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One of the oftentimes-unsung heroes of great video production is titles and graphics. Leave them out - and your work will be average at best and at worst - downright boring. The most common type of graphic used to identify people and companies are lower thirds. We’ll be looking at their purpose and design and take you step-by-step through their creation as well. With these basic skills and a bit of imagination, you’ll soon see your work rise from the depths of the mundane to the heights of audience pleasing excellence.
Lower thirds have a very simple purpose, which is to communicate to your audience information about the person or event they are watching onscreen. They derive their name from their placement along the lower third of the viewing area. You will find them identifying the reporter on your local news station, the forest in which the latest fire is raging and the current score of the game you’re watching. Usually, lower thirds appear for a short while then fade away. In some cases, where a person being interviewed is onscreen over a period of several minutes for example, the lower third may reappear occasionally to remind the audience exactly who this person is, what they do and why their viewpoint may be important.
Proper design is critical in achieving maximum lower third effectiveness. You want to draw an appropriate amount of attention to the lower third in order to convey the desired information without overpowering the primary content. But let’s not just talk about it; let’s fire up our editing software and have a look at several important design considerations. Since we are talking about lower thirds, positioning is extremely important. With your footage in the timeline, open the title creation application. Be sure the Safe Title grid is visible and the underlying video is showing through. These features will be invaluable to proper placement and color selection. Using the Rectangle Tool draw a box across the bottom of the viewing area. It’s okay to run off the screen at the ends. We’re keeping it simple for illustration purposes but on a real project and depending on your particular design it may be desirable to keep both ends within view or even to extend the box to no more than one-half to two-thirds of the way across the screen. The important thing to remember here is to keep the lower third inside the Safe Title area as text outside this area could disappear on televisions with thick bezels. Next, try reducing the opacity to allow the underlying video to show through a bit. With the Type Tool, type the desired text over the top of the rectangle. In creating your text, readability is key. Choose a font that is easy to read. Generally speaking, sans serif fonts work best for video. When choosing colors, use one that contrasts well with the background. White or a light yellow against a dark background can work very well. Be sure to make your text large enough to be seen but not so large as to dominate the scene. When using multiple lines of text in your lower third, be sure to place the more important information on top and in bold with the less important information underneath. Finally, adding a drop shadow to your text can make it pop right off the background, greatly enhancing its readability. Like text, backgrounds can have as many variations as there are people to create them. They can be as simple as our rectangle with a solid color or even a gradient, with colors changing gradually from one to another over the length of the object. Pictures can be used to create very effective lower thirds as well. A photo or stock graphic may be sized and placed on one side of the lower third. This may be a corporate logo or other appropriate image for added impact. Another interesting variation is to create lower thirds using video or a motion graphic. This gives your design energy and can make the lower third look more professional.
Theme is another very important consideration when designing lower thirds. The main idea is to be sure it matches the rest of the video. For example, if your video is about a visit to the ocean your lower third could contain an image or video of seashells, crashing waves or jellyfish. Color choices should complement the colors one would find in the ocean water or sandy beaches. Text could be given a ripple effect so it moves gently with the waves. Many variations are possible, just be sure everything matches the theme of the overall project.
Sound can add an important dimension to your lower third when used appropriately. It can give your lower third a sense of realism and action. Your ocean themed lower third might be accompanied by the sound of crashing waves. Another popular choice is the digital typing sound effect used in many movies, as text appears onscreen. For a more subtle effect a subdued tone, hum or swoosh may accompany your lower third as it makes its appearance. Sounds may be purchased in quantity as part of sound effects libraries or downloaded individually from various websites. A quick Internet search will reveal plenty of options. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous or are having difficulty finding just the right sound you might go the Foley route and try recording your own. The important thing to remember, as with visual elements, is that any sounds you choose must also match the project thematically. Sound should always serve to help your graphics come alive and should never overpower or dominate what people are saying on screen. Communication should always come before design.
Presentation of your lower third is the final consideration. Now that it’s complete how do you get it on and off screen? Do you simply cut it in and grab your audience’s attention with its sudden appearance or take the more subtle route and use a dissolve to fade it in and out of view? The answer lies in appropriateness. If the emotion of the production is very relaxed, a subtle fade in and out would work best. If the emotion is highly energetic, then having text animate into frame and out would be approprate. An easy way to make your titles interesting is to use the crop effect - in reverse. Apply the crop effect to your lower third and at the beginning of the clip turn on keyframing for the property that crops the right margin. Set this value to 100 percent. Move the time indicator forward on the timeline to the place where you want the lower third to be fully visible and change the right margin crop value to zero percent. When you play it through your lower third will appear to unroll itself across the screen from left to right. If you're feeling adventurous, you could also add an edge feather to the animation in order to soften the edges. Pretty cool huh? And what about duration? As with any text onscreen make sure it remains fully visible long enough for the average viewer to be able to read it two to three times before it goes away. That way you will be sure that everyone receives the full benefit of all your hard work.
Lower thirds are are great ways to give your productions an air of professionalism and make them rise above the crowd. Take the tools we’ve given you, reference the many examples you’ll find on television and online, let your imagination run free and you'll soon be making lower thirds that can impress and inform.