Trials of a new video producer

Yes, I am interested in technology, and I have quite a (long) history with it. Yes, I am interested in the use of technology in education, and I also have quite a (okay, again, long) history with it. And, yes, I am going to teach (the enrollment gods be willing) a class on living and learning digitally to business students that will be mostly online and use lots of video.

But I have not ever actually published a video using iMovie. Oops. That might be what’s referred to as a “hole in the resume.”

It is true that I have previously created a video promoting an earlier version of this class and created another series of videos explaining how to edit wikidot pages (with over 13k views! I had no idea). However, both of these were created (in ways that I only vaguely recall) with software that was cheap, difficult to use, and not that robust. I’m not even sure that I could get it to work again.

Given my plans to teach this class in this manner, I recently decided to actually test whether or not I could put together a video. I know there are other professors out there who are intrigued by where technology is going but are uncertain about the move from classroom to video, so I figured I would document these early, tentative steps. I know how to speak in front of a classroom, no problem. Delivering content over video is more complicated. There’s the content itself (essentially the same, though structured differently), then the delivery of the content into a camera (very, very different), and the assembling and publishing of that digital content. I wanted to see for myself, before I got too far into this process, just how hard or easy it is to complete that last step. If that step is too hard to take, then I would have to change my whole concept of what it means to deliver this type of class.

The following two videos are the result of that first test. The first simply tests my abilities to use iMovie to create a movie, and the second shows the current state of my production facility and the hardware I use.

Initial tests of hardware and software

This is really raw video. (Please don’t judge! I’m not performing or using my stage voice or anything. This is “testing, testing, 1, 2, 3.”) This video is the result of using my MacBook Pro, an iSight camera (since my laptop’s camera stopped working a couple of years ago), iMovie, a microphone, and a document camera. (More on all of this below.) Here is the movie; my comments follow.

  • I published this in “Large” format (808×540), suitable for Apple TV, computer, and YouTube. I will have to think about this as I go along. For an iPhone, it recommends publishing at 480×320; however, some loss of detail would certainly occur.
  • It is simply a matter of checking a box to have iMovie automatically insert a standard transition between scenes. I used “cross-fade.”
  • Inserting a title (at the beginning), subtitles (before scenes), and credits (if needed at the end) couldn’t be easier. Drag and drop, then type. Done.
  • At 0:05 when I first appear on screen: so many things to see here.
    • I have a ceiling light to the left of my head; I am going to have to change the alignment of the camera to get that to go away.
    • The lighting on my face is a bit dark, and shadows are being cast across my face. (Later, I will address this.) It is hard to get this right because I have a light directly above my desk (a different ceiling light) and none in front of me. Who has a light shining on his face (but only direct light!)? Well, certainly, not me. What I had to do (for this shot; I do more later) was put a desk lamp next to the camera and behind the laptop and point it away from me so that it reflected off the wall.
    • So far I like working with this microphone. It is comfortable, the ear microphone is sufficient, and the sound pick-up seems acceptable. I wanted to get a microphone because I plan on lecturing to a camera in front of a whiteboard and I figured I would need one at that time since I would be turning my head periodically away from the camera. (I will test this setup soon.)
  • At 0:21 the first subtitle screen appears. (I’m sure this has another name.) Again, this was super simple.
  • 0:26: I recorded a second short clip in order to test how to handle the insertion of a second video into the movie and how transitions work. I need to remember to have at least 1 second of me staring at the camera at the beginning and ending of a clip in order to provide time for the transition to work effectively. The transitions take about 0.5 seconds off the end of a clip and blend it into the beginning of the next clip so you don’t want to be doing or saying anything at that time.
  • 0:37: I wanted to record a clip and then insert a voice-over to see how it works. I recorded the whole clip, and then I went back and used iMovie to record the audio for the middle segment. The audio for the voice-over came out different than it did for the rest of the segment. I have no idea why because I used the same hardware and software for everything. I still have to investigate this.
  • At 0:53 the doc-cam makes its appearance. This was kinda tricky to setup — actually, not really to setup but more specifically to understand how to setup — but it is easy to use.
    • I will have to use a more bold-faced pen if I am going to write on paper.
    • Though the doc-cam has an audio pick-up, I set up the software to use the head mic that I had on.
    • The doc-cam appears to be much more comfortable working in a Windows environment than a Mac environment. The software that is made available for the Mac is explicitly in beta (and it should be). It works, but it has some glitches. The major one is that it records the video in one orientation, with the top of the video being away from the base and the bottom of the video being closest to the base. The software has a button that is supposed to rotate the video, but it doesn’t really work. This ends up not being a problem (at least as far as I can tell for now) because, after the movie is saved, QuickTime can rotate the movie into the correct orientation.
    • I was hoping to use this camera during live feeds, but it doesn’t appear to be a standard video feed. I can’t get my Mac to choose it as a standard video input so I can’t switch to it — it only works when it is being controlled by its own software. I will have to continue investigating this, and possibly look for another product if I can’t figure it out.
    • Regardless of all the above, I think the image is pretty clear and doesn’t have a lot of the ghosting and blurring that older, school-supplied doc-cams seem to always have. I definitely would feel comfortable using this hardware in a pre-recorded segment.
  • 1:14: I wanted to test if the selection of audio input made a difference in the recording. I definitely like the change in audio quality from the first segment (computer microphone) to this one (Bluetooth mic).

All in all, it was a successful test. I still have some issues to investigate, but it all seemed doable. Now I just have to work on my on-camera personality.

Production facility

This video shows my “production facility” (aka my basement). The video itself is somewhat of a technical test as well, since it is a combination of video off my iSight and off my first-generation Flip. (I recently was saddened to discover that my Flip HD has died after barely being used. Got a new battery and it didn’t revive it. That’s really too bad since I haven’t seen anything that approaches its combination of cost, simplicity, and quality output. I am going to have to keep my eyes open.)

Here’s a list of what I discuss in the video:

Apple MacBook Pro
This is a 15″ early 2008 model with 4GB of RAM running Lion 10.7.4. The main problem is that it is nearly out of hard disk space (as well as the aforementioned camera issue). I will be replacing this soon. For now it serves it purpose quite well.
iMovie
I was fairly amazed by how easy it was to get started with this. I watched their introductory video, but that’s the extent of the training that I underwent before I did any of this. I’m sure that Final Cut Pro X is a wonderful piece of software, and I’m also guessing that I will start pining for it at some time; however, for now I can see being satisfied with iMovie and its focus on ease-of-use.
Plantronics Voyager 520
This is a noise-canceling, Bluetooth, over-the-ear microphone. It is comfortable and seems to provide adequate sound quality. I will have to monitor this over time but this looks like it was a good investment.
Luna Interactive Projection Camera
As I said before, the Mac software that comes with this is a bit iffy, but the hardware seems solid. I especially like the quality of the video that it produces. The only thing that bothers me is the difficulty using it in a streaming video.
Flip Video (original)
This is a solid, reliable piece of hardware. As long as it doesn’t fail (seem Flip HD experience above), I expect that I will use this for a while. I next need to test it out in a room with me in front of a whiteboard. This will have to wait for future explorations (and associated posts).

Conclusion

I’m a long-time Mac user beginning with the Mac SE/30 in 1989 all the way through my current iPad, MacBook Pro, and MacPro 12-core tower with 16GB of RAM (I run lots of computation-intensive simulations in my research) so I am comfortable working in that environment. However, “working in that environment” and “producing videos” are two completely different things.

I now have the confidence to invest a bit more time in learning specific techniques and approaches to teaching on video. I didn’t feel the urge to investigate these before because I didn’t have the confidence that I would be able to carry it off. Now I do.

I hope these videos and this blog post gives you confidence that you could get into the video production business, at least on a part-time basis. Do you have any help for me on the next steps on my learning journey? Let me know if you do.