• Welcome to The Spark
    The Spark is a blog curated by the staff of the Multimedia Project Studio (MPS) at Duke University. We are a small group of highly talented students and staff well-versed in the language of multimedia. The Spark is a resource for helpful tips, tutorials, specific concerns of the lab, and general inspiration.

Using the MPS Video Capture Station

Many people come into the MPS to digitize various forms of media. The capture station in MPS West can be used to easily create digital files from VHS, MiniDV and HDV tapes.

The following is a quick start guide:

1. Power on the monitor, Gefen HD-PVR, and deck you wish to use

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2. Insert your FORMATTED Class 6 or Class 10 SD card (Note: ensure that the card has sufficient memory to store your video)

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3. Use the Gefen HD-PVR remote control to select the “component” input



4. Ensure that the red, white and yellow cables are connected to your chosen deck. They should already be connected to the “component” input in the back of the Gefen box




5. Using the “HDD / SD” Button of the Gefen remote, select the SD Card (Note: An SD Card icon should appear in the top right-hand corner of the screen)

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6. Press “record” on the remote to record your video, press “stop” when completed (Note: The record light on the Gefen box will blink red while recording)

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7. Eject your SD card, turn off the equipment and go edit your video! (Note: Allow 20 seconds after you stop recording for the file to save to your SD card before ejecting)

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Should you have any further questions, or if any of the equipment appears to not be working, please do not hesitate to ask one of the MPS consultants while we are on shift. Our staffed hours can be found here!



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Creating Titles in Adobe Premiere Pro CS6

To start: Open up Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 and choose your preferred settings. Then to stay organized, click the new bin button in your project panel and name it Titles. This button can be found on the bottom left area of your screen, as shown.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 1.10.58 PM

The middle button is the correct button to press to create the folder. After each title, you can drag each title into the Title folder to remain organized while working on your project.

Now it is time to create a title. You can do this through several different ways. You could press Command + T (for mac) or Control + T (for Windows). Or you could click Title > New Title > Default Still. If you want to get fancy for something like a rolling credit for a movie, you can click Title > New Title > Default Roll or Title > New Title > Default Crawl.

Once you create a title. an image like this should show up:

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 1.11.15 PM

Be sure to name your title, ensure that the video settings are the same for your title as they are for the rest of your project, and then click “Ok”

This leaves you with a screen that looks like this.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 1.11.21 PM


Keep in mind that the current image is black, but by dragging through images in your timeline, you can add a title over any image or moving image in your project.

Click and drag a box using the preselected text tool to decide the space that you wish that your text will cover on the screen. Make sure to stay within the inner box for your title.

You can play with the Opacity, X and Y Position, Width, Height, Font Family, Font Size, Aspect Ratio, Fill Type, Opacity, Color and many other settings to make your font look different.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 1.16.04 PM

This image shows the several ways you can play around with the font. You can select a specific letter from a text as well, and play around with that letter’s settings specifically. This allows for a wide variety of possibilities.

Once you finish playing around with all of the settings and deciding on a title that suits your project perfectly, click the red X on the top left of the title screen, as shown.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 1.11.39 PM

Now your title should be in your project panel, where you can drag your title into your title folder.

Then simply drag your title into your timeline to have it show up in your movie or video.

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 1.11.48 PM

This is a picture of a timeline once it has added a title. You can have the title last longer on the screen than the prescribed amount by dragging the end of the purple box farther along the timeline.

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Removing Unwanted Objects in Photoshop

Imperfections are part of real life, and they are certainly a component of almost every photograph. Fortunately, there is Photoshop! Watch the video below to learn two simple techniques to remove unwanted objects during image editing.

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Tips on Designing a Logo Using Illustrator


Before I begin, I would like to preface this article with the following:  This post contains many of my own personal opinions on how to produce a logo.  The following opinions and tips aim to help anyone who needs to generate a logo for someone other than themselves.  As I have already stated, the following article is subjective. Please feel free to address my tips however you feel necessary.


For me, the process of designing a logo involves four steps: consultation with the client, research and preliminary brainstorming, secondary consultation with regards to final sketches, and production in Illustrator. Notice that I never attempt to design a logo in Illustrator until the final step. I have found that any other process for designing a logo would either be ineffective or inefficient.  As a side note, if you have questions regarding why I use Illustrator for logo production, please feel free to refer to my previous video blog post on the differences between Photoshop and Illustrator.  Below is the step-by-step description of how I created my most recent logo.


When I first started designing t-shirts, flyers, and logos, I quickly learned how a graphic designer must remain flexible.  Because of varying interests between people, it is important to never become too invested in a project until you are certain you are producing the vision of the client.  Note that you should always produce the vision of the client, NOT your own vision.  The client is always correct.  No matter how much better your additions to the logo may appear, if those additions are not a part of the vision of the client, you will likely be asked to remove them.  For this reason, I highly suggest consulting with the client before you begin thinking about the logo.  When with the client, you should not only get a feel for the purpose of the logo, but you should also understand what is and is not acceptable.  For instance, my most recent logo was for a biomedical engineering symposium.  Given this, the logo should be formal, clean-cut, and should avoid use of un-professional colors.  In addition, because my client came from Duke University, he insisted that I refrain from using light blue – one of the colors of Duke University’s rival, University of North Carolina.


The first thing I usually do during this step is hit up Google.  See if any other logos interest or inspire you to make something of your own.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 3.37.33 PMAbove is an image from my search for “biomedical engineering logos”.  Although idea of using DNA and cognitive maps within my logo intrigued me, I wasn’t fully impressed with just slapping a DNA strand onto some text and calling it a day.  How could I improve?  Thus began the brainstorming.


I decided to meet one more time with my client to discuss some of the ideas I had eventually brainstormed.  From the ideas I presented to him, he seemed interested in using a DNA double helix as a substitute for the letter S.  This S would then be used to spell out Symposium.  At this point, I began to make some very quick sketches (one of which can be seen below).

IMG_0109Once I had finally created a design the client was satisfied with, I went home to begin recreating the sketch on Illustrator.


Given practice, this will become the easiest step.  Once you have a complete vision of the logo design, recreating it on Illustrator becomes simple.  Keeping in mind the rules laid out by the initial consultation with the client, I chose a font and colors that were simple and formal.  Within minutes, I had my final product.


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Fill in Text with Visual of Your Choice

You’ve got a pretty basic, bland background or some plain text you’d like to spruce up for an upcoming project, or you desperately want to explore textures for a logo – what are your options? I’d recommend you start off by playing around with Adobe Photoshop CS6 – specifically with the Horizontal Type Text Tool!

Make sure to check out the video below to figure out how to fill in text with any texture or visual of your choice!

Hope this was helpful!

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Introduction to After Effects Templates

You’ve got a 24-hour deadline, a camera full of footage, and need an eye-popping video clip full of exciting graphics and movement. What do you do? Cheat, and use a template!

There are literally thousands of After Effects and Apple Motion templates available to purchase online for a small fee. A template is a big project file that has all the hard work done for you, ready for you to simply drag and drop your own multimedia into the mix. This allows you to create something in 2 hours that would’ve otherwise taken you 2 weeks! Out of the many sites I use, MotionVFX and Revostock come out on top as offering the very best selection and content.

Templates are not solely for video projects. Online, you will also find thousands of templates for graphic design projects and websites that are ready for you to make your own. It’s great to spend the time mastering the powerful software we offer here in the MPS lab, but if you’re in a time-crunch, or just stuck for some creative inspiration, a template may well be a good option for you!

Check out this video to see how the use templates can create stunning results in minimal time:

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Working with Strokes in Illustrator

In Adobe Illustrator, the strokes of an object can be just as important as the object itself. This post is about a few things you can do with strokes in Illustrator. There are some toolboxes and windows in Illustrator that let you control different details of strokes, including the ends, the width and the shape. For this tutorial, I will be using a design that says “The Spark” made with the brush tool. It’s a collections of strokes that I freehanded on the computer.

Original design

Original design

Stroke Caps (End Points)

To change the look of the shape of your stroke, you can go to the stroke window. It should already be on your screen, but if not, go to Window on the top of your screen and then Stroke. The window should pop up, including information about the weight, cap, corner, and alignment.  This is what the box looks like:

Stroke Window

Stroke Window in Adobe Illustrator.

The default cap is one where the stroke ends at the anchor point. In some situations, you may want the stroke to extend past the point (Projecting Cap) or even have a round cap for a more finished look. Make sure to try out the different ends to see which one you like best and which goes best with your overall design. See the options below.

Butt Cap (Option 1)

Butt Cap (Option 1)

Round Cap (Option 2)

Round Cap (Option 2)

Projecting Cap (Option 3)

Projecting Cap (Option 3)

Stroke Shapes

Stroke Shapes define how the stroke will change in width as it goes from one anchor point to the next. When you highlight a stroke, the panel will change on top and you can change the shape using a drop down menu next to the stroke weight. The default is uniform; the weight stays the same throughout the entire stroke (shown above). There are a bunch of profiles you could use and it depends on your taste and what you are working on. I personally like when the lines look like I have used a marker or paint brush so some areas are thicker than others depending on the part of the line.

Width Profile 1

Recently, I have been playing with width profiles. I usually start with this one and then tweak different anchors (see Stroke Widths below). This profile is thin on the end with a bulge in the middle. If you follow the lines in each stroke (“T,” “he,” and “stroke” are three different object), you’ll find that the stroke starts fairly thin, remains thick in the middle, and ends like it begins.

Width Profile 1

Width Profile 1

Width Profile 2

The second width profile changes in weight multiple times across anchor points. It gives more of a feeling of a brush on an angle that gets thicker and thinner depending on the angle of the brush stroke.

Width Profile 2

Width Profile 2

Stroke Widths

Recently, I have been playing with the width and shapes of strokes in the logos I have been designing. See examples below.

A logo I designed for an organization at Duke.

A logo I designed for an organization at Duke.


A logo I designed for a class project.

For these logos, I created strokes using the pen tool and brush tool and then changed the shape to width profile 2. From there, I manually changed the widths using the Width Tool in the toolbox on the left side of the screen.

Width Tool in Tools Window

Width Tool in Tools Window

Once selected, you can hover your mouse over points on the stroke to make that area thicker or thinner. If you select an anchor point, the change in weight will be gradual on either side of the anchor point (Figure A). But, if you select a random point on the stroke, the weight change will be irregular (Figure B).

Figure A

Figure A

Figure B

Figure B

So, it’s important if you want a smooth transitions, to change the width at the anchor points. Then, it’s just a matter of choosing how thick you want the letters and where. I usually start by making the entire stroke a weight that will be the average weight I want. Then, I make different parts thicker and thinner from there. Once you’ve selected the width tool, click a anchor point, hold it down and move your cursor away or toward the stroke to make the width larger or thinner, respectively. Then, just play around with each anchor point until you’re happy with it. I like the final design (see below) because it looks more elegant and finished than the first.

Original design

Original design

Final Design

Final Design

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Explosion Tutorial Final Cut Pro

Hey everyone! Looking to add a little flair to your action sequence? Maybe get that on-screen detonation you’ve always wanted but never had the production value or resources to achieve? Well look no further, here’s a cheap and easy way to add explosion effects to your films!

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Using Histograms in Adobe Photoshop

Have you ever taken what was supposed to be a beautiful picture, only to have it turn out a little too light or too dark? This otherwise great shot can be easily fixed by using the Photoshop Histogram tool.

A histogram is a graph that shows the tonal range of your image; basically, it shows how much of your picture is light and how much is dark. You can view the Histogram by going to Window > Histogram. However, the easiest way to edit is by going to your right toolbar in the Adjustments section and selecting the Levels option. This will also show you a histogram and create a layer to use for editing.

A typical, well-balanced histogram should have image detail spread across the range of brightness levels, and usually does not have peaks at either end. Here’s an example of an image with an average histogram.


If your histogram looks very different from this example, you don’t necessarily have an over- or under-exposed picture. Pictures that are framed to have a lot of very light or very dark colors may have a histogram slanted towards those ends of the spectrum, like the images below.



The first image has a lot of light shades because of the brightness of the trees, so the histogram correctly shows a peak toward the light end; the second has a lot of very dark colors, and the histogram reflects this by being focused toward the dark end. Don’t worry about having a perfect distribution; instead, decide what your specific picture needs and use the histogram to achieve that.

Now, we’re going to look at a photo that does need editing and use the histogram to fix it. This photo is underexposed, which is why it looks so dark, and there are several problems in its histogram. There are too many dark tones in the picture, not enough mid tones, and no light tones at all.


First, we’re going to fix the problem with the light tones on the histogram; this will make the lighter colors in this picture, mainly the sky, look brighter. I moved the right arrow from 255 to 200 to narrow the range of light colors.


The next step will fix the last two problems, involving the dark and mid tones. There are too many dark tones and not enough mid tones in this picture, so we need to move the center of the histogram toward the darker end. This will eliminate some of the shadows and equalize the picture. I took the center arrow below the histogram and moved it from 1 to 1.60 to accomplish this.


In the final picture, you can see a lot of the detail in the sky and brick that was hidden by the poor exposure. When using the histogram and Levels tools, be sure to experiment with different combinations of moving the variables around; no two pictures have the same histogram, so no two pictures require the same edits.

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How to Make a Photomontage in Adobe Photoshop

In today’s increasingly visual world, a photomontage, an entirely unique image made by cutting, joining, and blending multiple photos, or juxtaposing a normal photo with an abnormal setting, can be a way to make a statement. This technique is often used by graphic artists in advertisements to get the viewers attention.

So do you want to make images like these? Read on to learn how to make a photomontage in Adobe Photoshop!









First, choose File > New to create a new blank image. Choose your parameters and units of measurements (pixels or inches, for example).

Next drag the photos onto the blank image that you want to add to the composite image, one by one. Move, resize (hold down Shift to maintain original proportions), and press enter to place. Each image will be on its own layer. The image in the top layer will be on top of all the other images, so keep that in mind. But you can rearrange layers by dragging them in the tool bar to the right side of the screen.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 3.02.10 PM

To blend the images, use the eraser tool on the left side of the screen, but makesure you are working on the layer with the image you want to erase.




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  • What is the MPS?

    The Multimedia Project Studios are a series of high-end computer labs located at Duke University. We feature cutting edge equipment and industry standard software and are staffed by a corps of student Multimedia Consultants who are available to help you out with your project on a one-on-one basis, but are not able to do production work on your behalf.
    MPS Lab Locations & Hours
    MPS East
    115 Lilly Library
    The MPS in Lilly is open whenever the library is open. Check their site for hours, which can change during holidays and academic breaks.

    MPS West
    006 Bostock
    The MPS in Bostock is open whenever the library is open. Check their site for hours, which can change during holidays and academic breaks.

    Staffed Hours for Both Locations

    Winter, summer, and other break hours will vary, according to student consultant availability. To check consultants' availability, view our Live Schedule.

    Sunday - Thursday: noon to midnight
    Friday: noon to six
    Be sure to check our Live Schedule to see who will be on staff and our staff page to meet our talented consultants.