The creator of the video known as "Where the Hell is Matt?"--an inspirational montage that features Harding dancing a jig in 39 countries--was disappointed with the video's raw footage when he sat down to edit.
"It looked washed out," said Harding, 29. "But a friend told me about Sony's Vegas editing tool. It was great. I lowered the brightness and raised the contrast, and instead of a light orange, the dunes became burnt red, which is how they really look."
Consumer electronics and visual-effects creators are getting the message: The YouTube generation is clamoring for tools that can help polish and add a touch of Hollywood to their homemade videos. They're demanding ease of use, low prices and visual effects that wow audiences.
Most of the material found at Revver, Metacafe and YouTube typically doesn't include much in the way of production values. It's usually just some guy with a camera recording his dog, baby or girlfriend. But the numbers of people trying to infuse their work with a unique look and craftsmanship are growing, says YouTube videographer Stevie Ryan.
Ryan is an out-of-work actress living in Los Angeles whose videos are consistently among the most viewed and discussed on YouTube. She appears as different characters, such as the thickly accented Latina from East Los Angeles known as "Lil' Loca." She's also has appeared as Paris Hilton, a siren from Hollywood's silent-film era, and a rock-video glamour girl. She's able to pull this off in part because of the visual elements she's acquired.
"I go whole hog," the 22-year-old Ryan said.
She spends hours scouring the Web for video-effects software and has plunked down big money for digital fonts. She says she has to keep up with YouTube's growing list of serious video makers, who produce increasingly sophisticated clips.
The Bowiechick influence
One of the people Ryan singled out as one of YouTube's more artistic and technologically savvy videographers is Bowiechick.
Melody Oliveria, known as Bowiechick at YouTube, Breakup." As the self-described video blogger speaks to the camera about splitting with her ex, she simultaneously changes her on-screen appearance using computer graphics so that she looks like she's wearing Clark Kent glasses, or has strapped on a gas mask, or has transformed into a cat.last March when she uploaded "
The visual effects she used, made by consumer products maker Logitech, caused a stir in the video-sharing community. The clip, viewed 1.4 million times since March 20, also appeared to brieflyWeb camera, a Logitech Quickcam Orbit MP.
Known for making computer peripherals such as mice and keyboards, Logitechof video sharing as a potential boon, says Patrick Seybold, a company spokesman.
Last month, Logitech launched its most advanced Web cam yet, the $130 Quickcam Ultra Vision. In a statement, Logitech said that the camera offers twice the image clarity of other Web cams, "even our own."
The most expensive of Logitech's Web cams, the device is obviously targeting the video-sharing market. "The amazing growth of YouTube usage is driving the next wave of communication," Seybold said.
Jumpcut.com is also trying to tap into video sharing. The San Francisco-based company invites people to use its online editing tools for free. Users can cut their movie, add dissolves, sound effects, music, and in one of the coolest features, add clips from fellow video producers' libraries.
The tools found at the site are simple to use and will likely appeal to novice film editors, but they don't offer the sophistication of Apple Computer's Final Cut Pro or Avid's video editing software. Jumpcut users are also prevented from transferring their edited work to YouTube, although they can imbed videos elsewhere, such as a MySpace profile.
Jumpcut's CEO Mike Folgner said his company is trying to reach an agreement with YouTube to allow a transfer of videos.
Video-equipment dealer NewTek is after a decidedly higher end market than that served by Jumpcut. The company's NewTek TriCaster is a 10-pound box that packs its own editing software, a hard drive and a camera switcher, which allows a user to receive video feeds from multiple cameras.
At $5,000 the device is marketed to people who at the very least supplement their income from producing video.
But producing a blockbuster on YouTube doesn't have to cost a lot of money. "Some of the software you can get for the price of a pack of smokes," Ryan says. "Stop smoking and make good videos."
Harding decided to forgo spending big on high-end video cameras. In fact, he rejected video cameras altogether and instead opted for a Canon Powershot SD500 and a backup SD200. He says this comes as a surprise to people because the cameras are marketed for shooting still images. Yet, they also shoot brief video clips. They were inexpensive, are small enough to fit in his pocket and are durable.
"I've gone diving with serious underwater photographers in Borneo," Harding said. "They got depressed when they saw my high-quality stills and clips taken with these little cameras after they spent most of their dive time fussing with their high-priced equipment."
Ryan warns that big-ticket technology is never going to make up for a lack of creativity. Witty dialogue and compelling story lines matter more than jaw-dropping visual effects, Ryan said, adding that effects should be used more as props.
In Ryan's video "Playing with Loca," she demonstrates graphics downloaded from video-effects specialist Adorage that make Lil' Loca appear as if she is an artwork hanging in a gallery.
"That's right, it's the masterpiece," Ryan cracks with Loca's trademark bravado. "Forget about your little 'Mona Lisa.' You got little Mona Loca now."