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The Moving Picture: The Right Tool for the Job
Posted May 1, 2003 Print Version     Page 1of 1

Every now and then, although not nearly often enough to pretend any masculine aspiration to be a "Master Carpenter," I watch Norm Abrams on the New Yankee Workshop. His woodworking studio is a utopia for any power tool-loving handyman or craftsman; full of routers, dovetail jigs, miter gauges, biscuit cutters, and still more esoteric powered equipment. Norm's easygoing, everyman approach to his craft makes it seem like no big deal that he's got a different special tool for seemingly every turn of a screw, although there are times when I just have to laugh at the stuff Norm casually reaches for so matter-of-factly. Just because I know what a Jack Rabbit is doesn't mean I've got one lying around.

Of course, Norm also makes it seem like no big deal to reproduce period furniture, build custom router tables with built-in vacuums, and small rowboats (for crying out loud!), single-handedly and all from scratch, in an afternoon. Obviously, that ease comes with knowledge, experience, and talent. My own basement workshop houses a radial arm, a band saw, and a mini-router table, among a scattered few other hand power tools, but it's far from an envy-inducing workspace. While I've built a few things—a two-seater garden swing, a cabinet or two, and a workbench—I'm no master carpenter. And all those projects took well more than an afternoon.

Still, my humble construction projects exercise my body and my mind as I work through the puzzles of starting from nothing and creating something tangible. I've not built a rowboat, nor an English Country secretary desk, but being a woodworker is not (only occasionally do I regret this) my career or life calling. And, even with my modest skills and relatively humble equipment I still, more often than not, end up being fulfilled by, if not proud of, the results.

Of course, when it comes to video production, maybe my studio is a little more like Norm's. As a journalist who's covered the broad digital video industry for getting close to a decade, I've had the opportunity to work with a great number of tools, boxes, systems, and software, including digital cameras, camcorders, encoders, editing systems, graphics applications, workstations, and every DVD authoring application that exists. Indeed, at times I get a chuckle out of the job-specific stuff that I get to see firsthand and can reach for in case it's needed.

That wonderful experience has allowed me to learn by comparing products, interface design successes and mistakes, and capabilities, as well as to do my creative work on the best products there are. I've edited commercial videos on editing systems from Avid, Adobe, Pinnacle, Media 100, Discreet, and more, and augmented them with 2D and 3D graphics created using top products (well, I do what I can with graphics and get help from partners that can do more). And I've authored DVDs on everything up to Sonic's premium Scenarist.

Top-of-the-line, feature-rich tools like Scenarist offer broad palettes when it comes to painting in fine detail. It's the reason, for example, that amid the overwhelming trend toward easier-to-use abstraction- level DVD authoring interfaces, Sonic has just re-launched a more affordable version of Scenarist, called Scenarist Studio ($7,999). For professionals manipulating the full extent of DVD specification capabilities—using pre-, post-, or embedded cell commands, full control of GPRM and SPRM logic, and related navigation control—that old and arguably complicated Scenarist methodology ultimately offers more hands-on control than tools that put a visual interface layer between the programmer and the engine.

Just the same, I surely don't need Scenarist for everything I put to DVD. Naturally, as I try to document the lives of my young sons in my spare time and send the resulting DVDs to their grandparents, there's a much greater value in just getting it done than in having all the capabilities of a tool as complex as Scenarist. That's when using simple tools can be more expeditious. The same is true as I assemble video clips for business presentations and communications. I don't need complicated navigation and, as long as they look good enough, those menus are mostly utilitarian.

Roxio's Easy CD Creator is, of course, a staple disc-burning application that now, in Easy CD & DVD Creator 6.0 (see review,, includes a full DVD authoring sub-application, called DVD Builder. It's a new feature to learn even if you're an Easy CD Creator jock, but coming at video creation from the familiar media management side brings the integration of video into business and personal communications one big step closer. What's more, DVD Builder includes a smartly designed "timeline-like" authoring interface that supports clip trimming and clip appending; in other words, basic video editing and audio linking. That's often all that's really needed to "just get things done" and still produce polished finished products that will impress their intended audience.

There was never any "authoring" with printing video to tape, and the migration to DVD may seem like adding another layer of new, complicated steps, but it's really just the opposite, especially as DVD becomes integrated into the greater workflow. DVD Builder can take you all the way from capturing digital camcorder footage, to basic video editing, to finishing the disc—all in a single application. And that same application can move the PowerPoint slides or other supporting information onto the DVD-ROM portion of a hybrid DVD-Video disc.

Whether you're building with video or wood, it's nice to have the best tools, but not having them is ever becoming less a reason for intimidation. Aspirations and grand visions are great, but so are finished projects. Sometimes having fewer tools makes the choices easier.

Heck, I still haven't figured out the band saw.

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