When it comes to pleasing customers, a little flash goes a long way. And titles are about the easiest and cheapest way to add flash to your video productions.
Titles tell your viewers that you deliver a professional product; they’ve learned watching all that TV to recognize good titles when they see them. Add titles to your videos, and you raise their quality in the eyes of the viewers dramatically. A title sequence before a wedding video, for example, tells the viewer that a quality nuptial video follows.
The good news: titlers are not as expensive as you might think. Let’s examine what’s available–and how much it will cost you.
Having It All
“I want a titler that can do everything,” says Josh Waugaman of Eye-On-Video. Waugaman’s small Pittsburgh-based video production company produces an average of two event tapes a month. When the time came for him to expand his production capabilities, a titler was the natural choice.
“I’m working with an S-VHS camcorder and a couple of S-VHS decks,” says Waugaman. “Nothing fancy. Just cuts only. As I talk with prospective clients about jobs, they always ask if their names will appear on the tape…they mean titling. They never inquire about effects or anything. Just if they’ll see their names. So I used this as a barometer of what my client base was looking for. Several times a customer would tell me her niece or friend had words on the tape before the wedding. Could I do this as well? Until recently the answer was always no.”
Waugaman wanted every effect possible on his titler.
“I’m not real connected with technological advances in the industry,” admits Waugaman. “I read a lot of magazines and literature, but I just never paid much attention to titlers. When I decided to get one, I started researching the market.”
What Waugaman found was that there are two main kinds of titlers: stand-alone or computer based.
“Everyone I spoke to within the professional end of the industry told me to go computer based,” says Waugaman. “One problem, however–I don’t have a computer. So I started to explore the stand-alone units.”
Stand-alone titlers are pieces of equipment dedicated to providing titles. That’s all they do, but they offer a host of possible effects. Different type faces, colors and sizes are common. Titles can crawl across or roll up the screen. Some devices offer effects such as wipes and dissolves.
“When I started to look at different units, the old adage became evident, ‘You get what you pay for’,” says Waugaman. “I wanted to get the best machine on the market. But I came to the conclusion that I really didn’t need all those fancy effects. That box may have put some slick graphics into my productions, but I couldn’t rationalize spending the money for the nominal amount of work I do.”
Needing It All
Brett Wilson is a different story. Operating in Pittsburgh as well, Wilson began by shooting weddings. Over time he’s cultivated a different clientele: the industrial market.
“When I first entered the business, I was strictly doing weddings,” remembers Wilson. “There wasn’t a great need to place titles on the tapes. But I thought it was an extra that set me apart from the competition. Immediately I went for a computer-based system. I had played around with Amigas and Macs in my school for quite some time. I figured either would provide me with the technology I needed to do some cool titling.
“So what I did for the first two years of operation was to use my school’s computer system for titling. I’d convinced the video instructor to purchase a genlock and some titling software. During my free time, I would go to the video lab and make the titles I needed. I got to know the equipment well and it allowed me to establish some buying parameters. The school bought new software as it was developed.”
During this time, Wilson got his first industrial gig. Creating a video for a local tire retreader presented some intensive titling requirements.
“The tire job was almost exclusively titles,” says Wilson. “It instructed the viewer on the process, but surprisingly had little footage in the tape. The owner believed if the viewer saw the words on screen often enough, the instructions would sink in.”
So Wilson created a series of steps using moving and three-dmensional text. It added interest to the production while fulfilling his client’s wishes.
“If I hadn’t played around with the equipment in school, I would have never known which system to purchase,” says Wilson. “Landing such a graphic-intensive job your first time out is probably peculiar. Luckily, my computer-based titler allowed me the freedom to create an interesting and pleasant-looking video. Everyone who viewed it complimented me on the appearance of the graphics.”
Wilson’s work for the tire maker led to his now-booming industrial production company.
Need vs. Want
What you want in a titler and what you need can be two totally different things. Waugaman’s simplistic needs conflicted with his high-end wants. Similarly, Wilson didn’t need great graphics for his early weddings; he just wanted them.
How do you, as a buyer, make the titler buying decision? First, consider your market. Do you service a small niche? One that may never possibly blossom? Or are you going after clients who’ll insist on innovative cutting-edge work? Competing with the big boys for clients demands the latest in technology. Can a stand-alone titler unit handle such demands?
Cash is your next concern. A decked-out, computer-based character generator (CG) is certainly out of the question if your new-equipment budget is only $50 a month. Ask yourself if this investment will help you attract new customers. Could it pay for itself in time?
“I was a little scared of dumping a large amount of cash into the system,” says Wilson. “Sure, I had this first tire job, but what if no other industrial clients wanted to work with me? What then? Could I use the equipment on the event tapes and try to charge higher prices? These were all valid concerns that haunted me every day until the second job came my way. I don’t think there’s really a way to get around this mental crisis if you buy the equipment yourself. You can always go to a post house and do the work. But that gets expensive as well. And you’re always thinking the whole time you’re there that you wish you had the equipment to work on yourself.”
Two final considerations: quality and use.
“Even with my small set-up, I wanted a CG that looked good,” says Waugaman. “I was surprised at the differing levels of quality within the same price range. Some of the units offered fonts that were really jagged. Personally I would rather have no titles than jagged titles. I also wanted to be able to add outlines or shadows and change colors without reading hundreds of pages of instruction.”
Wilson echoes that sentiment. “With the computer systems, software manuals can get pretty lengthy. The titler would do me no good if it took all day just to figure out the unit. I wanted something intuitive. A product that would mimic the way I make title pages for a print project. I like that I can sit down and punch out some exciting looking titles in a relatively short amount of time.”
What’s Out There
While the lucky Wilson had his school as a private little research facility, Waugaman had to go through more conventional channels.
“Not knowing anything about titlers, I began to collect information,” says Waugaman. “I looked through every video magazine I could get my hands on, Videomaker included.”
Product reviews are a good way to start the “weeding out” process, as they reveal the good and bad points of titlers. Options, special effects, ease of use, quality and price are all laid out in black and white.
“Reading reviews really helped save time,” says Waugaman. “The price section was always relevant. But I liked the information on how the product worked in a real environment. That gave me a good sense of if the titler was a potential candidate for purchase.”
So what is out there? As stated earlier, titlers come as stand-alone or computer-based. Let’s check out a few of the more popular stand-alone units.
On the low-end, a $300 limit offers you a couple of choices. Sima’s Color Writer Magic offers four different fonts. Your lettering can appear in eight colors over live video or machine-generated color backgrounds. A unique trick of the Color Writer: its reverse function. With the effect on, the screen appears as the solid color of your choice, with live video appearing inside the titles. Up to 12 pages of lettering can scroll, fade, crawl or cut into or out of any scene. The other 3-bill product is Ambico’s Video Title Writer. Two upper and lower case fonts, eight colors and three border styles are just some of the features of the unit. International videomakers may want to check out the Video Title Writer for its Spanish and French characters.
A step up the price ladder will buy you JVC’s TX-T88. This $450 machine generates four different text sizes in eight colors and seven languages. Beyond the basic cut and superimpose, the TX-T88 allows you to fade, scroll, border and box your lettering onto live video.
At $600, you purchase a warehouse of titling options with Videonics TitleMaker 2000. Ninety font and size choices combined with over a million colors make this piece stand out from the crowd. The easy user interface includes professional options such as preview video output. This function lets you make invisible changes on live programs. Only you see the modifications taking place, not the audience. Pause and restart scrolling, another professional accessory, adds class to your titling. Characters enter the screen in one direction, pause for reading, then quickly exit.
Panasonic’s WJ-AVE1 commands $800, but the effects are awesome. It packs three fonts in 16 sizes. Working like a word processor, the WJ-AVE1 allows for page clear, character insert and overwrite. A nice feature is the ability to vary fonts and sizes from line to line. Look at any local news show and you’ll see this effect in use. Scrolls, crawls and four directional wipes help keep the titling work interesting.
Stand-alone units will get you there. Computer-based titlers get you there in style.
With unlimited page memory, font choices, text sizes and colors, the computer is hard to beat. However, these systems are often costly. And the operational learning curve may be much greater than those needed for simple stand-alones.
Every platform has character generation software. Amiga, IBM and Macintosh all offer comprehensive titling programs to fulfill your needs. Software isn’t your only concern when working with a computer system. Beyond the computer itself, you’ll need additional hardware.
To get your graphics over video, you have to get video into the computer.
Or sort of.
Some systems use an internal card. Others use plug-in or external genlock to combine graphics and video. But once you achieve that task, the possibilities are endless.
Personal computers can create broadcast quality graphics. 3D images, gradient color fills, embossing, variable transparency and animated movements are several effects possible with a computer-based titling system.
Titling, whether created on a stand-alone or a computer, add a little flash to any video program.
It’s the logical next step when considering an upgrade to your operations.
By reviewing your needs and researching the market, you’ll be able to make an informed purchase that will reap benefits for many productions to come.
Videomaker contributing editor Mark Steven Bosko is the vice president of marketing for a commercial production company.