Master Class: Viva Vegas Video

Surefire post-production techniques that harness this software's powerful features.
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The creation of Sonic Foundry's Vegas Video 3.0 is a major leapforward for desktop media production. The program combinesfeature-rich, broadcast-quality nonlinear video editing with acomplete, powerful multitrack audio engine. Combine an A/V-equipped PCwith Vegas Video and a digital-video (DV) camcorder, and you can startoffering audio-for-video post-production services.

This article will show you how to use Vegas Video for audiopost-production (audio post for short), from getting the videointo your computer and adding sounds to picture to manipulating andmixing those sounds to create an outstanding video soundtrack. (Ifyou're new to audio post, have a look at the sidebar “Sound MeetsPicture.”) And although I'll focus on Vegas Video and sound forpicture, many of these tips and tricks also apply if you use theprogram for multitrack audio only.

FLYBY

Vegas Video 3.0 is an ideal environment within which to sweetensoundtracks for indie films, documentaries, music videos, commercialspots, and corporate productions destined for DVDs, CD-ROMs, Web sites,and broadcast. The program lets you record and edit narration,on-camera dialog, sound effects, and background sounds, and it evenlets you compose and record original music. It offers an unlimitednumber of audio and video tracks (until your computer complains), andits nondestructive editing means your original files are never altered— Vegas stores all your edit data and applies it in realtime.

You don't need any external hardware to keep your audio and video insync. Instead, you import digital video and add audio to it. By showingyou the video and audio together, Vegas makes editing and synchronizingsounds and music effortless. When you're done, you can export yourfinished work, complete with its new aural soundscape, to a variety offormats including DV, Real Media, MPEG-1 and -2, Windows Media, andQuickTime. Or, if you prefer, you can render just your audio files.

SETTING UP

Vegas is highly customizable. You can change the toolbar; resize,float, dock, and hide windows; and make the program mirror your workingstyle. I usually undock the Video Preview window and let it float overthe desktop, keeping the other functions in place (see Fig.1).

To free up more space on your screen, you can press F11 to quicklyhide the Window Docking area and Shift + F11 to hide the Track list. Iprefer sliding the Track list to the left until only the Track FX,Mute, and Solo icons show. Forget what's on a track? Let your cursorhover over the Track number to display the hidden scribble strip.

If you have an OHCI-compliant IEEE 1394 (FireWire) card installed,you can send the video to an external monitor. I connect my 1394 card'soutput to my DV camcorder's digital-in port, then send the camera'sanalog output to a separate video monitor. You may experience somelatency and stuttering, but it's better than squinting at the smallVideo Preview window in Vegas.

MOUSING AROUND

Vegas and a scroll-wheel-equipped mouse are a potent combination. Bydefault, scrolling on the Timeline zooms in or out. Holding down theShift button while scrolling duplicates the horizontal scrollbarfunctions; holding the Control button duplicates the verticalscrollbar. Scrolling while holding both Control and Shift moves thecurrent position indicator around the Timeline. Allow the cursor tohover over the Scrub tool, and the mouse wheel controls the scrub speedeither forward or in reverse.

You can also scrub directly on the Timeline by letting the cursorhover over the current position indicator, pressing Control, anddragging your mouse in either direction. If you want to scrub with keycommands, pressing J scrubs in reverse, K pauses, and L scrubs forward.Holding K while pressing J or L gives you greater control over thescrub speed.

Right-clicking allows you to access several functions available inpop-up menus. Unfortunately, using your mouse to make preciseadjustments to various Vegas parameters can seem cumbersome at first.An easy way to fine-tune a slider's value, however, is to click andhold both the left and right mouse buttons and drag the slider.

To reduce mousing and save time, it's a good idea to learn thekeyboard shortcuts for common commands. For example, the Spacebartoggles start and stop, and Enter pauses. The tilde (~) key lets youquickly minimize all tracks. Page Up and Page Down move the cursor tothe next grid line. Specify grid spacing using the Grid Spacingfunction listed in the Options menu. To jump to a particular positionin your project, press Control + G and type in a value.

CURRENT EVENTS

One of Vegas's greatest strengths is the ease with which it allowsyou to work with audio Events. Instead of having to edit and fine-tuneyour audio in a separate editor, you can massage audio tracks withspeed and ease right inside Vegas. You can zero in on your audio andtrim, cut, and rearrange it in numerous ways. For one project, Ireduced a two-hour interview to one hour, making 172 separate edits allin Vegas — it took me less than four hours to do the job.

You can edit Events directly on the Timeline or use the Trimmer.Right-click on any Event and choose Open in Trimmer. There you canselect portions of a file and drag them to any spot on the Timeline.The Trimmer has its own transport controls, zoom buttons, time-regionselector, and ruler. There is also a hotlink button (or use Control +E) to open the selected Event in another sound editor, such as SoundForge. To trim an Event, just drag its edges. Turn on Enable Snapping(this feature can apply to a variety of points including grid, marker,region, and Event edge) to quickly align Events, or turn off snappingfor minute adjustments.

Much like its older sibling Acid, Vegas lets you easily slice anddice parts of your audio Events. You can position the cursor where youneed to edit, press S to split the Event, and trim away the fat. Youcan also make a time selection, press S, and split both edgessimultaneously. Either approach is useful for removing unwanted noises,deleting dialog breaks, and isolating the sounds you need.

Splitting long dialog or narration segments into short Events cangive you greater control over a project's pacing. For example, amateurstend to either leave too little or too much space between phrases. Ifeverything is slammed together, you can slice the audio apart and movethe sections around until it sounds right (music can fill in the gaps).For a slow section, use crossfades to tighten things up. Split theslow-paced Event into smaller segments and overlap and crossfade themslightly so they blend better. To change how sounds crossfade,right-click the overlapping area, choose Fade Type, and then selectfrom the graphical list. Using only Vegas's Split and Crossfade tools(and no pitch or time shifting), I reduced a 19-second narrationsection to 12 seconds.

To time-stretch or pitch-shift Events, first right-click on theEvent, choose Properties, and indicate whether to preserve the pitchand change the length (the default) or preserve the length and changethe pitch when stretching. Then Control-drag either Event edge to thedesired length.

When editing voice tracks, watch out for room tone — thegeneral background “sound” of a recording. If you'recombining separate Events, the sudden dropout and return of room tonecan make even the most careful edit stand out. Vegas provides a fewways to deal with this pesky problem. Use a quick, smooth crossfadebetween edits to cover up the room tone stops and starts. Use the TrackFX noise gate to eliminate room tone altogether during silent passages.If that doesn't work, find a piece of room tone from the existingrecording, isolate it with splits, copy the room tone Event, and pasteit on another track to mask the edits. Music and backgrounds can coverthese edits, too.

INSIDE VIDEO

But how do you get to the point at which you can start editing thesound? Before you can begin working on the audio portion, you need yourvideo in a format Vegas can read. Unless you are editing the video,you'll get a completed, or nearly completed, video from your client.The video may come in any of a variety of formats; CD, analog tape, anddigital video are the most common. You want the edited video in thehighest-quality format available, preferably DV. That way, you canimport the video into Vegas, add your audio contribution, rerender thevideo with new audio, and then lay back the finished video to DV, CD,DVD, and other formats.

To capture video, connect your camcorder or other DV device to yourcomputer's 1394 input and then launch Vegas. Choose the Capture Videoitem in the File menu to display the Video Capture dialog. If yourdevice is connected correctly, you should be able to control it fromthis screen, using the transport controls to record the video as yourequire. The video's audio track will be captured at the same time.Capturing the original video and subsequently saving your final projectusing Sonic Foundry's DV codec results in the highest-quality videopossible with no generation loss.

Always work at the highest resolution you can, paying carefulattention to the video's frame size and rate. Work at high resolution(digital video's resolution is 29.97 frames per second, or fps) andthen render the video at a lower resolution if needed for streamingformats such as Real Media. If you're unsure of a video's properties,start a new project and then use the Properties option in the File menuto access the Match Media setting (the file folder with an arrow aboveit). Now choose the video file provided to you (or that you captured),and Vegas will automatically match your project properties to thatfile. If you render your project to the same format, your final versionshould match the original's quality.

If the video provided to you already has sound, consider isolatingthe existing soundtrack elements on separate tracks. When you open acaptured video in Vegas, its audio track appears as one long file belowthe video portion. Right-click on the audio-track icon and chooseDuplicate Track; that places a copy of the audio track directly underthe original captured audio. Mute the original track, Split theduplicate audio Event, separate it into component chunks (dialog,narration, and so forth), and move each component to a separate track.If necessary, apply quick fade-ins and -outs and use EQ on the separateEvents to help disguise your edits.

To make sure that Events you've moved are in sync, you could look atthe waveform display while comparing the copy to the muted original.Another way to check would be to unmute the original audio track andplay it along with the copy. If your sync is off, you'll hear slapbackdoubling on the copied track. If you're right on, the dialog shouldsound twice as loud (3 dB louder). Don't forget to either mute ordelete the original audio track when you've finished your work.

INSIDE AUDIO

Referring to your notes, begin gathering the audio material you needby recording, finding, and creating new sounds.

Dialog

If your video has on-camera sync dialog, you may need to fix or evenreplace the production audio with a new recording. This is calledAutomatic Dialog Replacement (ADR), or looping in the trade. Theterm looping came from the process of rerecording dialog by splicing atape loop of the original, playing it back for the talent, andrecording while they repeated their lines.

Vegas can easily loop dialog and record new takes. First, get thetalent into your studio and use the same mic and preamp that were usedin the field, if possible. If identical equipment isn't obtainable,choose similar equipment and experiment with mic positioning, EQ, andreverb to match the new recordings to the field tracks.

Then, in Vegas, find the dialog you need to replace on the Timeline(see Fig. 2), choosing short segments of not more than asentence or two to work with. Split the Event just before and justafter the offending segment. Insert a new audio track below the badtrack and solo the two tracks. Next, turn on Loop Playback, wrap a timeregion around the Event to be fixed, put the new track into recordready, and start recording. The talent will hear the old dialog and canthen talk along with it until they get it right — Vegas willrecord take after take in the new track. To switch between takes, youcan select the Event and press T, or you can right-click on the takefor other options. Make sure that you check the dialog sync before thetalent leaves. Play the project at 29.97 fps on a larger monitor, focuson the lips, and listen critically.

It may help if the talent can see themselves as they replace theiron-camera dialog, so you should pipe the video to them through anexternal monitor if possible. It's also useful to insert a countdowntone to help them know when to start speaking. To do that, createanother track and place three beeps on it spaced a half-second apart.Line up the new track with the existing audio so that the dialog to bereplaced starts where the fourth beep would sound. Make sure thecountdown tones are within the loop region. The talent will hear thebeep rhythm and know when to start talking. Delete the tones after therecording session ends.

To punch in or out on an Event, select it, wrap a time selectionaround the punch area, and give yourself some preroll and postroll tomake doing the punch easier. If you need to replace only a portion ofthe Event, split it to isolate the punch area. Enable Loop Playbackmode to record multiple takes. Arm the track and start recording. Vegaswill loop the time selection but record only into the Event youselected.

Narration

You have several options when it comes to narration. One is torecord the narration in advance and supply it to your client to usewhen cutting the video. Another possibility is that your client willuse narration obtained from another facility or directly fromvoice-over talent. In that case, the video provided to you will havethis narration in place, and you can add further audio sweetening (suchas effects, music, and mixing). You might also need to replace thenarration or record an entirely new one in sync with the video.

Ideally, you can follow the techniques of the ADR method and haveyour voice-over talent record his or her contribution, piece by piece,to fit a finished video. Unfortunately, you might have to record or usean existing “wild” (unsynced) narration track and make itfit with the video. If so, splitting and arranging smaller chunks,crossfading, and time-stretching will come in handy.

Sound effects

Sound effects fall into three main categories: hard effects, whichare synced to some onscreen action (a door closing, for example); softeffects, which are not synced to any action but reinforce a scene'sreality (such as a bird call during an outdoor scene); and ambienteffects, which provide a general, overall soundscape (for example,traffic sounds in a city segment).

Sources for sound effects include online and CD-based sound-effectslibraries, your own creations, and the original video production audio(see the sidebar “Sound Effects Sources” for additionalcandidates). Many professionals use library sound effects as startingpoints, although the sounds may require editing to get them just right.When you can't find the right sounds, you must create them yourself.Roam the world with a portable recorder to capture audio. Bringsound-producing material into your project studio and record there orcreate new sounds from scratch using your sound gear (synths andsamplers) or through Foley. (Foley is the process of recordingsounds in the studio to match onscreen action. Sound effects suitablefor Foley include footsteps, clothes rustling, and other actions thatare easy to mimic. A Foley session is similar to ADR: the Foley artistwatches the video and re-creates the sounds using various props, andthe results are recorded.)

Another source for sounds, particularly backgrounds, is from the rawproduction audio that is captured during videotaping. If possible, goback to the field video to lift sounds. Capture the footage, open it inVegas, delete the video portion, and save only the audio as a WAV file.When choosing a general background sound, be aware that when lowered inthe mix, it just may sound like low-end rumble or white noise. Toovercome that problem, feature distinct sound effects along with ageneral ambient background. Also, use EQ or other effects to makebackground sounds more prominent.

On a project that I recently completed, I was able to combine theoriginal background noise with a distinct sound effect to achieveexcellent results. The production audio contained a needed sound— a bar-code-scanner beep. Unfortunately, the factory noise whereit was recorded interfered. I recorded a new beep (my microwave!) andsynced it with the original. Using Vegas's Scrub tool, I rocked backand forth until I found the original beep on the factory track. Next, Iinserted a new audio track for my clean beep Event. I repeated thatprocedure with several other sounds. The outcome: a low-level generalfactory background with up-front hard effects to match the videoaction.

When looping backgrounds, the loop point might sound obvious. Tokeep it from standing out, split the Event before the loop point andtrim it slightly. Trim the next iteration slightly and then overlap theEvents. Experiment with the fade type to help make the loop point lessnoticeable. A similar technique can work with music loops. Overlap twoEvents a beat before the loop point and experiment with fade types. Tofind the beats easily, play the music and press the M key in time withthe music, placing markers on the beats. The waveform itself can supplya visual cue, too.

Once you have suitable sounds, place them on your hard drive andaudition them in Vegas Explorer. Try rough syncing them with the videoto hear how they work in context. You may discover that you need tofind other sounds. If you're lucky, you'll have everything you need,and you'll be able to start putting the sound effects in place.

Music

There are two kinds of music to use on a video: source andunderscore. Source music comes from action onscreen, such as a band orradio playing. Underscore music provides the general mood for thevideo. Underscore can be dramatic, evocative of a historical period orexotic setting, or just a neutral background filler. Music can alsoeliminate the need for ambient backgrounds.

You can buy library or production music just as you would soundeffects. Such a purchase will be classified as eitherneedle-drop or buyout. With needle-drop, you pay a feeevery time you use a cut from the library. A buyout lets you pay onefee and then use the music whenever you want. You can add originalmusic to the video, too. Either record your music separately and dropthe completed piece into the video, or compose and record your musicalparts directly within Vegas while watching the video.

If you want to use another application for music composition, Vegasincludes the Sonic Foundry Virtual MIDI Router (VMR) so you can eithercontrol Vegas from another MIDI application or let Vegas control it. InVegas, select Preferences in the Options menu and navigate to the Synctab. Under Generate MIDI Timecode, select the Sonic Foundry MIDI routerand choose the correct frame rate for your project. Save the settings,return to the Options menu, select Timecode, and then use the GenerateMIDI Timecode command there to send Timecode to the other program.

To control Acid, for example, select Preferences in the Options menuand then click on the Sync tab. Under Trigger from MIDI Timecode,select the Sonic Foundry MIDI router and choose the frame rate thatmatches your Vegas project. Next, select Trigger from MIDI Timecodeunder Timecode in the Options menu. Press Play in Vegas, and theprograms will run in sync. You can then create your music using Acid,render the final WAV file, and add it to your Vegas project. You couldalso edit your narration, effects, Foley, ADR, and other elements inVegas, then render the project as an AVI file and import it into Acidto score the music.

BUILDING YOUR MIX

With all your sounds collected or recorded, begin editing. DroppingEvents into your project in Vegas and moving them around in sync withthe picture is straightforward, because what you see and hear is whatyou get. When syncing music and hard effects, play the video and usethe M key to insert markers at hit points. Scrub to find more preciseplacement. Hold down the Alt key and use the left and right arrow keysto move frame by frame. F8 toggles snapping on and off. Vegas evenremembers your five most recent time selections; use the Backspace keyto cycle through them.

Work on vocal material first, followed by hard effects, softeffects, general backgrounds, and finally music. Go back and edit untileverything starts working together. Sweeten the tracks with effects anduse the Vegas Level and Pan features to carefully balance and automateyour final mix. Stay under digital 0 dB, compress the mix slightly, andcheck for mono compatibility. I mix using computer speakers, Event20/20s, and the lousy single speaker in my 13-inch TV monitor.

While each track's volume fader controls the overall track volume,every Event also has its own Attack, Sustain, and Release (ASR)envelope. Place the cursor near the top left or right Event edge andclick-and-drag inward to create an Event fade-in or fade-out. Place thecursor above the top of an Event (the cursor will change to thepointing-hand envelope cursor) and click-and-drag down to reduce anEvent's level. Vegas provides a visual representation of Eventwaveform-amplitude changes when you use this tool. Reserve volumeenvelopes for other level automation and use the ASR to tame quickpeaks. In one project I worked on, a dialog track contained one wordthat stood out like a sore thumb. Though I could have used a compressoror a volume envelope to even out the track, it was faster to split theoffending section from the surrounding audio and lower its sustainlevel to tame the peak.

If you don't want to crossfade Events on the same track, positiontwo tracks one below the other and use the ASR envelope to fade out thetop track's Event and fade in the second track's Event. Chooseappropriate fade types for the Events; that way you can use separate EQor other effects and still get the benefits of crossfading sounds.

Because any Vegas track can hold multiple Events even if they havedifferent formats, bit rates, or sample rates, I prefer keeping similarsounds together on a couple of tracks: hard sound effects on a track ortwo, narration on one, music on another. Using fewer tracks with moreEvents in them can sometimes work better than multiple trackscomprising a single Event each. If you prefer to use multiple tracks,bus them to a single fader at the mixer and adjust their overall volumeand Bus FX there. Route on-camera voice to Bus A, narration to Bus B,hard effects to Bus C, and so on. That approach gives you control ofthe levels of individual Events (ASR), level and pan automation throughenvelopes, Track level and FX, and the buses, as well as another hit ofoverall level and effects. Nice!

Voice is often the most important mix element, so keep music andsound effects from overwhelming your key narration and dialog segments.Use the Track FX EQ, select Band, and set the frequency to 3,500, gainbetween 2 and 4 dB, and bandwidth to 2 on the voice tracks. Use thesame frequency and bandwidth settings on the music track, and make thegain setting 2 to 4 dB lower. That can help make the dialog moreintelligible.

Another trick is to reduce the level, or duck, sounds out ofthe way when voice is dominant. Position the music track directly belowthe voice track and add a volume envelope to it. Add points that fadethe music down quickly under the voice, stay low, and then fade upslowly as the voice part ends (see Fig. 3).

FINAL RENDERING

If you wish to keep your project file and media together, create aproject folder and use the Save As option in the File menu. Check thebox next to Copy and Trim Media with Project to copy all the files tothe same location as the project file. You get the option of copyingthe source files in their entirety or just copying the trimmed (edited)versions. In either case, make sure you clean the Media pool or you'llcopy unneeded media during this procedure. Back up this project folderregularly and especially when your work is done.

To render the final file to combine the original video with your newsoundtrack, choose Render As in the File menu. Rendering doesn't affectthe project file, so you can rerender or render to multiple formats,making any changes as needed. Depending on your computer's power andthe video's length, it may take a long time to render certain fileformats. (Creating DVD-compatible MPEG-2 files is especiallytime-consuming.)

To save your project back to digital video, connect your DVcamcorder, launch Vegas, use Capture Video in the File menu, select thePrint to Tape tab, and lay your finished version back to tape. BecauseDV files are large and don't always fit on a standard data CD, layingback finished projects to DV tape is one way to back up your work anddeliver it to the client. If you want to print to tape directly fromthe timeline (instead of from a video that has already been rendered),create a Time selection, choose Print Video to DV Tape in the Toolsmenu, and then follow the onscreen instructions. Vegas will render theportion you selected and copy it to the DV device you have hookedup.

Another cool feature of Vegas is its ability to burn CDs directly(see Fig. 4). The Burn CD option under Tools lets you makeTrack-at-Once or Disc-at-Once audio CDs, Video CDs (VCD), andMultimedia (data) CDs. VCDs use the MPEG-1 codec and will play in mostDVD players, though they lack menu options and are of lower qualitythan DVDs.

If you are excited about using Vegas Video for audio/videopost-production and are interested in exploring the possibilities, youcan get more information from the Vegas Video forum on Sonic Foundry'sWeb site (www.sonicfoundry.com/forums). You should also lookinto the Vegas Video forum on Creative Cow (www.creativecow.net); it tends to be morevideo-centric, but you can occasionally pick up some valuable audiotips. Once you get your feet wet using Vegas, you'll emerge withstunning video soundtracks for yourself and your clients.

Jeffrey P. Fisherwrote Profiting from Your Music andSound Project Studio (Allworthy Press, 2001) and other books to helpmusicians make more money. Visitwww.jeffreypfisher.comfor moreinformation.

BURNING TIMECODE INTO YOUR VIDEO

One video filter that's useful for audio post is Vegas's Timecodefilter. From the Video FX tab, scroll down to find the Timecode filter.Then choose a preset from the available list (for example, SMPTE Drop29.97 fps) and drag-and-drop it onto your video track in the TrackList. This “burns in” a timecode window (see Fig.A). Reference the timecode numbers when spotting sounds, and thenrefer to your notes when editing your audio. To remove the filter,select the Track FX button on the video track and remove theplug-in.

SOUND MEETS PICTURE

Never added sound to a video before? Take these preliminary stepsbefore you begin working your audio magic.

Meet with the director and producer to discuss their particularaudio needs. On-camera dialog and even narration may already be inplace, and only sound effects and music might be needed. Go through thevideo with your client and take notes about the soundtrack. Listencarefully to the existing soundtrack (if there is one). Ask thesequestions: What's missing? What's needed? Burn a timecode window andwatch the video on a larger monitor, then discuss it together. Use thetimecode numbers to note where certain sounds should go (see thesidebar “Burning Timecode into Your Video”).

Typically, you'll need to be concerned with one or more of thefollowing elements:

Dialog, including replacing existing onscreen voices.

Narration, including replacing existing narration, recording newnarration in sync with the picture, syncing existing narration to thepicture, or providing narration up front (which the client uses to editthe video).

Sound effects, including hard effects matched specifically to screenaction.

Soft effects not synced to action and general ambient sounds tocomplement the video.

Music, including choosing preexisting library music, editing musicproduced by another composer, and composing and recording your ownoriginal score.

After your initial spotting session and before you begin working,always make sure that you and your client are on the same page. Agreeon all the specific sound elements for the soundtrack, includingplacement, feel, quality, style, instrumentation, musical genre, mixlevels, and so forth. They may say “throw in some musichere” — you don't want to pick rock and find out later thatthey meant light jazz. When a client is undecided or seems apathetic,take the initiative. Put together test sequences and get the client tosign off on them. You'll save yourself some frustration and lost timeby clearing everything first.

A good video soundtrack captures viewers' attention and directs themto what's important. Soundtracks work when they present an authentic,realistic environment that supports the visual material. Establish asense of sonic harmony by limiting yourself to a specific soundpalette. Always include background ambient sounds and hard effects thatsynchronize with onscreen action. If essential sounds are missing, theproduction will seem unreal to viewers. Finally, like all audio work,your soundtrack must be balanced, clear, and distinct, with goodseparation among all the individual elements.

SOUND EFFECTS SOURCES

Vegas includes a CD with 1,001 sound effects and assorted music bedsthat you can use in your productions. Sonic Foundry also sells dozensof loops for Acid, some of which contain a variety of individualeffects. Here is a list of some other useful resources for addingsounds or library music to your projects.

Firstcom Music
www.firstcom.com

The Hollywood Edge
www.hollywoodedge.com

Killer Tracks