Double Product Launches, year two

Just about this time last year, I posted two product videos that were recently released. This year, we did the same.

Learning from our 2014 mistakes, our 2015 selves (same team, one year wiser) put a month in between the filming of the two product videos. Some items (like booking talent, whoops my fault) were left until the absolute last moment but overall I think we we produced videos of equal quality with less stress than last year. Most importantly, we didn’t leave the lab fridge unplugged overnight again this year. Victory!

My second biggest takeaway from this year is that we finally hired a professional voice-over artist instead of coaching in-house colleagues to narrate as needed. I went to Upwork (formerly Elance), posted our requirements and the next day was able to hold a meeting where we chose our narrator. The day after that our audio was done. Thank you again, internet.

Ok, so, my part in these projects was all production and post-production. I actually stayed clear of the concept/storyboard/script team, so deep was I in the ParticleTrack narration and a couple of other projects.

How do we measure particles?

Once we had the first 28 seconds of the fun ReactIR animation put together I started showing it to colleagues, to see who else would get hooked and want to publish an animation as well.

This project built off the previous, but since the point is to explain exactly how our product measures particles, the fun animation style pretty much had to go. This time around we needed to look precise and scientifically credible while also modern and approachable. Needless to say the ParticleTrack animation took several months longer than it’s predecessor.

I’ll go ahead and say totally worth it. Blows your mind, a little, right? Hopefully we’ve also provided you with some understanding of the literal method of measurement.

And again, my part in this was recording the narration and animation the illustrations, as well as working with the rest of the team on the concept, script and storyboard.

How does ReactIR work? (Or, my second After Effects animation)

For as long as I’ve known about After Effects, I’ve wanted to become a wizard with it. I got a decent taste of it last year with my “How EasySampler works” animation, and my colleagues were pretty blown away that we can now show, in real time, things that can’t be captured by a camera.

At a dinner with customers earlier in the year, I spoke with someone who asked if I knew who put together that animation on the EasySampler probe. He mentioned that after watching it a few times he was able to explain the process to others, and that I should pass on my compliments if I knew who was responsible. What I’m saying is, it basically took all of my concentration not to hi-five him at the dinner table. I felt totally validated and when I relayed the compliments to the rest of the team, we shared those hi-fives.

One of the great things about where I work is the requirement to continually train in your field of expertise. Last year I took a local training class in Adobe Speedgrade and this year I returned for After Effects Intro & Advanced. (If you’re near Columbia, MD I whole-heartedly recommend Think Big Learn Smart for Adobe and other software training).

With last year’s proof of concept and this year’s training under my belt, all I needed to continue animating was for there to be an actual business case to do so.

Boring work-related stuff aside, we wound up adapting an internal white board for external use in a modern animation style.

Again, let me stress that this is always a team effort! We worked together on concept and storyboard, and my contribution was to record the audio narration and animate the illustrations that were given to me. I love it. I love how many problems this brought up. How many times I said “No, that’s not a thing” and then figured it out the next day. How long each scene took me at first and how quickly I was animating by the end. All of it. Let’s do more. Let’s have fun. Let’s learn every day during the process.

Yolanda’s Story Podcast

I present to you Part 1 (of 3) of Yolanda’s story, a podcast I edited and co-produced for Round Table Companies. I’ve been jokingly calling this my magnum opus, and I am supremely proud to be able to share with you this audio story of Yola’s journey through chronic illness. It’s happier than it sounds. ‪

In episode two of this podcast, Yolanda shares some of the bold decisions she made as a young adult with chronic autoimmune illness. Dr. Tom Sult, Yolanda’s father Paul, and her husband Matthew join her voice to share their views on her trials and resilience.

In the third and final episode of my most recent/favorite podcast, Yolanda discusses the changes that she embraced in order to reach significant remission. Dr. Tom Sult, Yolanda’s father Paul, and her husband Matthew proudly join her voice to share their experiences with her journey to wellness and her resulting quest to remain well.

Double Product Launches

In the 14-work-days preceding Thanksgiving, we filmed these two product videos simultaneously. “We” being just myself (T-minus 6 months from the wedding) and the Creative Team Lead (five months pregnant) working early and late until we were both lying on the floor of the lab not sure if we were laughing or crying or too brain-dead to care. These two simultaneous videos gave me more respect for small film crews everywhere. How often did we think we had gotten everything perfect only to find our model wearing the wrong color gloves or holding the probe incorrectly.

Out of these shoots we created the cookbook and best practices for product launch videos, from concept to post production. We gained more faith in and respect for ourselves as visual storytellers than ever before. When we officially launch these videos at our internal Sales Meeting in February, we’ll see just how well-received these videos are from our field team. Until then, the best feedback I have is that the videos oversell our products, making them look (maybe) just a little too easy to use.

See for yourself!

Scott Miller speaks at Gilda’s Club in Detroit

Recently Round Table Companies asked me to edit down an hour-long speech by one of their clients into a 2-3 minute trailer that could be sent out with a press kit in the hopes of booking further speaking engagements. This was the first time I had to edit down a linear story/speech. The process was both frustrating and exciting, though in the end deceivingly simple: tell the best possible story without giving everything away.

Watch and see if you’d be inclined to listen to more.

Animation Time

Ok, let’s talk about After Effects. The AE class at Ohio was unfortunately a joke so I skipped trying to learn the program in school and jumped straight to Lynda.com instead. With experience in Premiere, Photoshop and Illustrator, the jump to After Effects wasn’t too difficult. (I will take this opportunity to complain about ‘G’ being for pen tool. If I had a dollar for every time I hit ‘P’ and was confused at my lack of pen tool, I’d be a much richer lady today.)

The actual need for an animation arose at work from a completely new product. It’s quite simple once you understand how it works, but explaining the mechanics succinctly turned to be quite complicated. As the product was developed we learned more about how it truly worked, and as I learned how to use After Effects I was able to provide more options for how to explain the product. We scrapped and restarted this animation more times than I can count, and in the end a customer said to me that he was able to watch this animation once and then explain the product to the rest of his team. Goal: achieved.

A Journey in Calorimetry

One of my favorite things to say when creating stories is that the one thing all humans have in common is that they’re all humans. As people, we easily become interested and invested in other people. One of our initiatives at work is to showcase our field team as the rock stars of our company. Team members who see customers every day are essentially the front lines and faces of our organization, so when I have the chance to leverage the knowledge and personality of one of those valuable colleagues, I take it.

In this case, Dom had the idea to share some calorimetry data. Instead of “pretty-ing up” his presentations and putting them through the marketing ringer, I recorded him presenting and explaining the data to the viewer. Perhaps most importantly, I was afforded the time to pick his brain and truly start to understand the subject at hand (calorimetry, right, I had never heard of it either.)

If you are more interested in calorimetry or chemical process safety, I helped put together this Process Safety application page with the above videos and some further content.

The Super Art Fight Online Invitational!

Since we filmed in March I’ve been teasing about the Super Art Fight web show in all of it’s glory. You’ve seen the Black Cat Promos and put up with my Facebook and Instagram posts. And now, all four episodes have been released. :D

I’d love to go through my process on these but to be totally fair to my fantastic SAF collaborators, this was one of the easiest projects I’ve done. Part of that came from the amazing atmosphere they helped create — we treated each other truly as collaborators, worked up a sweat and laughed until our sides hurt. Typically when I rush home from shooting to watch my footage, it’s out of fear that nothing worked out. With SAF, I couldn’t stop laughing.

Obviously no shoot is perfect and we ran into some issues. The Wheel of Death didn’t always cooperate. The first bout of the day was complete and utter crap as I got a handle on how to shoot such an event, and it took me a couple of hours to work up the courage to ask those two artists if they wouldn’t mind doing a new bout. For once “It’s not you, it’s me,” was 100% true. That’s when I learned how much time and preparation go in to each bout, how they sketch and plan and really think in a way that comes across to the audience as effortless.

Overall, this really was a simple shoot. We set up the canvas, lights, audio, and main camera once and never moved them. Everyone from SAF truly showed up and gave their all for every single take.

Hosts Marty & Ross filming the "What is Super Art Fight" intro.

Hosts Marty & Ross filming the “What is Super Art Fight” introduction.

During bouts I hand-held a second camera to get close-ups of the action from varying angles. Camtasia was set up on the Wheel of Death computer to capture the all-important spins. Once everything was synced on the timeline, I used the Wheel of Death screencaps when needed, Camera II whenever possible and Camera I everywhere else. Done and Done.

The narration you here in the final videos was recorded by Ross & Marty after the fact. They watched my rough cuts (on mute, obviously) and narrated what I showed in real time. It worked like a charm, from my perspective at least. I cut that audio in with the original Wheel of Death chants and placed music from their regular DJ The Megadrives like I knew what I was doing.

It may not have felt so simple were I not still laughing at our antics on subsequent drafts.

This is the timeline for El Russo Rojo's Promo. One camera, one mic. Keep it simple.

This is the timeline for El Russo Rojo’s Promo. One camera, one mic. Content is king.

Before I let you watch the final videos, there’s something you need to know. The killer graphics on these guys (and the previous promos) were done by El Russo Rojo. The man is magic. I can open up After Effects and click around until things happen, but this guy knows what’s up. Fake news ticker, explosions, WWE-style match-up graphics, it’s all amazing. This was the first time I had ever worked with a post-production graphics artist so I must admit it totally blew my mind. If I had known the videos were going straight to him I would have made some changes on export, given extra heads/tails frames, or offered up my Premiere files for better integration. But that is neither here nor there, just a little guilt picked up along the way, some thoughts for Web Show Round Two.

Please do enjoy. If you and SAF are ever in the same area, you should see them live. Seriously. Once two members of a tag-team handed out pizza. Once there was even a short-lived attempt at crowd-surfing. There is always hilarity. (I suppose this is where I plug their upcoming show at Baltimore’s Ottobar on September 20th.)

Vote on the results for the next month at SuperArtFight.com!

The greatest compliment a collaborator can give is to collaborate again, and we’re filming round two of this thing come winter. Don’t know about you, but I’m excited.

Together, We Are More

Many months ago I mentioned an impending trip to Joshua Tree with Round Table Companies. That desert week has come and gone, and after months of editing smaller/secret-er projects I have an overall trip video to show you.

This was one of the more challenging and rewarding edits I’ve worked on since leaving VisCom.

The original assignment from Corey read: “We have so much great footage from Joshua Tree. I’d love to work on … some more general pieces that would show potential clients the love we have for one another.”

I had a few gut reactions on what to include in such a video, though in order to get going I had to log all of the footage in a meaningful way. There were three videographers: Ben Clyde, Joshua Woollen and myself. Together we created 1,610 video clips with different styles that had to be blended together. Add to that the fact that we were camping, with few-and-far-between opportunities to charge batteries, ingest dailies, and communicate with each other. Make no mistake that logging footage was by far the most time-consuming and eye-opening part of this entire process.

Morning, Power Station. Black Rock Campground at Joshua Tree State Park.

Morning, Power Station. Black Rock Campground at Joshua Tree State Park.

Audio was a situation all it’s own, since each of us had a different audio recording set-up. Between the desert wind, campfires, and new friends chatting excitedly where-ever we tried to record, I knew I needed to base the entire edit on what soundbites I could salvage.

Case in point, I fell in love with this sage quote from fellow camper Tivonaw Johnson. The quote is succinct, powerful, and fit perfectly with both the activity footage we gathered and the message that Corey asked that the video convey.

Here’s the original, in which you hear the crackling of our campfire and the hiss of two kerosene lamps needed to make visuals possible.
Trust quote - before

Now I’m no audio wizard, but I use Adobe Audition‘s Noise Removal like I know what I’m doing. In order to take out that constant hiss, I also removed the part of her voice on those wavelengths. The edited clip sounds clean but far away.
Trust quote - after

My entire storyboard was based on what audio I thought I could salvage. Once I began the process, the story arc morphed to exclude everything I was forced to reject (until such time as I become an audio wizard) and include what new quotes were simply cleaner and more powerful that the stuff I had originally picked. RTC approved my first draft of good quotes & clips and from there I was able to spend all of my energy polishing that edit.

First draft (in Adobe Premiere), just look at the shapes of things:
Initial Edit – June 29 (2:49)

Final draft, exactly the same shapes with only music and titles added:
Final Edit – July 20 (2:55)

Before adding the finishing touches of background music and intro/outro text provided by RTC, I smoothed out all of the transitions to match similar motions, moods and sounds.

I edit for two reasons only: The first and most important is the euphoria of that first epiphany, when I figure out what the footage is trying to say to me. “Every story is trying to be bad,” a professor once said to me, “and it is our job to make it good.” It’s like finding a needle in a haystack and the missing piece of the puzzle at once when I can take a mass of footage and distill it down to the correct story for the correct audience. It’s bliss. The second and more technical reason I edit is for the glory of a beautiful transition. When one clip follows the motion of the previous clip is my favorite but any transition that stands out as beautiful or blends in seamlessly is an equal achievement of skill and grace. So when I say I spent hours watching each transition over and over and over it is not tortuous but beautiful and zen.

More frustrating was my final step of color correcting each of our clips to match. The men used 5D Mk II and I a D800 — all good gear but all in different color spaces with different settings. I always forget I expose for blacks until I see someone else exposing for whites. Luckily I recently took a class in Adobe SpeedGrade (it’s not the best option but since I already subscribe to Creative Cloud, it’s perfect) and was able to pick my favorite clip and match each and every other clip to that. That took more time than I had patience for, but the end result is as vibrant as real life, and I hope makes us look like a team of shooters rather than three individuals doing our own thing.

See first this straight-from-camera frame. It’s legal color that to my eyes seems 100% accurate:
Lava - before

However, another shooter in the same scene shot much more vibrantly (still legal color that to my eyes seems 100% accurate). When I graded the duller clip to match the more vibrant clip, it looked cheaply edited. So I made the vibrant clip a little more vibrant and added that grading to what I did to the duller clip earlier and came out with this. The single frame doesn’t do the change any justice, but trust me for now.
Lava - after

The end result, in my opinion, makes the transition between clips smoother and helps me forget who shot what. Take a look, the video is just under three minutes and if you know what bits to look out for, it goes by even faster:

Don’t let a finished project fool you. Watching it now, there are definitely changes I would make. I know I need to let go and allow edits to fly or fall on their own. I take the lessons that I learned and the epiphanies that I gained to allow the next edit to be more fun than the last. From here I learned that regardless of how much I am prepared to shoot, there will always be obstacles (such as power or fire) in my way; that no matter how diligently I log footage, I will not be 100% prepared to take those clips into battle on the timeline, yet to take the clips I love and edit them with calculated risk because the entire journey is exciting when you love your craft.

A calculated risk: taking my first rock-climbing experience before everybody else in order to film Corey coming up. Photo by Katie Gutierrez.

A calculated risk: taking my first rock-climbing experience before everybody else in order to film Corey coming up. Photo by Katie Gutierrez.