For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Moving On, and see what else has been going on.

Friday, March 02, 2007

It's done!!!

Since our last move, we've been provinces away from family on both my side and my husband's. While we're able to keep in touch with most through email (and I'm notoriously unable to phone on a regular basis, usually remembering well after the time zone differences make calling downright rude), my own parents don't have a computer. That means that, for over a year, they haven't been receiving any pictures of their grandchildren, except those which I've emailed to other family members that they may have seen, or that were printed out for them. I'd thought that once we finally got a new printer, I'd be more diligent about printing them out and mailing them, but by the time we got one, I found there were just too many to make that practical.

Then I discovered something about our new computer that we couldn't do on our old one.

I can make DVD's.

My parents have a DVD player.

A while ago, I tested out the software by making what turned out to be a short DVD for my parents that included slideshows of still photos, plus mini-movies taken with our digital cameras. While learning the software, I discovered how to add music and otherwise edit and build something for them. When it was done, we tested it out on our own tv, then ended up making a second copy for the other set of grandparents as well. Silly me, I never though to make a copy for ourselves before starting a new one, only to discover that I'd have to dig through a year's worth of digital photos and almost completely recreate it. Ah, well.

The new one was far more ambitious. Now that I had an idea of just how much space I had available (not just for the photos, but the music, etc.) on a disc, I wanted to make a much more complete DVD for the family back "home." I went back farther, to the move itself, so the end result would contain over 15 months of photos (2007 isn't represented at all). We've taken thousands of photos in that time period! This time, however, I skipped the movies, since I'd already used the best ones for the first disc.

I quickly discovered I had taken on a HUGE job - even with the help of the rest of the family. This has truly been a family project. Eldest was interested in learning the software to make her own DVD, and they helped choosing the right music for the various slideshows.

Ultimately, though, I was the one that worked on it. I started off in dribs and drabs, but making very little progress. Finally, I went all out and spent the last couple of days working on it every chance that I got. I'd organized the photos into categories that would eventually become individual slideshows. I ended up with 21 slideshows! Then I had to go through every slideshow and put the individual photos in the order I wanted. Usually, that meant chronological order. That would be easy if I were using only 1 camera, since the file names are all in numerical order. The pictures, however, come from 4 different cameras, and with some, they had to be re-named because the camera would reset itself to the beginning every time the photos were uploaded to the computer. Others had to be renamed because one camera assigned a number that was the same as another camera. As long as they'd been in separate folders, it wasn't a problem, but after I'd sorted them by subject, there were duplicate file names, and there were an awful lot of them to go through! If I remember correctly, the largest slideshow had a total of 117 photos!

Then came the fun part. Choosing music. I have eclectic tastes in music, and what I don't go for, other family members fill in the gaps. Though our music collection isn't particularly large, there's enough variety that we could match pretty much all moods and themes I needed.

The challenging part was finding music that matched the "feel" of the subject in each slideshow, as well as making sense together with it. Some were well suited by classical tunes, while others just screamed for a bit of Chutney. Science Fiction soundtrack music fit the bill for one, while reggae fit in another. Every now and then, we'd find a beat or rhythm that seemed just perfect - only to test the slideshow and suddenly realize the lyrics were totally unacceptable. Discovering corrupt files sure didn't help, either.

Then there was the timing. A click of a button could have the slideshow match the length of the chosen song. Some larger slideshows needed 2 longer songs, or the individual photos would be sweeping across the screen at only 1 or 2 seconds each; others required a search for short pieces to avoid 10 second displays of each image. Because the DVD plays all "chapters" (slideshows) one after the other without pause, I ended up making title graphics to put at the start of every slideshow, so that those watching would know that the theme was changing. Some, no matter how I fiddled, were just too short, for the song I wanted to use as well as for a sense of balance, and I ended up going back to our archived photos disk to add more.

Finally, at about 2:30 last night, I was essentially finished. The only thing left was to go over the whole thing and see what tweaking needed to be done. This morning, I was back at it. Together with the girls, we watched the whole thing while I made notes about any changes I wanted to make. By lunch time, it was done to the point I felt I could burn it and test it on the tv. Then we went out.

This evening, I burned the first disc. By the end of it, the whole thing took up almost 3/4's of a 4 gig DVD, with about 1/3rd of that space being taken up by the music. It took a while to burn that much! (need more RAM... 1.5 gigs isn't enough! *L*) Then, the girls and I watched it (Dh went down for a nap, but was so tired, he ended up calling it a night, too).

In all, it's about 1 1/4 hours long. There's only 1 problem with it. One of the slideshows has a skip to it. I think it's because that particular slideshow is much longer than the others, and that perhaps that's causing a problem, but I'm not sure. I certainly can't find any cause for it. I think we're stuck with it. Which means...

It's done! All I need to do now is burn enough copies to send out to family - and this time, remember to keep one for ourselves. :-D Our stack of blank DVDs is going to go down a lot by the time it's done!

All in all, I'm quite pleased with this project. Considering how many more pictures we're taking now, and the photo expeditions we're planning to take once the weather becomes more pleasant, I will definitely not wait an entire year to do the next one. I might go by seasons, or by project.

The best part is that it's basically hassle free for my parents. All they need to do is stick it in the DVD player like any other movie, hit play, and off it goes. Sure, they can select individual slideshows if they want, but even that much fussing is often more than they want to bother with. The last I called them, they hadn't received the short DVD I'd already made, so I don't know how they like it. That's something to find out when I call this weekend. That disc had "safe" pictures - pictures I was pretty sure my mother wouldn't take offense at. Unfortunately, that meant few pictures of Eldest, who's been exploring the boundaries of hair colour and funky make up.

This new disc not only includes photos where her hair and make up can be seen, in some cases, they dominate! Then there's youngest, who was shaved absolutely bald so she could go as Count Von Diesel for Halloween, so for quite a while, she had no hair at all. Heck, even some of the tunes are in genres that wouldn't go over as well with my parents. At first I was planning to make this second, extensive, DVD for the other grandparents. They may not *like* that we're letting the kids do stuff like this, but at least they're accepting of that fact that we're all grown up now and it's our responsibility to make these choices, not theirs.

Having gone over the images (over and over and over and over again!), I've decided that there's just too much good stuff on there not to share. I will be making over half a dozen copies total to mail out, including one for my parents. If they don't like it, they don't have to watch it. They'll still have the other one.

Besides. Sometimes, my mother surprises me. She might actually like it.

I'll just have to keep an eye out for another flying pig. They're not as rare as I'd thought.

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