Of all the chapters in this handbook, this is most subject to change as
television production moves from the use of tangible forms of image
storage, such as slides or prints, to electronic storage. While slides
and prints are still important sources of pictorial images, in the
generation and use of titles and text, I have not used or even seen
anything other than computer-generated text since the mid nineteen
Titles and Artwork
material is very important in many types of programs. Certainly almost
any sort of show looks more polished and professional if it has, at
least, opening titles, and credits for the major members of the
production crew at the end. Other types of written and graphic material
may also be needed.
There are four main ways to incorporate graphic information into a television program.
CHARACTER GENERATOR is a computer that produces printed material
digitally and converts it into a form which is directly usable as a
Graphics can also be produced on LIVE CARDS, usually cardboard sheets about 11 x 14 inches, which are shot by a camera.
can be produced photographically in a variety of ways from the same
sort of originals used for live cards and can then be projected into a
special camera using a device called a film chain or projected onto a
white surface and shot by a camera.
COMPUTERs are used to generate most of the graphics now used in television at all levels.
generators differ significantly in their versatility and ease of use,
but mostly tend to look the same, consisting of a console with a
typewriter-style keyboard and, usually, a dedicated video monitor.
there are a number of special keys on the keyboard which control
specific functions of the character generator, such as page advance,
character size and type style, automatic centering, and perhaps other
options. There is always a set of keys to position (up, down, left,
right) a cursor which appears on the character generator's own monitor
(but not in the signal sent to the switcher) and indicates exactly
where on the screen the next letter will appear.
character generators allow for only a small number of characters on the
screen at once; ten lines of thirty figures each is typical. Actually,
this isn't a disadvantage. Small characters are difficult to see given
the limited resolution and large viewing distances of TV sets in the
home. This general principle applies to all graphics work for
television: keep it simple, make all important elements large, and try
to present complicated graphics in several pages, if needed, instead of
all at once. The output of a character generator is usually inserted
over other video by means of a key or matte.
generators become more sophisticated (and expensive), they may offer
some of these additional features: Most units can store more than one
"page" of graphics and allow you to recall them in order, or randomly,
by pressing keys. The ability to roll (vertically) or crawl
(horizontally) lettering across the screen is useful; rolling credits
are common at the ends of programs, and crawls are often used to make
announcements during a program at the bottom of the screen. Some
machines offer a disk or tape cassette storage system which allows
pages of characters to be stored for recall at any time, also extending
the page-storage capability of the character generator enormously.
Finally, more sophisticated character generators offer a wide variety
of sizes and styles (and sometimes colors) of characters, variable
italicization, outlines, shadows, and even the ability to create custom
characters or logos for regeneration later. Less expensive machines may
offer only one or two sizes of a single type font; the very cheapest
don't even have lower-case letters.
The major disadvantage in
the use of character generators for television graphics is that they
are at their best only when presenting rather simple textual
information. If you have in mind any kind of charts or graphs, or the
use of some special type style, you'll have to use something else.
computer graphics we used live artwork cards in front of a camera to
present graphics and photographs. Modestly stiff multi-ply cardboard in
cards about 11 by 14 inches were the most common background material
for live cards. This material is available at art supply houses in a
variety of colors and textures.
Lettering on live cards can be
done with dry transfer letters, again available at art and school
supply stores. This material is provided in large sheets containing
several complete alphabets of a particular type font. There are other
lettering systems too, sometimes faster or cheaper but seldom as
good-looking as well done dry transfer work.
In making up live
cards, it's important to assure that everything you need will be seen
on the television screen and that no extraneous material gets in.
Always allow a 1-1/2 to 2 inch border on all sides of a live card to
give some leeway in camera positioning and framing. This area should be
completely clear of dirt, pencil marks and other distractions, as
should, of course, the main picture area itself. Also, remember that
the dimensions of the television screen are four units wide by three
units high. A six by eight inch area in the center of an 11 by 14 card
would be a very safe one in which to compose your graphics. Usually
type no smaller than 24 point (1/3 inch high) would be used in a space
of that size.
35 mm still camera can be used to generate slides for use in
television. In any photographic work for television, remember that the
television system always crops the image slightly, so you'll see less
on the TV screen than appears in the original slide or film. The 35 mm
slide format also has a slightly different aspect ratio than the TV
screen; the pictures are wider. Thus, anything at the extreme edges of
the picture will not be reproduced.
Digital still cameras
normally have a 1.33 aspect ratio and almost all have more than the 640
x 480 pixels used in SD television graphics. Still
cameras featuring the same 16x9 aspect ratio as HD TV are now on the market.
It's wise to
allow a border of about 20% of the picture area on each side when
framing in the still camera's viewfinder to allow for this image
cutoff. This same precaution applies when shooting live-action
photographs for use in television. Some very expensive 35 mm cameras
have interchangeable focusing screens and make available a screen
marked with the appropriate television "safety" areas.
Here are the most important restrictions on the use of still photographs in television:
Observe the safe action area. As mentioned above, a border of about 20
percent is needed. For a quick and conservative approach, turn a 35 mm
camera on its side, as if shooting a vertical-format picture. The area
seen from right to left in the viewfinder can be reasonably expected to
be seen in the video image after you turn the camera back for the
2. Shoot only in horizontal format.
Vertical slides appear on TV with severe cutoff at top and bottom and
with a black border on each edge.
3. Keep contrast low.
Pictures taken in bright sunlight without additional fill light, or
indoors with a single flash unit, are often too high in contrast to
reproduce properly on television (although they may look fine when
projected on a screen). You should try to follow the same rules for
lighting still photographs taken for television that you would in
lighting for a video camera itself.
not as easy to use film in television as it seems it ought to be. Two
problems arise. First, film is usually shot without any regard for the
television safe action and title areas. The outside 20% or so of the
film image is lost in the transfer process. Second, film is shot at 16,
18 or 24 frames per second. Broadcast film chains use special shutters
in their projectors to repeat every fourth frame, bringing the frame
rate up from twenty-four to the thirty frames per second required for
television. Film shot at sixteen or eighteen frames per second can't be
synchronized to television without special projection equipment.
At one time virtually every television station had a film chain, both
for news film and for theatrical films. Now they are rare indeed. To
use film in a video production you will almost certainly have to
convert it to video at a photo store of duplicator that has the
necessary equipment. The transfer should be made to digital video, such as miniDV or DVCAM if
can be used to generate television graphics in live productions if
their output signals are adapted to the NTSC standard. Most often
computer graphics are integrated into programs during editing using
nonlinear editing programs.
Computer screen outputs differ from
standard NTSC video in several ways. First, most are "non-interlace."
That is, there is no division of the picture into alternating odd-line
and even-line fields. Second, the rate at which frames are displayed is
usually much faster than the nominal thirty frames per second used in
television. And third, many computer graphics displays leave a fairly
large border, or "safe area," around the active graphics area. The
television video area fills the entire screen. Although a variety of
add-on products might allow recording of computer images on videotape,
conversion to actual broadcast television standards requires a special
Even still images on computer take up a lot of space.
Each true broadcast-quality image requires about one million bytes to
display. To make transfer and storage of video images more practical,
two basic compression techniques have been developed, with more on the
JPEG compression deals with discrete images, one at a
time. Typical video frames can be compressed to one seventh of their
original size with no discernable reduction in quality. It is usually
possible in using JPEG compression to specify the degree of compression
desired, so noticeable image degradation can be avoided.
compression works on the assumption that much of the image from one
frame to the next in film or video remains the same. Except for key
frames, no single MPEG frame is complete and each has meaning only with
reference to the frame that preceded it.
Some additional observations on computer-based video can be found in the Editing section.