Tag Archives: pixelmator

Useful tools for homebrew media – my OS X workflow

As I’m sure regular readers are aware, I’m producing a wider range of media than ever before, now that I’m a regular podcaster and creating a range of video content as well. I thought it would be useful to talk a little about the range of tools that I’m using – far from professional level Final Cut or anything!

Hardware

The hardware is pretty varied. The core of the whole “system” is the MacBook Pro, which I use for pretty much all of my editing. That also has the iSight camera, which is adequate for videos which need to include my face, although I’d like something higher quality (any recommendations?). I’ve mentioned iGlasses before, which is useful for adjusting the iSight input. From an audio perspective I use a USB headset and also a Blue Snowflake USB microphone, which is absolutely great – compact, convenient, and it captures excellent quality sound.

If I need to capture video away from the computer, my current camcorder of choice is the Kodak Zi6 which can take HD 720p footage, albeit at a quality limited by the rest of the hardware (lens, sensor etc). I’ve yet to do a proper review of this, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a step up from either the Flip Mino or the older disgo Video Plus which I’d tried. I also sometimes grab snippets of video on my compact Canon camera.

Screencasting

For screencasts I use ScreenFlow. This is just a wonderful piece of software which is capable of recording both the screen, and from the iSight simultaneously. This allows the video to be overlaid into the screencast if required, so you can personally narrate what is going on. Even better than that, ScreenFlow lets you zoom in on windows and desktop features, and is really a general purpose compositing application… if you look at this video I made when I talked to a friend recently, you’ll see there are no desktop elements at all, just the video stream from the camera, a picture of him, and the audio, with some nice image tilt and reflection effects applied. ScreenFlow has also recently added text annotation features, which are really useful.

I’ve yet to use it for any practical purpose, but I also just downloaded OmniDazzle, which is now free. OmniDazzle lets you highlight areas of the screen with visual effects using a single keystroke – I can see this being useful in combination with ScreenFlow in the future.

Video editing

A few weeks ago I blogged about iMovie 09. I know a lot of people really dislike both iMovie 08 and 09, but I’m totally comfortable with both versions now, and I have to say that 09 is just beautiful. I’ve had no issues with it – it’s great for rapidly mixing and editing video, still images and audio. Watch my introductory series on YouTube or the whole thing as one movie on Viddler. I wrote a bit more about my use of iMovie back in December, too.

Here’s a tip: have you ever wanted to create some animated titles of your own? I have one word for you – Keynote! When I created the Home Camp TV title sequence it was a simple matter of creating a slide with some animated elements in Keynote, and exporting it as a Quicktime movie (which I did without sound, allowing me to overlay a choice of audio on the title sequence in iMovie). It’s great for quickly creating JPEG stills with text for titles, too.

In terms of finding audio to accompany videos… I’ve used both the pre-canned loops that come with iMovie, and also used some audio from Podsafe Audio. I do find that site a bit cumbersome to search though, so I’d be interested to know of any other useful, royalty-free resources.

Audio editing

I’ve not done a great deal on the audio-only side of things, but my essential tools here are Audacity for editing and cleanup; and Levelator for post-processing. That’s a really important point, by the way: only levelate your audio once everything is mixed together, the whole point is that it’s going to analyze everything and modulate the volume equally… if you have a bunch of snippets of audio and levelate them separately, then edit them together, you may well still end up with volume variations.

Another quick tip at this stage: to avoid issues with VBR MP3s showing up as weird (and incorrect) lengths in some tools, I bring the audio file into iTunes and do the MP3 export in there.

Imaging

For “proper” RAW photo editing and management, regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of Lightroom. I use Pixelmator for finer adjustments on exported images.

Beyond that, I find that iPhoto is useful for quickly grabbing snapshots from the digital compact camera for compositing into iMovie clips. Skitch and LittleSnapper are both very useful tools as well as they enable me to rapidly take, resize and annotate screenshots or clips of web pages. For diagrams and so forth, there’s nothing that can beat OmniGraffle.

Extras

Finally, a couple of other useful bits and pieces. Transcoding to different formats is through either VisualHub (now defunct) or ffmpegX. QuickTime Pro is an essential (and highly cost-effective) upgrade too, since it lets you make very quick edits to QuickTime movie files and control the output format more finely.

There. Now, I imagine this may attract a range of “have you heard of…?” “why aren’t you using…?” and other responses, but that’s how I’ve currently settled things. Hopefully some of the tips and thoughts here will be useful to other amateur content creators, too! 🙂

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Gadgets part 2: Bamboo Fun

Bamboo Fun Until recently I’d hankered after one of the higher-end Intuous graphics tablets from Wacom, but a few friends have bought Bamboo models lately so I began to think that this might be a good option for me[1]. So far, it seems that way. What’s this all about? Well I’ve wanted a tablet for a while to help with photo / graphics work, and to try out sketchcasting (see below).

The product

The Bamboo Fun is a bundle which includes the tablet and stylus, plus a mouse (slightly redundant given I have a Mighty Mouse already) and Photoshop Elements – only version 4 for the Mac, annoyingly, but I guess I could always upgrade. To be honest, I’ve not even installed it yet.

The Bamboo comes in very stylish packaging reminiscent of something Apple would make… the box unfolds neatly, each item is wrapped in that thin foam bag packaging, and the driver CD is in a square box exactly like the ones that Apple uses for OS X CDs! So, first impressions are good. After that, basically it’s just plug-and-play… there’s a driver to install which provides some System Preferences to customise the tablet sensitivity and behaviour of the shortcut buttons, but that’s it.

Negative marks go to Wacom for having their registration page (and most of the website, it seems) “temporarily unavailable” for over a week. Not cool, and they are ignoring my emails too.

Usage – OS X and a tablet

In use, it’s been something of a mixed experience so far. The tablet itself is great, but it takes a lot of getting used to over a mouse (which is something I fully expected). The issues have been around the software support, and specifically in my case Lightroom. Two major annoyances – one that the zoom wheel at the top of the tablet doesn’t work in Lightroom, and secondly that although a single tap/click will zoom in, it is then really hard to get Lightroom to zoom back out with the stylus (should just be a simple tap/click again, that’s how it works with the mouse anyway).

On the plus side, it works beautifully well in Pixelmator.

Although OS X has handwriting recognition built in (the “Ink” system), actually I’ve not found this entirely reliable so far. [For éampe ltd to intSome word Son tbeTABLET] For example, I tried to write some words on the tablet just then, and you can see what happened. There doesn’t seem to be a way for the system to learn handwriting styles either. There is some software called inkBook that looks promising and somewhat more functional than the in-built software in OS X, but I don’t think I need it just yet (here’s a review). Handwriting was never going to be the primary focus of this purchase.

Oh, and it turns out that there are some issues with Ink and 64-bit apps in 10.5.x … I found that iScrobbler started to crash, and it looks like Ink is responsible. Weird.

Sketchcasting / sketchblogging

One of my main interests with the Bamboo was trying out Sketchcasting. Dave Briggs blogged about this a couple of months ago, and I’ve been fascinated since then. My first effort, though, was not the best… it’s way over-long (mainly as I fumbled around to work out how to get the thing to work) and not as well-planned as it might have been. Actually I think the Sketchcast site is somewhat limited… there’s no way of making things private, no friending, few social features at all. So instead, I picked up ArtRage and will try using that and Screenflow to create sketchcasts, and probably share them via my Viddler account, which will at least enable things to be embedded on WordPress.com.

More recently I’ve also noticed that Sacha Chua has been sketchblogging… using her Nintendo DS. Sacha is very creative and this seems like a really cool way of using a DS, although it looks like you need a bunch of homebrew software to make it work. Worth a look if you are interested, though.

[1] and, evidently, the only way I’m going to get a custom header image is to MAKE ONE MYSELF. This comment is aimed at no-one in particular. That is all.