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FINISHING TOUCHES

Video Techniques for Effective Science Communication

This is the eighth part of a short guide for researchers on simple and effective techniques for making compelling science communication videos. It’s based on a two and a half day workshop organized through the ASU Risk Innovation Lab, and is provided under a CC-BY-NC Creative Commons License. Written and produced by Andrew Maynard

The guide provides step-by-step instructions for producing sketch-style (whiteboard) videos, using a smartphone and basic editing software. It’s broken down into 8 sections:

  1. INTRODUCTION & OVERVIEW
  2. FOCUS
  3. SCRIPT
  4. STORYBOARDING
  5. VOICEOVER
  6. FILMING
  7. EDITING
  8. FINISHING TOUCHES

INTRODUCTION

Before your sketch-video is ready to be unleashed on the world, it needs a few finishing touches. In more polished and professional video editing, this would include a number of steps not included here such as ensuring the color balance of the complete video is uniform, and balancing the sound across the movie (we do some of that). For the type of video we’re producing though, there are just five finishing touches we’ll be focusing on:

  • Soundtrack
  • Opening titles
  • Closing credits and graphics
  • Finessing
  • Final preview

These are often integrated into the video editing process (apart from the final preview), so you should feel free to blend them in as you edit. For instance, I often add the soundtrack at an early stage of editing.

SOUNDTRACK

Having an engaging soundtrack on your video helps viewers focus on the information that’s being conveyed. It also cover a multitude of sins, including energizing a slight monotonous voiceover and increasing substantially the watchability of a video (i.e. people won’t get bored as fast).

However, care needs to be taken to select a soundtrack that isn’t distracting, and that doesn’t obscure the voiceover. It’s also not that easy to get hold of music that you can legally use.

One source of free tracks is YouTube’s audio library — this is well worth checking out. For my videos I typically pay for soundtracks, and use the web service PremiumBeats.com. These are usually around $40-$50 a track, but once you’ve paid for one, you have unlimited use rights (with a couple of restrictions).

When adding a soundtrack, there are a few things to look out for:

  1. Start the video with the soundtrack at full volume volume, but as the voice over starts, reduce the volume so that the voice over is very clear and the music isn’t distracting. While balancing the sound levels, make sure you listen to the balance through headphones, and good quality speakers — don’t rely on your computer’s speakers. However, at some point, make sure the balance also sounds OK through your computer.
  2. At the end of the video, increase the volume of the soundtrack again as the voice over ends. You should extend the soundtrack through to the end of the end credits, and even slightly beyond.
  3. If your soundtrack is longer than the video, you can fade it out at the end (the easy option), or you can cut and splice it to make it shorter. This option involves cutting a section out of the middle of the soundtrack and splicing the ends together to make a seamless join — something that takes a good ear and some practice.
  4. If your soundtrack is shorter than the video, you can either duplicate a section of it to fit the video, or use more than one piece of music. The easiest solution is just to repeat the soundtrack. In each case, care needs to be taken to ensure transitions are smooth and don’t miss a beat.
  5. Try and avoid soundtracks that have vocals (although they may work sometimes) and strident instrumentals (heavy percussion for instance is hard to balance with the voice over!). I also try to use soundtracks that immediately capture the viewer’s attention, and match the feel of the video.

OPENING TITLES

Having an opening set of titles on your video isn’t essential, but it can help establish the focus and brand of the video with your audience. And it gives you a chance to say up-front who the video creator was. That said, I’m increasingly veering toward not having opening titles so that viewers get straight into the video.

An alternative approach is to start the video, then cut to opening credits. This is the technique I used on the video What Is Nanotechnology?

On the How Filters Work video, we use a simple title frame that shows the video name on a black background for a few seconds. Adding title frames like this is easy in most video editing programs.

To be more sophisticated, you can create a graphic frame in an image editing program like Adobe Photoshop and insert this at the beginning of the video. If you do this, your image size should be 1920 pixels x 1080 pixels.

I usually just have opening titles up for 2-3 seconds before fading into the video itself, and start the soundtrack at the beginning of the opening titles.

CLOSING CREDITS AND GRAPHICS

Closing credits are important for acknowledging who was responsible for making or contributing to the video, and any associated or affiliated organizations or people who helped out. Most video editing programs have a number of ways to add closing credits.

Closing credits are definitely good practice. However, if it’s clear from the information provided on YouTube who the creators are, they are sometimes not necessary (but always recommended). For instance, the How Filters Work video has an end graphic, but no credits.

Closing graphics are useful for branding, or acknowledging a supporting organization. For instance, if the video was associated with an academic institution and funded through the NSF, this would be a good place to add the appropriate logos. In the How Filters Work video, we end with the Science Showcase branding.

It’s usually easiest to create closing graphics in an image editing program (your image size should be 1920 pixels x 1080 pixels), and insert it into the video.

FINESSING YOUR VIDEO

The timing of the video clips in relation to the voiceover can make the difference between a mediocre video and a really compelling one. Here, finessing video is similar to performing a piece of music – knowing how to craft the flow of the piece so that it becomes something special.

Ideally, you should be finessing your video as you go, but once you have a rough cut together including the sound track and opening/closing credits, you should go back and add some final polish.

Finessing is an art that is learned over time, but there are a few tips that can help:

  1. Don’t make freeze frames too short. The viewer needs time to take these in. Rushing from one segment to the next can make the video feel too rushed, and risks loosing the attention of the viewer.
  2. It’s OK to make video segments faster to allow enough time for longer freeze frames.
  3. Sometimes, it’s better to cut a video sequence out to slow the pace of the video down – don’t think you need to cram everything in, just because you filmed it.
  4. Use occasional transitions where you erase a frame, or turn a page, but vary the transitions between scenes so that things don’t get tedious and predictable.
  5. If you’re struggling to match the video to the voice over, it’s OK to start a scene some way into the drawing.
  6. Keep watching the video from the beginning to feel how it’s flowing, and make adjustments so that the flow feels right – not too rushed, not too slow.
  7. Be precise with timings, so that transitions and drawings clearly match the voice over.

And the final tip is, take your time – good editing is a slow process (it will take me between 1 – 3 hours to finalize a 3 minute video from a rough cut).

FINAL PREVIEW

Once you think your video is finished, spend some time watching it all the way through with a critical eye, and making final tweaks. These might include:

  • Making sure transitions between clips and scenes are smooth.
  • Checking that there aren’t any video shots that shouldn’t be there.
  • Making sure you are happy with the pacing and flow of the video (for instance, checking that the video clips aren’t too fast, and that viewers that are new to the video will be able to follow the flow).
  • Ensuring that the audio balance is correct, and that the voice over is clear throughout the video. Remember to listen through headphones and, if possible, good quality speakers, as well as through your computer speakers.
  • Adding transitions such as fades where they make sense — for instance between the opening titles and the first sketch frame.
  • Checking that, watched from start to end, the video looks good.

It’s always a good idea to ask someone else to watch the video with a critical eye before making it public!

Once you are happy with the video, it’s time to unleash it on the world!