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Video Production and Halo: A Step By Step Guide

Lord Gideon

Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3

Lesson One: Getting Into It

Greetings! I would like to welcome you to the first of several tutorials that will, one by one, hopefully help the Halo community learn the proper way to make Halo movies. This tutorial, and the chapters following it, will offer step by step descriptions and steps necessary to successfully capture, edit, and produce movies. This is written towards the novice, but will also include directions and tips for the more experienced videographers, and will teach the following software: VirtualDub, Windows Movie Maker, Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Audition, and SoundForge.

So who are you, and why are you teaching us?

My name is LordGideon, and I am the Overlord of the PraetoriaGuard: www.PraetoriaGuard.com You may have heard of us, you may not have. I have the benefit of having a job in Video Production. I've been building websites, DVD's, and TV Commercials & Video Presentations for over five years now. I enjoy it very much. After founding PraetoriaGuard, I thought that a more comedic show based in the Halo 2 universe was missing. So, we made our own. When I was around 14 or 15, I always wanted to have something to do with Video Production. I thought it was a really cool field and I would have given my left arm for someone to teach me how to get into it, how to use the software, and what to do with it when I was done.

What exactly am I going to teach you? Everything I know:

  • How to hook up your Xbox, your TV, and your computer up at the same time.
  • How to capture video correctly, and in the right format utilizing VirtualDub. (A free capture program, obtainable from SourceForge.org)
  • How to edit the video properly using Windows Media Player, and Adobe Premiere Pro
  • How to balance the audio (so you can hear the actors) using Adobe Audition or Sound Forge.
  • How to add special effects using Adobe After Effects 6.5
  • How to edit the video into final form adding the special effects, audio, and edited footage together.
  • How to publish your video using settings that will not only look good, but be viewable on multiple systems.

I also want everyone to know that I don't know everything. I do have five years of experience, but no matter how much experience you have, there is always going to be someone that always knows more than you. I simply want to bring what I know to help those that want it. :)

"What if I want to ask you a question?"

Asking me a question is easy! Just log into the PraetoriaGuard Forums, and post your question there. This will have the advantage that the question, as well as the solution are accessible by everyone. :)

Step One: Starting Off Right

So far, there seem to be three types of Halo 2 videos that I have run into - Montages (the easiest to film), Action movies, and Comedies. The hardest thing is writing a series of movies. You are forced to come up with new material every movie. I can't tell you how tired I am of constantly running into movies who always seem to have a main character named "Sarge". Not only is his name the same as the one in Red Vs. Blue, but he sounds the same! Do us all a favor. Be original!

"So what do I do first?"

Believe it or not, starting doesn't involve your xbox or computer at all. It could, but it doesn't need to. What's the first step? Writing The Script. Going into a filming session knowing what you're going to film already makes the task much less time consuming. A script is more than just lines for your actors, though. A script is instructions for how to shoot the movie. It should include camera angles (a page in the video production world commonly known as a "Shot Sheet"), a script for the actors, as well as instructions to the actors as to how they should read it. You also should make sure that whoever's going to act out your movie is able to be convincing. Having an actor with a flat voice that sounds like they are reading a script will kill off any chance you have of creating a believeable movie.

After writing your script, go over it with your friends. See what they think. I can't tell you how many times we've changed our scripts simply because someone said "You know, that's not really funny" or "That doesn't sound right". Take their advice, and use it!

Hooking Your Xbox Up To Your Computer

The first problem that I found when capturing video on my pc is the problem with video lag. I'm not talking about lag due to internet speed. I'm talking about the lag caused by the amount of time it takes for the video to run into the capture card, be run through a video codec, and displayed on your screen. It looks like it's instant - but it's not. This video lag is less aparent on some capture cards then others, but I've used cards by ATI, Pinnacle, and Matrox. The lag has been there in every one. How do we couter this? Easy! We split the video, running one set into your TV, and the other set to your computer. This will allow you to play without the lag, on your tv, in your recliner, while capturing at the same time.

"What sort of computer should I have to capture video?"

Well, first of all, a recent one. Besides playing games, the hardest thing on a computer is editing videos. Three main components in your computer count the most: The processor, the RAM, and the Hard drive. Secondly, you should have your Xbox reasonibly close to your PC. (Around 12ft away.)

"What are you using to capture video?"

I have a 3.4 gigahertz pc with two large harddrives and an ATI TV Wonder Capture card.

Now I'm a realistic guy. I know that most people don't have anything like this. Most of you are probably using their family computer, which other people use. What are the minimum specs? I would say a 2.0 gig Pentium 4 with at least 512 meg of ram, and a decent sized hard drive (80 gig or larger). The thing that you're going to run out of the fastest is hard drive space!

"How do I hook it up?"

I have two cables for my Xbox - a Hi-Defenition cable with optical out for the audio, and the standard Xbox Composite cable that comes with the Xbox. For capturing, I use the standard Composite cable (Yellow, Red & White). I know that some people have use their SVHS Cable, but you don't really need that. After compressing the video to get it out on the web, the video will look the same as if you captured it using Composite. Besides that, splitting SVHS is a much more pricey proposition.

The parts to hook up your Xbox to your PC and TV at the same time should run you around 15 bucks. You need three RCA to Dual RCA Adaptors. (one female to two female), and two three wire rca cables (Yellow, Red & White)

After splitting the three wires coming out of your xbox into six (using the adaptors), run one set of cables to your tv, and the other set to your computer.

Now you're ready to rock.

Making Movie Magic

Now that we're all hooked up, let's capture some video! For that, I will be using VirtualDub. Why VirtualDub? There are simply too many capture programs out there for me to list all the ways that they capture video. VirtualDub works with every capture card, and levels the playing field for all of us. Now we can all capture using the same program. This will make the steps the same.

"What if I want to capture using my own software?"

Feel free to. Again, having you use VirtualDub is the only way that I have to teach everyone using the same program how to capture video using the right formats.

So, let's go!

Turn on your Xbox, and load up VirtualDub. Go to File >> Capture AVI

A screen should appear with the Halo screen in it. If it does not, you have the wrong video input. Go to Video >> Video Source >> Composite. That should fix your problem. You should be able to see video now in the background and hear audio. If you don't, consult your capture card manual for the proper place and way to plug in your audio line. (I have my audio jacked directly into my line in on my sound card.)

Now that you've got video in the background, we need to set the capture mode and filetype.

Basic Video Principles

The best format to capture to is a raw AVI file. I know that some people capture to MPEG, or Quicktime. There's a fundamental flaw with that: compression.

Video is a series of images linked together to show movement. An MPEG is a compressed video file. That means for every frame, your computer has to uncompress the video in order to show it. Editing it will take longer - again due to the compression. The video will also not look as good. Compression takes existing files and crams them into a smaller space. In order to do that, it has to throw out image integrity. By capturing directly to this format you are already shooting yourself in the foot. Not only will you have to wait longer to render most things, but the image integrity is degraded.

"So what format should I capture to?"

You want to capture to a 720x480 AVI File. VirtualDub won't capture to anything other than an AVI, so you don't have to worry about that. Now let's get it's settings right.

Go to Video >> Capture Pin. Your "Color Space / Compression" should be RGB 555 (16 Bit). The Output size should be 720x480.

Next, go to Video >> Preview Pin. The same settings should be used.

Now you're ready. Just to test it, go to File >> Set Capture File. VirtualDub doesn't automatically name files. This means you have to manually change the name of the file it's capturing to so that you don't accidentally overwrite it, but it also means that you're going to be able to name your clips things that are easy to remember. Name the capture file something you're going to remember.

Ready? Go to Capture >> Capture Video. Now on the right hand side you should see frames being captured. Record about five seconds of the Halo Menu, then go into the folder you captured it to, and make sure it's there. Double click on it and watch it.

You should see what you just recorded. Congratulations! You just captured video from your Xbox!

Record Me!

Now that you know how to capture video, the next step is to go and get some footage so that we can go to the next step: Editing. So go capture some video. Get that script you wrote worked out and filmed! After you get all of your videos recorded, you'll be ready to go to Lesson 2: Editing.

The best way that I've found to film is to capture my actors without them talking. Have them act out the video, then voice their lines out in the pre-game lobby. Capture both. Then, when you combine the audio from the pregame lobby with the video with the actors in it, it usually turns out more clear and well read. Lag is less apparent in the pregame lobby too.

The Next Step

The next step is editing your video together. For that, we're going to need Lesson 2: Editing In Windows Movie Maker.

Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3