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Using Flash for Webumentaries


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#1 Charlie Seper

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Posted 07 October 2005 - 09:25 PM

This may not be the proper place to do this, I don't know. I was showing somebody elsewhere how to use Flash for doing a Ken Burns style documentary on the web. You may or may not care about such a thing. Anyhow, if all you need to do is pan around on photos and narrate over them with some music and text, and would like to show that documentary on the web, then Flash may suit your needs much better than a traditional AVI type of video. You can have a much larger viewing space and much better sound in your movie via Flash when you're dealing with still photos on the web since Flash can simply hold the same photo in a browser's cache for quite some time while you manipulate it, instead of recording and playing frame after frame after frame as a video codec would have to do. Its no substitute for a real video but as dialup Internet standards go it?s not a bad way to go.

The following is just for demonstration purposes. Its just some photos that I'm panning around on with some streaming music and some text at the end. I didn't put a preloader on it because of that. It'll start streaming in about 30-seconds. Its only about a minute and a half long but I could have made it 5-minutes long and it would have streamed just as quickly. You'll noticed that the photos are quite compressed (especially the large one that comes up first). There's a trade-off there. I wanted to use a really large photo to pan on at the beginning and in order to do that and still make things stream well I had to decrease its quality quite a lot. And I used a very slow frame rate (6fps) for the same reason. The trick is to find a balance in things that will keep the movie streaming for dialup users.

Flash Webumentary
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#2 Gordon Highland

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Posted 07 October 2005 - 11:41 PM

Sure, it's off-topic, but Flash 8 is gonna change the way we do video on the web. It's absolutely incredible. The player handles real-time alpha channels(!!), so our ability to get creative with the interactivity goes way up. Here's a great example (none of this is my work), where each "video" character is on a separate layer from their background, adding unique perspective depending on where you are on the page, of course all at much much smaller file sizes than a pure video would be. The new On2 codec also produces very watchable video even at around 56kbs. Check this out:

Cool Flash 8 Intro

And this piece which adds a neat interactive spin to the clich├ęd bullet-time effect.

IKEA

Me and my co-workers have done some prelim testing with real-time shadows and blurs that are interesting, too.
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#3 Charlie Seper

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Posted 08 October 2005 - 11:53 AM

Yeah, I think the more video enthusiasts who get into Flash the better. So far Flash has produced a multitude of crap from non-artists who just end-up filling the Internet with useless junk and images that never stop moving, making it darn annoying to read web pages that are meant to be largely "informational".

It would be nice to see some people make Flash movies that are actually Flash "movies".

I also have a short segment from the Robin Williams movie, "What Dreams may Come". I just took a few frames here and there from part of the movies and put them in Flash along with the sound from the film. I originally did it to send to a friend of mine stationed in the Army overseas, but I later put it on my website for demonstration purposes. Its another example of what you could do, but in this case, making a fictional movie for the net, again though, using still photos. There's no preloader on this one either.

What Dreams May Come
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#4 Jaan Shenberger

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Posted 08 October 2005 - 02:26 PM

though flash is great, and has dramatically expanded the potential of interactive art & design, it has some severe shortcommings that should make it an option for only when there is no other way to achieve what is you want your project to do.

in my opinion, if your project is not interactive then 99.9% of the time, it should not be published via flash. if you feel more comfortable authoring/animating in flash, then do so, then export the frames and audio and compile it as a quicktime movie. flash has a lot of playback/framerate sustenance/audio synch issues that occur because the flash player is dependant on using a relatively high percentage of your CPU's processing power. these playback issues are especially prevalent on macs. the industry standard for high-end online video is quicktime encoded with the sorensen 3 codec (because of the balance between image quality, framerate sustenence, and universal compatibility). in a few years, the standard will be h264, but that codec requires some substantial CPU power if the bitrate is fairly high, making it unsuitable for today's average web surfer.

flash 8 has some awesome new features, but it still cannot substitute the image and playback quality of pixel-rendered video. but if you want to make a sort of interactive video then those new video features would be really useful. actually, in a bout a year you'll probably start seeing such things all over the place in high-end flash sites, like movie sites.

i don't mean to talk down on your work or ideas at all, just want to help make any work you put online look and playback at its best. i see flash video all over the web, and it's a shame that the maker spent all that tie creating it without knowing that it's going to playback at 5 fps, out of synch.

hope this helps,
jaan
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#5 Charlie Seper

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Posted 08 October 2005 - 04:05 PM

Jaan, I don't think you fully understand the topic. Interactivity is for kids and has nothing to do with movies. We're talking about good, quick streaming of movies for dialup users, and no video codec will ever compare with swf files for that.

And I would disagree about mov files being any kind of standard for AVI style movies. The most used codec on the web today is wmv. But these have nothing at all in common with Flash. They simply cannot compete. Those simple movies I linked to started streaming in less than a minute, were large in frame size, and had reasonable sound. To do either of those movies as a mov-Sorensen or wmv file or any other kind of video codec, and make it start streaming in less than a minute without hiccupping would mean making it the size of a postage stamp, and with sound that was the equivalent to about an 8 or 16 kbps MP3 file. The sound files I was able to use were 32 and 24kbps. You couldn't do that in a million years with a video codec?no how, no way.

Secondly, your information about frame/sound sync, and CPU use is antiquated to say the least. These were issues about 7 or 8 years ago when people were still using 486 and pen1 units. Its simply a non sequitur today.

Bottom line is, if you need to have a typical frame by frame motion movie, then a video codec is the only way to achieve that (which can still be done in Flash via it's use of Sorensen as well as its own new codec) but if you just want to do a Burns style documentary (which is what this topic is about) and put up a web vserion of it, you can't beat Flash. Its the only way to go.
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#6 Jaan Shenberger

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Posted 08 October 2005 - 07:05 PM

sorry dude, but literally every technical figure you mentioned in that last post was incorrect, except for the thing about wmv being the most currently encoded format.

your understanding and approximated specs about sorenson movies are probably a result of trying to encode them from substandard software. using something like squeeze or cleaner gives much better results and control. and you obviously are unaware of the numerous options for encoding the audio of a .mov file.

your webumentary was unwatchable. not because of aesthetics or craftsmanship, but because it played staccato and jerky. and flash's pixel interpolation is mediocre at best, something blatantly apparent on the brick wall of that photo. this was from a 768+ dsl connection on a one year old 1.33Ghz g4 powerbook.

to put simply, shockwave and flash movies start playing faster (usually), but their playback is often crummy if they are not carefully authored to work around the format's shortcomings. sorenson movies take a little longer to start (because they are being downloaded to a temporary location on your hard drive) but the playback and synch is smooth and solid and you have intricate control over the bitrate when authoring. this is why it's the format of choice for big-release online movie trailers. if quality and compatibility are paramount, then you currently use sorenson. if you want interactivity or your animation is entirely vector-based, then you use flash. that is the industry's "bottom line".

i was not trying to insult you, just trying to help you with professional advice. take what you want from it.

btw, if you wanna see the appropriate use of flash (and some of the best in existence), check out http://secondstory.com.
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#7 Charlie Seper

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Posted 08 October 2005 - 08:25 PM

"your understanding and approximated specs about sorenson movies are probably a result of trying to encode them from substandard software. using something like squeeze or cleaner gives much better results and control. and you obviously are unaware of the numerous options for encoding the audio of a .mov file."

I use them every day and have for several years. Here's a portion of the same What Dreams May Come video in wmv format (which many of us think is the best there is in small file sizes). I exported the content from Flash as an uncompressed AVI and left the sound and photos in their native uncompressed format before converting them to wmv format. In order to make a file small enough to stream over a dialup modem in under a minute (actually it takes longer than a minute) I had to make a 48kbps wmv file with a 216 x 120 frame size and 8kbps/8khz sound. It looks and sound awful.

http://deep.phpwebho...kett/dreams.wmv

Like I said?no way, no how.

If you had trouble playing either of those movies I posted it was because you probably did something wrong, like surfing other web pages while they were loading. They've played for everyone else just fine. But even if they had dropped a frame or two it would have been no problem to just reduce the quality of the photos or the sound a tad bit and make the movie screen size a tad smaller. It would still be nearly the same would still look and sound 10 times better than that dinky postage sized movie from hell I just now put up in wmv format. And no, the Sorensen codec doesn't look or sound any better, it's worse.

Here are stills taken, one from the Flash movie:

Posted Image

And the same one from the wmv movie:

Posted Image

Obviously the Flash file looks much better. And there's no point in even comparing an 8/8hz sound file to the 16/32 or 16/24hz sound file that Flash produces.

"this is why it's the format of choice for big-release online movie trailers."

Nobody sits waiting for movie trailers that take forever to load. And if you make them small enough in file size to stream quickly, they still don't get watched because they look and sound awful. You're only kidding yourself if you think anyone other than the few people who are on cable are going to watch those movies. Its been shown over and over that they won't. Internet people are like children with short attention spans. They just are.

Edited by Charlie Seper, 08 October 2005 - 08:26 PM.

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#8 Jaan Shenberger

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Posted 08 October 2005 - 09:19 PM

you'll never hear me sing the praises of the windows media codec. nor did i in my earlier posts. both of those examples you posted look crummy. just go to the quicktime trailers site if you wanna see what sorenson movies encoded via the right software looks like. i'm done wasting time on this.
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#9 Charlie Seper

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Posted 09 October 2005 - 12:01 AM

I know what the Sorensen codec looks like, it comes with Flash. WMV is still better I think so I stick to it.

But you still don't get the advantage of Flash for photo-panned movies. The thing is, I could have made movies 10-minutes long that still would have streamed in 30-seconds if I wanted to and that would have looked and sounded the same. Try doing that with a traditional movie codec.
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