Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

A Few of My Favorite Things

I am truly amazed at how much media production we can accomplish on a computer now. I remember when QuickTime was introduced back around 1990, and thinking, “Well, that’s cool, but it’s not going to replace tape to tape editing any time soon.” Turns out “any time soon” was about 5 years, as that’s when I bought my first full-frame QuickTime based editing system. Back then, there were precious few tools to help us manage the coming onslaught of digital data. In fact, the early systems were not much more than digital A/B roll editors. But they were the future.

Today, it is possible to create video productions using just a laptop that would have required 2 rooms full of hardware a decade (well, maybe a decade and a half) ago. With the rapid proliferation of digital formats, files and media we have to deal with we have to find ways to make it all work together. While everyone knows about FinalCut Pro, Premier, After Effects and the other big players, today I’m going to highlight some of the unsung players in our industry. The little tools and widgets that make life easier in the digital media age. These are a few of my favorite little tools.

 

 

Switch

It happens all the time. You need a music bed for your project, so you surf over to FreePlay Music or another online site and find the perfect track. Once downloaded you find that it doesn’t play right away on your timeline because it’s compressed (either MP3 or AAC, or something else altogether).

Sure, you could open your audio editor, or have FCP render it out. Or, you could drag it onto the Switch icon. In under 20 seconds, you have a easy to work with AIFF or WAV file. No fuss, no muss. You can batch convert, and pick your file format settings. It does one thing—convert nearly any audio file to anything else—and it does it really well. And it’s free!

Handbrake

Let’s say you need to borrow a scene from a DVD for a sermon illustration (check out CVLI.org for info on how to do this legally). There’s no better tool to grab a section of a video than Handbrake. Pop in any DVD, select the chapter(s) you want to rip, pick your format settings and rip it. In no time, you have a very high quality MP4 video to work with. Best of all, ti’s free! But there’s one problem, FCP won’t import MP4 files. For that, you can fire up…

VisualHub

Sort of like Switch for video, VisualHub is a great tool for converting any video format to any other format. And it’s fast. You don’t have a lot of control over the video settings, but it makes quick work of tearing through the conversion process.

It will also work in batches and I’ve not found a format it won’t handle (though I’m sure there are some). It’s not free, but it is cheap. At under $25, it pays for itself in one session. I find myself using it a lot when we get user provided content; everything from MP4 camcorder video to Flash file.

Kuler

Kuler is one of the coolest things to come out of Adobe Labs. It’s a Dashboard widget, an Air Application and a web-based service. Kuler helps you figure out what colors go with what. I have a great eye for composition, but I’m not so great at picking color themes. Kuler makes it easy. You can pick a base color, and it will let you create a nearly endless variety of complementary colors in a 5 color set. New to the web service is a feature to load in a photo, sample a color and it will generate five complementary colors from that sample. Very cool.

There are thousands of themes to choose from, so if you’re trying to come up with some graphics and you have a desire to use colors from a 70’s kitchen or a beach house or a desert, search those phrases and see what someone else has already come up with. You can even save the color set, import directly into Illustrator and by swapping color sets, come up with variations on your design. You have to go get Kuler. Now.

The Unarchiver

99% of the time Stuffit will unzip your files perfectly. But what about the 1% of the time it doesn’t. It’s happened to me and it’s not fun. The answer is The Unarchiver. Another in the line of “do one thing and do it well” products, The Unarchiver unzips files. That’s it. It does it fast, and it does it right. It’s also free.

Cocktail

I’m not sure who comes up with these app names, but they’re clever (if not obscure). Cocktail is my favorite Mac OS maintenance tool. Computers are like cars in that they’ve gotten a lot more reliable over the years. To extend the analogy, Macs are like Hondas. Change the oil, rotate the tires once in a while and you’re good to go for a long time. They do need occasionally maintenance, however. Apple thoughtfully built  maintenance scripts into the OS, but they only run at 2 AM. If you’re a cheapskate like me and don’t leave your computer on 24/7, they don’t run. Enter Cocktail.

You can set it up to run basic maintenance tasks when you know the computer is on, or fire the scripts manually. It’s the equivalent of a regular tune up. And at $23, it’s a lot less than your mechanic will charge you to open the hood.

So there you go. A quick collection of tools to make your digital-media life easier. Have a favorite I didn’t mention? Dont’ keep it to yourself. Share it with the rest of us in a comment. Thanks for reading!

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12 Comments

  1. joe@joewiggleston.com

    I’ve got another one that’s saved my computer on numerous occasions–“WhatSize”. It’s a shareware program (used to be freeware, but it’s still cheap) that organizes any hard drive by the space that folders/subfolders/files take up, in a color-coded fashion. In other words, if I have a bunch of unnecessary video files (i.e. a Capture Scratch folder) buried somewhere but I’m not quite sure where it is or why my hard drive space is so LOW, and I know I really need to delete something, I open up WhatSize and it shows me the folders that are taking up the most space by highlighting them in red. I jump into those folders, and it shows me the files (also highlighted in red) that are the culprits, from biggest to smallest, with different colors for each size category. Really nice way of cleaning up a drive quickly when you’ve got huge unnecessary video files and poor organization….like me πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for the tips!

  2. joe@joewiggleston.com

    I’ve got another one that’s saved my computer on numerous occasions–“WhatSize”. It’s a shareware program (used to be freeware, but it’s still cheap) that organizes any hard drive by the space that folders/subfolders/files take up, in a color-coded fashion. In other words, if I have a bunch of unnecessary video files (i.e. a Capture Scratch folder) buried somewhere but I’m not quite sure where it is or why my hard drive space is so LOW, and I know I really need to delete something, I open up WhatSize and it shows me the folders that are taking up the most space by highlighting them in red. I jump into those folders, and it shows me the files (also highlighted in red) that are the culprits, from biggest to smallest, with different colors for each size category. Really nice way of cleaning up a drive quickly when you’ve got huge unnecessary video files and poor organization….like me πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for the tips!

  3. tom.lister@gmail.com

    Thanks for these tips. I am not on the Mac wagon yet but it is coming and I was actually this past week wondering where to start looking for handy little apps that are mostly free and save time. So thanks for the start!!!

  4. tom.lister@gmail.com

    Thanks for these tips. I am not on the Mac wagon yet but it is coming and I was actually this past week wondering where to start looking for handy little apps that are mostly free and save time. So thanks for the start!!!

  5. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Joe, that sounds like one I would use a lot. I’ll look it up! Space on my hard drive is going away, but I’m not sure why. This would help a ton…Thanks for the suggestion!

  6. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Joe, that sounds like one I would use a lot. I’ll look it up! Space on my hard drive is going away, but I’m not sure why. This would help a ton…Thanks for the suggestion!

  7. richard@mycrossroads.org

    I do all of my audio conversions in iTunes. You can convert mp3s to AAC, aiff, Apple Lossless, or wav, or any of the above to any of the above. You just can’t convert anything you purchased in the iTunes Store.

    The only drawback is that you have to first go to Preferences>Advanced>Importing, then select which type of file you want to import as, then go to the file in your library (or playlist), click Advanced>Convert Selection to (whichever one you chose in Preferences). I wish you could just do this from the drop down menu instead of having to go to Preferences. Maybe I’ll send Apple a suggestion…

    I’m a little leery of a bunch of third-party stuff on my production computers, so I try to do as much as I can with native Apple software.

    Get info Mike!

  8. richard@mycrossroads.org

    I do all of my audio conversions in iTunes. You can convert mp3s to AAC, aiff, Apple Lossless, or wav, or any of the above to any of the above. You just can’t convert anything you purchased in the iTunes Store.

    The only drawback is that you have to first go to Preferences>Advanced>Importing, then select which type of file you want to import as, then go to the file in your library (or playlist), click Advanced>Convert Selection to (whichever one you chose in Preferences). I wish you could just do this from the drop down menu instead of having to go to Preferences. Maybe I’ll send Apple a suggestion…

    I’m a little leery of a bunch of third-party stuff on my production computers, so I try to do as much as I can with native Apple software.

    Get info Mike!

  9. richard@mycrossroads.org

    OK, that last statement was not me telling you to “Get info,” but rather, a typo of me saying “Great info Mike!” I’m still getting used to my keyboard on my new MacBook Pro. It’s less sensitive than my old PowerBook. I’ve had serious typo issues since I got it three months ago.

    Wow, it made me sound like an information fascist.

  10. richard@mycrossroads.org

    OK, that last statement was not me telling you to “Get info,” but rather, a typo of me saying “Great info Mike!” I’m still getting used to my keyboard on my new MacBook Pro. It’s less sensitive than my old PowerBook. I’ve had serious typo issues since I got it three months ago.

    Wow, it made me sound like an information fascist.

  11. roger@tbclc.org

    For those not on the MAC

    A great open-source (read: free) application to rip DVD scenes.. is SUPER

    http://www.erightsoft.com/SUPER.html

    It also will convert any video format to just about any video format (DVD to DV AVI, or MPG/MOV to DV visa versa, almost anything you want to do)

    It will also convert any audio format to just about any other audio format.

    A very handy app.

  12. roger@tbclc.org

    For those not on the MAC

    A great open-source (read: free) application to rip DVD scenes.. is SUPER

    http://www.erightsoft.com/SUPER.html

    It also will convert any video format to just about any video format (DVD to DV AVI, or MPG/MOV to DV visa versa, almost anything you want to do)

    It will also convert any audio format to just about any other audio format.

    A very handy app.

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