Friday, June 13, 2008


A timeline is a video editing term but this is not a post about video editing. Its a post about birthdays. Or both. Let me explain.

I am currently surrounded by people celebrating their birthdays (I guess spring/early summer is a particularly randy time). My brother Ed celebrated his birthday in May. My sister Susanna (the only of my four sisters who is older than I) has her birthday this weekend, as does my brother in law Dale. Collette's grand nephew Lucas turned a whopping one year old a few days ago. Damn, he's still under warranty.

They are an interesting thing, birthdays. (Also interesting that I wrote about my dog's birthday before anyone else's but that's my issue) We all have them, we are all getting older, yet we all co-exist together, at the same time, even as we move forward, at different rates .. or do we.

This is where the timeline comes in.

The timeline is where you assemble your project in video editing software. You import all your footage, you trim down to the clips you want and you drop them into the timeline, to assemble them into the movie you want. The timeline is also the place where you place your titles, effects, music, etc. All the elements that make up your movie go into the timeline. On the computer, it gives you a visual representation of the various elements that make up your movie.

The way the timeline works is that you drop your clips into it in the order they will appear. So, the establishing shot of the house first, the house interior, then a shot of the party in progress, then the close up of the fetish gear .. no wait, this isn't that kind of movie. This is the Birthday Movie.

I have all my clips assembled. Lucas, Ed, Dale, Susanna .. all the birthdays that are swirling around me. Being an editor, being a writer, my compulsion is to assemble them all together, lay them down in the timeline and make that movie of out of them. But how do I go about this? What is the proper sequence?

If the movie is actually about birthdays, do we go along the calendar, picking the birthdays as they occur: Ed, Lucas, Dale, Susanna ... one after the other going down the line. Logical, but looking at the timeline, something weird occurs; the youngest (Lucas) follows the oldest (ED). That doesn't seem right. In our linear world, that is certainly out of sequence, because we would normally factor such things in ascending order. Youngest to oldest. It seems to want to supersede even the sequential calendar dates, especially in the visual world of the timeline .. the baby comes first, our brains tell us, and the grey haired old guy last (sorry Ed, you are still a sexy and powerful man)

In the timeline, each little clip has a different size and that is determined by its length. So a five second shot, on the screen, has a visual icon much shorter than a one minute shot.

So baby Lucas' clip would look like the second one in the timeline above. Ed's would be ... bigger (I'm not picking on him, I'm taking him to a show, get over it). So my Birthday Movie timeline would be nicely staggered out, the icons growing larger as we move down the sequence. One clip after another. Edited that way, the movie would start with Lucas, jump to Dale, cut to Susanna .. but that's not right either. Lucas was not born first, he was born last, so shouldn't he be down at the end of the timeline? This is the advantage of non linear editing, you can move the clips all around.

So now we have Lucas at the end of the sequence and Ed at the beginning. And the length of the clips diminish as we move along it. That seems logical, but its still not right. Sure, you can start with Ed, but his clip ends then Susanna's begins, and that isn't how it happens. Ed, thankfully, has not ended. I'm pretty sure I've seen him and our sister together. There may be pictures. So what we need is a timeline that represents something closer to reality; where all the clips exist at the same time. We call this a multiclip timeline, where several clips can be on the screen at the same time.

So now all the clips, all my family, are onscreen at the same time. Damn, you'd have to call this production The Rideau Heights of Babel (inside joke and Google may be of no help, sorry) So now we are set, here is everybody existing at the same time ... but still not working. See why there are so many re-edits in my biz?

Because while they all certainly co-exist, but it seems to negate the whole point of the birthday. They weren't all together at the same time, that would make them the same age, and it would save on candles or something. They were born on different dates, in different years, just like the calendar that we started with. So that is the linear part, the beginning of their lives, but as the clips (lives) are added, each one lengthens, grows longer (grows older) they kind of caught up to each other. In a traditional timelime the clips would push each other along as they extended but in the multiclip environment we can start each clip at a time, and let them catch up to each other.

Birth dates are a fact of life. You were born. Boom. There you are. That's the date. Birthdays are something else, I think. We are not just acknowledging the date of your birth we are celebrating the event of your birth. Or as often stated, celebrating your life. So by date of birth we have the calendar, the linear timeline with each clip layed out in a row. But by birthday, even if the clips are staggered, we need the multiclip sequence, where the clips grow on, get longer, join up, side by side, one on top of the other, co existing. I like the way the birthdays are working these past several weeks, kind of all grouped together, all these people of different ages but all the celebrations happening so close together. Separated by years, united by a number of weeks.

That is the kind of timeline I need to make the Birthday Movie. Linear, multi faceted, organized, mixed up ... all the clips moving on and filled with noise and color and sound and motion, yet all linked together, making one movie from all these diverse elements.

So, this isn't a post about editing. It isn't really a post about birthdays. It's a post about something big and noisy and straightforward and complex, something with a past and a present, zooming ahead into the future, each part alone but each part needed to maintain the whole.

That's right. This is a post about family.

1 comment:

Elizabeth McClung said...

I will come back to this once I get some more software as I have the "ultra stupid video makers" which has a lot of limitations - so I can see the usefulness of it, but I would like to have the editing timeline open in front of me while comparing to your post. Thanks for writing it though, it will come in handy. (so I guess that means I am going to steal from you too!)

Top Blogs Pets

Add to Technorati Favorites