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A Moviemakers Guide to "Wired" QuickTime

August, 2001

A Moviemakers Guide to "Wired" QuickTime

By Clifford VanMeter 

About this Article:
Cliff VanMeter gives us a guide to adding interactivity
to your finished Final Cut Pro Movie using Quicktime Pro

So you've read the title and about now you might be you are saying to yourself, "QuickTime, what?" probably followed closely by, "What do I care, I'm a filmmaker."
Well, to answer that first question- if you've seen, and the X-Men, or the Lord of the Rings trailers on the Apple Movie site, you've already been exposed to interactive, or "wired" QuickTime.
As to the second question, let me answer that with a question of my own; how are you planning on delivering your finished Final Cut Pro movie? If your answer involved CD ROMs, or the Internet you should care... you should definitely care.
You see, its all about adding value to the delivery.... and to the story. You have to separate yourself from the herd of other films, short and long, that are out there. Adding interactivity is like adding another storytelling layer to your movie. With wired actions you can create on a whole new level. Imagine DVD-like interfaces for delivering video on the web with:
  • Alternate language tracks and subtitles
  • Director's commentary
  • Deleted scenes
  • Alternate endings
  • Alternate camera angles within a scene
  • Behind the scenes information such as interviews with the actors and the director

A good example of this is the BMW Films player. You've seen it... and if you haven't you sure should. These are short films by directors like John Frankenheimer and Ang Lee done for the web and funded by BMW. The custom player environment incorporates almost all the features mentioned above by using wired QuickTime.

QTI trailer for Kyra: The Cursed
with a custom skin. 

Interactivity also opens up whole new storytelling approaches for the moviemaker by making the viewer's role pro-active, rather than passive. In fact, you really can't call them viewers at that point... they become "participants" in your story. For example you could:

  • Create "random access" stories... Where the viewer can choose the order of the scenes.
  • Create a "branching" stories that follow an individual through a scene, but allows the viewer to selects a different individual to follow at any time.
  • Create interactive stories... more than a movie, but different than a game, where viewer interaction changes the outcome of the movie.

A more specific example is an idea I've been developing some time now. A series of vignettes following a small group of individuals at a party. The opening scene is the party itself and the viewer will be able to click on a person in the group, zoom in on that person and then follow that person as they wind their way through the party and interact with the other partygoers. Clicking on a different person gives you a different perspective on the story... or a whole new story. The idea is to make it an experience that changes for the participant each and every time they open the movie. That's possible with wired QuickTime.
For me, the one of the most exciting things about wired QuickTime is that it brings something new to the table.... something totally unique with regard to storytelling. This is something that sets digital video, and digitally delivered video (via CD or the Web) completely apart from the passive viewer experience of traditional movies and TV, yet still afford the moviemaker the kind of depth that a game setting does not.

Duality - Times Three 

QuickTime also offers powerful movie-in-a-movie (MIAM) capabilities. QuickTime is after all a container technology (like those Russian nesting dolls). You can have one movie play inside another; even have one movie control another. This means you can have a downloadable or e-mailable custom player that loads its movie via RTSP or Progressive from the Internet. You can have multi-channel players mixing RTSP and Progressive in the same interface. Even run movies side-by-side in the same player. I remember a presentation at a previous (lafcpug) meeting by Dave Macomber and Mark Thomas on their short film Duality. They showed the storyboards, the movie and the blue-screen shots in three tiers.  Not only could we do exactly the same thing for web delivery in QuickTime, we could turn on-and-off the features at will and use different settings even different codecs to compress each version and still play them side by side (or top to bottom in this case), for comparison. You can also go beyond a single movie presentation and create completely custom, browser free (or browser optional) movie-sites. These QuickTime "micro-sites" offer a far more controlled environment than the browser experience provides and greater interactivity. My own company website,, uses QuickTime for everything. I present a number of samples of past work by launching wired QuickTime movies, from a wired QuickTime movie.

QuickTime - Browser = Custom User Experience 

There is only one HTML page on the site with an embedded QuickTime movie, which detects the version of QuickTime and the connection speed of the viewer, then directs them appropriately to various alternates. Every other part of the site is delivered into the QuickTime window.
So now you ask yourself, " Hey, All this interactive authoring stuff sounds real cool, but why does it mean I have to use QuickTime? Why QuickTime? What about Real and WMP?"
Okay, let's start with the numbers More than 150 million copies of the QuickTime Player are in distribution and the QuickTime plug-in has been shipping with both major browsers since version three. More than 75 models of digital video cameras use QuickTime to capture or display their files and the most talked about new imaging technology, MPEG 4 is based on QuickTime. In fact something like 90% all content delivered in every streaming format on the Internet, starts out as QuickTime and is transcoded from editing applications into those other formats. If you are using Final Cut Pro (and you probably wouldn't be here if you weren't) you're already using QuickTime.... and that's true for more than 20,000 other applications and content CDs on the market right now.

QuickTime is also a wonderful streaming format and offers a number of advantages over other formats. Chief among these are cost and scalability. Two issues that you'll eventually have to deal with if you are delivering via the web. For streaming QuickTime, you can install the FREE Darwin Streaming Server on just about all Windows platforms, Solaris and RedHat -as well as many other flavors of Linux, and FreeBSD, or you can use OSX Server with Quicktime Streaming Server or MacOS 9 with the Marlin Project all of which have no "server tax". With Real you can also install it on a number of platforms, but it gets very expensive. Take a look at Real's site for their "per stream" pricing and licensing. WMP is also free, but only runs on Windows NT or Windows 2000 servers.
That's another issue with QuickTime... dealing with a number of platforms and operating systems is just easier with QuickTime. QuickTime plays cross platform the same way on Windows and Macs, and actually sometimes works better on Windows because of certain memory management issues. Real's implementation is not fully Mac supported and even with extra plug-ins Real can't do what you can do with wired QuickTime --without the extras. WMP does not work properly on the Mac and not at all on Linux systems and its interactive capabilities are negligible. The current version of WMP doesn't even run on Windows 95 or NT a large installed base, which the current version of QuickTime does support. In fact, you can play any movie ever encoded in QuickTime right back to QuickTime version one in the current player. Even Event Stream, the technology for embedding links in video supported by Media 100 applications like the Media 100i and Cleaner 5, offer a feature set that is a fraction of that QuickTime can do.

Another point in QuickTime's favor is that the most often quoted numbers on player usage are deeply flawed. According to Media Metrix Quicktime runs a distant third in usage to Real and WMP., but that's not the whole story. Media Metrix only measures RTSP (Real Time Streaming Protocol) broadcasts into the player. In addition to RTSP, QuickTime also makes use of "Progressive Download" or "HTTP Streaming". This type of delivery allows the user to view the video while it's downloading and doesn't require a streaming server at all. Its also makes QuickTime invisible to the "bean counters" calculating player usage. Even though this type of delivery offers higher quality video, and the ability for patient viewers to download larger movies regardless of the user's connection speed. So sites like Apple's Movie site (the most visited movie trailer site on the web with 1 million+ hits per day) which uses progressive download and QuickTime embedded into the web page, don't get counted at all.
And that's another thing to consider regarding delivery methods... QuickTime affords the author the choice of serving it into the standard player, customizing the player by using skins, or embedding the movie directly into a web page.
Top sum it up... QuickTime can handle any combination of codecs, any number of video tracks -with mixed codecs and/or data rates, any number of audio tracks -with mixed codecs, static graphics in dozens of formats, plus MIDI, VR objects and panoramas, animated sprites, interactive sprites, Text, Chapter tracks, even Flash authored SWF files and deliver alternates based on computer power, free memory, connection speed, language and other criteria using either progressive or RTSP streaming. It's the swiss army knife of video delivery systems.

There are reasons that people like Madonna and George Lucas use QuickTime to present their videos and movie trailers on the Internet.

The Tools
My approach to working with wired QuickTime is based around workflow and production. I have to be fast this is my business. Since most of my projects are quoted at a flat fee, I need to get jobs in and out as quickly as possible.  So I use a variety of tools for specific tasks working my way up the food chain from the simplest tool to get the job done to the most complex. As my granddaddy used to say, "Ya' don't drive a thumbtack with a sledgehammer or a railroad spike with a tack hammer." Grandaddy was a little weird, but he made his point; choose the right tool for the right job.

The first place to start is with QuickTime Pro. Its an amazingly powerful tool, and for adding things like text tracks (subtitles, and text effects), Chapter Tracks (simple navigation) and HREFs (links to URLs or other movies) you might not need anything else.
My next biggest gun is Applescript. There are dozens of free QuickTime specific, pre-scripted AppleScripts available from the Apple website. These little scripts can be used to set specific a parameters like auto-present (automatically go full screen), autoclose, add annotations, even automate embedding QuickTime movies into a web page.
Another excellent QTI tool is Adobe Go-Live. Not only does Go-Live make embedding and controlling QuickTime on a web page a simple matter, its unique QuickTime Editor allows you to choose from a selection of wired actions to add interactivity to your QuickTime movie. Its ability to work with native Illustrator and Photoshop files makes adding graphics like interactive controls a snap, and the familiar Adobe interface is intuitive and easy to use. There are even free video tutorials on the Adobe website to show you how to put the QuickTime editor through its paces.
Without a doubt the top of the food chain when it comes to QuickTime Interactive Authoring is LiveStage Pro. This is a program designed to do just one thing author interactive QuickTime, and it does it very well. I consider LiveStage Pro less of an application, than a programming language more like Visual Basic that Adobe Go-Live. Its ability to script the wired atoms in QuickTime is virtually unlimited, allowing the user to take full advantage of QuickTime's powerful authoring features.

Live Stage Pro 

The basis of LiveStage's functionality is its scripting language, Q-Script. Though in many ways similar to director's lingo or Flash's Action scripting language, this scripting language allows the developer to tap into those abilities that are unique to QuickTime. The drag and drop functionality of Livestage Pro makes it relatively easy for novice users to begin taking advantage of its advanced features right away.
All that said, you don't need to be a programmer to use LiveStage Pro. My own background is as an illustrator and designer certainly not a programmer. I was able to pick and use LiveStage very quickly thanks in part to the very active and helpful LiveStage Talk List, a part of Totally Hip's LiveStage Developers Network. You'll also find tutorials, AppleScripts and Behaviors (pre-programmed Q-Scripts) to make your job easier.


If you'd like to learn more about QuickTime Interactive authoring there are several ways to do so.
Ici Media offers several courses for LiveStage Pro. Their next course in the Los Angeles area is on October 12-14 during the QuickTime Live conference.
And that's another great upcoming event with tons of workshops relating to QuickTime and QuickTime Interactive. QuickTime Live is October 8-11. At the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Contact Paul Kent for more info.
The Energizing QuickTime with LiveStage Pro training CD-ROM will be released on September 8th you can Pre-Order it at the QTCDG site and get up to 25% off the suggested retail price.
Here is a list of some other useful sites related to QuickTime Interactive and the tools I've mentioned:
Adobe Go-Live Video Tutorials: Get'em while they are hot. Check out the QuickTime section of the training videos for a great jumpstart to using Go-Live's wired QuickTime authoring features.
Ursa Major Media: That's me, available for QuickTime consults, wired media production, interactive development, weddings and bar mitzvahs. You'll find some excellent examples of real-world projects done entirely with 100% pure QuickTime.
Apple: The mothership everything you've ever wanted to know about QuickTime, but were afraid to ask. Start here Hey, you wouldn't shoot a film without understanding lighting or lenses, would ya'?
Quicktime Dowload: Get the latest version of QuickTime here.
QuickTime Creative Developers Group: The QTCDG, my home away from home, a gathering of artists, programmers, and other creative types. Its new, but growing fast. A great place to find news, reviews and tutorials on QuickTime.
Totally Hip Software: The makers of LiveStage Pro, and a fantastic source for information about wired Quciktime. Be sure to check out the LiveStage developers Network (LSDN) and the LivStage Talk Archives.
LiveSite: Ian Mantrip's site. Ian is one of the premiere LiveStage guys and a developer of add-on tools for LiveStage that include Track Palette, and Shakespeare. You'll also find Ian's AppleScripts and Behaviors here Very handy, collect 'em all.
QuickTimers: A peek at one man's explorations in QuickTime. Very cool stuff that will spawn a lot of new ideas.

© 2001 Clifford VanMeter

About the author...

Clifford VanMeter began his career as an award winning illustrator and painter. An early adopter of computers for graphics, his first video software tool was still called "Movie Cleaner" at that time and he began his mastery of PhotoShop with version one. Most recently, Cliff has set new standards for the use of QuickTime as a multimedia authoring platform with projects like enhanced music CDs for Warner/Reprise artists Barenaked Ladies, and the Myst 3 Collectors Edition CD. Cliff is a current member of the advisory committee of the QuickTime Creative Developers Group, and a past lecturer/presenter at MacWorld Expo and QuickTime Live. He is currently the President and Creative Director of Ursa Major Media <>. He can be reached at

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