Make: Making Movies!

My goal for this evening was to try and turn a video captured from a camera in to something to be shared via the Internets.

The source material was a dance competition. The material was about 2:30 in length. No real editing since it was basically from start to finish.

Since I’m working with a Mac these days, I tried to use tools that were available to me there.

I chose to use iMovie ’08 since that was the latest version I had available to me.

I’ve never used the tool before, so I was coming at it as a complete newbie.

The use model was pretty simple. All I had to do was import the movie that I’d downloaded from the camera. But I also wanted some Title and End pages. I created those in Photoshop with a simple black background and white font. I dragged those to the project and had to move the Title to the front and the End to, well, the end.

Here is where I found what appears to be a common annoyance with iMovie ’08 and that’s the Ken Burns effect on photos. This is a Zoom effect where the size of the title card (for example) is varied for the duration of the shot.

This appears to be the default for photos in iMovie.

I had to do a bit of searching on the web, but eventually I discovered that if I selected the photo, then the crop tool, it brings up a screen with three options: Fit, Crop and Ken Burns (which is selected by default). Simply choose Fit and Done and life goes back to what we’d expect for a simple Title card. This eliminated that problem for me.

After being satisfied with that part, it was time to Export. My first pass was to export at the video size, which was 640×480. The original movie was 81M, so I had hoped it would get smaller. Nope. It got larger. Like 121M larger. Well, that won’t work. Waaaay to big, even in these days of giant (relatively speaking) pipes.

To avoid this, I then exported in a smaller size and accepted the Mobile option in iMovie and exported at 480×360 for size.

Since I figured most of the viewers would be Windows users, I next used a tool called Visual Hub to convert the movie to .avi, which I thought would be more easily viewed. This made it smaller (like 14M) but not viewable for some reason on Windows boxes.

After a bit more searching on the subject of optimal formats for the best odds of viewing across machines, it appeared the front runner was Flash. So, breaking out Visual Hub again, changed options to Flash and generated a Flash version that was only slightly larger than the previous (non-functional) AVI version.

Once I uploaded this to my server for testing and simply giving it the URL, I was faced with a pixelated version blown up to fill the size of the browser window. I could always change the size of the window, but that’s inelegant.

Even a bit more searching and I was able to discover an embedded version that set the size of the flash window. Something like so:


<title>Zoe's Dance Competition - 02/23/2008</title>



<embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="480" height="360"></embed>



And that did it!

You can see the result at:

Thing Learned:

  • iMovie
    • Basic usage
    • Trimming bits
    • Modifying Photos to avoid the Ken Burns effect
    • Adding simple transitions
  • Visual Hub
    • Export to AVI didn’t work as expected
    • Export to Flash worked great
  • Web Stuff
    • How to create a simple page with embedded Flash that controls the size to avoid Flash filling the browser and appearing pixelated

Time Spent: 2 hours

New Year, new site

Okay, I might usually try and do this in January, but that didn’t happen.

Now it’s February.  And the latter part of February at that and I’m updating my site.

I’ve done some sort of redesign most years since I’ve had the site.

I started this back in 1999 according to my records.  Using the Internet Archive (or Wayback Machine) it looks like goes back to at least the start of 2000 in various incarnations.

So, this is the start of probably the eight year of having a personal web page.

I was thinking about why I have a personal web page.  Sometimes it’s been to share things like when I was doing CG animation (the results can still be seen at Desktop Studios).  Sometimes it’s been to share photos from trips with family.  Much of it has probably been just to have something to learn about and play with.  I’ve learned HTML and now some CSS for web styling and even touched a bit of PHP.  I’ve spent time working with Photoshop for graphic design.

Then when I was in the midst of fiddling with the front page yet again, I wondered why the heck I was doing this.  Do I care that perhaps no one will see the result or read anything I happen to write?  Maybe not.  If someone creates something and no one sees it, does the act of creation still matter?

If an artist (not that I’m claiming the status) were to paint his entire life but hide the results in an attic until his death, sharing with no one, is it still art?  Does art require the participation of a viewer to be art?  I don’t know the answer.

Same thing applies to the web page and this writing.  If no one were to read it or view it or interact with it, is the act of creation sufficient to justify the time and effort?  Maybe so.

Maybe it is enough to simply create for the sake of creation.

And maybe it’s enough to make something just to learn how.

I have built a few Adirondack chairs using a plan I found on the web (google “Jake’s Chair” to see what built).  Does it matter that I only made them for myself as an exercise in woodworking?  I never sold them or shared them with others, other than offering a chair to a visitor.  But I still made it and enjoyed the act of creation and the process and the learning.

Interesting side note: There is someone selling those chairs for $225, including the footstool.  They’re asking $225 for both.  I assume that’s for a built chair and stool.  Even with (relatively) inexpensive cedar, I think the materials are close to $100 if I recall.  Maybe $80.  That means the maker is netting let’s say $150 for the work.  It’s not a tough thing to build, especially after you have built a pattern, some blanks and done your first chair.  If they’re clearing $100, they’re making … maybe $10/hour?  I’m not sure I’d be willing to build them at that rate.  A pair can consume a weekend really easily, especially if you seal and/or stain them.  Anyway, that’s off topic, but does touch on the subject of art or craft for profit.  That’s another good reason to create, if you can pay for your time.

Back on topic: Is it sufficient for a personal web site, or any other crafted thing, to exist solely for the exercise, for the personal enjoyment and for the learning?  Sure, I think that’s reasonable.

Make: Calendars!

This isn’t a long one.

I was struggling with an interesting idea for Valentines Day. Something more than chocolates and flowers and a card. Something creative, something at least a bit different.

After some brainstorming, I decided a customized calendar was in order.

It turns out the Costco Photo Center not only has a pretty decent print service (and is close to home), but it offers some other things you can create with you own pictures, like mouse mats, coffee cups and calendars.

The first thing to do was search through my photo collection to arrive at a photo set that seemed appropriate.

Then I had to upload those photos to Costco. Here I hit one of the negatives with the service: You can only upload 12 pictures at a time and you have to browse for each. I’d really have preferred some sort of drag & drop or group select for pictures to upload. I ended up with something like 72 pictures I thought I might use (yes, it was excessive) and uploading those 12 at a time was a pain.

Next you get to create your calendar. You can choose some basic styles then start dropping pictures on the calendar. You get to choose the front page pic and the text on the front page. For each month you can pick one or several pictures in different configurations. A feature I really like was being able to drop pictures on particular dates and add captions, like a kids’ picture on their birthday. Very nice.

Just for fun, I also picked a day or two extra each month and dropped other pictures in, like National Grandparents Day (which is real!) and Hug Your Sister Day and things like that.

You can choose from either 8.5×11 inch or a large 11×17, which turns out to be pretty darn big.

Because I came to my idea a bit later than I should have, I ordered the expedited delivery.

It came on time and the quality was very good for the size of pictures being printed.

This would be a great idea for Christmas gifts also. The price was also pretty darned reasonable even compared to a calendar filled with puppies with huge eyes or your favorite wrestling stars, though probably not in the same calendar.

Time Spent:

  • 1 hr idea
  • 2 hr selecting source photos
  • :45 upload
  • 1 hr design
  • :15 order

Cost: Less than $20 for the calendar (expedited shipping extra)