Time for the next installment in my “Screencast Like a Pro” series. Between client work and then getting deathly ill, I haven’t kept up with this series as planned and a couple weeks slipped by, but here we are now, so let’s dive in. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll have a good understanding of how and why to edit your screencast in certain ways. You’ll discover tricks to control the perceived speed of presentation in your screencast (pacing) and how to jazz it up for visual interest and continuity (effects).
Editing, Pacing and Effects
- Editing is when you cut, re-order and modify the media clips in your video editing program’s timeline. I consider zooming and panning (moving the “camera” side to side) to also be editing, rather than effects.
- Pacing is the perceived speed of the presentation. By using a series of rapid scene cuts and speaking rapidly, you can create the impression of a fast pace. By using slow fades and a relaxed manner of speaking, you can slow the pace down.
- Effects, or special effects, if you like, are routines we can add in or apply to our media clips in the timeline which provide visual stimulus. Camtasia doesn’t let you put in explosions and lasers, but it (and its Mac counterpart, Screenflow) has a decent number of effects in various categories for you to use. For example, you can add transition animations between scenes, remove background noise from the audio or speed up a media clip to 200% of its original playback speed.
Let’s take a look at these in more depth.
One of the reasons why I encouraged you to record multiple shorter bits of screencasting instead of one big honkin’ single recording is so that you have more flexibility when editing. What you’ll do is add media clips into editing program and then add these media clips onto the timeline.
All modern video editing software of any kind that I’ve seen uses a timeline. The timeline runs horizontally across your screen, often with multiple tracks stacked vertically atop each other. At the very least, you’ll probably have at least two tracks: one for video and one for audio. Look for controls that allow you to zoom in or out of the timeline for greater control when cutting.
The video clips in your timeline may have thumbnails in them to give you a visual indicator of their contents (certainly their clip names will be displayed on them). Audio clips usually display a representation of the audio sound wave. If you recorded your audio and video clips separately, you’ll have to place them both onto the timeline.
If you recorded your audio at the same time as the video, then adding the video clip will also add the audio in a separate track. However, it’s likely the video and audio tracks will be linked together. This cold potentially be bad, because it’s pretty likely you’ll want to edit something in the audio but not the video or vice versa. In this case, you’ll need to unlink the video track from the audio track.
First Things First: Noise Removal
If you did not perform background noise removal in your audio editing program, then you’ll need to do it now in your video editing program. Usually this involves sampling a segment of audio in which no one is speaking to use as a control for removing noise from the entire audio track.
If you find the noise removal is too strong, it will introduce audio “artifacts” into the track, causing speech to sound oddly… squeaky and clipped. If that happens, just undo the noise removal and adjust the strength of the effect and try again.
I cannot stress enough how noise removal will improve the quality of your audio for the screencast. Audio quality is important. Even when you have a decent microphone, you will still want to run noise removal on your audio.
Matching Audio to Video
A big part of editing is matching audio to video. Since your face isn’t making an appearance in a screencast (how many of you just said Thank God to yourselves? heh…), you don’t have to worry about synchronizing speech to mouth movement. What you want is to make sure that what’s happening on the screen jives with what the narrator is saying.
To this end, make sure your audio and video tracks are not linked together, or edits to one will affect the other and we don’t want that. We want to edit them independently. Here are some of the edits you’ll likely need to make:
- Cutting dead space from audio and video tracks where nothing is happening.
- Inserting silence or cutting out bits of audio where mouse clicks or other sounds intrude (this isn’t always possible but clean it up as best you can).
- Speeding up video clips. The pace at which you operate on the screen may seem fine to you, but it can be pretty damn boring for others to watch. Speeding up the clip will also shorten its duration, affecting all the clips which follow.
- Extending frames. A frame is a single still image from the video. Twenty-four frames per second (FPS) is the minimum needed to fool the human brain into believing it sees motion on the screen. Sometimes you need the visuals to last longer than what was originally recorded. If your program doesn’t have a built-in frame extension, you can fake it by taking a still screenshot and then placing that in your timeline. When you place still image files in your timeline, you can simply enter a duration for how long you want it onscreen.
Generally speaking, you’ll have a much easier time matching video to audio, rather than the other way ’round. It’s also easier to record your audio to a specific duration so that your video will be the length you want it.
Zooming in and Out and Panning
At any point in your editing, you can zoom in from the recording’s original screen size. Once you’ve done that, you can then zoom back out to max. When your camera is zoomed in on the screen, you can also move (pan) it around from one location on the screen to another. Zooming and panning can be done simultaneously, so that, for example, you may move diagonally from the top left of the screen to the bottom right as you pull the camera back from a close up to mid-range.
Zooming and Panning Tips:
- Consider the display size of the final video: if it’s expected to be watched at 640 pixels or wider (such as full screen), then extreme close ups wouldn’t be a good idea.
- The farther you have to zoom in, the longer it should take. The shorter a distance you have to zoom in, the faster it can take. The default zoom time isn’t always the best: one second may be too fast, three seconds may be way too slow, depending.
- When in doubt about whether to zoom in or not, remember that the viewer doesn’t know where she needs to be looking unless we direct her eyes. Zooming is a highly effective way to do this.
- You don’t need to zoom out at the same speed you zoomed in. I often zoom out instantly, which simply looks like a scene cut back to full screen.
- Even though you may have the ability to simulate a tilt of the screen and make it seem as though you’re zoomed in and flying over a landscape, I don’t recommend using this feature for instructional videos. It’s distracting and you’re making it harder for people to learn because you’re distorting what they’d normally see.
Pacing is mostly controlled by how fast you spoke when you recorded your audio. If you get the sense that, overall, the pacing is too fast or too slow, the solution is to re-record rather than try to apply anything fancy during editing.
Having said that, programs such as Audacity do let you change the tempo or play speed of a piece of audio without changing its pitch. In Audacity (or any audio editing program) and in your video editing program you can insert periods of silence or cut dead spots out of your audio tracks.
We can also control the perception of pacing without changing the actual speed of anything:
- Rapid scene cuts and edits create the perception of a fast pace, even if the audio is spoken at a normal rate.
- Using slow fade transitions and video without a lot of rapid motion in it will appear to be slow-paced even if it were used with the same audio.
- Background music can also affect perception of pace, especially if played in opening credits before any real content is delivered.
Next time you watch a television show or a movie, note how the speed with which scene cuts takes place changes depending on the action. A fight scene will have a lot of fast scene cuts, whereas a dialogue scene will not. Check out the preview below (actually the first 5 minutes) for Steven Soderbergh’s film, Haywire (contains violence):
Notice how long the scenes are as they are speaking, but then once the fight begins, the cuts come much faster. This pacing is purely the choice of the editor. These scenes were no doubt filmed many times and from many angles and while the fight could have consisted of long shots, short edits gave it a heightened sense of action because of pacing.
Effects – Transitions and Callouts
I used to teach a lot of PowerPoint classes. I would show my students how to do everything in the book and then I would tell them that if they ever actually included all those effects in a single presentation, it would be the worst presentation ever! And that if they did that I would hunt them down and swat them over the head with a rolled-up newspaper.
Programs like Camtasia and Screenflow are like PowerPoint for video instead of slides. They have all manner of whiz-bang special effects and transitions. Resist the urge to use them. Think again about what you see when you’re watching a movie or a TV show: 99% of the scene transitions are a simple cut. The remaining 1% are nearly always fades or “wipes.” Nothing fancy.
Because “fancy” distracts. Fancy breaks immersion. Fancy doesn’t actually help tell the story.
Keep your transitions super simple: fades, and don’t make them take too long. The default transition duration for Camtasia, for example, is horribly long. I usually cut it down to one second.
Transitions are one kind of effect. Another kind you’ll need to use from time to time are called Callouts. These are arrows, circles, or boxes of text used to point out something specific on the screen. Some callouts do the opposite: they serve to obfuscate so sensitive information doesn’t accidentally make it into your presentation. Obfuscation callouts are blurs and blackenings.
Go back up and watch my Smart YouTube plugin video again, only this time watch it to observe the callouts and the transitions between scenes such as the opening credits and the main content.
Practice Makes Perfect
When you are new to screencasting, this kind of editing will feel disjointed at first. You will feel like you have a big pile of mess and you have no idea how to form it into anything coherent. This will not last as you gain experience. Remember this: your audio is your “anchor” point. It controls the pacing and it controls what video clips will appear when. Slave everything to the audio and remember this awkward feeling will not last long at all.