As I extracted a video from my DJI Air2S drone today and fired it across to my main desktop computer for editing in DaVinci Resolve using Bluetooth, I had a strange compulsion to reflect on how this all came about.
In the movies or on TV at this point in time, the screen would then shiver for a few seconds as some harp music played out, but I’ll resist any sound effects or visuals and simply tell you I am mentally now back in 1995.
At that time I had been a tech journo for about 6 years – maybe a bit more – already, writing for PC Week initially and then APC, PCWorld, Your Computer, PCUser, MacWorld and others including the dailies, many of whom had a Tuesday Computing supplement.
I vividly remember a stoush with the brilliant and sadly late Helen Dancer over whether a farmer who wrote a macro in Lotus 1-2-3 could be called a “programmer”.
But I digress.
Windows had been out for a while, and I was a fan. Mac, not so much so. Version 1.0 of Windows tested the water, version 2.03 became a niche consumer product, Windows 3.0 made it useful to business and then, in 1995, Windows 95 came out and bang!
It was mainstream.
About a week before official release and having a beta version supplied by Microsoft I saw an ad in my local newspaper, The West Australian, for someone to write video training scripts for Windows 95 and Microsoft Office 95. So I decided to give it a crack.
The Office components (Word, Excel, Access, Powerpoint, Outlook) I knew backwards as I had done countless reviews plus comparisons with other “Office” type products such as those from Lotus, Word Perfect, Borland etc. And I had been playing with the Windows 95 beta for quite a while so felt conversant enough to also cover that.
(As an aside, many may not know that Office was a Microsoft Australia initiative put together by then MD Daniel Petre).
And I got the gig; the company was Computer Television based in West Perth.
In simple terms I wrote the video scripts (which in itself turned out to be a hell of a learning curve), a young guy called Steve Roberts shot the talent we brought in for on-screen and voice overs plus did all the editing on an analogue editing desk. Screen shots were pulled off a Windows 95 computer hooked up to the editing system. Footage was all shot on a Panasonic M unit as I recall.
To create text overlays, it was necessary to buy a downstream keyer board for the system which I remember cost a thousand bucks or more.
Each module – say Excel – had three videos (all on VHS) – of approximately 45 minutes each and to complete each set was a month’s work. The complete set of all videos, including a 4 video set for Windows 95 sold through bookstores such as Dymocks and direct to government and corporates for $1995.
And we sold bucket loads of ‘em.
Later fine tuning meant we dispensed with the downstream keyer in favour of using Powerpoint for text and graphics.
We also moved out of a strictly studio environment and had a heap of fun shooting these videos inside restaurants and even in the studios of a local radio station, 6PM (thanks Garry Roberts), with the idea being we’d create the tutorials using real life examples of how the software could be used. So for Access, we created a record library database, for Excel, a ratings analysis system and for Word, a restaurant menu. You get the idea.
Jump ahead one year and I was now in Sydney, still with Computer TV writing scripts remotely, but no longer involved in the actual direction and production side beyond that.
Fate stepped in, and without going into any detail, I ended up shooting video using an 8mm Canon video camera I owned, for the local Pentecostal Church. This was – ah – interesting, to say the least and if nothing else gave me an insight as to just how that organisation works. Ask me about it offline if you wish. My experiences do not paint it in a great light.
Anyway, I found on the new-fangled internet a “clever little gadget” that allowed you to control the tape in the camera during playback via the LANC port, and with this connected to a computer at one end, and a VHS recorder at the other, you could add basic titles and graphics whilst actually marking in and out points. When this was completed for a single tape in the camera, hitting the Go button and leaving the camera and VCR to its devices, the computer would control the gadget to fast forward and rewind the tape autotragically and write down the subsequent mix to the VHS tape. You could even overlay music.
It all worked in real time of course, but for the period, it was a very clever, and relatively inexpensive technology, allowing edited versions of the church Sunday meetings to be recorded for posterity and placed in a library for others to borrow.
At approximately the same time, a technology called Real Video had come into being on the internet, and was the forerunner of what we have today with what would now seem rudimentary streaming, but back then was revolutionary.
To make it work, we had to go through a process of converting captured video to the “Real” format which meant bringing it into the computer via a dedicated capture card – which were expensive – uploading that converted file to a Real Video server somewhere and then linking a text file to that file so the Real Video player could then stream it back down.
It was a slow and clumsy process as we were still on diallup internet, but it worked. Mostly.
Lots of late nights and experimentation meant the church I was doing video for became one of the very first in the world putting its services online – not live, but usually within 2 hours of completion.
This was about 1997.
Another gig I did at the time was at Old Parliament House in Canberra and was a University Awards night. The acronym escapes, me (UCAT I think) but it was the awarding of the top Uni Chancellor or whatever in the country at a “gala” ceremony in the Great Hall.
The theory was I would be flown to Canberra from Sydney and using TWO cameras and a vision switcher / mixer encode the video on-the-fly and send it to a Real Video server using an ISDN line. Remember this is pre NBN or even ADSL and ISDN was the best we had, about 10 times faster than diallup as I remember at 1MB a second, but don’t quote me on the numbers.
When we got there and set up though, it turned out some numptie muppet had forgotten to order the installation of the ISDN line at Parliament House from Telstra and so mwe had lay a standard phone line to a socket in some poor sod’s office and use diallup.
This meant every 15 minutes extracting the camera tape, encoding it, sending it to the server and connecting it to a web page where people around the country could login and watch it “live” (or so they thought).
Being a one-person operation, by the end of the night I was knackered. As the ceremony went for 3 hours+, I uploaded around 15 segments, and I don’t think anyone ever discovered it was not live, with a 15 – 20 minute buffer between the real thing and what they saw being enough to fool them.
To add insult to injury, I never got paid for that job…
My next leap was starting to get close to what we have today, and where many of today’s top editors and shooters also cut their teeth, the venerable Adobe Premiere 4.2.
And what a revelation THAT was.
Yes, you still needed a video capture get to get the footage from the camera, and getting that set up was often a nightmare in itself, but once you had a system setup properly, you could ingest (in real time) and then edit properly in what we know today as an NLE – a nonlinear editor.
Text and graphics could be imported and overlaid with relative ease, transitions and special effects added and once complete, a finished video was rendered and exported to VHS tape, Beta, or even later CD and DVD.
Everything that has happened since has basically ridden on the back of that Adobe Premiere 4.2 system and its industrial strength competitor, AVID’s offering that needed a certified Windows NT system to run. In fact you HAD to buy the computer hardware from AVID as well so that they were happy it would work!
One of the regrets I have from that period is that my Adobe Premiere 4.2 “bible”, Premiere With a Passion a third party book of how to use the software has gone AWOL. I wanted to keep it for my museum.
It was written by one Michael Feerer who later formed the company Pixelan, makers of brilliant plugins for transitions to this day (I still use them – have a look), and I became good friends with Michael who had a hand in guiding me through my video learning curve in those early days.
Another stalwart of the industry who too assisted countless people is Douglas Spotted Eagle, and we spent many hours conferring via the Creative Cow website. Douglas actually came to Australia a couple of times and hosted some training sessions setup by Melbourne based New Magic, the Aussie distribs for Blackmagic Design. We also shared some very convivial lunches and dinners!
When ADSL came out, of course video then online started to hit its strides as the speeds available made it possible to do real time things. Adobe pioneered the Flash video format meaning smaller file sizes than even Real Video and certainly much smaller than WAV files or MOV files from Quicktime.
Other higher end video editing programs propped up with regularity, many of which are still around today such as Vegas Pro, Corel Video Studio, Pinnacle Video, Grass Valley EDIUS and of course Final Cut from Apple.
Some didn’t last (I particularly liked one called Speed Razor for a while), but I am pretty sure those mainstream ones are here to stay along with Blackmagic Design’s Da Vinci Resolve – my now editor of choice (I used Vegas for many years).
Adobe’s After Effects is still probably the go to app for motion graphics and effects (along with its myriad of 3rd party plug-ins) and together with the NLEs, the average person today literally has a Hollywood studio at their fingertips for a very modest $ outlay.
But of course, talent is still needed.
So, as you upload that 10 second clip from your iPhone or S21 to TikTok, spare a small thought for all those that came before and made all this possible.
It was, and is still, a hell of a ride and I would not have missed the experience for quids. There is ALWAYS more to learn!
If you were also there, what are your memories? I’d love to hear them, fill in any blanks I have and also share with the wider community who I am sure would also love to know of your experiences! Please leave a comment below – they are all anonymous!