After Effections Animation: FTIR Spectroscopy For Your Application

This was the culmination of almost a year’s worth of work, often just thinking and imagining between other projects, and I’m beyond proud that I will finish my employment with this company on such a high note.

Video Editing: It’s Not Always Sexy

The majority of my editing work isn’t sexy, or even necessarily interesting. What I try to stress before starting any project is that a video should be necessary. When the best media to deliver a story is video, I’m your girl.

Much of what I do at work is just training colleagues to set them up for video success. Whether that means teaching them to use a microphone, or the difference between showing/speaking information. It’s a waste of everyone’s time to have me sitting next to someone recording with PowerPoint or Camtasia, so I coach as much as possible (and sometimes collaborating for a first draft) and then edit away.

Here’s a good example of that process. This video was created out of a desire to educate viewers on a particular topic. I’ve been working with different microphones and training material for colleagues, and this is the first time that I was able to hand over the mic (a Rode NTG-2) and received back 100% usable audio right away. All I had to do was clean up the speech, tidy the PowerPoint slides and export for YouTube.

Boom. Done. Education.

It may not be sexy, but it’s still satisfying.

The Art of the Technical Product Showcase

Last month I showcased a technical/support video project (read the post: Supporting the Support) that we began in 2014 and continue to update for that particular product. Keep that in mind and know that one of the challenges of my position is that I’m the only video/media person in the entire international corporation (that I’m aware of). With the success of the support videos, another product manager asked for a cleaner version geared toward prospective customers for his upcoming product.

We in MarCom jumped on the idea, but we had to develop a new video standard that was above the support video, below the product marketing video…clean enough to pass the guidelines for being on our website but nitty-gritty enough to be believed by the highly technical people who are our potential (and existing) customers.

So we bought more lights, brought in subject matter expert who loves to be in front of the camera, and wrote a rough script. We kept expectations realistic by reminding all of the stakeholders that this was essentially a proof of concept — that the first time we do anything there is an unspeakable amount to learn.

I think everyone’s proud of what we came up with. The only snafu we ran into is that one vendor neglected to ship one part, so we lost an entire day while our in-house R&D team printed and milled a new adapter for us. Well, “lost” is a strong word because we used the time to practice what Simon was going to say.

Overall, this video was a success. Everyone involved was happy and sees where there is room for improvement going forward. Most importantly, everyone is happy enough to want to produce more like this. Here’s to progress.

Supporting the Support

Whenever I start to think that my portfolio isn’t meaty enough, or that I’m not publishing often enough, I try to gently remind myself that the vast majority of my projects (both at work and for freelance clients) is for internal/personal use only. Weeks of my life every year are spent on software tutorials and home video compilations. I try to remind myself that I complete these projects with pride and that each of them meet their specific goal, even if that goal is meant for an extremely narrow audience.

When we release a new product (or make changes to an existing product) at work, a large task for me is working with service and support to provide comprehensive documentation. Sometimes a technical drawing with call outs is sufficient in a document, sometimes I shoot step-by-step photos, sometimes I even shoot real-time videos as reference for our field team.

For our newest product, the product team was clear that they wanted to join the 21st century and provide support videos for simple tasks that customers/users could complete themselves. This allowed me to create a new video standard somewhere in between the high caliber needed for product videos and the (relatively) low production effort put into internal-only videos. I was lucky enough to work with a patient product team that trusted my expertise while sticking to what they believed was best for their customers (such using subtitles only, which I fought tooth and nail).

In the Fall of 2014 (after months maybe even a year of pre-production), a product manager and I spent one full week filming the most necessary videos. By the end we were both lying on the floor of the conference room (my make-shift studio space) laughing with delirium and unable to remember what our notes meant and what we still had to do. She and I still use that as the standard to gauge how stressful a project is. And I now limit all video shoots to one week, period. If the shoot requires more time, we take one week off. Period.

As the videos were started before market release of the product, some parts and procedures changed, and we’ve been re-filming and re-editing as recent as last month. The video I have linked in this post is one I’m particularly proud of, because of how long it took to get all the details right. Making sure the dye in the bottles was dark enough to be seen in the lines, but not so dark as the viewer couldn’t tell what color it was supposed to be…unscrewing the line fittings without blocking the view or making a mistake…and accidentally using up all of the dark blue gloves so that we had to switch to light blue in later videos. (I now buy my gloves in bulk, put my name on the box, and lock them in a storage room. Continuity is serious business.)

What I love most about support videos is the learning opportunity they provide. When I attend conferences / symposia, I can hold my own talking with curious prospective customers about any product that I’ve done support videos for. And at it’s most basic point, that’s why I chose this profession; I wanted the opportunity to gain knowledge and access to things that I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. So even when I produce for a closed audience, I’m still growing.

Smart Phone Nature Photography

When a friend asked Matthew and I (as well as another biologist friend of ours) to help with the Earth Day Celebration she was putting together at the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park, we were all about it.

Matthew created a poster and pulled samples of local invasive plants, our other friend put together an experiment for kids to extract DNA from strawberries, and I prepped a walk & talk on smartphone nature photography.

Here, in my professional opinion, are the basic tips for an average person who wants to make beautiful visual memories while surrounded by nature:

  • Find the Light – Where does your eye naturally go? Most people prefer soft, warm colors. Avoid harsh light and shadows when possible.
  • Think – Why this picture? Focus on the most important part of the image. Minimize distractions that may also be in-frame.
  • Change the Perspective –Where is the most interesting point of view? Try high and low angles and walk around the subject. Avoid digital zoom.
  • Steady the Shot –If a tripod isn’t available, place the camera on something solid or hold it against your body.
  • Befriend the Camera –Know your tools! Learn tips, tricks, and shortcuts for your particular camera and be ready when the moment strikes.

And here’s a Pinnable/downloadable version:

The gallery in this post are some of the nature photographs I’ve taken throughout the years. Notice that just following the rules doesn’t automatically make a photograph visually pleasing; the subject matter needs to be interesting, too!

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!