Editing DVD footage


In this Mac-based tutorial I cover how to rip and convert DVD footage to QuickTime files (Apple ProRes) for “professional quality” editing in Final Cut Pro.

Please follow the instructions in this tutorial only if your are confident that your actions are exempt from copyright law [1] or if you are willing to risk committing unlawful action to make illegal art.



Does this fall under “fair use?”

See the footnote at the bottom of this post.

Why did you bother making this tutorial?

Because students frequently want to reference or experiment with DVD footage.

Because you may be asked to do this professionally by a client, with non-copyrighted DVDs. These DVDs may be the client’s only copy of this material, which they shot/commissioned/own. And they will expect miracles.

Because you may be asked to create “rip-o-matics” from copyrighted DVD’s as proofs-of-concept.

Because any hope of extracting relatively professional material from a DVD requires attention to detail. In the past, I have seen students rely on various, poor practices to achieve what should have been professional quality work. I’ve hacked and slashed my way through some ridiculous workflows myself. Some of these include the following:

  • Always ripping with Handbrake
    DVDs are already heavily compressed using MPEG–2. Depending on its settings, Handbrake compresses 8GB DVDs down to ~1GB using MP4/x264/H.264. This is an additional, unacceptable data crunch applied to the (hopefully) reasonably high-quality MPEG–2 material on the DVD. You’ll then edit the MP4 files and export YET AGAIN to whatever format you intend to deliver. Rip with Handbrake as a last resort only.

  • Compressing the rip using the wrong codec
    I’ve seen (and probably done) it all, from DivX to Animation to completely uncompressed. Even DV/DVCPRO seemed reasonable to me a few years ago. No longer. If you can, use ProRes.

  • Trying to work with MPEG–2 or MP4 files in an NLE
    Programs like Premiere Pro, After Effects and Final Cut Pro operate more efficiently with “working” codecs vs. “delivery” codecs. Audio sync & distortion issues also tend to creep in when editing with delivery codecs. Many NLE’s are becoming more friendly to editing MPEG–2 footage, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

  • Capturing the DVD thru an analog-to-digital FireWire bridge
    Occasionally convenient, never professional. Good for capturing DVD menus however…

I want to use ProRes, but I have a PC, or I have a Mac but not Final Cut Pro.

That’s not a question.

You’ll need to download and install. one of Apple’s free decoders (listed above). Per the name, you will be able to decode ProRes footage, but not encode it. So you’ll be able to edit and manipulate the footage, but not actually export to ProRes. Either export on a Mac that has FCP or simply output a QuickTime movie using the PhotoJPEG codec at 75% quality (effectively 4:2:2).

When I insert a DVD, Mac OS X displays this error:

Choose the Region code appropriate for your location. You will need to have admin privileges to do this. If you are in a computer lab setting and do not have admin privileges, either find a tech to assist you or move to another computer (or lab).

Why does the resulting QuickTime movie looks squashed or stretched?

Refer to the section in the tutorial on pixel aspect ratios.

Why is the 16:9 (widescreen) rip still letterboxed (black bars on the top & bottom)?

In short, widescreen movies are wider than a widescreen television. Read on for nerdiness.

First a bit on aspect ratios. A square would be a 1:1 ratio — 1 unit wide by 1 unit high. This can be calculated into a single number by dividing width by height — 1 / 1 = 1.0. A 4:3 ratio would be 4 / 3 = 1.33. A 16:9 ratio would be 16 / 9 = 1.78. So as you can see from the pattern, the larger the number, the wider the image. Most movies shot on 35mm film are projected at an aspect of 1.85, which is wider than 1.78 (that is, 16:9). “Epic” movies are projected at an aspect ratio of 2.35 (2.40, depending on who you ask), which is substantially wider than 1.78, so these movies will be (and should be) significantly letterboxed when displayed on a 16:9 display (or DVD format).

Why are some frames of the resulting QuickTime movie interlaced?

Research (and remove) 3:2 pulldown. I’ll probably make a tutorial on this later.

Nothing is working!

Rip the DVD with Handbrake. Use the AppleTV preset and under Picture Settings, set all Cropping settings to “0,” Width to “720”, Height to “480”, Anamorphic to “None,” then start the encode. Transcode the resulting .MP4 to a ProRes (or similar codec) QuickTime file. You will lose quality by first compressing to .MP4 with Handbrake, so it is not recommended. Missing deadlines is even less recommended though, so this quality loss may be acceptable to you.

Now Handbrake is freaking out because VLC is not installed!

It’s not your day, is it? If you have admin access, download VLC and copy it to the Applications folder. If you don’t have admin access, simply download VLC to a local drive and also download and launch Fairmount, let it remount the DVD and try Handbrake again.

Update (8/22/12): Fairmount has been acquired by DVDSuki Software and has been merged into Mac DVD Ripper Pro. A free trial is available.

I want detailed, start-to-finish, PC-only directions.

I’m sorry, have we met?

I want a more PC-friendly QuickTime movie.

If you want to view a ProRes 422 QuickTime movie on a PC, you’ll need admin access to install the Apple ProRes QuickTime Decoder for Windows (phew!). If this is not possible, consider avoiding ProRes entirely. In MPEG Streamclip, instead of compressing the QuickTime movie to ProRes 422, compress with Photo - JPEG @ ~80% quality. Although not a “modern” codec, its quality/performance is fairly strong, but it has apparently been deprecated (i.e., support may be removed at any time) by Apple.

What would a PC-centric video professional really use?

PC’s cannot encode to Apple’s QuickTime ProRes 422 codec; they can only decode (view) it, so although it can work, it may not seem optimal for a Windows-only workflow. If you use Avid as your NLE, you would use Avid’s high-quality, free DNxHD codec for QuickTime (also available for Mac OS X). Note that this is only a viable solution for PC’s or Macs that you have admin access to, since every PC or Mac you need to play a DNxHD file on must have the codec custom installed. Also note that DNxHD does not play well with Final Cut Pro.

If you primarily use Premiere on a PC and need a high quality, online codec, consider purchasing Cineform’s NeoHD.

I need to copy this enormous QuickTime file from a Mac workstation to an external hard drive, but I’m having trouble.

Check your drive’s format: go to the Finder and select the drive’s icon, then press cmd-I. The resulting Info window should display the disk’s format under the General section. If your hard drive is formatted as Mac OS Extended (which is Mac-only), you should have no issues copying to the drive. If your drive is formatted as NTFS, you can read from it but cannot write to it from a Mac; find another drive (or read along with the FAT32 instructions and copy the resulting files over a network or burn to multiple DVD-R’s). If your hard drive is Mac/PC read/write compatible, it’s likely formatted as FAT32 which has a maximum file size limit of 4 GB. The high quality QuickTime version of the DVD rip produced by MPEG Streamclip is likely well over 20 GB, so it will not copy.

We’ll use Final Cut Pro to split the QuickTime movie into multiple files, each under 2GB. First, import the huge QuickTime movie into Final Cut Pro. Then in the top menu bar, go to Final Cut Pro > System Settings, check “Limit Capture/Export File Segment Size To:” and ensure it is set to “2000” MB (well below FAT32’s 4 GB file size limit). Drag the movie from the Browser and drop onto the Timeline. If a dialog box pops up about matching your sequence settings to the clip settings, click “Yes”. Go to File > Export > QuickTime Movie… For “Settings:” select “Current Settings”, uncheck “Recompress All Frames”, check “Make Movie Self-Contained”, then select the destination for the export and click “Save”. Final Cut Pro will create multiple QuickTime files (whatever.mov, whatever.mov1, whatever.mov2, etc.), each slightly under 2GB. When the export completes, copy all these QuickTime movies to your drive and KEEP THEM TOGETHER. To work with these movies, only open/import the file with the root filename (whatever.mov). It will automatically reference the info in the other QuickTime files, and they will all show up as a single movie in any app that understands QuickTime files. However, if you delete any 1 of these files you will corrupt the file referencing.

Want to rip a Blu-ray disc?

Please go away.

Seriously though, current (as of this writing) copyright exemptions (see below) only cover DVDs, not Blu-rays. Go figure.

In theory you could use MakeMKV to rip the Blu-ray, remux the resulting MKV file into a more QuickTime-friendly MP4/M4V file using Subler, then transcode to Apple ProRes.

  1. Because this tutorial is for the benefit of my media studies students, the techniques covered herein fall under the “Rulemaking on Exemptions from Prohibition on Circumvention of Technological Measures that Control Access to Copyrighted Works” of Section 1201, specifically:

    (1) Motion pictures on DVDs that are lawfully made and acquired and that are protected by the Content Scrambling System when circumvention is accomplished solely in order to accomplish the incorporation of short portions of motion pictures into new works for the purpose of criticism or comment, and where the person engaging in circumvention believes and has reasonable grounds for believing that circumvention is necessary to fulfill the purpose of the use in the following instances:

    (i) Educational uses by college and university professors and by college and university film and media studies students;
    (ii) Documentary filmmaking;
    (iii) Noncommercial videos.  ↩