Saturday, September 06, 2008

In a world where we salute a voice-over artist

I started my career as a radio announcer. To this day, my voice still fades out when I drive under a bridge. So it was sad to learn that the penultimate Hollywood announcer and voice-over artist Don LaFontaine passed away this week.

Don had voiced over 3,500 movies, television shows, trailers and other projects in his long career. From trailers for Indiana Jones, The Godfather to those silly GEICO television commercials, Don's basso pipes have added the necessary drama and gravitas. His trademark phrase "In a world where...." has been used and copied in productions around the world.

Take a minute and enjoy this wonderful clip of Don, courtesy of ABC Television and Good Morning America.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Cables, Connectors & Adapters

When training someone to work as a media or audiovisual assistant, they need to learn some basics right away.

At Prairie Lakes AEA, my department provides media support for our many meetings and presentations, so we need to know how to connect various audio and video media devices. Data projectors, PA systems, DVD players and so on. Learning the various cables, connectors and adapters might be a good place to start with a new person.

A connector can be either a plug (male) or a jack (female). For example, you might need a cable that's an RCA plug to an RCA jack.

Here are what they all look like:

RCA plug

RCA jack

XLR (or Canon) plug

XLR (or Canon) jack

BNC plug

BNC jack

Phono (quarter inch) plug

Phono (quarter inch) jack

Mini (eighth inch) plug

Mini (eighth inch) jack


Thursday, August 21, 2008

I Trust You'll Treat Her Well

Van Harden of WHO Radio read this on the air this morning, in honor of the first day of school. It is written by Dan Valentine and is something for teachers and parents to remember.

I Trust You'll Treat Her Well
By Dan Valentine --

Dear World: I bequeath to you today one little girl…in a crispy dress…with two blue eyes…and a happy laugh that ripples all day long…and a flash of light blond hair that bounces in the sunlight when she runs. I trust you will treat her well.

She’s slipping out of the backyard of my heart this morning…and skipping off down the street to her first day of school. And never again will she be completely mine. Prim and proud she’ll wave her young and independent hand this morning and say “Goodbye” and walk with little lady steps to the schoolhouse.

Now she’ll learn to stand in lines…and wait by the alphabet for her name to be called. She’ll learn to tune her ears for the sounds of school-bells…and deadlines…and she’ll learn to giggle…and gossip…and look at the ceiling in a disinterested way when the little boy across the aisle sticks out his tongue at her. And, now she’ll learn to be jealous. And now she’ll learn how it is to feel hurt inside. And now she’ll learn how not to cry.

No longer will she have time to sit on the front porch steps on a summer day and watch an ant scurry across the crack in the sidewalk. Nor will she have time to pop out of bed with the dawn to kiss lilac blossoms in the morning dew. No, now she will worry about the important things…like grades and which dress to wear and who’s best friend is whose. And the magic of books and learning will replace the magic of her blocks and dolls. And she’ll find new heroes.

For five full years now I’ve been her sage and Santa Claus and pal and playmate and father and friend. Now she’ll learn to share her worship with her teachers…which is only right. But, no longer will I be the smartest, greatest man in the whole world. Today when that school bell rings for the first time…she’ll learn what it means to be a member of the group…with all its privileges and its disadvantages too.

She’ll learn in time that proper young ladies do not laugh out loud…or kiss dogs…or keep frogs in pickle jars in bedrooms…or even watch ants scurry across cracks in sidewalks in the summer.

Today she’ll learn for the first time that all who smile at her are not her friends. And I’ll stand on the front porch and watch her start out on the long, lonely journey to becoming a woman.

So, world, I bequeath to you one little girl…in a crispy dress…with two blue eyes…and a happy laugh that ripples all day long…and a flash of light blonde hair that bounces in the sunlight when she runs. I trust you’ll treat her well.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What is the lifespan of a VHS Tape?

I just got off the phone with one of the teachers that we serve here at AEA. She had a tech problem. She had videotaped an interview with her father back in 1982 or so, and now she would like to transfer that tape to a DVD. Dad has since passed on and this tape has some irreplaceable memories that she would hate to lose.

Unfortunately, the tape is in bad shape due to age. The sound is intermittent, and the picture is grainy and filled with drop-outs.

OK, as Ross Perot used to's the deal.

VHS tapes were made starting in 1977 when the RCA Selectavision VTB 200 was released as competition to the Sony Betamax. I know, because I was one of the first to buy this $1000 toy, even though I was working as a Disc Jockey in a small AM radio station and earning next to nothing at the time. I wish I had invested that thousand bucks instead....but I digress.

I still have some videos I taped over 30 years ago, and they are disintegrating. The quality of the picture and sound gets worse by the day and there is no way to recover it once it's gone.

Also, videotapes used to be expensive... $25 for a single T120 back in the 70's and early 80's. So lots of people bought cheaper, off-brand tapes. And those have an even shorter lifespan than the brand-name tapes, because they used cheaper materials when they were manufactured.

Now if we're talking about an old Leon Spinks heavyweight fight tape, then I can live without it. (Sorry, Leon.) But if I had a VHS tape of my parents from the 80's, I would want to preserve it.

So the smart thing is to have any precious tapes transferred to DVD as soon as possible. If you want to do it yourself, then there are several VCR-DVD units for sale that will allow you to copy personal tapes. A Yahoo shopping search on "vcr dvd-r" gave me 491 hits for units I can buy for as little as $120. Check your favorite electronics retailer for a good deal if you are a DIY kind of person. Just remember to use a quality recordable DVD disc when you do the transfer. Don't skimp on the blank DVD-R like you probably did with the blank VHS tape 25 years ago.

If you'd rather turn over this task to the professionals, there are businesses like Walgreens who provide this service. I'm sure there are others as well, so ask the photo department at Costco, Wal-Mart, Target or wherever you shop if they transfer VHS tapes to DVD.

For maximum shelf life of a VHS tape, store it upright, like a book in a bookcase. Keep it in a climate controlled room...not in a wet basement or a hot and dry attic. And always keep the dust sleeve on the tape.

But most of all, if you have anything on tape that is 15 years old or older, look into having it transferred to DVD as soon as you can. Ten years from now, you'll thank me for it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Calibrate your HDTV

My son called me the other day, all excited because he had purchased his first HDTV. A few days later, I asked how he liked it.
"Gee, Dad...the picture isn't as good as I expected it to be."
OK, that could be caused by a variety of things. After discussing several scenarios, we thought about seeing if the TV was calibrated to his taste. So, what tools can a neophyte use to fine tune a high definition television?

When setting up computer output to a data projector, I use NTest, a piece of freeware from our friends at Nokia. It helps me to set brightness levels, color purity and other things that help to tweak a video display just the way you like it.

While the Nokia is computer software, there are ways to calibrate using your DVD player. If you have a Sony Blu-Ray player, there is a hidden set of calibration screens. Press 7-6-6-9 Enter to access those.

And if you have a garden variety DVD player, go out and grab a new DVD from Pixar. Most all of the new ones have a THX Optimizer chapter in the Set Up or Special Features menu. By adjusting contrast, picture, sharpness and brightness, you are sure to end up with a more pleasing HD picture.

Monday, February 04, 2008

More greenscreen tips and ideas

Greenscreen, chromakey, bluebox, keying....all different words for a technique used to layer one image over another. And keying is almost as much an art as it is a science.

We've just finished taping about six weeks worth of television and radio newscasts for speech contest, and in the process, we've had about every technical problem possible occur. Right now, I'll concentrate on some things we've learned about greenscreening.

We used greenscreen for weathercasts and for a virtual background for sports and special features, and keyed the background whike shooting (as opposed to keying in post production). These ideas apply to both situations.

1. Lighting. If possible, light the screen separately from the talent. Your goal is to create a flat, even light on the screen. Shadows or light and dark areas all make a clean key more difficult. which brings us to...

2. Distance. Have your talent at least three feet away from the greenscreen. Any shadow that falls on the screen will mess up your attempt to key. So, if you move the talent farther away from the screen, their shadow falls on the floor instead of on the screen.

3. Put your camera on manual focus, and then focus carefully on the talent. The easiest way to do this is to zoom in to the talent, focus, and then zoom back to the desired focal length. This throws the background out of focus, which hides wrinkles and imprefections in the greenscreen.

4. Set your camera to manual exposure. If it's on auto-exposure, then any change in the exposure setting will mess up your key. Something as simple as the talent holding up their script can change exposure, which changes your key, which drives you crazy. So, switch to manual exposure.

5. Wardrobe. I've had good luck with the talent wearing darker colored clothing, but to be safe, I ask them to bring two outfits...if one doesn't key well, perhaps the other one will. Also, stay away from frizzy or spiked hair-dos. That irregular edge will give your talent a green halo.

6. Weather maps or backgrounds should be a darker color. If the JPEG you are keying is white or a light color, any green fringing is obvious to the viewer. A darker JPEG helps to hide fringing.

7. Place a monitor on both sides of your talent. If the camera is at 12 o'clock and your talent is at 6 o'clock, you should have a monitor at 10 and 2 o'clock. These monitors should show the chromakey output, so the weatherperson can see what the heck they ar pointing at.

8. Let your talent practice before you shoot. Pointing out in thin air and hoping you are pointing at Phoenix or Pittsburg takes some practice. Let them get the feel of this virtual world before the cameras roll.

And finally, take your time. It seems like taping a weathercast is one of the most stressful jobs when producing a TV newscast. So don't assume you can crank out a five minute weathercast in ten minutes. Plan enough time to keep your talent (and you) from stressing out.