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Putting iLife to Work
Posted Jun 1, 2004 Print Version     « previous Page 2of 3 next »

iLife with the Lions
Other videographers have embraced iLife in a big way. Stinton—who also uses Final Cut Pro, Avid Xpress DV, and Media 100 along with a handful of additional professional apps—is such a big proponent of iLife that you almost wonder if he's on the Apple payroll (he's not, he assures us). "We're a small studio, and we're always looking for a way to communicate better and cheaper, and iLife lets us do that," he says. "I mean, the applications really are endless."

And while some might argue that the effects and menu templates in iMovie and iDVD limit what a producer can accomplish, Stinton says that's missing the point, which should be the quality of the final product. "The engine in DVD Studio Pro is the same as the engine in iDVD, so there's no difference in the quality of the authoring, except that iDVD saves you about two hours," on simple projects, he says. "And iMovie compresses things very nicely; the engine in there is fine."

If you do want to focus on the templates, Stinton says the visual and text effects in iMovie let him create professional-quality projects in much less time. "For example, if you want to do a title crawl like the one at the beginning of Star Wars, you'll probably do it in Boris Graffiti," he says. "But you can do the same thing just as well, and a lot quicker, in iMovie."

Of course, iMovie doesn't offer the real-time power of a professional application, nor does it feature as many effects as Final Cut, but more doesn't always mean better. "We'll get presentations from potential freelance editors, and when they're done, we'll say ‘You used Final Cut Pro on this, right?' When they ask how we could tell, we say it's because they used every transition known to man," Stinton says. "Most of the time, all you really need, or want, are crossfades and dissolves, anyway."

Stinton's also found GarageBand to be a tremendous help when it comes to the audio side of his productions. A lot of the audio edits he's faced with are pretty basic, he says. "Sure, I could go into Pro Tools and do them, but that's like taking a Ferrari to go shopping," he says. Instead, he'll dump a track into GarageBand, make a quick edit, send it out to iTunes, and burn it to a CD. The same goes for creating basic music backgrounds, he says. "If you need a little ten-second music bed, you could spend 90 minutes looking around for the right one, or you can just go into GarageBand and make one."

And here's where the iPod comes in handy: When Stinton produced a recent music awards show, he needed to have all the music handy when the nominations and awards were announced. The solution? He put all the songs into iTunes and created playlists for each category. Then, he shipped the files out to an iPod for playback during the show. [See Sidebar, "iPod Nation."]

Similarly, producer Brent Altomare of Groovy Like a Movie, a production and post-production house in San Diego, uses iTunes to organize all the royalty-free music he uses, and when he finds the selection he wants, he rips it for import into Final Cut Pro. The company also shoots and edits video for the Jumbotron-style video board used during San Diego Sockers Major Indoor Soccer League games, and provides the music during games. "We have a laptop that has about 500 songs on it, along with sound effects, loaded into iTunes," he says. "We just have several playlists—‘general music,' ‘SFX,' ‘goal,' ‘dance music'—that we switch between depending on the situation. It's a very simple and flexible way to run the show."

A Day in iLife
Putting together corporate video for a forklift manufacturer might not be as glamorous as producing an awards show or arena sports event, but Scott Fritz, the multimedia producer for Crown Equipment in New Bremen, Ohio, has found iLife invaluable for creating video for something far more important. He uses it to produce DVDs to help his company's attorneys defend Crown in lawsuits brought by workers who claim they were injured as a result of equipment malfunctions.

The lawyers want to re-create the circumstances of the accident on video, to demonstrate that it was probably operator error, and not the equipment, that caused the injury, says Fritz, whose background is in television and video production. Fritz takes a DV camera and a G4 PowerBook to the scene, shoots footage, and then edits and outputs a DVD right there onsite using iMovie and iDVD. "I'm still amazed I can do all this with just a couple of tools," Fritz says, adding that using Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro are just too time-consuming to be useful in the field.

Fritz says that iLife is perfect for the kind of "quick and dirty" sales or training productions that are becoming so prevalent in the corporate environment. "These things have a limited shelf life and a limited audience, and what people need is a real ‘motion picture,' something that simply demonstrates a process or makes a visual point," he says. "There's sometimes no need for the higher production values that you need higher-end software for."

The primary edit bay in Fritz's department is a G4 running Avid Xpress DV and DVD Studio Pro 2, but he says that iMovie on a PowerBook or another Mac gives him a "great second-tier editing bay." Fritz does find some of iLife's limitations frustrating—you can't do multiple angles or languages in iDVD, and you can't do complicated effects easily in iMovie nor can you output to anything but DV. But even with those drawbacks, Fritz says that iLife beats out its PC counterparts at the same level. "Video is becoming more and more like word processing, in that everyone can do it on their own desktop," he says. "But the Windows apps are so difficult to get to work right, it's really a shame."

With the ubiquity of video, unfortunately comes a potential devaluing of the professional videographer's skills, Fritz says. Crown recently wanted a video tour of one of its facilities, and didn't want to spend much time or money on the project, and so handed a Sony TRV-900 camera to someone in the marketing department. "I sat her down in front of a Mac running iMovie, and she never even had to look at the manual," Fritz says. "But when they saw the final product, they realized the lighting was off, the sound wasn't great, and they spent a lot of time and energy re-doing things to get it right."

Ultimately, though, it showed Fritz's bosses how much craft and skill goes into producing even the simplest video project, he says. "It was like they realized, ‘All these people we're paying to do video really know what they're doing!'" While iLife empowers and enables people to create multimedia projects themselves, its still takes a pro to produce a professional-quality project, regardless of the tools used.

Back in the iLife
While you can't do with iLife what you can do with a suite of professional tools, more and more Mac-based studios are figuring out that there are plenty of projects that can be completed without going into FCP or DVD SP 2. The moral of the story? Just because you're using a so-called "consumer tool" doesn't mean you're dumbing down your project, or even selling client expectations short.

"Sometimes I hear editors say ‘When my clients come in, they want to see that I'm editing on an Avid,'" says Stinton, who moderates several forums for Creative Cow. "Well, I say ‘Get new clients.' It should be about the final product, not the tools you use to create it."

companies mentioned in this article
Adobe Systems, Inc.,
Apple Computer, Inc.,
Avid Technology, Inc.,
Media 100, Inc.,

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