After my last post about working with with Ciaran Algar on his collaboration videos during lockdown, I was surprised to find people commenting that they found my explanation of the process interesting. While I do write quite a bit of ‘behind the scenes’ stuff, I never assume anyone actually reads it!
So given that we’ve just posted Ciaran’s latest collaboration video…an incredible performance of ‘River Run’ featuring the amazing vocals of Mairead Carlin…I thought I’d share the process of putting that video together as a worked example.
As I described in my last post, all the difficult work happens way before I get involved…Ciaran weaves his magic and out pops an amazing recording of his latest collaboration (you’d have to ask Ciaran about how he approaches that task!). The first involvement I have is when Ciaran sends over the final audio file, the performance video from the guest artist (Mairead in this example) and the videos for all Ciaran’s parts.
Organise the parts
The first thing I do is get everything into Premiere Pro and assemble all the parts onto the timeline so that I can see what’s going on. The challenge at this stage is making sure the videos are all properly aligned with the audio so that what you’re seeing and hearing all looks correct. As discussed in my last post, Ciaran’s explanations that he adds to the start of each video for me do vary in their clarity(!), however this time they were pretty clear and it didn’t take me long to get all the parts aligned and in synch. This is what it looks like at that stage:
All the video files are stacked on the top and the green track in the middle is the master mixed audio. You can also see all the separate audio tracks for the videos at the bottom; they’re all muted (M), but I drag them into the timeline as well because they’re helpful for making sure everything is lined up properly with the main audio. Occasionally by mistake I’ll leave one of them unmuted when I export the video. That usually results in a message back from Ciaran saying “Er, have you done something to the audio?” At that point I’ll complain about how buggy Premiere pro is, while I quickly export a corrected version (but don’t tell Ciaran ok?)….
One other thing to note is the green markers along the top of the timeline. When I first drop the audio onto the timeline, I listen through a couple of times and then go through and mark all the key points in the track e.g. start of the first verse, start of the first chorus. That way, when Ciaran gives me a violin part along with the explanation ‘it comes in at the start of the second chorus’, I already roughly know where it needs to go and it’s just a matter of fine-tuning from there.
Decide on the framing
The next task is to look at all the assembled parts and figure out how I’m going to frame them together in the video. You can see in this example that the song breaks down into sections and in each section, there are different parts contributing; here the track basically builds in depth from start to finish:
- Intro & First Verse – In this section we just have Mairead and Ciaran’s 1st violin (2 parts)
- Chorus – In come the second and third violins and they continue through to the end of the track (so now we have 4 parts)
- Second Verse – The guitar joins in here and again, continues through to the end (5 parts)
- Chorus – All of the above, plus Ciaran’s first Backing vocal appearance (6 parts)
- Instrumental and third verse – Ciaran’s backing vocal drops out for this section (back to 5 parts)
- Chorus – there are three repeats of the chorus here, each time Ciaran adding another backing vocal part. (6, 7 and 8 parts)
- Big Finish – backing vocals fall away here, only to be replaced by a cascading section involving three violins coming in at different times (my fave part of the arrangement – 8 parts)
So now that I know how many parts I’m going to have to try and display in each section of the track, I can start figuring how to arrange them.
For the first section of the song, it’s just Mairead and Ciaran’s 1st violin. So to start the video off, I have these two images to visually combine:
The first option is I could just cut back and forth between these two parts, kind of like a music video. However, to be honest that isn’t going to look too great. This isn’t a music video; it’s two artists performing in their homes and I just have static clips of each of them. So if I even try and make it look like a music video by cutting between these scenes, after the third or fourth cut it’s going to visually fall flat.
Besides, the whole point of these collab videos has been to show how they’re put together; how Ciaran and his collaborators layer their parts together to make the final product. I decide to stick with our theme of showing all the different parts at the same time.
So how am I going to do that? This first section of the track lasts for over 45 seconds, so relatively speaking it’s quite long. I could use both of the full frames and combine them vertically like this:
I quite like this visually; it gives equal weighting and real-estate to both the main parts and it gives me plenty of room around the edges to introduce the rest of the parts as the track builds. This is exactly how we did the video for Ciaran’s collab with Greg Russell. The problem is that while facebook seems happy to accommodate a video shaped like this, Twitter isn’t (Ciaran was unable to load the Greg video to Twitter). So I have to stick to a conventional rectangular 16:9 aspect ratio.
I could just split the screen, something like this:
That’s ok and probably the obvious choice, however I have to keep a mind on how I’m going to introduce the rest of the parts into the frame as they come in. I don’t really want to keep reducing the size of these two main parts to make room.
Another option is to fill the frame with Mairead and show Ciaran in a small window to one corner. I could then add the rest of the parts in as additional small windows.
This is how I did the Thea Gilmore and Blair Dunlop videos. It would be a perfectly fine solution, but in this case I’m not feeling it. Maybe it’s because it looks like previous videos, but I also think in this particular track the first violin part is really important in the way it interplays with Maireads vocal…it doesn’t feel right to relegate it to a small amount of real-estate in the corner.
So what I actually decided to do was firstly reduce the relative size of these two main parts so that they occupied the top two thirds of the frame. That left the bottom third for me to introduce the rest of the parts, kind of like a film strip along the bottom of the frame, without affecting the relative size of the two main parts. Secondly, rather than split the two main parts in the middle of the frame, I decide to offset the split at a third…it just looked more interesting to me.
It’s kind of an unusual way to start a video because it looks like there’s a load of space underneath the frame. I don’t really mind that though…the images look kind of cool in an extended wide-screen kind of way, plus anyone who’s watched Ciaran’s videos previously will know that something’s gonna come along shortly and fill that space!
The point with all this, there’s no right or wrong way to do this…it’s just a case of making a decision and then committing to it.
So now I have to start framing the rest of the parts as they come in, starting with the second and third violins that come in at the start of the first chorus:
I leave a logical space for the guitar to drop in….
As the rest of the parts roll in, I get up to 8 parts showing. To accommodate them, I decide to just squeeze them into the strip along the bottom; in my mind these are all important but supplementary parts. I don’t want them to visually impact the two main parts:
In the final section of the song, the backing vocals drop out but they’re replaced by three violin parts joining successively in a cascading phrase. I could just stick with the design and show these parts in the strip along the bottom, but I love this piece of the arrangement and I decide to break my own rules and emphasise the passage by showing these parts cascading in from the top of the frame:
Transitions and colour grading
So now I’ve decided how I’m going to frame everything, I just need to clean up all the transitions to that the parts appear in some kind of synchronised and clean pattern. The resulting timeline looks like this:
From there it’s just the colour grade. So that means taking it from this…
It’s a subtle shift, but important in creating the overall feel of the video.
Final thing to say is that personally when I’m editing, I always try and keep in mind what the purpose of the video is. Lockdown has meant that I’ve had some time to experiment; I’m all over Adobe After Effects at the moment and to be honest I could go absolutely nuts on these videos. However, this whole project with Ciaran isn’t about trying to show off some crazy-ass video editing. These videos are there to present the incredible musical talents of Ciaran and his co-collaborators. I’m just trying to do that in the best way that I can.