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PapaJohn's Newsletter - Dividing a Complex Project into Sub-Projects


I wish Movie Maker 2 had a 'complexity meter' similar to the disc full meter of MyDVD shown at the left.... to give you some feedback about how much complexity has been used and how much remains. I've mentioned this to the Movie Maker team at Microsoft.

But it doesn't. As you add more and more clips, transitions, effects, text, music, etc, the complexity of the project increases. Without a meter, you have to rely on other feedback.

If you wait too long, you might get this familiar 'Can't Save Movie' message and cringe.

Or maybe worse. You finished the project and try to render it. At some point the rendering progress slows down or stops, and the estimated time to completion keeps moving higher. You see something like this, or with an even higher number: 6 hours to finish, yet your movie is only 10 minutes and you've rendered drafts of it before in less than 1/2 hour.

The Problems Solving > Can't Save a Movie page of my website has lots of info about what the issue might be, and how to check or resolve it. You can take steps to defrag your hard drive, add more memory, tweak your virtual memory settings, etc.

But even with a powerful and well tuned computer, Movie Maker 2 has a memory-related constraint that you can bump into it when your project grows in complexity. At some point, you might have to bite the bullet, divide your project into sub-projects, and then add the pieces together for your final movie. But how???

That's the subject of this week's newsletter. I'll take a complex project and break it down into sub-projects, using one that I recently did in order to illustrate it.


A couple items before continuing with the weekly topic:

After distributing last week's newsletter about PhotoStory, I did some more testing of custom profiles and ended up with a new web page on the PhotoStory website for widescreen 16:9 profiles. Check it out at - it's the beginning of the Learn More > Advanced Topics page.

Today I submitted the last of 14 advanced Movie Maker hacks that I'm contributing to a new book about Windows Media Hacks. It'll be published by O'Reilly as another in this popular series. Writing them has been my priority for the past two months. Now I'm back to a more normal involvement in newsgroups and forums. But you might not have noticed my pullback.

Dividing an Overly Complex Project into Sub-Projects

The phase before the problem begins:

A project grows in complexity as it progresses. It's easier and better if you pick up on a couple advanced clues, and divide the project before being forced to.

Here's my example.

I was asked to put together a 3-1/2 minute video for a surprise party for Paula. It was to be shown on big-screen plasma screens at a party at a big casino in Connecticut. I was locked into a project with a real deadline, but I had lots of time to do it.... at least it looked that way early on.

The project was very interesting, as the person I was doing it for (Paula's husband) is a user of Movie Maker 2 and wanted to be involved in the editing decisions. He mailed me family pictures to scan. I e-mailed the project file drafts, and posted the source files on a server for his downloading. We worked on the details together, each of us 1000 miles apart and editing the same project

As the draft phase moved along, the project file drifted up in duration from the original 3-1/2 minute target. By the time we reached the first draft that was serious enough to start revision control numbering, it was up to 8 minutes and 43 seconds. That's the file in this list named Paula1.

Paula - ProjectHistory

The early warnings and the 'time to sub-divide' decision

A project sometimes grows in complexity. The Paula3 project was double Paula1, at 16 minutes and 18 seconds. Paula4 was 18 minutes and 25 seconds, and the end wasn't in sight.

I was seeing a general slowing of Movie Maker 2 during editing. It had become generally sluggish as I did each step. I'd have to wait for seconds at times to let it finish doing what it was doing, before I could ask it to do anything else. I found myself re-saving the project after every few steps, running into a number of times when the project hung so long that I'd shut down MM2 to try again, and I'd be cringing at the thought of adding another effect or transition. The fun was waning and the concern mounting.

It was a couple days from the party. I bit the bullet and carved the project into sub-projects. I wasn't going to wait until the final render and hope it would do it..... I couldn't risk it.

From that point on, there were no issues. MM2 was snappy and happy. The final project duration was 20 minutes and 27 seconds, with lots of additional transitions, text, etc. all easily added to the sub-projects and folded into the complete movie.

A thumbnail of the rest of the story

This project was pretty easy to sub-divide. The movie was mostly a slideshow of still pictures that showed segments of Paula's life (it was a 40th birthday party). Each segment had different music and there was a long pause between segments with a black transition and silence. It couldn't have been easier to pick the dividing points between segments.

Movie Maker could have easily handled it in 2 or 3 segments, but it was better for me to subdivide it into 8. With our e-mailing and last minute editing decisions going down to the 11th hour, it was easier to reach final agreement on a segment by segment basis.

This figure shows the sub-projects. The durations were: A - 2:27, B - 2:19, C - 3:39, D - 1:23, E - 2:55, F - 2:14, G - 2:32, H - 3:54


Each segment was rendered to a DV-AVI file and then added together as clips in these final project files .... the one with the first 7 segments was 16:37 in duration and the one with all 8 was 20:27.

Final Projects

Note how small the final project files were, less than 10 percent the size of each segment. The rendering times reflected the differences as the final rendering of the entire movie was quicker than the individual renderings of each segment. The segment renderings had to fold in all the effects, transitions, music and text.

The movie files themselves ended up as shown in this figure. The one named Paula-Complete was the first 7 segments combined... a 201 MB high quality WMV file. The PaulaH file was the 8th segment, the finale with lots of 'Happy Birthday' singing in it, with flashback pictures from the 7 life segments.


After the final renderings, I uploaded these two files to a server, and David at the other end downloaded them onto his laptop. At the casino he plugged the laptop into the A/V system and played the files on the big screens. It went over fantastically!!! And there were no tapes or DVDs involved.... just high quality WMV files transmitted via the internet.

The final rendering versus what it would have been:

Here's what the timeline of the final project file looked like, 8 clips of each segment strung together with appropriate fade transitions between them as needed.

Going back to that final draft just before subdividing, and thinking about what the final rendering would have been. Here's what the timeline looked like, a bit shorter in duration than the one above, but with a complexity that is obvious. Complexity enough to bog down MM2 (my laptop has 512 MB of RAM and a 2.4 GHz CPU). And the project still needed more music, text, effects, etc.

Pre-split Project

Notes and guidance about subdividing

Unfortunately the time to subdivide a project is probably during the homestretch toward a deadline. I suggest relaxing as best you can, sitting back and taking on overview look of the project file.

Look at the whole project in the timeline view and think about possible ways to subdivide it. There's no right or wrong way to do it, but there are easier or harder ways.

In my case, the way to do it was an easy decision, with the video and audio pauses between segments.

One way to split a project that's always easy to implement is to do the audio/music in one file and the rest of it in another, and put the 2 clips together into the final movie. How to delete all the music from my project and render just the video would be obvious. The harder one is how to delete all the video and render just the music. Let's look at that a little closer.

Click on that last clip on the video track (see the above figure). It's big and easy to select. Then press the Control-A keys (select all), followed by the Delete key. 3 keys pressed takes away the video clips, transitions and audio associated with the video. It gets you to this point.

Video Deleted

It's almost ready to render... just have to get rid of those title overlays.... do like you did on the video track. Select any of those you can grab with your mouse. Then another Control-A followed by the Delete key. Now you're at this point. A total of 6 keys were pressed to get to the point of having only audio/music.

Text Deleted

It's important and great that the music doesn't snug up to the left on the timeline as video clips do. With  music being the only thing left on the timeline, all you have to do now is save the movie. When MM2 sees music only, it'll give you choices for WMA files, not WMV. Save it and use it as the audio track for the final movie, perfectly aligned with the video track.

Rendering the video and audio separately might just be enough to let you render your complex project. You'll probably be able to render the audio file. If you have problems rendering the video, it'll be much easier to subdivide without the audio . Zoom into the timeline and find convenient places to split the video track. Just note the points of splitting so you can be sure to have the audio and video in sync when done. The most difficultly you'll have is in noting which transition was used between clips and adding it back between two big clips in the final project. That's not very hard, but note the duration of the transition in addition to the type.

That's as far as I'll take this subject in this newsletter. I just want you to know that it's usually easier to subdivide a project than it is to think about subdividing it. And once done, the rest of the project will be easier to work with... and your renderings will work.

I look forward to any comments or discussion about this newsletter on the forums at


Movie Maker 2 -
Photo Story 2 -

Products and Services

I'm involved in many things that support the users of Movie Maker and PhotoStory, and adding more daily. Here's a list of those that are available to the public. Some are free and others are reasonably priced.


Movie Maker 2 - Do Amazing Things Do amazing things(with its online companion on

Movie Maker 2 - Zero to Hero (with support on the Friends of Ed forum)

Zero to hero

Wrote 14 hacks that will be included in a new O'Reilly book about Windows Media Hacks

When ordering these books, I'd appreciate you using the links to Amazon on the main page of


Movie Maker 2 - - with two goals: to help you solve problems, and to be the online companion to the Do Amazing Things book

PhotoStory 2 -

Online Support - Forums and Newsgroups:
I'm a regular at many online forums and newsgroups, the main ones being:Windows Movie Makers

Movie Maker 2 and PhotoStory 2 forums at

SimplyDV Forums

Movie Maker 2 forum at -

Movie Maker 2 newsgroup at microsoft.public.windowsxp.moviemaker

PhotoStory 2 newsgroup at

Weekly Movie Maker 2/PhotoStory 2 newsletter. Subscribing is free via the link on the main page of

Tentative topics for upcoming newsletters (subject to change):

#9 - File formats: Which ones work in MM2? What formats are needed for discs, tapes, etc?

#10 - (open to your suggestions)

#11 - (open to your suggestions)

Newsletters are archived by Rob Morris at

Software:Transition Maker 2
Transition Maker 2 - a utility that you can use to make the ultimate in personal and custom transitions for Movie Maker 2 -

Pixelan software

I routinely do beta testing for Pixelan and think very highly of their people and products: Their SpiceFX packages of additional transitions and effects for Movie Maker 2 are available at:

Fee-based services:

PapaJohn's Movie Maker 2 services

If you can't save a movie from your project, I'll divide an overly complex one into manageable sub-projects and provide detailed instructions to render the parts and assemble them into your final movie. $49.95 - for details, see the sidebar on the Problem Solving > Can't Save Movie page of

Movie Maker 2/Photo Story 2 training and support services start at $50 per hour - email with an outline of your needs. I'll work with you to define and implement the project.

About John 'PapaJohn' Buechler from
John 'PapaJohn' Buechler John "PapaJohn" Buechler, of Kalamazoo, Mich., goes by PapaJohn online. An avid user of Movie Maker since its first release, and a regular supporter of the community of Movie Maker users, John received a 2003 MVP award from Microsoft for that support. In March 2003, he started a comprehensive website about Movie Maker 2 at He maintains the website, writes books and articles, teaches, and provides support services - all for the community of Movie Maker 2 users. An engineer by formal education, John is a computer database and multimedia expert by business and personal experience. He co-authored the first book about Movie Maker 2 and is actively working on a second one. You can find his advice in the Windows XP Movie Maker newsgroup and in the Windows Movie Makers Forums.

This newsletter is republished with permission of John "PapaJohn" Buechler. Please note that this is an archive of newsletters and some information may become outdated. PapaJohn, and the webmaster of this site, provides this information "AS IS" with no warranties.



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