The Importance of Quality HD Source Footage
Its not always easy to find good quality source media for your remixing projects but the hunt is a critical part of the transformative process. HD footage is especially critical if you need crop or zoom the footage to isolate or focus on a particular character or element within the video frame.
To help explain the footage collecting process (and the associated headaches) I though I’d share my recent quest to find a good remixable version of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1997 film The Rainmaker - I am hoping to re-use one scene in particular for my upcoming Batman Reimagined project.
In this shot I want to focus on and highlight Danny DeVito’s character as he talks about illegal jury tampering. This means I need to to crop Matt Damon out of the frame completely since he is not a part of my transformed story. My final remix project wil be done in 720x400 SD widescreen format so I’ll need to find footage at high enough resolution to isolate DeVito without upscaling the footage which would result in ugly pixelation.
A few problems arise right away. First the film is older and was released on home media well before even HD existed (Blu-ray Discs were introduced in 2006). Plus the movie did not do very well at the box office which means Paramount Pictures is in no rush to create a new Blu-ray Disc version.
Second the film was shot in 2.35:1 aspect ratio and released on DVD in late 1998 before anamorphic widescreen DVDs format became the standard. This means the original DVD is not only lower resolution at 720x480 but is also presented in full screen 4:3 format with huge black bars at the top and bottom of the frame to approximate the 2.35:1 ratio.
1998 orignal DVD release in full screen:
Obviously there is no way to do any cropping or zooming with the footage at this low resolution so the original DVD will not work for me.
Sometimes the Bit Torrent file-sharing protocol can be helpful in getting your hands on an older or hard to find film but its of no help in this case because DVD rips are typically downscaled to a 700mb file size by uploaders. This often results in a final resolution of between 500px and 700px wide which is of course smaller then the orignal DVD.
Occasionally entertainment companies will release a special, limited or collector’s edition media disc. In 2007 Paramount did released a special collectors edition DVD of The Rainmaker - this time in real anamorphic DVD widescreen format. While still in SD there are no black bars and the file resolution is a bit larger at 854x360 pixels. My local movie rental place only carried the original 1998 DVD though so I had to order the special edition on Amazon and wait a week for the disc to arrive.
2007 special collector’s edition DVD in anamorphic widescreen:
This DVD edition is better but still does not give me a large enough file to crop out Damon’s character (as indicated by the yellow box above). What I really need is an HD or Blu-ray version of the film to make my remix work.
If you happen to be remixing a popular movie produced in the past several years it’s relatively easy to find good HD versions (both online and offline). But as I mentioned above Paramount has not yet issued a Blu-ray Disc version of this title and is unlikely to do so any time soon.
There is one other final option in my source footage hunt. On rare occasions a studio will create an HD version of the film for online distribution only via iTunes, Amazon, Google Play or other services. Oddly some of these services don’t offer HD versions of films that do actually exist in physical Blu-ray disc format like The Dark Knight. Plus a great many films (especially older ones) are not in the iTunes system - all four 1990s era Batman films for example are missing in any format. Further complicating matters some of the HD films which are offered online are only available for 24 or 48 hour rental and not for purchase.
Various iTunes movies download examples:
Luckily for me there is an HD version of The Rainmaker available via the iTunes store. As of February 2012 Apple only provided 720p movie downloads to personal computers which means the files are at 1280x720 (720p) instead of full HD at 1920x1080 (1080p).
In order to access Apple’s media service though you must have a computer capable of running their latest iTunes software, a broadband connection capable of download 3GB+ files without going over your monthly cap and of course a credit card.
iTunes downloadable 720p HD version:
The 1280x540 file size will allow me to effectively crop out Damon (again my 720x400 project frame size is indicated in yellow). The framing is still a little awkward as 2/3rds of the frame is empty space above the table and there is still no room to zoom in on Devito’s words, movements or facial expressions. So while this version is not ideal it will work in a pinch.
As of March 2012 iTunes is now offering a number of movie downloads in full 1080p HD resolution (via the 10.6 update) including The Rainmaker. I should note however that many movies are still only available in 720p.
New iTunes downloadable 1080p HD version:
This version is finally perfect for remixing! And I only had to buy the movie three separate times. Now I can both crop out Damon and also zoom in on DeVito (without video pixelation) as he talks about judicial interference.
Unfortunately finding a good quality file is not the end of the process for remixers. The problem with iTunes and similar services is that you can’t edit the files after you purchase them because the videos are locked down with DRM (Digital Rights Management).
So the next step is to find software tools to remove the DRM restrictions without significant degradation in the video quality. There are a number of apps for doing this but they come with their own set of headaches and frustrations. You can try either the open source Requiem (free for OSX + Windows) or Tune4mac Platinum (paid for OSX). Once that’s done you will finally have a editable video file to work with in your fair use remix!
Final 720x400 crop for my project: