Just as you wouldn’t judge a book by its cover, you’d never judge a movie by its title, right? Nevertheless, a great title is often a clue that a great movie is to follow.

Some titles take on a life of their own, like the famous stenciled letters of M*A*S*H or the cartoon feline who introduces the Pink Panther series. The grandeur of the Star Wars and Superman titles lets you know that you’re in for a real screen epic. The spooky, slow reveal of the title in Alien leaves no doubt that you’re about to see a horror story in outer space. Some of the James Bond titles are sexier than the movies themselves. A good title can go a long way toward establishing the tone of a movie, so don’t sell your titles short.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to create and use titles in the DTV environment. We’ll go over what equipment you’ll need and how to use it to properly introduce your work. With a little practice, you too can turn a boring bunch of words into an engaging work of art that sets the stage for the video that follows.


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So Many Ways

There are many titling solutions for the videomaker out there, from stand-alone boxes like the Titlemaker 2000 (Videonics) and the V-6350 Video Title Writer (Ambico), to computer programs like Flying Fonts!
(CrystalGraphics) and Bola32 (Avid Technology). As a group, videomakers often refer to these as character generators or CGs. Although the stand-alone units are certainly capable, you’ll find the software programs far more powerful and often cheaper if you already have a computer. (And if you don’t have a computer, the word from the desktop video column is: get one. You won’t regret it.)

There are at least two ways you can use your computer to overlay titles on video. The simplest turns your digital titles into an analog signal, slaps them on top of the incoming video, and routes the whole thing back out to tape. There are also titles you create in your computer that remain as digital signals, overlaid on top of digital video. These digital titles often end up on a CD-ROM. Nonlinear editing systems also use digital titles on digital video, which may also end up back on tape.

If the intended final output from your computer is video, you’ll need a scan converter and overlay card, like the Targa series (Truevision) or AVer (ADDA). These devices are sometimes called genlocks, for reasons we’ll discuss in a moment. These cards perform several functions. Often, they run the video from your external source onto your computer’s display. This is different than digitizing it onto your hard drive, in that the video isn’t really stored in the computer. Then these cards overlay the computer-generated titles on top of the video and the result is sent to your record VCR. This task requires genlocking, as well as keying of some sort. These two terms deserve a little elaboration.

Genlocking is the process of synchronizing two video signals. When mixing any two video sources, their sync signals must be matched to one another or the resulting picture will tear and break up. So a genlock is the device that gets everything marching to same drummer.

Keying is the magic that allows you to combine two different video sources. Chromakeying uses a specific color (often blue) to indicate a transparent video "window." The genlock or overlay card scans through the computer video signal looking for the key color. Wherever it appears, the card eliminates the color and allows the second video source to shine through. For example, if blue is your chroma color, you might put a white title against a blue background. When keyed on the color blue, the letters would show up on top of the video with no blue showing.

If your final target is digital video going to tape or CD-ROM, there are many programs you can use to generate stunning titles. Any program that lets you overlay one image over another, like After Effects (CoSA) or Premiere (Adobe), will open up a whole world of amazing titling effects. Since you don’t have to record animated titles in real time to a video deck, you can take the time to render complex animations in 2D or 3D. You can use a graphics program like Photoshop (Adobe) to create your titles, using any font you have available in your system. In order to get your original video in, you need a capture card, like the Smart Video Recorder (Intel) or the Video Spigot (Radius).

In the realm of digital video, depending on the software you are using, there may be a nifty feature called an alpha channel. Much like keying, the alpha channel is used to control how the computer combines two images. Basically, an alpha channel is like an additional image attached to each frame of video. It tells the computer where, and with what degree of transparency, one image should appear over the other. Instead of just having a title sitting crisp and clear on top of your video, you could smoothly feather the edges of the words to make them semi-transparent. By animating the alpha channel, you can create almost unlimited overlay effects.

Today’s digital titling can be remarkably clean and accurate. Many 3D graphics programs generate an alpha channel that indicates where the background is. You can immediately composite this kind of animation against a second video source to create amazing flying logos and other flashy titles.

A Fountain of Fonts

Fonts are the different styles of type available to printers, publishers and (more recently) users of word processing software. Titlers, too, make use of many different fonts to open up a world of options to

Since many of the good PC and Mac titling programs are capable of using custom fonts, there are literally thousands of typefaces to choose from. PostScript and TrueType fonts are useful for titling because you can scale (resize) them without ever getting a bad case of the jaggies or blocky-pixel syndrome. You can tilt them, warp them, bend them or send them around curves. They are a very powerful way to deal with text.

As with any good thing, it’s tempting to go overboard with fonts. Just because you have access to 823 typefaces, don’t feel compelled to use them all at once.

There are many subtle things to consider when selecting a font. Each font has an overall character, and you must match that to the character of your video. A heavy, ornate font will suggest a somber theme, while a frilly font will prepare the viewer for a humorous program. Do you have a radical pitch for something new? Try an in-your-face font that will wake up your audience.

Readability is a prime criteria. If your audience can’t read it, why display it? Many movie makers, thinking only of their big-screen movie audience, show credits that become unreadable when dumped to any other medium but film. Likewise, a small, detailed font may look good on your computer monitor. But two generations of videotape later, your fonts will look like illegible blobs of color.

Use a large font whenever possible. If the video permits it, fill the whole screen with the text.

After a hundred years of moving pictures, you might think that every cool titling trick has already been beat to death. Not so! The diversity of fonts, colors, textures and motions available on a computer is so great, the total number of possible combinations crashes my calculator.

Here are some possibilities to consider:

Run It Up a Flag Pole

Some of the titling effects available for digital video are light-years ahead of what the stand-alone units can provide.

For instance, Typestry (Pixar) can put your text on a flag and flap it in the breeze. The effect is mesmerizing. I created a flag like that for a music video I’m working on. I specified the colors of the flag and the parameters of the virtual "wind."

Typestry then went to work and rendered a series of 32-bit Pict files that included an alpha channel for each Pict. From these, I assembled a QuickTime movie of the waving flag, using After Effects to import the Picts. Still in After Effects, I composited the movie–using its alpha channel–with a sky and a 3D flag pole created in Studio Pro (Strata).

This and other programs, such as CrystalGraphics Flying Fonts!, let you perform a lot of other great titling effects, from shooting sparks to swirling fog. They have lots of tools available for you to play with, giving you countless variations in the kinds of titles you can create.

Freeze-frame as a Backdrop

Capture a single image from your video, using a digitizer such as Snappy (Play Inc.) or ComputerEyes/1024 (Digital Vision). Combine this frame with moving or still titles. The combinations include a simple, opaque overlay or a transparent overlay where some of the freeze-frame shows through the titles. Especially with transparent titles, adding borders around the text can aid legibility.

A drop shadow adds depth to the overall image, although it tends to flatten the still frame itself. That’s because the shadow is falling on a background surface that your eyes normally accept as three dimensional with textures. However the drop shadows will not conform to the texture of the background image (because there is none!). So if your background is puffy clouds, the flat drop shadows will look artificial.

A shadow can help to build contrast between the backdrop and the letters. Another method to increase contrast is to place a semi-transparent dark rectangle underneath light-colored letters.

When you’re compositing against a freeze-frame, you don’t have motion as a visual clue to distinguish between the title and the video, so you need more contrast. Try using a solid border around the characters to increase readability. Don’t lose your audience by playing "Where’s Waldo" with your titles.

If you’re using a 3D program and you want to make the letters look like they’re a part of the scene, be sure to make the lighting match the backdrop. You can also use part of the freeze-frame itself as a texture to wrap around your 3D characters.

Video In Fat Fonts

If you use fat fonts or fonts that are extremely bold-faced, you can show the video through them instead of behind them.

For feed-through video, you need to switch your text to the chromakey color. If your software permits it, you can import a video freeze-frame and put your chromakeyed text on top. That way, you can get video-filled text within a freeze frame. Be careful to keep enough contrast to read your title, unless you’re depending on subliminal results.

You have to have fairly fat fonts to show off this technique. One trick I have for fattening fonts is to type them into a draw program like Illustrator (Adobe), then use the tools within that program to tweak, stretch and fatten them up all you want.

Taking this one more step, if you’re staying in the digital world, you can put video titles on top of more video. Using digital video, you can composite as many layers as you want without losing resolution. This is how they create those multi-layered rock videos and soft-drink commercials.

Recently, I used both fat fonts and video-on-video to make a dramatic "stormy" title. I fattened the fonts in Illustrator, then imported the file into Studio Pro (Strata). I used the extrude command to change the text from flat letters into three-dimensional blocks that seemed to pop out of the screen.

In Studio Pro, I placed lights around the text to match the background lighting. Then I mapped moving video onto the text, from a clip of storm clouds blowing across the screen. I composited the text with background video of another storm, but in a contrasting color. With both of the images moving, this made for an eye-catching title.

Don’t Break the Law!

One problem with placing text on analog video with a genlock is that you can introduce "bad" colors into the image–colors that look fine on the computer screen but overwhelm our dated NTSC system.

When color information was tacked onto the original black &amp white NTSC signal, there just wasn’t enough room in the signal to display every possible color. Hence some colors just look bad. Your computer doesn’t have this limitation.

If you’re planning to broadcast your video, you should take care to avoid colors that will create a lousy signal. These colors can bloom and bleed all over the screen, totally destroying the image. Highly suspect are bright reds, oranges and yellows, or any extremely saturated colors.

Many of the programs available on the PC and Mac can tone down the offending colors for you. Some of them have a special color palette that consists of NTSC-friendly versions of all the computer’s colors.

But Bend the Rules

Now that I’ve explained where the boundaries are, I’m going to encourage you to push ’em. For every rule that’s put down, (except color use, of course) there’s a notable exception. Don’t let these tips and techniques be any more than suggestions.

For instance, instead of going for contrast, try invisible titles. If you make 3D titles using a glass texture, you’ll get characters that will completely blend in–until they move. You can produce a startling effect with this technique.

Don’t be afraid to stoop to cheap tricks. For example, some video programs support rotoscoping. This overused word means drawing on individual frames of video. Rotoscoping hand-lettered text in lively colors can create a hip, casual feeling to titles.

Whether you like it or not, people will judge you by your titles.

Put your best title forward!

Scott Anderson is the president of Wild Duck Software, a computer graphics development company. He is also the author of Fantavision, a polygon-based animation program, and the book Morphing Magic, from SAMs.

Scan Lines

Trading Shares Avid Technology of Tewksbury, MA and Digidesign of Menlo Park, CA have agreed to merge by exchanging shares. Avid is a leader in digital video and video editing, Digidesign a leader in digital audio. Company representatives say that the merger will help them meet the demand for highly integrated digital systems for audio and video production.

Macromedia Grows Macromedia announces an agreement to acquire freehand developer Altsys. The deal, which was valued at $69 million at the time of signing, will quadruple Macromedia’s registered customer base. Altsys has been a leading force in defining standards and file formats in the graphic design market, and is famous for its Freehand professional drawing program as marketed by Aldus Corp. Macromedia makes a full range of Mac and Windows products, including Authorware, a popular multimedia authoring package.

Product Menu

G-Vision DX ($499)
Genoa Systems Corporation

San Jose, California

(408) 432-9090

G-Vision DX is a full-screen, full-motion 64-bit graphics accelerator card which uses the new MPEG digital audio (and video) compression scheme. G-Vision will work by itself or with existing sound cards. G-Vision requires an IBM-compatible 386/25 MHz or higher platform. Included is motion chromakey and VGA chromakey. The board uses the CL-GD 5434 64-bit engine for resolution up to 1280×1024.

Media Studio ($349)
Ulead Systems, Inc.

Torrance, California
(301) 523-9393

Media Studio is a complete multimedia tool kit available on CD-ROM for PCs running Microsoft Windows version 3.1 or higher. The software is also available on floppy disks. This all-in-one program allows you to capture, edit, catalog, morph and play video clips. The unit performs editing on a timeline-based interface and includes transition effects.

ViperPro ($679)
Diamond Computer Systems, Inc.

Sunnyvale, California

(408) 736-2000

The ViperPro is a graphics accelerator card for professionals offering 1600×1200 resolution for large-screen monitors. The unit offers a Video Power option for full-screen, 30 frames per second video playback. Recently, Diamond has been bundling Corel Draw 3 and VidGrid along with the standard setup and program software.

SoundSwitch ($399)

SunRize Industries

Campbell, California

(408) 374-4962

SoundSwitch is an audio mixer for the Amiga platform that will integrate with the Newtek Video Toaster, some SunRize Studio 16 series and RBG Systems AmiLink DTV editors. It adds audio-follow-video capability to the Video Toaster, and can also be used as a traditional audio mixer. The SoundSwitch, when used with a SMPTE time code intelligent device, will recognize time code-based triggers to fade an audio channel in or out.

Nonlinear Editing Price Watch

Nonlinear systems make editing video as simple as cutting and pasting text with a word processor. With nonlinear, editors enjoy true random access to scenes through an intuitive graphical user interface. Thanks to advances in compression technology and plummeting computer prices, nonlinear editing is ready to revolutionize video at all levels.

This table shows the cheapest current system capable of true VHS-quality nonlinear editing. We define VHS quality as any 60 field-per-second, 320×480 pixel, full-screen display. Hard-drive prices reflect storage for about 10 minutes of digitized video. Prices are valid at time of writing, and subject to change.

Computer: Macintosh Power Mac 7100/60, AV card $2999
Capture/display board: Supermac SpigotPower AV $995
Software: VideoFusion Capture Utility (bundled)
RAM: 8 MB upgrade: $330
Hard Drive: 1GB SCSI $950
Total $5274
Note: Supermac SpigotPower AV is also capable of 640×480 pixel capture/display at 60 fields per

Screen Test

Scriptware ($299)

Cinovation, Inc.
1750 30th. Street, Suite 360
Boulder, CO 80301
(303) 786-7899

In an ever-growing universe of desktop video products, it’s surprising how few companies are making script writing software. Cinovation is one of those few, offering Scriptware, a flexible software package that helps you with the task of writing fully-formatted scripts.

Scriptware comes in the form of two installation disks and a complete operator’s manual. While not a Windows program, the software will operate fine in either DOS or Windows environments.

If you have any experience with word processing software, you should find Scriptware easy to learn and use. The edit area screen (the main interface) sets up much like a word processor with an open work area and pull-down menus. As you work, a status line along the bottom of the screen keeps you informed about your document. One menu will list all your scenes and allow you to search for text by page or scene number. Another will help you cut and paste your scenes as easily as a word processor moves text.

A Format menu allows you to change the attributes for the type of script you’re writing. This includes television, film, sitcom, A/V, play and note or text. The film choice breaks down into shooting scripts or submission copies.

Each format assigns locations to the return and tab keys so they will automatically retain the layout of the script style. Certain keys will cause the cursor to go to a specific location, such as the Character Name key, and then display a list of the characters for you to choose from.

Like most word processors, Scriptware offers a spell checker and thesaurus. The software’s complete spell checking system offers correct spellings on a number of replacement words; it also gives you the option to import dictionary files from other applications. The thesaurus contains over 120,000 words presented on a Select New Word menu. Scriptware will import and export ASCII files in the event that you already have scripts written in another program and wish to edit them.

The manual is easy to follow, although the writers spent too much time on the individual menus, which are easy to learn. The manual includes several useful appendices covering shortcuts and questions and answers.

I liked Scriptware and found it easy to use. Oddly, I didn’t recognize some of the script page layouts used in this software, but then, much has changed since I was in college. If you write scripts for video or film, this product could make your life a whole lot easier.

Ease of Learning: (3)
Ease of use: (3)
Documentation: (3)
Value: (3)

Maxmedia MR ($399)
Umax Technologies
3353 Gateway Blvd.
Fremont, CA 94538
(510) 651-8883

Here’s a nice little board from Umax for capturing single frames or full-motion video and audio clips for storage, manipulation and playback. The Maxmedia MR includes an input/output board that plugs into your 386 or higher PC (486/33MHz preferred). Software includes the Maxmedia Installation &amp Development Tool Kit, and two products by Prolab technology–VideoWork capturing and editing software, and Image Folio, a graphics editing package.

The board will capture NTSC, SECAM or PAL images as PCX, TIF, BMP, GIF, TGA, PCD, or JPEG files. The Maxmedia MR will also capture and playback Video for Windows, AVI and MCI files at full screen using hardware interpolation.

Maxmedia MR uses pull-down menus to offer full control of all capture and playback functions. You can adjust record length and frame rate, as well as set input scaling with vertical and horizontal size cropping and filtering. Further, you have control of playback image size, hue, brightness, contrast and saturation. You can position the image with panning and scrolling controls.

The unit saves and retrieves all motion video to and from the hard disk using a native 2:1 compression scheme to save space and make real-time image capture and playback feasible. These images play back at several resolutions, up to 640×480 for NTSC. The greater the size, the more interpolation required, and the fuzzier the picture.

You perform all editing and effects through a Film Edit menu which displays both video and audio in a time-line style window. You use a series of editing menu commands to move parts of your clips around, not unlike editing text on a word processor. Such commands include Cut, Paste, Insert and others.

You can edit selected portions of video, called Frame Fragments, during your editing session. The Maxmedia MR offers a number of special effects you can apply while working with frame fragments (scenes to be edited). These include emboss, fade, mosaic, slant and zoom. Maxmedia will perform other effects such as chroma key, color key, and embedded color key.

How well does the unit work? Maxmedia MR claims to capture 30 frames per second, not 60 fields. Captured video in the smaller resolution sizes look very smooth at higher frame rates, but frame rate seems to stumble as resolution increases.

While I doubt the Maxmedia MR will blow the minds of traditional videomakers working on the desktop, this package should be worth taking a serious look at if you work in CD development. It might just be the ticket for that multimedia project you’ve been dreaming of.

Ease of Learning: (2)
Ease of use: (3)
Documentation: (2)
Value: (3)

"Desktop News &amp Reviews" is compiled by Doug Polk, Videomaker’s technical editor.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.