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Film Studies Program
Bryn Mawr College
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A Note about Clip Quality

The clips in the two sample papers, “The Little Engine that Could: Constructing Progress in The General” and “Godardian Cinema: Restructuring the Ideology of Bourgeois Film,” were captured in the summer of 2002 using iMovie 2.1.2 and VHS tapes. With the arrival of Final Cut Pro stations and DVD players in Guild Hall, Canaday Library and the Language Learning Center, it is now possible and preferable to capture and edit film from DVD. DVD is a better source for film clips due to the superior quality of the resulting imported material. In order to export better material as well, one could use the application Cleaner.

Here is a sample clip from Buster Keaton’s 1927 film The General captured using iMovie and a VHS tape. In order to compress the Quicktime file, we used iMovie's "CD-ROM Movie - Medium" export settings: 15 frames per second, Sorenson compression, and a 240x320 window size. The file size is 3.2 MB.

Notice how the trees in the background shimmer and blend into the mountains as the train progresses along the tracks. Also, the space around the engineer’s head gains a strange halo-effect when he moves. This “pixel static" (our term) is most evident when the camera passes over the front of the engine and the body of the train shifts color and appear mobile rather than metal. These are all instances of poor image quality that can be minimized by using DVD.

Keep in mind that capturing a clip that involves a lot of motion will not look very good when compressed into a Quicktime file. This is because rather than saving every frame of the 30 frames per second that the original DV movie had, the computer only saves every other frame. Therefore, some of the continuity between one frame to the next is lost, making the image jerky and pixelated.

Here is the same sample clip from The General captured using iMovie and a DVD. Instead of exporting the clip from iMovie using the "CD-ROM Movie - Medium" settings, we exported it as "Full Quality - Large." We then opened the "Large" Quicktime file in the application Cleaner and used its "Wizard" to compress the file into its present form. The file size is 3.8 MB.

While perhaps not perfect (The General is an older film), in this version the trees, mountains and other landscape features stand out more distinctly from one another. The strange effect surrounding the engineer’s head has disappeared, and the body of the train does not shimmer as much. Also, color, or in this case shades of grey, is more distinct and the contrast more clear than in the previous clip from VHS. Finally, the piano soundtrack in this clip is different from that of the VHS version, and perhaps a more accurate representation of the film as it would have been experienced in 1927. These small improvements help preserve the integrity of the original scene, and will be especially helpful when close-reading a scene for issues of light, contrast, color, etc.