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Be Part of the Magic

postheadericon Video Production

Video Tech

One of my greatest pet peeves is the overwhelming number of amatuer manufacturers that emerged on the magic scene. Eight out of ten magic dvds are produced so poorly that attempted viewing will have you either writhing in your seat or wondering why your eye doctor has not informed you that your vision is failing. I am convinced that someone with forks in their eyes and severe arthristis can do a better job at video production than what I’ve seen on the market in recent years!

Having gotten my sarcasm out of the way, you will learn some basic fundamental techniques that will allow you to produce a quality video for your promotional package or instructional dvd.

The CameraThe Camera
We’ll start at the beginning with your camera. Never ever use a webcam for anything other than chatting! You will never ever get the quality you need from any webcam on the market! Digital video cameras have come so far down in price that they are affordable to almost everyone. While it does pay the professional to obtain the better home cameras called Prosumer Cameras, quality videos can be shot on lesser expensive models if done properly.

When purchasing a camera two important things to remember is to be certain that camera has an input jack for a microphone and an output jack for a monitor. While at one time these were common includes, it ain’t so anymore! A year ago I purchased the latest high-def camera from Sony. Much to my surprise, these two very important jacks were not part of the latest and greatest. Why? Apparantly, Sony realized that the pro guys were buying their high-defs as backup cameras since the quality was as good as the professional models. It became a money thing.  They removed this common feature and forced you to buy the pro line. Good for them; bad for us.

The reason these two jacks are essential is simple…you need them! While cameras have built-in condensor mics, their use is not adequate for professional production and recording. While you can pay hundreds of dollars for a good mic, you can get away with something inexpensive for those on a tighter budget. Radio Shack has a wireless lapel microphone system for about $100.00. So long as the batteries are fresh, this will work well. The difference between a built-in condensor mic and an inexpensive wireless system is like night and day.

You need a monitor to simply see what the camera is or isn’t capturing. The small viewing monitors common on most video cameras will not give you a true picture. Utilzing a larger screen will make your job as director, cameraman, and producer that much easier.  

The Light KitLighting
Proper lighting, or lack thereof, can either make all the difference in the world.  When we shoot a magic dvd over an hour is spent just on capturing the proper lighting. Lighting is an investment. There’s simply no way around it. Simple lighting packages can be purchased for under $600.00. Better light kits will cost $1500.00 and better.

The basic concepts of lighting are pretty simple. It consists of three lights; Key Light, Back Light, and Fill Light.

3 Position Lighting Technique

Key Light: This is the main light, which faces the subject, usually angled from the front. This is generally a focusable light source, such as a 300w fresnel light with barn doors to adjust the quality and quantity of light provided. The key light will be angled—about 45 degrees off axis for the subject’s face or other focal point.

Back Light: A back light may be set behind and above the head or shoulders of the subject. It can also illuminate the background by throwing light to a white wall or reflector behind the subject or throw light directly at the subject from behind.

Fill Light: A fill light insures that shadows are not too harsh by providing additional illumination wherever it is needed. Fill lights are often diffused to prevent so much light that the image is washed out. Fill lights can be diffused by bouncing the light off a reflector, such as a silver umbrella. A cheap alternative to the professional silver umbrella is to bounce off a white card, such as white poster board or a sliver dashboard protector for a car. A fill light may illuminate the subject directly but be diffused through the use of a gel.

Fill and backlights may be aimed at any reflector source, such as a ceiling or white wall. The goal is to provide enough shadow to add depth and dimension so that the subject is not flat but not to cast harsh shadows or wash out detail.

Too much light will cause skin tones to become bleached. As I stated earlier, we spend over an hour adjusting, positioning, repositioning, increasing and decreasing the lighting for the proper setup.

The SoundSound
The key to a great movie is sound. Your audio will make or break your entire production. I mentioned earlier the wireless lapel microphone system. For speaking parts it is essential. Overlays with music or soundtrack are important as well. Proper mixing between both music and speaking can be an artform of its own. I’ve seen too many dvds where the music is not mixed well and the struggle persists to understand the verbal audio. While I’m on the subject I’ll be cliche; silence is golden. There are times when a music overlay is not needed. During an explanation of an effect for a magic dvd, there is no need for annoying music playing over and over again. There’s simply no pleasing effect produced other than affecting the person trying to understand the explanation.  

Your audio should be on two channels in your video editor’s timeline. This will produce a stereo effect. Watch your modulation. Overmodulation will produce distortion while undermodulation will not be clear and punchy. A good sound editor is necessary, though many home editing software solutions have a simple audio editor built into the package.

In another segment I’ll cover an in depth look at editing, editors, and modifying your files for use on the Internet. 


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