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A little Flash goes a long way

By Eliot Hochberg (eliot@high-mountain.com), October 9, 2002

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This article is less about DVD Studio Pro than it is about taking the tools you know and making them work for you.

As a developer with a lot of web experience, one of my main tools is Flash. In the past, I have discussed the pitfalls of using Flash as a video creation tool. For this project, though, it turns out Flash had just what I needed. For this project, I used Flash 5.

I have found that making zooms in Final Cut Pro is pretty difficult if you want anything other than a linear zoom. There is no real ability to tween and ease in or ease out. For those of you unfamiliar with those terms, here's a quick explanation.

“Tween” is an animation term, coming from the way (mostly Disney) animators work when creating hand drawn animation. A main artist, usually the one who designed the character, does what is known as a “key frame,” or a frame with a great deal of expression. This frame is usually the most important frame to a particular animated beat, or moment in time. Other animators then create the frames “in between,” or “tween” for short.

With today’s computer animation software, a lot of programs will do the tweening for you. Final Cut Pro is one of them. If you want to move an element from one side of the screen to the other, you set the key frames and the software does the rest. However, by default when zooming Final Cut Pro only does linear moves. This means that as soon as the move starts, it stays at a certain speed until the move is finished. This can work for some kinds of imagery, but in most cases, it comes across as mechanical and very noticeable. A better way to handle moves in video is to use “ease in” and “ease out.” Unfortunately, as of this writing, I was unable to find this functionality for the zoom function in Final Cut Pro 3. In fact, there is a whole program dedicated to adding this functionality called Moving Picture, so I think I’m justified in saying that it just isn’t there.

Basically, “ease in” and “ease out” mean starting a move slowly then speeding up to full speed (ease in) until the move is over and then decelerating gradually to zero again (ease out). The result is much smoother and more natural than a linear move. But if Final Cut Pro doesn’t have this function, and you don’t want to shell out $200 for Moving Picture, what can you do? Well, you could try and get the same effect by hand in FCP, which would take forever. Or, if you have After Effects or some other pricey compositing software, most of them have ease in and out. Here’s the option I chose (no big surprise): Flash 5.

It occurred to me that Flash has ease in and out, and I already have the software. All I needed to do was figure out how to get it to output the proper file type.

The first thing I did was create a 720x540 Flash file. I figured that when I encoded it, QuickTime Pro would convert the footage to the proper ratio just like every other video file I had encoded. The next issue was to figure out the correct frame rate. I assumed 60 frames/second would work, but I actually was wrong. Although I didn’t change the frame rate in the Flash file, it turns out that the effective frame rate for using Flash in this way was 120 frames/second. I still need to research this more, but for the purposes of this zoom move, that rate was a good rule of thumb.

So, I created my zoom with the same image I used in Final Cut Pro for the fade in. I used the ease out function of Flash to zoom in on the image. It’s worth noting that FCP’s Fade In/Fade Out function has a built in ease in/out, making those transitions smooth, so I planned on adding my fade out in FCP.

Next is what I think is the key part. I exported as QuickTime Video (not plain QuickTime), and set the compression to animation, which is essentially no compression. To be safe, I set the quality at the highest setting. I also set the color to 24 bit. This is important. If the setting is any lower, the color depth of the image will not match the other elements of the DVD. I also checked the “smooth” checkbox.

I then imported the resulting file into FCP and added the fade out. From here on out, everything was the same as with any other video file. The result was a smooth transition without having to buy more software!

The New Hollywood Workshop is dedicated to using Macintosh computers and software to do what the big boys do. Want an example? Check out Duality, a short made completely with Macintosh products.

Eliot Hochberg is a Web developer with over seven years’ experience. Apple’s new professional tools are just the ticket for a sole proprietor like Eliot to go to the next level. Right now, he’s seeking DVD duplication services that support DVD Studio Pro. If your company does, let us know. We’ll list you in future articles.

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