Step 8: Export your film
I said in the 8 steps overview that the main thing to consider here is time. Exporting your film can take anywhere from minutes to days. This will all depend on how long the film is and what kind of format and quality you need it in. I’m using the word ‘export’ here to include the whole process from finishing your edit to it being ready for your intended audience, so I’m including here the area of compression…
Once you’ve finished your edit, your film is still technically just a whole load of little bits and pieces of source material that the editing software is referencing. If your software shows render files, those are kind of like the memory of what the software has processed from that source material (covering any effects). Exporting your film brings all of that together into one file. But, if you just export it at the original quality (that of the source material), then you’re going to end up with a really large file size, and that’s not going to cut it for you, since you’re probably wanting to upload it to youtube/vimeo/etc or make a DVD or something similar. This is where compression comes in. It is the process of doing just that – compressing your film into a smaller file size.
But like everything else, there are lots of different options for this. Every editing software will have some method for exporting. The simpler editing software packages (eg iMovie) will usually have a number of presets (with something like ‘export for web’ or ‘send to iDVD’). These can be really good if you are just after simplicity and speed and are not as pedantic about quality. However, a little tweaking can go a long way. As well as this, you may want a different file format to what the preset is putting out. So, you will need some sort of way for making adjustments. Most editing software will have some advanced settings for export that you can play around with and should let you choose different formats or compression types. For most Mac software, this would be through quicktime conversion. If you want something with a bit more finesse, then you will need a separate compression program. Final Cut Pro Studio came with Compressor which allows for a number of formats, compressions and adjustments of various settings, but there are lots of others too.
Next – what format do you need?
For Internet: Most video sharing sites will give you specifications for what formats they accept. Most of them are pretty on board with Mac and PC standards now (like .mov and .wmv), so that makes it a lot easier. Look up what they say, and see if you can get some tips. Generally I have found that .mp4 are accepted on most sites, and will even play on most computers.
For DVD: The short answer is .mp2, but you need to know that you cannot just compress your video into .mp2 and burn it onto a DVD to create a DVD that will play on a DVD player. Doing this will just create a data storage DVD. You actually need different software in order to do this. That’s why Mac made it easy by allowing you to send your project from iMovie to iDVD, as iDVD does both the video compression and the building of the DVD. But again, if you want some control over your compression, you will want to compress it first into .mp2 before importing it into your DVD building program.
Another suggestion is, if you’re using another program to compress your footage, make sure to export from your editing program at full quality (without any compression) so that you are not compressing twice and so loosing quality. Particular to Final Cut Pro and Compressor, I would avoid exporting directly from Final Cut Pro through Compressor. I would first export a Quicktime, and then pull that into compressor to turn into another format. Not only do I find that this prevents quality loss, but also it usually takes less time.
One of the major problems visually with compression is the popping up of ‘artifacts’. These are those little discoloured squares that sometimes come up when compression has gone a bit wrong. With high compression (producing a low quality but small file size video), the whole footage may appear like it has artefacts, or look ‘pixelated’, but this is because of the compression settings rather than a glitch in the compression process. The smaller the file size you’re after, the more difficult it is to achieve a nice looking video. The audio is easier to keep sounding good because it takes up a lot less space (which is really good, because audio is more important than video!)
Finally then, I don’t think I can do better than point you to the vimeo collection of tips for compression from different editing and compression software (see both Vimeo’s chosen tutorials for each program and Eugenia Loli’s compilation of tutorials). They are mainly showing you the best settings for compression of your videos to get them looking best on vimeo, but they should also provide some helpful principles of how to fiddle with different settings to get what you’re after, and will show you around the different settings you can manipulate in your software. If you’re just starting out on compression settings (that is, moving beyond the presets), then it’s probably going to take you a while to get it right. You’ll probably need to keep trying different things until you get it right. The annoying part is that each compression will take time – you can’t see your results instantly. So be patient, set aside adequate time for the task, and be reassured that you will get better with time. At the end of it, you should have a nicely completed video, ready for your audience. Now you’re ready to give the 8 steps another red-hot go with another film.
Please comment if you want any more details about the above step.
If you want to see an example of this, check out my post that details a bit of how I went through the 8 steps in making a recent film.
This post is part of the series 8 Steps to Making a Video