How Video Editing Works

Video Editing: Basic Concepts

So far, we've discussed the equipment you will need to edit video. Now let's learn the basic concepts you will need to know in order to use that equipment.



The first concept is called capture. You have to move all of the footage out of the camera and onto your computer's hard disk. There are three ways to do this:

  1. You can capture all of the footage in a single file on your hard disk. A half hour of video footage might consume 10 gigabytes of space. (Note that some operating systems and video editing software packages limit file size to 2 gigabytes. Other packages put a 30-minute limit on file size.)
  2. You could bring it in as five or 10 smaller files, which together will total 10 gigabytes but will be a little more manageable.
  3. You can have a piece of software bring in the footage shot by shot. Adobe Premiere can do this manually, but a program like DVGate Motion (which comes standard on many Sony computers) can automatically scan the tape, find the beginning and end of every shot, and then bring them all in. Each shot will be in a different file when it's done. If you have access to a program like this, it makes your life very easy.

If you have just a few minutes of footage, technique #1 is the way to go. If you have an hour of footage, techniques #2 and #3 are useful.

AVI and MOV files The capture process will create AVI (on the PC) or MOV (on the Mac) files on your hard disk. These files contain your footage, frame by frame, in the maximum resolution that your camera can produce. So these files are huge. Typically, three minutes of footage will consume about 1 gigabyte of space. You can never have enough disk space when you do a lot of video editing. The Mac we use here at HowStuffWorks for most of our editing has almost 300 gigabytes of fast SCSI disk space, and Roxanne is always having to archive stuff off of it to make room for the new material we are working on.

Shots Once you have all of your footage into your machine, you need a way to select the parts that you are going to use. For example, let's say that you want to include a scene in your birthday movie that shows the candles on the birthday cake being lit. You filmed this activity from three angles and have three minutes of raw footage total. But in the final movie you are going to have 15 seconds of the movie devoted to this scene, in the form of three shots:

  • A 3-second shot showing a match being lit
  • A 5-second shot showing a close-up of one candle on the cake being lit
  • A 7-second shot of the cake with all the candles lit being carried into the room

Out of the big file of all the footage, you need a way to mark the beginning and end of these three little clips so that you can move them around as individual units and bond them together into the final scene.

You do this by looking at the raw footage and marking an IN and OUT point for the little sections that you want to use. Then you drag these little clips onto the timeline.

Timeline Once you have your shots figured out, you need a place to arrange them in the proper order and hook them together. The place where you do that is called a timeline. You line the shots up in sequential order. Then you can play them as a sequence.

With just three concepts -- capture, shots and timeline -- you can make a movie. It will not be fancy, but it will be 10 times better than watching raw footage. Let's run through these steps and create a movie with them.