So far, we’ve covered planning your screencast and scripting & recording audio for your screencast. In this part of the series, we will cover how to create the visual portion of your screencast and get it ready for editing. Our goal here is to create pro-quality screencast videos that are head and shoulders above what most other content marketers are creating.
Out of Many, One
Just as you may be piecing your narrative audio soundtrack from several takes, the visual portion of your screencast can be made more professional by the same methods. Instead of one big “single shot” (as it were) video, you can record several videos and then edit them into your timeline to go along with the narration.
This way, you’ll have plenty of material to choose from and you’ll be able to arrange it more easily in the order you want.
Creating a screencast isn’t necessarily like having a person watch over your shoulder as you show them how to do something in a piece of software. Nor should it be. That doesn’t mean you never should do it that way, however…
Out of One, Many?
You can record a single long sequence of actions and then afterward, cut and rearrange to create your visuals. It may at first feel more natural to do it this way because it’s the most like how we would show a person in real life how to do something when we say, “Here… watch me.”
The downside to this is that it takes much, much longer to cut this long “scene” into the chunks you need. Your experience may very well vary from mine, but to me it’s always been faster to record short bits that correlate to the steps of the screencast in a modular fashion.
You might think that if you didn’t record your audio separately, this would be the way to go. After all, now you’re killing two birds with one stone, right? Aside from the fact that is a horrible metaphor (I mean, really… what kind of sicko wants to go around killing birds with rocks more efficiently?), you will run into a huge problem.
The problem is this: inevitably, you will want to cut out a visual part but you will not be able to do it the way you want to because it will screw up the audio portion so badly the whole thing will be unwatchable. You’d have to go through so much effort and pain to get away with it you may as well have done it the “hard” way in the first place.
I’m not going to say “never” or “always” for these situations. Find what works for you. And by “works for you” what I mean is “creates the best product” not “seems the easiest.”
Recording Video Settings
Screencasting programs such as Camtasia and Screenflow will have presets you can choose from when you’re going to record what’s happening on your desktop, but how do you know which one to pick?
The short answer: pick the largest widescreen resolution at which you can record that looks decent at both a smaller and larger display size.
You see, because the user controls the video player, and she may watch your screencast at the embedded size or she may go full screen, you’ll want to try and create something that will work well in either situation. Part of this is addressed in the editing but first we have to do what we can about it here, before we record a single frame of video.
I record at 1280 x 720 unless I need to record my entire desktop. My desktop is 1856 x 1042 (if that seems odd to some of you… it is. It’s because of an annoying conflict between my monitor and video drivers which causes clipping, which I then have to correct). At 1280 x 720, the result is video that looks okay at two common YouTube embed sizes (480 pixels wide and 640 pixels wide). On Remarkablogger, I like to embed videos at the 640 pixels wide format.
But if someone were to want to watch the video in full screen, I would never want to penalize him for that. I myself almost always choose to watch videos in full screen and I hate it when they’re not high enough resolution to do so. Now, some of that also has to do with production settings, and right now we’re only talking about recording settings.
Two other settings you may or may not need to worry about are your screen capture frame rate and what video compressor is selected for your screencasting software to use.
Video is recorded and played back as a rapid sequence of still images called frames, and the speed at which these frames are captured or played back is called the frame rate. Traditionally, film (as in actual good ol’ fashioned optical film which, when you look at it closely, has actual frames on it) has a frame rate of 24 fps (frames per second).
For recording video digitally, you generally want 30. If huge file sizes were an issue and you weren’t doing something that needed a lot of detail, dropping this value would create a smaller file size for your finished video but with lower quality. I don’t know if Screenflow goes any higher than 30, but Camtasia only goes to 30.
For video settings you may want to use a different compressor than the default. Camtasia’s TechSmith compressor that comes with Camtasia created recording problems and I switched it out for DivX 6.9.2 Codec which supports 4 logical CPUs (in other words, I have a quad-core computer chip).
You can research on the user forums of the screen capture software you’re using to learn more about this stuff.
How to Actually Record Video
Once I’ve got the screen recorder running and its window is matched up with the window I’m recording in, you’d think I’d just hit Record and go, yes?
Well, not exactly. Some tips:
- Don’t include anything in the recording area that isn’t directly related to the learning objective of your video. For example, nobody needs to see your browser tabs, address bar or bookmark bar unless it’s part of what’s being taught.
- Likewise, consider whether any scrollbars or toolbars need to show, because probably they don’t. Most of the world uses Windows on a PC and they don’t need to see your Mac windowframes. It’s already bad enough that the majority of your viewers will not identify comfortably with your Mac mouse pointers. If you know the majority of your viewers will be Mac users (like, because you’re demonstrating Mac software) then no worries, of course.
- Before you record, go into your mouse settings and slow that little thing down! Many computer-savvy folks have increased the speed of their mouse pointers for their own efficiency, but you want to make your video as easy and smooth to watch as possible, so slow that zippy thing down a bit.
- Make sure your recording area is sufficiently far away from anything you might mouse over that would cause tool tips or other interface cruft to appear partly inside your recording area. If you can’t help this because of the size of your monitor, then just try to be as careful as you can.
- Do not move the mouse unnecessarily. Try to avoid “gesturing” with the mouse as if it were your hands. This will allow for smoother edits later where your mouse is not magically teleporting to different parts of the screen.
- Record in discrete chunks of action. This way you can assemble them in the order you want later. In other words, do not record one long “shot” of all your steps. Record each step separately as its own file. Later, when you edit your video, you’ll be able to collect everything together and order it the way you want.
Fighting Against Your Computer’s File System
I can’t speak for Macs, but since most people use Windows, this will be relevant to the majority of you. The way your computer wants to organize files on your system is crap.
Windows wants to put video in one library, audio in another, and everything else in Documents. Forget that shit.
You will find it far more efficient and sanity-preserving to collect all your files by project, not media. Inside your project folders it may make sense to create subfolders by media, but only at that point.
Why is this?
Because you will be doing a lot of opening and saving of various files, and having to pick a new file path in order reach where files of a certain media reside every… single… time… is a huge time waster.
Grouping your files by project also makes it easier to transfer files or back them up (you’d better be backing them up!) and restore them.
Intros and Outros
You may want some kind of intro/title to play at the beginning of your video, and/or an outro at the end.
How to deal with these depends on two things:
- Whether or not you’re making one video or many
- The capabilities of your screencasting or editing program
If you’re making many videos, you want these title clips to be very short or they will quickly get annoying to your viewers.
Honestly, Camtasia makes the crappiest titles imaginable. At most, you can have an image for the background and choose your font. There are no animations or any effects except for transitions between segments. It’s pretty damn awful, in my opinion (one of my only complaints).
If you have something that works better, great.
Luckily, I already have something that works better.
I have this program which can make awesome titles called Adobe After Effects which is huge, expensive and complex. I never use it. I have something else I use instead that’s much cheaper and works great.
It’s called PowerPoint.
Yes, I’m serious.
Here’s what to do:
- Create a single slide in PowerPoint
- Set the page layout to widescreen
- Set a nice background and font that matches my brand
- Type in my video title and site URL (or whatever you feel you need, but keep it to two lines on the screen maximum)
- Create an entrance animation (usually fade) and an exit animation (also fade, usually)
- Turn off the mic input of the screen recorder
- Set the slide show to display in window mode so you can match it up with your 1280 x 720 screen recording area
- Activate the screen recorder and run your very short little slide show
- Add this file to the clip bin (or equivalent) in your editing program so you can drag it to your timeline
If you’re creating an intro clip that’s meant to be used for many videos, be sure to add it to whatever “library” function your screencast editing program has.
The Next Step
Once you’ve recorded all your “chunks” of video and audio and brought them into your editing environment, it’s time to start assembling the final video. We’ll cover that in the next part of this series.