Book Review - Getting StartED with Windows Live Movie Maker
Windows Movie Maker was first introduced as part of a service pack for Windows XP, and quickly proved to be very popular. It made creating videos very easy, so much so that many people didn't even need to read the directions. (Like me—I created a couple of silly parody videos with the Windows XP version.) Windows Movie Maker was also included in Windows Vista, but with the advent of Windows 7, Microsoft removed it and made it part of the Windows Live Essentials package. To me, the latest version seemed just as easy to use, while I was creating my third silly video without reading the directions. Was I missing out on something by doing it that way? I was very interested to see what Getting StartED with Windows Live Movie Maker could tell me. (Yes, they capitalize ED in the title, because it is a "friends of ED" book.)
I must say I was put off by the cover of the book, which looks very amateurish and hastily thrown together.
Still, remembering the old saying about not judging the book by its cover, I passed it by and dug into the contents, only to encounter more ugly pencil-drawing graphics on every single page. While a whimsical approach can work spectacularly well (see my review of Cooking for Geeks) this book's design is just not in the same league.
OK, so, not judging the book by its pages, what about the content? The author, James Floyd Kelly, uses plenty of illustrations, which I always consider to be a plus in a technical book. There are sidebars headed "NotED" and "ExplainED" that provide additional helpful information along the way, and sidebars headed "LinkED" that provide URLs for useful hardware and software. The author uses a relaxed, first-person style as if he were talking to the reader, which also helps make the material appealing.
Lights, camera, video
The first chapter gives a brief overview of the program, explaining where to find a fuller explanation in later chapters, and showing screenshots of the various features. After that, the book's main focus is on producing your own videos, using material imported from your camera. There are clear instructions on how to get the data from your camera into Windows Live Movie Maker in a variety of ways, which should cover pretty much everyone's equipment and software. I liked the inclusion of a suggestion that the camera's own software might be the best for making the transfer from one device to the other. Even though the software that comes with your camera may not be sophisticated (and I've seen quite a few instances where this is true) it's still designed to work specifically with your hardware. I also appreciated the sidebar that explained that imported videos don't automatically end up in the My Videos folder, but go to My Pictures instead. The author also shows how to create your own folder structure that will organize and protect your digital media. This is excellent advice. Windows Live Movie Maker includes a feature called AutoMovie, which may be all the novice filmmaker needs to put together a reasonably professional looking video. The book contains clear instructions for doing this, which should get the newcomer off to a good start.
Making it all work
The rest of the book is devoted to the process of making and editing your own videos. The author gives excellent, common-sense advice that should help newcomers avoid common mistakes like putting scenes in the wrong order, overdoing the special effects or soundtrack, making your video too long or too short, and putting your viewers to sleep. He also points out the very important issue of using copyrighted material without permission, which is something anyone who intends to post videos on YouTube should pay careful attention to. Copyright owners are getting more and more prickly over time, and the inclusion of someone else's graphics or music could land the video's creators in plenty of hot water. There's also a link to the videos the author has created, on the APress web site (in the Source Code/Downloads section), so the reader can follow along and see the creative process in action. Click on the "downloads" tab to find them. Seeing what's being done in still photos is good, but in a book about creating videos, seeing the actual video examples is much better. The technical terms that many of us have heard of in descriptions of movie making ("fade in", "fade out," "continuity" and so forth) which also apply to Windows Live Movie Maker are well explained. The importance of aspect ratio (the physical size of the image on the screen) is also given a thorough explanation. Windows Live Movie Maker also includes what Microsoft has called "animations". Most of us would think of animated cartoons when we hear this term, but here it's applied to the various kinds of transitions between scenes, such as fades, dissolves and wipes. Having the term explained along with instructions for applying the various effects was very helpful (when I was fiddling with Windows Live Movie Maker it took me a while to find out where the transitions had gone).
Up, up and away
The book concludes with chapters that show you how to save your video (including the formats you can use for the finished product, like high definition video and mobile phone format) and how to burn it to a DVD and upload it to YouTube. I could definitely have used these instructions when I was finishing up my own videos and trying to figure out what format to use and how to get them on YouTube. It's a straightforward process, but neither Windows Live Movie Maker nor YouTube provides much in the way of instructions. I didn't think of burning my videos (actually slideshows with soundtracks) to a DVD, but if my techno-limited mother were still around, I definitely would have done that and the instructions would have been very useful. The process of adding titles, menus, and credits to a DVD, which can make a video look much more professional, is also well explained. The book concludes with a chapter containing a good list of helpful web sites for video makers. Since Windows Live Movie Maker, like all the Windows Live Essentials programs, is simplified to make the creative process easy for beginners, it's not intended for highly sophisticated work. The links provide information for people who want to go beyond the basics.
What I liked and didn't like
I liked the author's personal style and the inclusion of his own videos as examples. Mr. Kelly is clearly an expert user of Windows Live Movie Maker, but he understands what it's like to be a beginner. The book definitely fills in a gap left by the inadequate official "help" for the program. As I mentioned, the graphic design of the book is amateurish. For a book dealing with artistic design software, a much more professional layout would be more appropriate. Still, as they say, one should not judge the book by its cover (or its pencil squares on the inside pages, either.)
Getting StartED with Windows Live Movie Maker delivers what the title promises, a good clear introduction to the program. It should help novice video or slideshow makers gain confidence quickly, and the online examples linked to the book really help. The Windows Live Essentials suite of programs are not highly sophisticated, but they are likely to be more than sufficient for the average person, and having a "user's manual" like this can make learning them much easier.