How to Get the Right Ambiance from Sound

The Right Ambience

In these days of reasonably-priced computer software/hardware for editing movies, quality digital cams and excellent magazines like Videomaker, which help newbies on the ins and outs of film/video production, it is no surprise that hobbyists are producing very professional-looking home movies. However, sound is an area of constant struggle for most amateurs. They may understand the key lighting system and the use of dollies and tripods, but if they don’t have good sound, the production is left wanting. One key element in proper sound production is ambience.

Many film production crews use ambience, the background sounds that emanate from certain locations (for example, the tweeting of birds and gurgling of a nearby stream in a forest scene, or the hum of conversation in a restaurant). Professional film crews go out and record reels of this sound to lay down over the entire scene when the picture is cut together. This gets rid of the perceptible jump in background sound as the video camera starts on an establishing shot and then jumps in for a closeup.

The hobbyist, too, can carry a tape recorder to each scene and record "silence" (or the ambience of the location). But to avoid carrying extra equipment, there is a better way. Start the video camera and after marking the footage orally or visually with a slate as being ambient, record for a length of time that is at least double what you think the scene will be (just to be safe). Then, after the film is dumped to computer, and the video has been cut together, you can capture your ambient sound/picture track from the DV tape to computer as a clip. Most editing software allows you to separate or un-sync the sound from the DV picture (such as Apple’s iMovie software), then you can delete the picture. What is left is an ambient sound file that you can then lay into one of your soundtracks, stretching it through the entire scene. Adjust the volume and voil, you have professional ambient sound.

Should you find that your ambience is not long enough, it is possible with many programs to make a copy of your ambient sound. Then, you can stick both copies together using a cross-dissolve, thereby doubling its length.

Greg Burke

Ottawa, ON, Canada

Prompted by Netscape

Being completely new to video editing led me to your magazine, and all your articles were informative and relevant. I especially appreciated Jim Stinson’s article on laptop prompters (September 2001), because good speech flow is important for any production.

By accident, I just discovered that a computer could be used to scroll text very effectively, like a professional teleprompter. When I was in Internet Explorer, I inadvertently depressed the Scroll wheel on my new Microsoft IntelliMouse TrackBall and a small icon appeared on-screen. Perhaps I should have read the directions, but by moving the pointer above or below the icon, it accelerated the screen-scroll rate, which continued steadily until another TrackBall button was activated. So, you can write your script with FrontPage or Netscape Composer, select the background color and text size, save to a file, and use the computer’s Internet Explorer as a prompter. Pressing F11 will alternate between menus and full-screen display; also, the browser’s View menu allows fine-tuning of text size.

One more suggestion – you can use the laptop’s SVGA auxiliary output to connect a second video monitor. This allows the same script to be viewed at two locations. The speaker can then read the script while switching his view from video camera to bystander. This makes reading text look more spontaneous.

Charles Clever


The Heat is Off

I have found that the best way to remove stubborn labels is to apply heat from a heat gun for just a few seconds. The glue softens up just enough to peel the label off. This works, not only on videotapes, but anything that is not too heat sensitive. There is no danger of damaging the tape, because the heat is not applied too long. If you apply too much heat, the glue may be left behind, so experiment with your heat gun. I have even found this to be the best (if not the only) way to remove labels from cardboard boxes! It works on just about anything.

Ed Masker

Woodstown, NJ


8 Tips for Making a Stellar First Video

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8 Tips for Making a Stellar First Video

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Thanks for the tip, Ed. Perhaps a hair dryer would work in some situations.

– The Editors

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