Tips for Your Next Multimedia Project
Apple has spent a good deal of time and energy over the last few years marketing Macs as the hub of a still-developing digital lifestyle. Everyone seems to be focused on new ways to make home networks, stereos, computers, and other devices all work together. Thinking back to how easy my first Mac was to use and connect to other devices, I’d suggest that Apple has been at the forefront of this idea from the beginning.
I like the idea of digital convergence, but for Mac users this is only the beginning. For me, the really interesting things started happening when Mac technology met iApps. Powerful, easy to use technology meets powerful, easy to use multimedia applications, and in true Mac tradition the end result is up to the user.
The iApps make multimedia development much easier than it was when I was part of a large project several years ago. In spite of that, there are a number of things that need to be considered. In this article, I’m not going to focus on tips for specific applications but rather on some tips that should help with planning and executing any project.
Before You Start the Project
My normal mode of operation is to poke at a project until I get it working the way I want or I give up, whichever comes first. In the case of multimedia projects, though, I’m about to suggest something that I may never say again: do a little homework before you start the project. A little time and effort here can save you a lot of heartache later. Here are some things to think about before you shoot your first scene or build your first Web page.
Think about the final destination for your project. Photos that are the right size and format for a Web page might not work as well for a DVD. Even within the DVD format, some players are capable of playing back a wider variety of files than others. The final destination of a project could conceivably affect file sizes, types, and other parameters.
Consider the scope of your project. Whether it’s your first project or your tenth, large-scale projects can be exponentially more difficult to manage than smaller ones. For a first project, try something small. If you are going to tackle a large project, consider involving several people in a development team. Just make sure that everyone understands what they need to do and any special considerations such as the file types needed for specific files.
What tools do you need to complete the project? The iApps are great for many projects. Before you buy additional software, take the time to get to know the hardware and software you already own. Not only might you discover a variety of useful tips, you will have a better understanding of what your setup can accomplish.
Knowing the limitations of your hardware and software may not only make your project easier, but it can also save you some money. I’ve been working on a project for the last few months. I now have several pieces of software that perform similar tasks. Some of the software has been freeware and none of it has been too expensive, but a better understanding of each piece of software’s limitations might have meant using less software. This could potentially have saved me a few dollars and some hard drive space.
Make the final plans for your project. The format for your final plan is not as important as whether or not you can actually follow the plan.
As part of your project plan, be sure to include provisions for backing up and archiving important files. In my mind, there is an important distinction between backups and archives. Backups are performed frequently and involve copying files that are being modified regularly. An archive consists of files whose content is not being changed often but might be useful at a later date. Perhaps you shot some great video footage that you decide isn’t right for your current project, but it’s too good to throw away. This is the right time for an archived copy of the file rather than a backup.
During the Project
As you start working on your project there are a number of things to consider. These hints aren’t geared for specific applications but focus instead on topics that seem to be important for a variety of projects.
Work on the project in stages. As a general rule, you can’t do everything in one marathon editing session. Even with the best equipment and software, these projects take time. The larger the scope of the project, the more time it will consume.
Save your work often. No matter how stable your system and chosen applications are, there will be problems now and then. You don’t want to spend several hours editing a project only to have a power failure or other problem ruin all of your hard work. If your editing software has an auto-save setting, consider using it.
Speaking of saving files, I prefer saving files in uncompressed formats, such as AIFF for audio and TIFF for graphics, until I’ve finished final editing. I learned this the hard way several years ago. While using my poke-at-it-until-done method to correct the color of a scanned photo, I saved the photo several times as a JPEG. Over time, this produced digital artifacts that were not present in the initial photo. If there are unwanted elements in your files that were not there initially this might be the culprit.
If you must use compression, use as little as possible. Too much compression produces the same kind of digital artifacts I encountered with the photo I mentioned earlier. Before you compress the file, make one or more backup copies. You can use the copies to experiment with various settings to determine which settings give you the best compromise between sound or image quality and file size.
Test your project often to make sure everything is working properly. If possible, test on the same type of equipment that will be used to playback the project. I’ve worked on projects that played fine on our home computers but didn’t play on the target systems due to minor configuration differences. You may waste a few CDs or DVDs, but it’s probably worth it. I can’t think of too many things more frustrating than putting significant amounts of time into a project only to discover that something you did the first day doesn’t work properly.
If you encounter problems, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Chances are that other users have experienced similar problems. Sometimes the answer is so simple it’s easy to miss. I once worked on some video clips that refused to play back on the target PCs. After several false starts and consulting several books, I switched from an AVI file to QuickTime. The problem went away immediately.
After the Project
Once your project is over, take time to enjoy the kudos from your audience. Don’t be too upset if you think of several things you would like to have tried that didn’t occur to you initially. One of the more frustrating things about many creative endeavors is that when the project is complete you can always think of something you would have done differently.
Now that the project is complete, it’s a good time to make note of any interesting things you have learned while completing this project. Don’t think of the notes as taking the fun out of a project; they may save you a lot of time in the future.
These tips don’t cover every problem that you might encounter, but hopefully they will stimulate some thought. Many of the things I learned initially about multimedia development have changed significantly, but these tips seem to remain important even today.
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I don’t know what’s coming up next month, but I’ll think of something. I’m sure there are lots of problems waiting to be resolved or projects that haven’t been tackled.
Also in This Series
- Give Alert Sounds a Little Personality · March 2012
- Create Your Own iPhone Ringtones · February 2012
- Create Your Own Homemade Audio Book · December 2011
- Upgrade to Lion Painlessly · August 2011
- Make the Most of TextEdit · July 2011
- Using the Free Disk Utility on Your Mac · May 2011
- Making Use of QuickTime X · March 2011
- Making the Most of What’s Already on Your Mac · February 2011
- Making the Most of What’s Already on Your Mac · January 2011
- Complete Archive