Imagine if you could make your next video with help from some of the most talented people in the production world– top-notch sound designers, graphic artists, animators, photographers, musicians and the like. This team would answer to your every whim, creating visual and aural masterpieces as quick as you could bark out your orders.
Pure fantasy? Not in the world of libraries. For those unfamiliar with the concept, libraries are collections of pre-fab images or sounds that you can use in your own videos. Libraries are available for almost every facet of video or multimedia production: music, sound effects, photos, clip art, icons, fonts, backgrounds, 3D models, animations… . If you can imagine it, you can probably find a library that has it. And thanks to the high-capacity of digital CD-ROM, a single silver disc can hold a wealth of images and sounds.
Of course, nothing this good could be free. For the privilege of having all this talent working on your video, youll pay a fee. What that fee is, and how you pay it, depends on the library type and the company offering the library. The bottom line is that image and sound libraries can bring a great deal of professionalism to a video for a relatively low cost.
In the next few pages, well explore the various types of libraries available to the videographer. Well cover what they are, what they cost and how to apply them in your videos.
The Video Reference Desk
Not all libraries available are meant for videography. Some target desktop publishers, for example, while others are more useful to web designers or CD-ROM authors. Some libraries have price tags that restrict them to big-budget productions. Even excluding these, however, theres a vast assortment of libraries available to the hobbyist videographer.
A little music can go a long way toward spicing up your videos soundtrack. When you ponder the hassle and expense of licensing popular music or recording your own, however, you may think your videos are better off without it. Thats where affordable music libraries (also known as "buyout" libraries) can save the day.
Usually distributed on audio compact discs, music libraries are available in different sizes, genres and price points. Once looked down on by pros for their somewhat substandard production values, CD music libraries now offer sound quality to rival that of big-budget popular recordings.
Working music from a library into your video is simple if you just treat the CD like any other audio source. You can dub the music onto your edited master tape after-the-fact, or you can blend the music in with your program audio through an audio mixer as you edit.
Numerous companies distribute music on CD, including Energetic Music and Gene Michael Productions. You can pick up a single CD full of instrumental cues for under $50 from some sources, and complete libraries for several hundred dollars.
If your World War II documentary calls for the sound of a thundering Howitzer gun, odds are you wont find a functioning unit at your local flea market. On a sound-effects CD entitled "Modern Warfare," however, your odds of finding a Howitzer are a little better.
Todays sound-effects libraries contain almost any sound you can think of, and thousands that would never cross your mind. From "Baby Splashing Water" to "Zombies Oozing Slime," a sound-effects library will have you covered. Like music libraries, sound-effects libraries run the gamut from modest one- and two-CD offerings to expensive 100-disc sets.
Hollywood Edge sells their Edge Edition 4-CD sound-effects library for $279; single sound-effects CDs are available at $60 each. Ghostwriters offers a five-CD sound effects library ($90) with 427 different effects.
As we move from place to place, the subtle background sounds we hear impart each location with much of its unique character. The clink of utensils at a formal dinner, the babble of voices at a sales meeting, the dull whine of engines on a jumbo jet–all these sounds help us recognize a given location. Mixing ambient sounds like these into your video is a great tool for drawing your viewers into the story.
Ambience or "background" libraries contain the aural signature for a wide variety of locations on compact disc. Youll find such cues as "baseball game," "machine room," "busy office" or "quiet meadow" on most background CDs. Larger libraries will devote whole CDs to a given theme, such as "city life" or "transportation."
Because fidelity and synchronization arent all that crucial with ambient sounds, you can dump them from CD to audiocassette before blending them in with your soundtrack. This step frees up your CD player for more crucial sound elements like music or sound effects.
Sound Ideas offers two ambient-sound libraries for $495 each: Ambience I offers 200 sounds on 12 CDs; Ambience II, 360 sounds on 15 CDs. The MAX-EFX library from Creative Support Services offers over 800 effects and ambient backgrounds on seven discs for $289.
MIDI Song Files
A high-tech way to get music into your videos, MIDI song libraries dont contain any sound–instead, they store the data for each individual note of a piece of music. These data, in the form of a MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) file, will then instruct your sound card or MIDI synthesizer to play the song.
Why would you want the recipe instead of the finished frappe? Because, quite simply, you can customize and alter the MIDI "recipe" to your hearts content. You can pick your own instruments, re-arrange the song, repeat sections as many times as you wish, even play your own parts along with the tune. If your sound card or synthesizer is of decent quality, the end results will sound quite good.
One caution: buying someone elses musical arrangement of a popular song doesnt grant you rights to use that music in your video. Youll still need to secure rights from the publisher of the song. Companies like MIDI Hits offer popular songs–thousands of them–in standard MIDI format.
Even though video is all about moving images, you can use still photos to great advantage in many productions. Photos make great backgrounds for titles, and can also function well as transitions between scenes. With a chromakey effect, you can use still photos to transport your talent or host to anywhere in the world.
Stock photo libraries have been a staple of the print-publishing world for many years, and the selection of images now available on CD-ROM or Kodak Photo CD (which can be read by most, but not all CD-ROM drives) is nothing short of staggering. As with most libraries, manufacturers usually divide stock image libraries into categories by subject.
For folks with nonlinear editing systems, adding an image is usually as easy as dragging an icon onto the timeline. Folks with linear systems will need a genlock or encoder to convert the digital image to a signal recordable onto a VCR or camcorder. Cascom offers their Select Effects CD-Rom for $80 per volume.
Clip Art and Icons
Instead of being real-world images captured by a photographer, these little graphical goodies are usually the handiwork of an illustrator. Integrated into a title or text page, these graphics can add a touch of pizzazz to your video. Because theyre much smaller (from a storage standpoint) than photos or sounds, graphic images often fit by the thousands onto a singe CD-ROM.
Clip art and icons tend to be most useful when enhancing text. Imagine youre working up a title page for a documentary on a local equestrian camp. Placed behind the text, a silhouette of a horses head and mane could really make the title work. Used somewhere on every text page, the horse icon could become a unifying thread throughout the video.
The best way to use clip art and icons is through paint or titling software, where you can easily color, rotate or re-size the images. Once youve got them looking the way you want, its a simple affair to drop the images into a nonlinear timeline or output them to tape through an encoder or genlock.
The Art Parts CD-ROM ($180) from the Image Club contains hundreds of clip-art images on a single disc. Corels Mega Gallery, one of the best library bargains available at $79, offers over 110,000 clip-art images, photos, sounds and videos on five CD-ROMs.
Text plays at least a minor role in almost every video production; in some videos, on-screen text makes up the bulk of the visual presentation. Font libraries give you access to hundreds or thousands of different text fonts on CD-ROM. These will usually range from very conservative, readable typefaces to highly stylized, wild fonts. Depending on what youre trying to convey, you can find a font that reinforces any message.
Like clip art and icons, font libraries are sold primarily to print publishers. But because video is a vastly different medium than print, youll discover that certain fonts look great on the printed page but dont work so well on-screen. Most fonts will work fine in both media, and many font libraries are available specifically for video applications.
Most fonts load directly into your computer system, where any software in your computer can access them. A genlock will overlay your titles onto video in the analog realm; folks using nonlinear editors will create their titles and drag them onto a timeline.
Digiteyes Multimedias Typeart Foundry is one of the many font foundries making their library available over the World Wide Web (www.typeart.com).
Backgrounds and Textures
These CD-ROM libraries contain background images suitable for laying behind text, as well as textures useful for wrapping around fonts or other objects. Backgrounds and textures often come as a smaller part of photo or clip-art CD-ROMs, though some libraries contain discs devoted entirely to these graphic elements.
By design, backgrounds dont call much attention to themselves. They are usually low-contrast images (making it easier to read any text placed over them), and some have a deliberate soft-focus look. Backgrounds can contain natural imagery like leaves, water or clouds, or they can be entirely synthesized in a computer.
Like backgrounds, textures come from either real-world objects or artistic inspiration. But unlike backgrounds, we usually use textures to add interest and depth to foreground elements. Applying a riveted, steel texture to the title "Robot Wars" makes a strong point, as does adding a knotty wood surface to the text "Amandas Treehouse." Animators frequently use texture libraries to bring added realism to their computer models.
Vivid Details has a 12-volume texture library available; each 3-disc volume costs $179. Digital Stock offers their "Natural Textures" CD-ROM for $249.
Stock video footage has long been available on various videotape formats. Today, you can get video clips on CD-ROM, or you can even download them from the Web. Because video has such large storage requirements, a CD-ROM will only hold short, compressed clips of video at relatively low resolutions. For folks needing video clips for multimedia, lower resolutions are usually no problem.
In the future, stock video will be available on new high-capacity formats, such as digital video disc (DVD). These will hold much more video at a considerably higher quality. Whether on CD-ROM or DVD or tomorrows 100-terrabyte bio-memory, integrating digital stock video is simple: load the clip into your computer, drag it onto a nonlinear timeline, or output it to tape through a hardware encoder or genlock.
Cascom offers three volumes of their Select Effects CD-ROMs ($80 per volume), each containing 100 full-motion digital movies and backgrounds, 50 stereo music files and sound-effects clips.
Law and Order
Copyright law protects everyones work, and libraries are no exception. In most cases, youll be purchasing a library with a "buyout" licensing agreement. This is the simplest of all arrangements, where you pay a single up-front fee to use the library as many times as you wish. The stipulations are usually simple: library elements cant make up the bulk of your video, and you cant sell the library elements by themselves.
In most cases, you can duplicate, sell or broadcast your videos without added expense from the library manufacturer. Every library has a slightly different agreement, so make sure you read and understand the fine print of the license before you buy.
Lest you think theyre the answer to every problem, libraries do have some drawbacks. First, libraries are more general than specific–you may not find the perfect image or sound for your video. Second, libraries can be expensive, especially those offering the highest quality. Used in moderation, however, libraries can bring a lot of polish to your videos for a small investment.
If you havent already tapped into this great resource for your videos, maybe its time to go to the library!
Contributing editor Loren Alldrin is a freelance video and music producer.
Lisas Trip to the Library
Lisa wanted to do something very special for her parents 50th wedding anniversary video. Friends and family had come thousands of miles to be a part of the big event, and nearly 40 of them had asked for a copy of the finished video. Lisa knew this was going to be a job for her image and sound libraries.
Lisa started with her font library CD-ROM, finding two fonts that would work well on her opening title page. From her texture library CD-ROM, she added a metallic gold texture to the words "Golden Anniversary." Her texture library also had backgrounds, so she found a soft-focus lace fabric image to lay her opening titles over. With a few minor adjustments to her text palette, she had a great opening title. A piece of library music called "Gentle Quartet" was the perfect complement to the opening title.
As the video showed pictures from her parents marriage, Lisa created a title page for each decade. She used clip art, stock photos and backgrounds from her CD-ROM libraries to match the period. The 50s decade, for example, opened with an image of a girl with a hula hoop. Lisa found appropriate music for every decade in her music library, adding it to each title page.
In one section of the video, Lisa had her parents tell their proposal story. Lisas dad had proposed in a crowded restaurant, so she found a clip from her sound effects and ambiences CD called "Busy Restaurant." Mixed in quietly under her parents humorous re-creation of the proposal story, the ambience really brought the scene to life.
Finally, Lisa found one of her parents favorite Nat King Cole songs in a MIDI file library. She had her brother, an accomplished singer, sing along as her computers sound card played the music. After adjusting the songs key to better match her brothers voice, she recorded her brothers microphone and the soundcards stereo output to a hi-fi VCR. Mixed in under shots of her parents dancing, the song was the perfect finishing touch for a loving 50th-anniversary tribute.