Follow along with this sample project to see how a fully edited video comes together.
This article is adapted from one part of a "Get Started in Video Editing" seminar by Noble Desktop. Follow along with the demo by going to the Degrees chapter in the seminar.
So what does an actual editor do on a project? Let's look at an example: making a skating video in Premiere Pro.
Let's say you are given a job to create a skating promo video, and the client has an idea or a concept of what they want. You'd meet with them to discuss that concept. You’d take notes, of course, because that's how we do it. You would come up with an idea of what you want to show.
Maybe this client already has some music or audio in mind, or maybe they give you an audio file for the background. You'll have to ensure they have the legal rights to use that audio, but that's a different issue. We'll assume that, in this case, they have. Maybe they're also giving you some video they’ve created, or maybe the video is from a stock website. For this example, let's assume you have a legal right to use the video.
Assuming that you're not about to shoot more video: even if you get video from a client, you may have to supplement that with stock footage, depending on the story you're trying to make.
So let's say you have a folder on your desktop called “promo skateboarding,” and in that folder, you have another folder called “media.” In the media folder, you have a video, text, and audio folder. We're going to open a video of two skateboarders. You've got two audio files because you may need to make some adjustments, and then some text. The text is a quote by Tony Hawk that you can work in at the beginning. Instead of just using text on screen, you can animate that in After Effects.
For something like this, you're given the original audio file. You'd listen to and open it up in Audition, because the first thing to check with the audio is how loud it is. This is a waveform, which is a representation of volume over time. If you're recording your audio, normally you're told to record audio somewhere between -10 and -20 decibels. This is a lot higher. This is a song, so it's easily recorded, and it's really loud. Red, for the record, is loud. When it comes to volume, green is good. Red is bad, very, very bad.
When making a video for broadcast television, you would need the audio somewhere around -12 decibels. Because you're doing this one for output on the Internet, there's no standard, so you could probably go somewhere around -3 to -5 decibels for that. You would adjust this and alter and tweak it if needed. Once that is completed, you'll end up with the normalized file that you can work with in Audition. Taking care of any audio that needs to be adjusted is a good place to start your video editing project.
You can use Audition’s tools to check the audio volume, see what it was at, and then adjust it, pulling it down to a television level of -12. So if you listen to this music and it is blowing-out-your-eardrums loud, you should adjust that.
After that, you may want to bring all this stuff into the video editing program to see what you’ve got. The first thing in Premiere you need to do is make a project, and then you're going to bring the footage to the project to look at it. You're going to review it, see what you have, and see if it makes any sense visually, because sometimes you get stuff from clients and it's not necessarily the best footage that we could use.
You're going to make a new project called“Skateboard Promo.” Choose where to save it by selecting browse. Then, you can put it back in that Promo Skateboarding folder. By default, it wants to save it into the documents folder, but to keep everything together, you’ll want to save everything on your desktop to that skateboarding promo folder. That way, you can use that as the location to save your project. Premiere Pro makes you save a project first. The reason it does this is that it needs to actually make files of its own.
As of March 2022, anyone using Premiere Pro should know the interface is going to change soon. Right now in the beta format, they're trying out a different layout with the rationale that since you don't change these menus very often, they don’t need to be in front of your face when you make a new project.
Eventually, this dialog box is going to look different. It will have the name and location and then something different in the middle. The name and location are the important things here; everything else you can change later.
Select OK, and then go to the project we just made. Premiere Pro has what's called a workspace. This is its interface. When you first start the program, you're in the Learning space. Usually people start off in Editing, which is the default editing workspace. If you’re not the biggest fan of the default editing workspace, you can make your own process called My Editing that you can work with. Just like any other Adobe program, you can completely change the interface by just pulling these windows around, reconfiguring them, and just going into Window > Workspace. Once there, you can Save as New Workspace. The more you use the program, the more you’ll realize that you want your own custom workspaces.
When you start a new project, this is where you're working. You’ve got a panel called Program. This is where you’re going to see the live timeline content. After making your project, the next step is importing what you want to work with. We call that media, footage, or assets. So you're going to import it, and it says Important Media to Start. You can file import, use the keyboard shortcut command + I or control + I, right click > Import, or simply double click in the project to open the import dialog box. If you're on a Mac device, you can import multiple folders by highlighting several at a time. If you’re on a Windows device, it will not let you select more than one folder, but you can grab the parent folder. So if you highlight the Media folder with the three video, text, and audio folders inside, it will import all the subfolders and all their content.
In your promo skateboarding folder where you save your project, you will highlight the Media folder and click Import. This dialog box will tell you there’s an unrecognized file in here. This PKF file was made by Audition, and it's a preview file. This didn't interfere with your import. It just stopped that one file from importing.
In your preview of the project, you're going to switch to your list view because it gives you a list of the folders and open the folder up. The audio was imported, and the two audio files that were there came in. The video came in. You're going to make this column a little wider so you can see the full name. All those video files that were there came in.
The one thing that didn't come in exactly the same is the text folder. This is a weird glitch in the program: any folder you try to import that has a single file inside will only come in as a single file. For some reason, it will not bring in everything. You're going to click on the New Bin icon, make a new bin, click on the name and rename it “Text,” and then grab that text file and drag it in.
Text files are a little strange. Technically, they get imported, but they're not actually media. They're not editable inside of the program. If you double click on that text file, it opens your text editor so you can just copy and paste from it. Premiere Pro lets you import them, but technically it doesn't let you edit them. If you click on video and right click on that, you get a lot more options, including the new bin from sequence selection option that you were looking for. That's why we said that technically the text files do import, but Premiere Pro doesn't treat them the same way that it treats all the other files.
If you don't actually want your Media bin, you can drag the other bins out of it by clicking on them and dragging them through space. Once the Media bin is empty, so you can delete it. Just click backspace on the keyboard to delete.
If you like numbering stuff, you can number the folder. Let’s make this 01-video, click on the audio and call it 02, and text let’s call 05 so that if you make any other bins, it will be the last one.
Let's see our audio. This is the original file, the one that was too loud, and it is the one that you made in Audition, the normalized one. This is a lot lower. If you double click on that, you can preview it. If you double click on the first one, it's much taller. Height equals volume. This normalized one that you made earlier is the one you want to work with. If you play that, you can hear it.
After that, you may need to make some more stuff. Let’s say you know that you want to use this music, but you would also like to see what your video is. You can't really see which video this is; you can just see the names. That's not helpful, so you'll switch your view to icon view, which gives a visual preview. If you hover your cursor and move it left and right over the little thumbnail previews, you can scrub and preview them so you can get an idea of what this looks like visually. You cannot hear the audio when you scrub this, but if you need to hear audio, you can click on the preview and tap the spacebar on your keyboard to play it as audio. All of these have the audio stripped.
Now you can see what these videos look like. It's not bad, but they're a little small. Adjust that by using the little slider here to make them bigger, or you double click on the window to make it larger.
Let’s say you want to start your video project with the clip showing a nice overview of the city. First, you'll track back to the beginning as they're skating over the rooftops. It's a nice drone shot. Then, let’s go to the underground shot. Maybe this clip of the kids doing trick shots in the skatepark is a good clip to go next. But then you figure out this shot of him lacing up his skates is a better choice of your first opening shot, so you'll drag that to the beginning.
This is called a storyboard edit, and it allows you to organize how you want your footage displayed so that you can organize your story. You want to vary your shot distance, so this is a nice mid-shot. You're thinking a close-up of someone doing tricks might be cool. You don't want to end up on this shot of them from behind, so you'll make that your second-to-last shot and your last one.
Okay, that's kind of cool. Some of these you want to use more than once. This nice aerial shot is pretty cool. You might want to have this as an establishing shot of the area and then show the bridge flying out over it. You might want these at the end as well. With this, you can organize it into a nice little visual layout called a storyboard edit.
You have an idea of how you want to use these things, but you don't have any place to put them. If you double click on a clip, you can preview it in source, which lets you see it, listen to it, and trim it to shorten or pull out parts of it. If you want to assemble these, you need someplace to do that, and that's called a sequence.
A sequence allows you to lay out your content. A sequence displays on the timeline where it says currently no sequences. So you made your project, you imported your files, you previewed your files, but now you need a place to put them. If you hover over these clips, you can see what size they are.
These all look like different sizes if you hover over them. If you look at the second line, this one is 3840 by 2160, and that one is as well. These are 4K files. Some of these 4096 ones are extra widescreen. There are several different sizes that go into your project.
You can have high def footage, maybe 920 by 1080, or 1287 by 1080. These are all pixels. You can have 4K footage. You can have footage that is ultra widescreen, that's maybe 6K or 8K.
There are a lot of different sizes that this video can be made in. You have to make your sequence in one of them, and it’s easiest to make it in whatever the majority of the footage is, which in this case is 4K.
Here’s the clip you want to be the first one you want to use, but do you want to use all of it? Let’s say you only want to use a little bit where he's tying his shoes. So, you're going to trim this clip. You don't want the beginning (before 19 frames), and you can move your playhead to where you want to trim the clip. This dark gray area will not be included when you add this clip to your timeline. That gives you a three-second clip. You'll mark this out out, so now that’s a two-second clip that you'll use.
Grab it and drag it to your timeline, and it’s going to make your sequence for you. Here is your sequence right there. The program took the name of the file, “Man tying his shoes,” and used that to make the sequence height and framerate.
If you don't want that name, so you're going to rename this one “Promo Skateboarding Main.” That's your sequence, and you can start adding stuff to it.
Next, you’ll start with your audio. Let’s listen to it. This is 29 seconds. That’ll work, so you'll drag that into your timeline. You can't really see this, so you're going to use a keyboard shortcut, shift + plus, which makes them taller. You don't want to start with this loud music in the beginning, so you're going to right click on that audio clip and Apply Default Transition, which will give you a nice fade.
There are parts in the music that are higher and lower, the beat of the music. When you're cutting a promo or a music video, you want to cut so that each clip ends to match the beat. When you made this clip, you just made an arbitrary length, but you want to have it match the beat. As you play it, listen to it, and zoom in, which is plus on the keyboard, you can see changes in the music where it's higher. you'll take your selection tool and drag that clip to make it longer so it lines up. Now, your next clip will be right as the music changes, which will hide those edits better.
Minus on your keyboard zooms out of your timeline; plus on your keyboard zooms in. Backslash on your keyboard fits everything in your timeline. Then you would go grab your next clip, figure out where you want it to start and stop, add that to your timeline, and so on until you get a nice rough layout of your clips. That'll be your rough cut. You would then use the editing tools in the program to refine that rough cut and keep working on it to make it more refined.
That's the basic editing process. Yes, it’s simplified. In general, the music for a promo like this or a music video or something with the voiceover, it's audio-driven. So audio's the first thing on your timeline. You don't want to do anything to screw up the music, so you would use one of the common features in video editing programs to lock the timeline. Once that's been locked, nothing you do can interact with it. You can then freely add the rest of your clips, adjust them, trim them, shorten them, or delete them.
One last note is that for the timeline itself, you can use shift + plus to make it taller and shift + minus to make it shorter. The video tracks in the timeline work like layers in other programs, if you’re familiar with those, where you can stack content one on top of the other.
Video Editing Software
Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, Avid, and all major video editing programs have features for creating basic graphics, basic animation, and basic text. They all have compositing features, but for serious animation, you'd want to use After Effects, or Motion if you’re using Final Cut Pro.
That's a general overview of the video editing process with Adobe Premiere Pro. You could have done the same thing with Avid, Final Cut Pro, DaVinci Resolve, or any other video editing program. Certain aspects of the editing process are global, like how to cut. The principles of editing will work no matter what software you use. That's the cool part.
Everyone has their own preferences, and you could use any of the options above to complete the project we just did. There's a program called iMovie that you get almost for free when you buy a new Mac, and there was a film at South by Southwest about ten years ago edited in iMovie. Some things are global and will always work no matter what you do, and other things you'll find are better with professional-level programs. The only real reason to learn professional editing software is if you plan to work in certain industries where that software is prevalent. If you want to work in editing in New York City, you have to match what they want you to use.