Edit Suite: Titles the Old-Fashioned Way

Regardless of how you create them, titles set the stage for your videos. They tell your viewers who, where, when and what they are watching. Today you have more resources than ever for designing professional titles, even if you havent gone digital. Here, then, are a few choice ideas on newfangled techniques for oldfangled title-making.

Titles on the Fly

The cheapest, simplest titles are still actual words that you find and videotape as you shoot. Wall Street, Bryce Canyon, Bud and Edna Farbers RV -all these places are labeled with signs just waiting for you to turn them into titles.

And if the sign isnt there, you can often place one. For example, you can frame a printed brochure or T-shirt for an attraction and then pan or tilt away to reveal the actual place. Sometimes you can fill the frame with a brochure or postcard, get a still shot, then follow it with a live shot. Because video lacks depth perception, your camcorder cant distinguish between a real 3-D object and a flat picture of it. To smooth the transition, use a dissolve or DVE (Digital Video Effect) between the shots.

Stern disclaimer: such printed materials are usually copyrighted, so dont use these techniques unless your finished program is intended for personal viewing only.

To avoid copyright problems you can make your own titles. If your spouse decorated the birthday cake, you might consider making an icing title. On a plain card background that contrasts well with the frosting color (not on the cake itself), have your partner write Norms Birthday, or similar, in icing as you tape the action. To keep the title short, youll probably fade up on the shot when the writing is three-fourths completed.

If you have the gear necessary to superimpose titles (via titler, mixer or computer), you can combine live titles with text created in editing. As the icing bag squeezes out the "ay" in Norms Birthday, fade up A Video by Marjie over the shot in professional looking type.

Jet Propelled Titles

Ink jet printers are economical and can generate wonderful titles from your word processing, painting or presentation software.

With a paint program you can create any background you like, including photos or graphics. But if youre designing titles in a program like Word or WordPerfect, youll want to experiment with colored paper stock, since word processors are not set up to do background colors. Intense type colors on pastel backgrounds work well because the paler papers take ink better than dark ones. Simply create your title, print it out and videotape the printed page. Generally speaking, you should select a landscape layout so your titles will fit the rectangular shape of a TV screen.

Whatever your paper color, avoid the glossy stocks intended for printing photos. They do reproduce colors better, but their reflective surfaces can make it tricky to tape them.

If you have a digital mixer like one of the popular models from Videonics or Panasonic, you can chromakey printed titles over live action. Simply mix the program from a VCR (source A) and the titles from your camcorder (source B).

First, you need to create the chromakey background color. You can use blue or green paper stock, but youll get better results with a paint or presentation program. Simply select a suitable blue or green background.

Next, design your titles, keeping these hints in mind:

  •  Give the type a color far different from the key color, for the cleanest possible keying.

  •  Use very simple type-faces, preferably sans serif styles, and not decorative, classic fonts. Remember that fine details are the enemy of clean compositing.

  •  Compose the titles with plenty of space around them so that you dont risk shooting off the background when you tape the printouts.

    Taping Titles

    Next, you have to videotape your title page. If you have a copy stand youre home free; but you can do the job with some push pins, a cork board or the like, and a nice stretch of open shade outdoors on a sunny day.

    The lighting is flat and even, reflections are minimized, and the color temperature is very close to your camcorders outdoor setting. Overcast days are not as good because the light turns more bluish. (Of course, if your camcorder has adjustable white balance, you can easily compensate.)

    Set up your backing at a comfortable height and place the camcorder on a tripod so that the lens axis is perpendicular to the plane of the title cards. A telephoto lens setting may reduce optical distortion and help keep shadows off the art work. But even the slightest jiggle will be magnified. A wide angle setting will reduce noticeable shake, but may cause lens distortion.

    To shoot a title, zoom all the way in to extreme telephoto and focus the lens on the type. This will ensure sharp focus. Then zoom out, compose the title so that it’s comfortably within the frame, and make sure that you’re not shooting off the backing. Record far more of the title than you will use, to give yourself leeway in editing. Around 20 seconds of each title should suffice.

    To simplify editing, use your hand or the lens cap to create a few seconds of black screen between each title. Different titles on the same background look so similar that it’s hard to distinguish them when searching in fast forward/reverse. The black intervals divide each card from the next.

    If you’re feeling creative, here are some tricks you can use to add some spice when shooting title cards:

  •  Mount the titles on stiff cards, stack them on an easel; then have someone remove them in real time, while you shoot the action. This gives the old-fashioned feel of an illustrated lecture.

  •  Angle the artwork to produce an intentional keystone effect.

  •  On your 8.5 x 11 inch paper, print the titles as small as you can, while still filling the frame with them at full telephoto. Then shrink or grow the titles by zooming out or in as you tape them.

  •  To produce the effect of scrolling credits, print out the titles in portrait format. Secure the camcorder to a tripod pointing down at a flat surface like a desk, and slide the titles under the lens so that, in the viewfinder, the words appear to scroll up the screen.

    Right out of the Box

    Most titles are produced entirely in post production. We’ll move past dedicated titling machines because they come with their own operating instructions. Lets look instead at titles created by computer applications and then output directly to video.

    Since computer and television display systems are as different as cats and dogs (and just about as friendly) the trick is to convert your PC or Mac titles to NTSC video. The easiest way to do this is by purchasing a computer with NTSC video included in its outputs. Many laptop computers already include NTSC outputs for business people to cable their computer to TV sets for presentations. In addition, many video cards designed for gaming include TV output too.

    Or if you prefer, you can buy external converters that split the video signal emerging from your PC, sending the computer version to your VGA monitor and the TV version to your VCR or switcher. Several models are available from the mail order suppliers in the back of this magazine.

    In creating titles on a computer, its essential to check them on a TV monitor, for three reasons:

  •  Positioning: Titles that look fine on the computer may run off the screen, because NTSC monitors cut off the picture edges.

  •  Legibility: the lower resolution of TV is not kind to type that is small and/or complicated. Titles that look fine on a computer monitor may fall apart on a TV screen.

  •  Color: Computer colors rarely translate exactly to TV, so check the results. (Surprisingly, a few colors actually look nicer on TV.)

    After building your titles in a program like PowerPoint or Corel PhotoPaint, you have to edit them into your program. Here, you have two options, each with pros and cons.

    The easiest way is to record the titles on a work tape, which you then treat like any other video source component. The advantage here is that you can time, cue up and run your titles easily and repeatedly. This is especially useful with animated titles like the ones produced by PowerPoint or Corel Presentations, because you can record a perfectly timed moving show, and then play it back identically, as it is needed.

    The down side is that you lose a generation and a bit of quality in outputting to a work tape before rolling your titles into your program. For the highest possible quality, plug your computer output directly into your switcher/DVE and transfer titles directly to your assembly tape. The drawback is that, in coordinating B-roll sources, a computer is harder to control than a VCR.

    So there you have it, an introduction to fun and easy titling techniques. From computer created titles to actual words on screen, these are digital-age updates for tried-and-true titling ploys. Even if youve already gone all-nonlinear, you can still put many of these ideas to good use to enliven your videos and add a new layer of creativity and excitement to your work.

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