A note on the purpose of this guide: It isn't to teach you how to rip footage, use your editing program, or anything else technical. There are other guides for that. Instead of focusing on how to do something, I'm going to focus on the common ways AMVs do it. This will be, of course, mostly opinion. Feel free to disagree if you want. It won't make you a horrible person, it won't cause your pet to get cancer, and it may not even mean you're a bad editor. The following are things to consider, not a checklist of what to do and certainly not things that should be mindlessly done just because I said so. Also note that often the most memorable videos intentionally go against the grain. Thanks to Arigatomina, Kalium, and Kionon for assistance. That being said, here's what I'm going to discuss:
Use of effects
Some lessons from the arts that are often neglected
The first thing to consider is why are you even interested in making an AMV? If your answer is because it looks like fun then great! That's exactly the reason to do this. If instead you want to win awards, become popular, or gain a following then you really need to rethink things. The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of AMVs out there and maybe a dozen of them are what could be called 'popular'. Odds are that you will never make one of those dozen or so. I'm not trying to discourage you from editing. I just feel it should be for the right reasons. If your main goal is the adulation of the masses then you need to find a different hobby. This hobby is supposed to be enjoyable. If you don't enjoy it then go do something else.
This attitude should also be kept in mind when you receive comments on your video or comment on others. I'm not saying other people's opinions don't matter, they just shouldn't matter as much as whether you enjoyed making the video or not. It's nice when others enjoy something you made but it's even nicer if you enjoyed it. Too often the org community gets wrapped up in an elitist ideal of editing. Ultimately if you had fun making a video then that video is a success.
Fundamental concept is what is the basic idea behind the video. In some cases it's to tell a story, in others it's to enhance mood, still others may be to try an effect or editing trick. The major aspect of concept is how you want your audience to view the video. Editing can take a long time and it's easy to get so involved with tiny details that you forget the overall design. If you've ever seen a drama video that had slapstick comedy footage in it then that is probably someone who made this mistake. So you should decide right at the start if you want your audience to laugh at your comedy, cry with your drama, feel their pulse race with action, etc. Keep that core idea in mind for all other decisions with your video.
The next aspect of concept is how you are going to hook the audience. AMVs use other people's art, other people's music, and frequently other people's plot, story, and characters. In order to capture your audience you need to bring something new or different. If your video doesn't provide anything more than the anime did, then why should we watch your video instead of just watching the anime?
This is where originality comes in. There are over 130,000 videos on the org itself, not to mention all the videos that have never been cataloged on the org. Lets face it, that's a lot of videos. If you don't have some spark of originality to stand out among the crowd your work will get written off as more of the same thing that we've all seen before. Originality is more than just using an anime/song combo no one else has used before, after all if anyone else ever uses that combo then both your videos become unoriginal. True originality is hard to describe, partially because there are so many different ways it can show up, but one thing is certain; if you blindly follow everything in this guide you will not be original. The entire point here is to highlight typical ways of doing things. Experiment with different things even if they go against what I'm saying in this guide. It may also help to experiment in your video editor. Often some of the most interesting effects can be found by just playing around. Some of those experiments will fail of course but the ones that succeed will be much more interesting and original videos for it.
Most videos fall within a few basic concepts so it helps to understand what those generalized concepts are:
One way of capturing the audience is to present a story. Like all stories you would start by introducing your characters and laying out the basic premise. Next would be the heart of the video where your characters actually do something. Following that would be the conclusion where you wrap up your story. Most music also follows this basic three-part structure, so your song will provide a natural guide for the overall layout of the video.
There are two approaches to story. First, you can simply retell the anime's story in a condensed form. This has the benefit of anyone who has seen the anime instantly gets what you're doing. They know who the characters are and they know what the major events are. This is convenient because in three minutes you aren't going to be able to do an entire anime's story justice. Even those who don't know the anime will generally pick up what's going on. Song choice is very important to this, so pay close attention to what the lyrics are and what they mean. You will want a song whose lyrics compliment the story and whose overall mood matches as well.
Second, you can craft your own story. This allows a lot more room for creativity but it also requires a lot more thought to get right. If you try this then keep the story simple. You only have a few minutes to tell your story. Text can help a lot to clarify your story, but you should use it in moderation. This is supposed to be a video rather than a text file after all. Show your story with video rather than describe it in text. Bear in mind that doing your own story does not mean you have to abandon the anime entirely. You can do something not in the original anime but still keeping the spirit of the anime. For example, there is no anime showing a fight between Naruto and DBZ but doing a video of that would fit the general theme of both anime.
Despite common perception, most AMVs are not story videos. AbsoluteDestiny's Storytelling - A Gothic Fairytale is a good example of one that follows the original source's story. E-Ko's Tainted Donuts is a good example of someone presenting their own story.
These are the videos where the entire point is to be tightly synced to every note of the song. Often these are upbeat or action videos. There are a variety of different syncs possible. I'll go into those later, but this style usually goes with the most prominent and noticeable types. Often there is heavy use of effects, but effects are not required. With good scene choice, what the characters are doing and who the characters are is usually unimportant. Instead scenes are chosen because they are full of action and/or are upbeat in nature. Decoy's Naruto Technique Beat is a good example of this style. Atvaark's Anthem is a lesser known and rather experimental form of this.
This is where the primary focus is on how the overall mood of the anime and the song match. Song lyrics aren't as important here; this type of video often uses instrumental music. As with sync videos, what is happening in the clips isn't meant to be the focus of the video. Instead how the scenes fit the overall tone of the video is what dictates scene selection. The goal here is not to present coherent meaning but rather to leave your audience feeling a certain emotion. Otohiko's She Was would be a good example of this type.
Sometimes the hook is to highlight aspects of a character or show a character in a new light. The difference between this and a story video is that here you aren't trying to present the story, it's an unspoken assumption that your audience already knows it. Instead you're showing aspects of a character. Think of it as the difference between explaining the anime to someone who has not seen it and discussing the anime with those who have. Since this style has the assumption that people already know the story, you're limiting your audience to only people who have seen the anime. There is nothing wrong with this, just be aware that someone who hasn't seen the anime probably won't understand the video well. Bakadeshi's 大切な思い - Taisetsu na omoi (Precious Memory) is a good example of a character profile, especially notable because it focuses on minor characters instead of the show's lead characters.
Now that we've discussed the basic concepts behind most videos, let's take a look at genre. There are several different genres of AMVs and the editing style is different for them. There's a lot of room to play with within these, but they tend to have some common traits.
Often the only real difference between action and upbeat videos is that one has more violence than the other. They're very similar in terms of common editing styles. Action videos use fast-paces songs - typically hard rock - to add excitement, while upbeat videos tend to use more fun and lighthearted songs. The lyrics often have little relevance to the video. Hard cuts are frequently used and cutting is done at a quick pace, to the point where it's rare for clips to be more than a second or two long. Scenes are usually selected for how much movement they have in them rather than a story coherence. Action videos frequently use footage from just one or two fights while upbeat videos are often multi-anime and use random upbeat scenes selected primarily for their mood. Most of these use the concept of sync videos and effects are frequently used to highlight the sync. Ileia's Gratuitous Violets or Chiikaboom's Attack of the Otaku are two good examples.
The only real difference between these three is whether you're supposed to feel depressed, content, or love. These videos usually use slower paced songs and frequently the lyrics of the song have great relevence to the video. Cuts are usually slow paced, it's not uncommon for a scene to be uncut for five or more seconds. Scenes are chosen for what they show or the mood they convey, rather than how much action is in them. Crossfades are common. While hard cuts and sync can be used, they usually aren't quite so in your face as with action/upbeat videos. Often there are little or no effects in these types of videos, but even the ones with substantial effects generally have them lower key than with other genres. Most character profiles, mood, and story videos are in these genres. Sync videos usually don't work well in these genres. Koopiskeva's Euphoria is probably the best known example, although its effects are far more obvious than is usual.
In this genre most 'rules' of editing get thrown out. The focus is very rarely on the music at all. Lipsync is common here and there is almost always some sort of story being presented. For a trailer video to work it is very important to match the sound effects of the audio and to present an overall coherence. For example, if we hear a door slamming then that's what we should be seeing as well, and if a character is lip synced to a voice the same character should be used for that voice throughout the video. Dokidoki's Plunder Propaganda is a comedic example of trailers.
Of all genres this one is the most varied in terms of editing. There are few overall guidelines for the genre and often this type of video intentionally breaks or parodies the styles of other genres. As long as someone laughs it's good regardless of how you edit. Dokidoki's Right Now is an example of a comedy video that still follows common video editing styles. XStylus's A Total Waste of 6min 35sec is an example of intentionally breaking common AMV styles for comedic effect.
I've mentioned different syncs a few times above, so let's go over what those types of sync are. One thing to keep in mind is that a good video will frequently use more than one style of sync. Changing the method of sync you're using is a good way to highlight different elements of the audio. For example, you may do lyric sync when there are lyrics and switch to beat sync for the instrumental parts of the song. This can also help prevent the sync from becoming too predictable. If a viewer can correctly predict what sync you'll use long before it happens then you may need to add variety.
Beat/ Cut sync
This style of sync is where everything happens either on the beat or with prominent notes in the audio. It's probably the simplest type of sync to do since it requires little more than hearing a note and cutting there. Effects are often used to highlight the beat as well, with white flashes being a very common one. Beat sync is the easiest to overdo so try to use it with some moderation. A flash at the high point of the music can add excitement, but a flash on every single beat of the entire song is an annoyance. This is most suited to action or upbeat videos and if used in slower paced videos will often ruin the overall flow and mood of the video.
As with beat/cut the importance here is to sync to the beat or prominent notes in the audio. Instead of cutting at that point some action in the clip is timed to happen with them. For a simple example, an action video where punches are thrown on drum hits would be internal sync. One thing to note, since you're timing the sync to something happening in the scene, your actual cuts from one scene to another will not be on those highlights. It often helps to time the cuts themselves to the beat and the internal sync to highlight prominent notes. If the cuts are off beat, many people will get the overall feeling there's something wrong; although, few may be able to pinpoint what exactly gave them that feeling. Internal sync works well with all genres, although it's mostly used in slower paced videos. Fast paced videos typically focus more on beat sync although many do use internal sync.
This one is fairly straightforward; you show a scene of what the lyrics are saying. If the lyrics mention the word rose, show a rose. The timing of the cuts is usually based on lyrics with each line being a single scene. One problem with this sort of sync is that many viewers don't actually listen to the words in a song and with many songs it's very hard to understand the lyrics while casually listening. So if you do lyric sync you may want to pick a song with clearly sung lyrics and stick to only syncing the most obvious lines. If the first time you heard the song you didn't understand the lyrics then chances are your audience won't either the first time they see your video. Another common mistake is to take lyric sync to far. For example, a video that is supposed to be a drama concerned with someone dying may show a party of entirely different characters just because the lyrics mentioned the word party. I would recommend that once you're done editing then mute your audio and watch the video. If a certain scene looks like it doesn't belong without the audio then chances are it really doesn't belong no matter how well it matches the lyrics. Be aware that most people process what they hear slightly slower than what they see. If you time it perfectly so that rose shows up just as the lyrics say rose it will actually appear to most viewers like you showed the rose too soon. I'd suggest either keeping the rose scene up for a few seconds so people can process it as matching the audio or intentionally mis-sync it so the rose appears a few frames after the word is said. This type of sync works for all genres although it's hard to do with action/upbeat since those usually use songs with difficult to hear lyrics. Finally, there is a potential language barrier to be aware of. Not all viewers will understand the language your lyrics are in.
This is where the emotions evoked when listening to the music is matched with an equally emotional choice of visuals. Another description of this would be 'flow'; where the clips used all feel like they belong together, none stand out as different from the others, and they match the overall tone of the audio. An example would be using a Celine Dion song using as many romantic scenes as you can find. Those scenes may not match what the actual lyrics are, but they would certain match the overall romantic quality of the song. Almost every video should have this, but usually it is a secondary type of sync and the viewers don't even notice it. Viewers will certainly notice if it isn't present though. Inserting a kissing scene in middle of an action video tends to draw attention. Some videos make this type of sync the primary focus, usually dramas and almost all sentimental videos.
If you are using multiple anime there are issues with mood sync that are commonly overlooked. In many cases, the art styles of anime are different enough that they can be jarring when used in the same video. Compare Death Note with Sailor Moon to see what I mean. There are several possible ways around this to help keep the flow and mood going. Depending on the series used, the main difference might just be the color palette. For example, one show may have dark and muted colors while the other has bright primary colors (again, compare Death Note to Sailor Moon). In those cases, simply adjusting the saturation, levels, or brightness may help to make the colors clash less and flow together better. An alternate method would to be use effects to hide the differences. If you add static to footage from both series, the eye will tend to view the footage as similar because the static serves to unify them. This isn't always the ideal solution, but it may be the only thing possible in some cases. A third possibility is to use the differences to your advantage. If you use only one series for the lyrics and the other series for the instrumental parts, then the differences actually help highlight the different parts of the music. These are only a few possibilities, but this issue is something to keep in mind when using multiple anime.
This is where the character's mouth movements match the words being said so that it appears the characters themselves are singing the song. There are several frequent mistakes done with this that I'd like to cover.
There are several ways to do lip sync. The most common way is to find a scene where the character faces the screen, freeze that scene, and use masking to change the mouth position as needed. The problem with this is that there is almost no movement at all in the scene. If it's longer than a couple words it ends up looking entirely too static, and disrupts the flow of the video. Talking scenes are also usually visually boring, and the last thing you want your video to be is visually boring. I'd recommend keeping lip sync scenes short, usually no more than a few words at a time. It may help to add motion to the scene even if it's a simple zoom or pan, although that would still be visually boring it does help keep the flow of movement. Better still is if there is internal motion in the scene, such as the character's hair blowing in the wind or something happening behind the character.
Often editors try to match the lip movements exactly. Some go so far as to look in a mirror while saying the words to get the movements exactly correct. As odd as it may seem, getting this detailed with lipsync actually ends up looking wrong. The problem is that we work with animated footage where the original animation does not get the lip movements correct. If you match lip movements you'll find you're changing the lips on almost every frame, but if you look at the anime you'll notice it only changes mouth movements every two or three frames. By matching lip movements exactly the end result will look too fast. Also, to get lip movements matching correctly you would need four or five different mouth positions. Anime typically only has three; closed, half open, and fully open mouth. Lipsync looks natural if you make sure their mouth opens when the word starts, change between half open and open positions every two or three frames, and close the mouth when the word ends.
It seems that editors often use a lip sync scene because they can't think of anything else to do at that part of the song. This mistake is most commonly seen in comedy videos, so much so there's a running joke of 'lip sync is cruise control for comedy'. It shouldn't be, nor should it be your cruise control. Lip sync is not a way to fill the timeline when you have no better ideas. It requires far more thought to not have it destroy the flow. If you can't explain why a certain part deserves lip syncing, then you're probably best off not doing it.
Lip sync usually works best in comedy, especially if the character does not match the voice well (e.g., a chibi character with a deep man's voice). Trailers almost require extensive lipsyncing. For other genres, lip syncing frequently hurts the flow so much it detracts from the video, and a voice that doesn't fit the characters often adds unintended comedy.
Most of what I've said in previous sections will help you decide which scenes to use in the video. There are two general ways to choose scenes. First, they can be chosen because of what they specifically show. This is usually done for lyric syncing or for a video where you're presenting a story. Sometimes you need a scene that shows a specific character doing a specific action. Alternatively, scenes can be chosen because of the overall mood rather than what the scene actually shows. For example, an action video may not require character A doing a specific move against character B, as long as the scene shows some type of action in it. While generally one of these two is the primary motive for choosing scenes, the other should be kept in mind. If you're choosing based on mood you want to be careful to not select scenes that focus on what a character is doing, your audience will focus on that action rather than the mood. Similarly, if you're choosing based on the actions shown, you want to make sure you aren't using a scene with a radically different mood than those around it. Showing a funeral followed by someone dancing is rather jarring regardless of if both scenes may have actions you needed.
*Use of effects
Effects are fairly recent in videos, it's only within the last five to ten years that the software for it became common. Since widespread use of effects is relatively new the ideas behind using them are still evolving. Still, effects have been around long enough for a few general guidelines to have developed.
First of all, you need to decide what you're using effects for. There are two schools of thought on this. On the one hand, some people who think effects should be obvious and in your face. Often the entire point of the video is to impress the viewer with the effects. The other viewpoint is that effects should be low key and only used to serve another purpose, such as enhancing the mood. Both viewpoints are valid, but the way effects are used by each camp is very different.
The prominent use of effects is usually seen in action and upbeat videos. Here the entire key is movement; the effects happen fast and keep up a quick pace. Good examples of this are most videos in the MAD style. Cutout characters fly across the screen in seconds, flashes which last a few frames highlight the beat, and multiple layers constantly slide on and off the screen. The pacing of the effects drive the video's overall pace far more than individual scenes do. In extreme examples, the individual scenes are barely recognizable. For this type of use pacing is the obvious concern with what effects you'll use. It also helps if the footage used is fast paced as well, as slow footage will drag down the quick pace you're trying to set. Usually you would not want to use the stock effects in whatever your editing program is. If the viewer is left thinking 'he just used find edges', then your video has probably failed. Combining multiple effects at once can produce interesting results, so definitely play around and experiment in your editing program.
Prominent effects can be used in other genres such as drama, however it is much harder to pull off. If you try this keep your effects use moderate. A viewer being impressed by your effects is a viewer who isn't paying attention to the emotion or story you're building.
If you want to try this use of effects, I'd recommend looking at media other than AMVs to find interesting styles to apply to your video. I could easily see a video styled off Soviet-era propaganda posters, the ones in bright red and yellow with a strong working man holding up a flag. The bright primary colors and simple shapes popular in the 60's would give a video an interesting tone.The film noir features of muted colors and overall grungy appearance is currently a common theme in AMVs. So don't just copy what you've seen in other AMVs, look to other media for styles to inspire you.
For the less prominent use of effects the key is that your effects don't drive the video, the video drives your effect use. This is both easier and harder than the flashy style of effects. The easy part is that your choice of when and what effect to use will be obvious. You need a scene with rain, your source doesn't have one, you need to use effects to add rain to the source. See, easy, the needs of the video choose the effects for you. The hard part is actually pulling it off. With the prominent style of effects anything that looks cool is usable, even if it wasn't exactly what you had in mind to begin with. With this type of use of effects, if something doesn't end up exactly like you needed, then you're going to have to keep working on it. The general guideline for these type of effects is that if the viewer thinks 'that's a cool effect', then you've made it too noticeable.
*Some lessons from the arts that are often neglected
AMVs do not exist in a vacuum. Film has been around for decades and many of its techniques can be applied to AMVs. Art itself has been around for millennia and a lot of art theory can be applied to AMVs. Here are just a few concepts from the wider world of arts that can be used.
AMVs are somewhat limited in applying this since we are using already existing video. Even so, careful scene choice or effects can be used to overcome that limitation. Entire books have been written on color theory, but here's the basics of it. Light cool colors and earth tones (blues, greens, and browns) have a calming effect. Certain shades of green convey a sick, rotted, or diseased feeling. Dark cool colors convey a sad or melancholy mood. Light warm colors (reds and yellows) conveys excitement and action. Dark warm colors convey danger, anger, or other strong negative emotions. Muted colors convey a more relaxed mood. Bright primary colors grab attention and convey strong emotion. A muted sepia tone has been used in film for decades to convey flashbacks and memories. All of these are somewhat subtle effects. A person dressed in sky blue punching someone else is going to convey action, even though the coloring normally is calming. Someone dressed in reds and yellows doing the exact same thing would come off as more exciting. Fortunately, most anime creators know the basics of color theory, so you'll probably find the scenes you need already match the general colors to convey the emotion you want.
Also of note with colors, different cultures may have different reactions to colors. An American would view a certain shade of green as associated with money while other cultures wouldn't. Chinese consider yellow to be a lucky color, but in America if you want to convey luck you'd need to use bright green. Since most people who watch AMVs are from western countries, this probably isn't an issue. It may be something to consider if your intended audience is from a different culture.
The eye follows movement and if you keep different scenes moving in the same direction they will flow together well. Alternately, if you have movement in one direction followed by movement in the opposite, the viewers eyes are jerked back and forth which produces a brief jarring disconnect. This can be useful when you are intentionally trying to shock the audience to highlight something, but if you aren't then you should make sure different scenes have similar movements. Pans and zooms are a good and fairly non-intrusive way to control the flow of movement in your video. Lostboy's Rhythm Animation is built entirely around motion, so it may serve as an instructive example.
The definition of negative space is the space around the subject of an image. Not a very useful definition is it? In anime terms negative space would be the large areas of a single color that are not the focus of a video, such as the sky behind a person. Where this comes useful is if you combine it with the basics of color theory above. A sky behind the person would help give the scene a more calm appearance, while a red and yellow pattern behind them would highlight anger or tension. Since negative space is, usually, pretty bland and simple, that means it's fairly easy to change its colors to suit your needs.
A more interesting use of negative space is where the clip does not take up the whole viewing area of the video. A little box showing your scene with the area outside the box being plain black creates an enclosed tight feeling, while a box faded into a white negative space creates the feeling of openness and freedom. As AMV creators we usually think of the clips as the entire video, however so many interesting possibilities are available if we consider space outside of the clips. If you want to see how negative space can be used with anime related things, I'd recommend watching His and Her Circumstances (Kare Kano). They did a lot of experimenting with negative space.
If you're going to use large chunks of text and you don't know the basics of typography, then go and learn them. It's too large a field, and too unimportant for most videos, for me to summarize here. That said, many of the elements of good web design can help. Keep in mind that anime fans have been trained by subtitles to actually read text in videos instead of viewing it as a decoration. So if you do use text make sure it is clear, readable, and fits the video.
To conclude, I want to repeat something I said earlier. This is meant as a guideline and to explain common traits about AMVs. It is not meant to be followed religiously, and should not be treated as a straitjacket. These are things to think about. If you decide to do something against what I mentioned, then more power to you. Try to experiment and have fun.
[Made very minor adjustments to the formatting of the guide to make it easier to read. But none of the content was changed or altered - Kireblue]