects I signed up for the Adobe Creative Suite free month’s trial and set myself a challenge. If I could get to the stage of being able to quickly knock up attractive lower-thirds caption backs and animated title sequences within the free trial period I’d take out one of Adobe’s subscriptions. I failed miserably. After Effects simply doesn’t fit in my head – and I doubt I’m the only one to have come to this conclusion.
At that point I had accepted the fact that if I ever wanted anything more than I can currently do using Edius (and a bit of Photoshopping) I’d probably be hiring those services in. Either that or maybe it was time for me to start looking elsewhere.
My route to Vistitle 2.5
It was shortly after my final After Effects experience that David Clarke of DVC approached me about reviewing the latest edition of Vistitle (2.5). When I originally ordered my edit suite from them they’d bundled it up within the quote but it had been one of the cutbacks I had to make in order to get the system that I thought I wanted. Whilst I thought I knew what Vistitle was and how it might help me, I didn’t really fully appreciate how I’d grow to need and want it.
Even though Vistitle was very popular within the Edius community (integrating neatly with it from very early editions) at that time it all seemed a little too template driven to me – and the examples I’d seen produced with it left me a little cold. I really should have given it a go back then as I think I’ve been missing a real gem. What is it they say about hindsight?
With its close integration with Edius, Vistitle hasn’t really gained much take up outside of that community. That’s very understandable, especially in a marketplace where you have such a strong standalone product as After Effects and its complete integration with Premiere. But Vistitle 2.5 has changed all that as it now integrates neatly with Avid and Premiere too giving a really powerful alternative for many more PC-based editors looking for a little more than their NLE’s basic titling package can offer.
The full review pack sent to me by DVC included the five additional plug-ins and retails for around £250 inc. VAT. There’s upgrade paths too for those with earlier versions of the software plus you can also buy the plug-ins separately to keep your initial investment low.
What is Vistitle 2.5
In a nutshell, Vistitle is a PC-based title effects/animation software package. It enables users to quickly create complex, multi-layered 2D/3D animations of text and objects – applying textures, depth, glows, sparkles and lighting effects. It also enables you to quickly add dynamic graphic backgrounds for text and graphics, and with the optional plug-in packs provides particle effects, handwriting animations, 3D charts, converts 2D paths to 3D and there’s also a dedicated Karaoke plug-in should you need it.
Edius users will find the layout, menus and controls very familiar – mainly because it was specifically developed to address that NLE’s titling shortcomings. Whilst Avid and Premiere users might be daunted with this prospect I can only urge you to give it a go (there’s a watermarked demo you can download here). I’ve played with most NLE packages in my time and I think that Edius is, by far, the most intuitive and easiest to pick up. Vistitle follows that example.
The minimum spec for the PC is an Intel CPU with 3GHz processor or faster (Intel i5 or i7 is recommended). You’ll need a Direct3D 9.0c or later supported graphics card, at least 2GB of RAM (4GB if you are running Edius 7) and at least 4GB of storage space for the installation. You’ll also need a spare USB port to connect the USB dongle – and your system must first have either Edius, Avid or Premiere installed.
Vistitle utilises the graphics card to render in real-time – so the better card, processor and RAM you have the better performance you’ll achieve. But even with a minimum specification system you’ll be able to work at full HD and render out complex text and graphic animations – which it does comparatively quickly.
YouTube is awash with free tutorials about After Effects, along with books and online resources aimed at beginners and advance users alike. That’s no surprise when you consider the size of the user base and the complexity of the program. Despite accessing many of these resources by the time I’d reached the end of my month’s trial I was still an After Effects stumbling fool.
Vistitle tutorials on the other hand are sparse – but thankfully most are well thought out and, mores the point, easy to follow. The program comes with the usual PDF user manual but, in addition, you also get a set of mute video tutorials covering most of the program’s features. DVC have also got an excellent collection of beginner tutorials on their website which is where I started and they got me up and running in no time. There’s also a range of more advanced tutorials on DivideByeZero’s YouTube channel which I’m presently working my way through – plus there’s a new set of paid-for tutorials at http://sgdvtutorials.com/ (which will be available through DVC) but I’ve not looked at these at all yet.
The end result for me was that by the end of the first day I’d got my head around basic navigation and controls of the program and had output a rudimentary title with an animation. By the end of a month of using it I’m far from being expert but I am at the stage where I’m choosing to use Vistitle more often that Edius’ own QuickTitle.
Vistitle Interface & Workflow
I understand that there are some differences to workflow between using Vistitle with other NLEs, so anything talked about here is purely relating to using it alongside Edius. Outside of your NLE you’ll be working within the main Vistitle interface, but once used inside your NLE you’ll be accessing it in a number of ways.
Adding a Vistitle is a simple as clicking on the ‘T’ (add title) button in Edius, which will launch you straight into the main interface. Once you’ve created a Vistitle, double-clicking it on your timeline will first take you into the Vistitle Mini interface. In here you can simply and easily adjust the text content of your title (the actual words, font, weight, kerning, layer ordering etc.) without the need to go into the full interface. That’s a smart feature and is great for quickly editing and adding captions of a similar design. For instance, once you have created the look and feel of your captions, added lighting effects and swirling backdrops, logos and particle effects, all you have to do to create another matching caption is to open the first in Vistitle Mini, change the text and then ‘save as’ with a different name.
If you want to change the Vistitle in more detail, such as amending the animation or altering light effects and colours, then you need to click on the button to take you to the full interface from within Vistitle Mini.
Whilst there’s definitely a link to Edius in Vistitle’s layout it is not going to seem too alien to an After Effects user. There’s a timeline, a preview window and a properties/control box for editing the currently-selected object.
The preview window is switchable between the main title graphic design and its effect view which includes the selected object’s animation path. Dividing the views up like this gives you a very uncluttered and easy-to-work-with view of your title and the objects within it.
The timeline area will also appear very familiar to NLE and effects package users with each object having an expandable view for controlling transformations, effects, in & out points and key frames. This window can also be switched to reveal a template library of graphic elements, backgrounds, sub-titles, multi-layered particle effects captions, 3D objects etc. – for you to easily and quickly add to your design and customise as you see fit.
For really quick application you can also call up a template design to drag and drop straight on to your Edius timeline. Once installed Vistitle will add an item to your ‘Tools’ menu in Edius, called ‘Edius Title Template Library’. The library consists of a variety of pre-constructed Layouts, Sub-titles, Images, Movies and DynaTextures.
Layouts include a vast range of lower-third captions, full-screen graphic designs with 3D objects and other demonstration templates which show off all the capabilities of Vistitle. Just drag one to your timeline, double-click to change the text content in Vistitle Mini – or completely change its properties within the full Vistitle interface and then save them. You can also import any previously designed Vistitle projects into this library for quick deployment.
Many of these templates are cheesy – but the point of them is they get you started quickly – and in opening them up and starting to tweak them to your own design is a great way to learn how to create your own Vistitles from scratch.
The Sub-title templates work in a similar way. These give you a range of single lines of text which you can add to your timeline as sub-titles – at timed intervals. Simply drag and drop the subtitle on to your Edius timeline, stretch it out over the video section that you want to sub-title, double-click and then start adding the titles line-by-line and place exactly over the right section of video.
The Image library contains both static images and static graphical elements – which again can be just dragged onto your timeline. You can also import your own TGA, PSD, BMP, JPG, GIF, EMF, WMF, TIF, PNG and ICO images to this library for easy deployment to your timeline.
The Movie library contains a handy set of animated icons and graphics in .VXMOVIE format. This includes spinning globes, explosions and other more obscure objects which can be dragged and dropped onto your timeline. Unfortunately you can’t import normal video files into this such as AVIs or MOVs – but why would you want to? However, if you have an animation created in another program, and can export that out as an image sequence, you can then import these into a separate utility program that comes with Vistitle called VxMvMaker. This gives you the option to output your image sequence in various video formats – including .VXMOVIE.
The final section in the library contains DynaTextures (Dynamic Textures). This wide selection of swirling masses of colours and shapes are ideal for creating backdrops for titles or video. You simply drag them on to your timeline and then stretch them out to the required time length and they automatically animate over that period. You can then of course alter the qualities of these within Edius’ own effects and image adjustments. I’ve used these plenty of times already.
My first Vistitle project
With my head pretty much around the program I set about creating my first Vistitle project from scratch. I’ve wanted to create a suitable video ident or credit for Video Artisan for a while now and it’s the kind of project that Vistitle was created for. News also came in around that time of my entry winning the IOV’s Video of the Month competition so I thought it would also give me an opportunity to shout about that too. The end result can be seen here…
I’m not saying the end result is an amazing, multi-layered marvel that demonstrates everything that Vistitle can do – but it works for me. It does however utilise lighting, animation and particle effects – and the very, very useful DynaTextures. The award wreath is a PNG file with transparent background and was imported as an image into Vistitle. After deselecting the ‘Always Use Image Colour as Face Colour’ option I was able to apply colour, lighting, texture and depth effects to these objects and easily time the glows to coincide with the passing of the 3D particle effect underneath.
Since then I’ve gone on to use Vistitle in a couple of real, paid-for, projects. The most recent is the short doc on the M&IT Agency Challenge which was filmed at the Landmark Hotel, London (https://vimeo.com/85261908). I’ve mentioned this project as it’s typical of how I’ll be using Vistitle going forward. The only Vistitles in this are the interviewee caption backs (the first comes in at 1’ 30”) which have a very subtle 3D particle effect in the background just to help the text stand out.
Final thoughts for this Vistitle Review
Whilst the additional plug-ins do add to the overall cost of ownership I think they are vitally important addition – if only for the ‘3D Particle Effects’. The ‘Handwriting’ plug-in is also really nice to have in your arsenal as one day you will be asked if you can do this. Not only can you use it to reveal text as if it’s being written on the screen but you can also do the same with objects and images. ‘3D Charts’ are also something that your clients will just expect you to be able to do, so again another useful tool to have in your box. I have to admit that I’ve not spent much time playing with the ‘2D path to 3D’ plug-in (enabling you to extrude 2D objects to 3D and add textures, light paths etc.), and I can’t imagine me ever using the ‘Karaoke’ plug-in but suspect there’s a market where this too would prove to be very handy.
I guess that it’s a good sign that I’ve not found much at all to moan about with Vistitle so far. The only thing that had me stumped for a while is that in the full interface, by default, the project layers are displayed back to front – with the top layer being at the bottom! However David at DVC pointed out that if you right-click in the timeline area and select, “track layer matched with object layer” it puts them the sensible way round.
Like all whiz-bang effects you have to learn to use title and graphics effects in moderation. They are never a substitute for good basic cameracraft, editing and storytelling. I would even go as far as saying that if you notice them then you’ve probably overdone them. You must also keep in mind that every minute spent creating a nice title and graphic is costing you or your client money. Even with its simplicity and ease of use, Vistitle will absorb a lot of time in designing, tweaking and rendering out graphics – all of which adds to the production’s budget. Therefore you’ll need to always ask yourself if the film really needs it and whether your client is prepared to pay for the work involved. My own Video Artisan credit piece took about a day to create including aborted designs and fiddling about with the animations and lighting effects.
The big question is, is Vistitle a direct replacement for After Effects? I guess the simple answer to that is “no” – but only because of After Effects’ many years of development and take-up within the creative industries. But for anyone who is starting from scratch or looking for a much simpler and more intuitive title effects package that you can get your head around in a much more reasonable amount of time, then Vistitle is a much better solution. With the introduction of version 2.5 and its integration with Avid and Premiere I can see the user base expanding quite rapidly – and with that I can see Vistitle being developed and improved even further.