Beginners and pros alike might benefit from the wide variety of services allowing remote collaboration, remote storage, and file management services on the Web today. Let’s take an overview of the types of cloud services people can utilize for all stages of video production and editing. There’s something for everyone at all price points.
There’s a fundamental principle in the video production industry that we’re sure everyone in it would change if they could. The more localized your production, the faster the process of making a video. When you’re locked in a studio, you can walk away with a finished show by the time you’re done recording. If you’re all in the same office, you can get feedback on edits and send files across your network. If you’re around the corner, you can run a hard drive over, filled with footage. If you’re in an edit room, and the producer or video editor is out on their next assignment, and the camera person is on location, then everyone has to wait for content to be delivered to their location before they can make any decisions and the whole process slows to a crawl. That type of video production workflow is changing; slowly. The current video industry generation is focused on minimizing the lag time between production stages. In many cases this means allowing people to do the impossible, be in two places at once. Not really of course, but if the necessary content and resources can be brought to them instead, they can effectively be in all the places they are needed at all times, and get answers to the people that need them, when they need them.
Cloud-based video production has been looked to as a major solution provider for this problem. It’s all about collaboration from afar. It’s an exciting time for the video cloud. We’re at that point where a concept in its infancy is becoming a mature powerhouse resource. It’s the perfect time to explore the state of the tools available at all levels, see how they work now and where they are headed.
Cloud-based video editing and post-production has arguably the most to gain from these services so we’re going to focus most of our time on that. Being able to upload video files used to be impossible due to size and space. All that has changed. However let’s first take a quick look at some of the online collaborative pre-production and production tools available and how they can suit users of all levels.
Pre-Production and Production
The early stage of a video production inevitably involves a lot of documents being tossed around. There’s a concept that’s discussed and revised into a script. The script gives way to the production schedule, the shot list, the budget allocation, etc. Cloud video production tools for all necessary documents have been around the longest and are rather well established, most likely because of the small file sizes involved and the similar needs of other industries. There are plenty of services that provide online solutions for cloud-based production collaboration.
Google documents is an obvious choice. It is specifically designed to allow real-time collaboration of office documents, at everyone’s favorite price point. One can find templates for common script formats, production schedules, storyboards and more. Changes are automatically saved and versions are tracked and if a device can read text from a browser, it can access files in Google docs.
For those ready to take the next step in writing, Scripped is a cloud-based video production tool that focuses on story creation and script optimization. This collaborative production tool comes complete with every template you can think of, and a writer’s registration Vault to help secure and protect the intellectual property that is your work. Pricing plans are modest ($10/month or $90 for a lifetime membership).
One of the best cloud-based video production tools is Adobe Story, which provides a complete cloud video production environment. Once your script is written, the essential elements from it can be migrated seamlessly to other necessary video production documents. Changes in one document are propagated to every other relevant document automatically. This functionality carries a price premium that the other services don’t. As a stand-alone app, it’s $10 per month, or part of the Adobe Creative Cloud. Users should judge on a case by case basis what level of collaboration is needed.
Cloud-based video production is one area that has seen the least improvement over the years, mainly due to the logistics involved in trying to direct from afar, and the lesser video quality that’s generally involved. It probably is worth mentioning here that video recordings via Skype and other Web conferencing services are becoming more popular in genres where perfect quality is not paramount (i.e. posting back to the Web) when you upload video. It is possible with today’s technology to get an acceptable picture for most venues. In most cases though, this still requires sending at least one technician to the recording location to assure optimal setup.
Post-Production in the Clouds
Cloud-based video post-production is where the current push lies, so we’re going to spend the rest of our time focusing on what advantages a cloud-based video editor has over the standard video workflow, and what options are available for all levels of users. The first major benefit is that most of the cloud video editing programs work through your browser. So if you’re able to upload video and play it back, then your computer, tablet, and in some cases your phone has all the power it needs to edit video. All the complex rendering happens on the cloud service’s server, and this leaves your system free to devote its resources to accessing the Internet stream. It also benefits those of us with rather limited storage space who can’t devote the necessary gigabytes from their local drive to an ongoing media project.
Another advantage is the integration with social media sites. Most of the online video editors have built-in one click options to get your content to your favorite sharing sites. Such integration also provides compatibility assurance, and can help to confirm that nothing essential is forgotten. Most importantly however, are the remote availability and collaboration options that open up once you can upload video and have your media in a commonly accessible location. Co-workers can view edits, make comments, and update documents, all without entering the edit room.
Cloud video editing does have some issues to consider. You’ll have to suffer the long upload times, but you’ll enjoy the shorter posting times. Media files, and outputs are subject to limitations set by the site and which type of account you have. Also be aware of auto save options, as a crashed browser at the wrong time can drop an entire project.
There are a few online video editing services that provide a perfect solution for those who have neither the time nor desire to edit a video. Magisto is one such service. With free and premium offerings (at $5 and $10 per month), Magisto allows the user to upload video or other source material and have a finished product compiled for them using artificial intelligence algorithms that attempt to pick out the key moments in your video. The system provides up to 10 video uploads (500MB total) in a variety of popular formats, and up to five still images (these plus downloading options increase with Magisto Premium). You can then choose from a variety of supplied themes and add music. The more information you provide, the better Magisto can capture the spirit of your desired product. The system has apps for use on popular smartphones and tablets, and provides convenient publishing options to popular video hosting sites.
The downsides here are obvious; you’re giving up creative control over your finished product. The system obviously will not create an intricate tutorial or drama, but if you’re looking to post a quick and simple montage this is well worth a look.
YouTube Video Editor
Obviously YouTube (and other social video hosting sites) benefits from its users posting well-produced videos. To that end, they have made available their own cloud-based video editing system. The YouTube video editor is a free service providing simple trim and merge editing. Any video in your profile is available for inclusion in the drag and drop timeline, as are up to 50 clips and 500 images you upload straight to the editor. Provided Creative Commons libraries for video and “approved” music can be added to enhance the piece, as can a handful of transitions.
Videos can be enhanced with limited color correction, rotation and effects abilities, including slow motion, face blur, and image stabilization. Audio mixing is limited to a per-clip basis, and you are able to adjust the balance between the music and your original audio track. Final outputs can be easily posted to your account and you can download a limited quality version for your own records.
Those hoping for complex editing will be frustrated by the edit system’s limitations. Also, noticeably missing is the ability to enhance the video with the overlays and trigger markers we’re used to seeing on YouTube screening pages, so getting your work on the site is still a two-step process. This is something that would have really made the editor stand out among your basic edit systems. As it stands, the best use for this online system might be for those whose final destination is YouTube and want to combine a few pre-edited videos from various contributors, all of which will have to share the same account in order to collaborate.
For a good representation of the higher end of cloud editors, we’ll turn our attention now to the flexible WeVideo system (which was covered in Videomaker’s July issue). The options presented through WeVideo might be a little overwhelming at first. There are multiple account types with free, monthly, and yearly plans. Note that the free plan does not contain an HD option, and will include a watermark on the output (free options from YouTube Video Editor and Magisto don’t have these restrictions), and the business and educational plans are offered to ease the burden of those institutions who want to use the system.
The WeVideo’s editor features three video edit modes, including a drag and drop for beginners, a timeline for knowledgeable users, and an advanced timeline with features like cropping, scaling, and rolling edits. Video can be uploaded by you, imported from your online storage locations (Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.), or shared via other WeVideo users. Project collaboration is also possible, allowing multiple editors to access the same project, though edit sessions can become slightly confusing. Each user may have his or her own version of the timeline, so there’s no accidental overwriting, but it would be tricky to track. Users can review, upload and publish via free mobile apps.
Template style sheets, transitions, music and title tools are all provided. The effects package is rounded out with plenty of transitions and filters, some useful, some less so. Video processing however is a little lacking, as go-to effects like speed change and image stabilization are not available. Multiple video tracks and fine tuning controls become available as you progress from the beginner to expert modes, and from free to paid plans, but professional video editors might find the effects implementation scheme a little limiting as some adjustments are only available for certain layers.
Publishing options include the popular social media sites and a download option for paid members. You are limited in how much content you can export per month in the free version, but are allowed to purchase more time (and higher resolutions) without upgrading your account type, making it a decently fair deal. Regardless of cost, WeVideo sets the standard for advanced online video editing systems.
By now you should be aware of the major cloud storage options available. Google Drive, Dropbox, Amazon’s Cloud Drive, SugarSync, Box, Microsoft’s Skydrive, Apple’s iCloud, and more all offer enough storage space in their free services to support most of the editing plans that online edit systems provide. If you’re in a position where you find yourself paying for advanced services in cloud editing programs, you’ll probably end up paying for storage as well. Using these sites for low resolution preview clips might be a better option. This allows you to designate the cloud editing system to storing only the footage you’re going to use in your edit.
Many storage sites provide interfaces for previewing videos directly without downloading, a big time-saver for collaborative screening. Also, storing your video on these sites allows access among collaborators in remote locations. After all, remote file access is what these systems are all about.
Finally, if you’re really against the wall for funds, consider spreading your content over multiple services. If this gets too confusing, check out online storage aggregation services like Jolidrive. Unless you are a) worried about the organization hassles, b) dealing with files that exceed limits, or c) building a massive archive of online video, there’s really no reason to pay for online storage.
The Sky’s the Limit for Cloud Video Production
What should you consider if only the best cloud video production system will do and money is no object? Consider cloud media management systems like Aframe and eMAM. These services are designed to ingest, store, log, organize, and collaborate on media files of all types, and their respective metadata. Users far and wide can access the databases and research content from desktops and mobile devices alike. Consider these services, designed to specifically support media sharing and collaboration, professional versions of Plex or XBMC on overdrive. Businesses that have employees in remote locations, all working off the same footage would benefit most from Aframe and eMAM. Again, the fact that you’re using someone else’s infrastructure for this service means that it might be out of the price range of the casual user, but the free tests will help your decision.
For professional collaborative video editing, Adobe Anywhere is a service for Creative Cloud users that promises true remote editing capability. Using this system, clients in different locations can access centrally located media and manipulate content all in real-time without the use of proxy files. Using a standard network and no proprietary hardware, the system lets the user experience editing as if the media were right there in the room. You’ll still need servers, media hubs and graphics cards dedicated to the system, it’s just that they need not be specifically designed for Adobe Anywhere. A client would only need a moderate system, as the server side handles most of the heavy processing. The system integrates with Adobe Premiere Pro, Prelude and After Effects to provide a beautiful remote editing experience for you and your fellow editors. Of course, each cloud service thus far has subscription options, Adobe’s brings together great service and the price reflects it. Solutions are tailored to a business’s specific needs, but expect base packages to run in the four-to-five-figure range for software and hardware. Don’t forget, Adobe’s software is now licensed on a subscription basis only, meaning you’ll own the hardware, but perpetually pay for the both the editing software and the Adobe Anywhere service.
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Peter Zunitch is an award-winning video editor in New York.