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gamejam2014TL;DR: We made games and you can play them here!

You can't think about online video 24/7. Well, I mean you can try. But unless you prefer your breakfast served in capsule form by a kindly lady wearing white whilst you whimper softly about aspect ratios, it's good to take a break once in a while. Which is why, every month or so, we on the vzaar dev team take a break and get together for a good, old-fashioned code challenge to slow down the inevitable descent into fatuity. It mainly works.

A burned-out programmer has his opinions about text editors medically realigned

In the past, we've come up against some pretty varied challenges. We've refactored code. We've written programs to encrypt and decrypt messages using Bruce Schneier's Solitaire Cipher. We've even created DSLs, and if that made you snigger then grow up, because I'm talking about Domain-Specific Languages. Yeah.

When the opportunity finally fell on me to set the next challenge, I wanted it to be a bit different to the previous exercises. And I wanted it to be fun. It ended up being at least one of those things. That's because I remembered what it was that got me into programming in the first place: playing games on my rubber-keyed ZX Spectrum, and the joyful revelation that I could make my own, simply by writing millions of lines of code that become infinitesimally less incomprehensible as time goes on, until maybe one day you sort of understand what you're doing.

The challenge, then, was obvious. The dev team must Make Dan A Game. Some of them took this more literally than others. These were the rules:

  1. Use any language you like.
  2. It can be any sort of game. Dan does not mind.
  3. Console, browser, or even GUI. Your choice.
  4. The game can be small or large. Or somewhere in between.
  5. The game must be fun.

Simple, right? Well, yes and no. As I should have remembered from my early attempts, making games is hard. During my idyllic youth, the most accessible method of making a game would be to copy out hundreds of lines of BASIC, and pray that you didn't make a mistake.

While the games had exciting titles like ROCKET, they were a far cry from the games we played in amusement arcades. In most, the general flow of gameplay required you to enter a number, after which you'd be told that you'd died. If you're part of the generation before me, you were even less lucky. If you even had access to a computer, the best you could do would be to put a punchcard in it, which would come back out several days later with some extra holes that would inform you you'd died.

"The goblin does not like the number 3, so he has eaten your face. Would you like to play again? Y/N"

Thankfully for us, though, making a game is way easier nowadays. Frameworks like Phaser take all the hassle out of such trifles as physics and collision detection, so that you can explode stuff and inform the player that they've died with just a few lines of JavaScript.

So, now we're all up to speed with my meandering, subjective take on computing history, let's take a look at some of the "highlights" of the pioneering vzaar game jam!

Lawrence - Virtual Startup Party
screenshot does not represent actual gameplay

very heideggerian

As we all know, Lawrence loves support. And he loves the warm glow of doing a good job. Not everyone in support holds themselves to such high standards though, and to illustrate this, Lawrence's game was based around the existential ennui of dealing with a company that only responds to one email a day. He achieved this by making a text adventure that would only allow you to make one move a day. It's a brave mechanic; maybe what you'd even call an anti-game. On the plus side, this gives you plenty of time in between turns to sit outside Parisian cafes smoking Gauloises and generally being a 19th century hipster.

The game's score is worth noting: an 8-bit version of Get Lucky on a permanent loop, which I'm pretty sure is what Heidegger was listening to when he wrote that "profound boredom, drifting here and there in the abysses of our existence like a muffling fog, removes all things and men and oneself along with it into a remarkable indifference."

Dan's rating: A+ for inventing a new genre, D for making me think
Play Lawrence's game here!

Terry - PONG
screenshot does not represent actual gameplay

screenshot does not represent actual gameplay

Just to remind us of how far Moore's Law has taken us - or possibly because he'd only left himself an hour to complete the task - Terry wrote a PONG clone in JavaScript. For any younger readers, PONG was one of the first arcade games to reach mass popularity, and was ostensibly a tennis simulation, if you imagined the players as featureless white rectangles floating in a black void. Pretty much like Andy Murray, in fact.

Terry was so old-skool in his implementation that he somehow made a version even less feature-packed than the original. Nonetheless, the power of a truly iconic game shone through and we all ooh-ed and aah-ed as Andy inched shakily up and down the screen, uttering a strangulated beep of excitement when he successfully volleyed the white square towards the other white rectangle.

Dan's rating: A for nostalgia, C- for effort
Play Terry's game here!

Alan - Flappy Dan
a typical scoreboard

a typical scoreboard

Yes, Alan went there. He made a Flappy Bird clone. And despite the topical appeal of a flap-like, it's actually a pretty ancient game mechanic so it fits in with our retro theme nicely, kind of like if your grandparents used snapchat. There isn't a great deal to say about Flappy Dan that hasn't already been said about its avian precursor, except that it is testament to both Alan's skills as a programmer and the Phaser framework that you can knock out a clone like this in such a short time. Either that or it's testament to how bad of a game Flappy Bird is.

Most notably, it was the most popular game amongst the vzaar staff, and I can honestly say I never expected people to be so passionate about avoiding smashing my face into a Mario pipe.

Dan's rating: A++ for quality, E- for the very crude pixel rendition of my face.
Play Alan's game here!

Dan - Space Invaders By Candlelight
what a dashing gent

what a dashing gent

"It's the dead of night. You hear a deafening cacophony outside, and as your instinct to protect your family is the first to take hold, you rush outside with only your trusty candle and laser gun. You can see missiles raining from the sky, but where they are coming from? What could be happening?" This is how I should have begun my presentation. With a story about how my game was some sort of conceptual piece about the nature of the unknown.

But in reality, I didn't have much time, so I stole a space invaders demo and added a lighting effect that would obscure everything but the player itself. Feeling that this was slightly unfair, I added levels and made the candle's radius increase each time, so that you might gain a glimpse of your unseen nemeses. Feeling that this was slightly too fair, I then made the aliens stronger and more trigger-happy each level until it reached just the right amount of early-video-game-impossibility.

Dan's rating: A++++++
Everyone else: "I don't get it"
Play Dan's game here!

So that's how the first ever vzaar game jam went down. If you're interested in making games, it's easier than ever so give it a try! Feel free to look at our source code, but please bear in mind our games were the result of frantic - rather than responsible - hacking. And please leave us a comment to tell us which game you liked best! Especially if it was mine.

Categories Community, Tech, vzaar updates
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Video Transcript

My name is Terry I work for which vzaar does video hosting for business a bit like YouTube but much, much better and much, much more appropriate for business.

I’m actually the lead player developer so technically I spend most of my day sitting behind a desk reading code but don’t let that fool you I do have some form of photography I did actually study quite a lot of photography so that’s where most of my knowledge comes from where I started before I started making videos. I have actually got some background that’s not just tech.

Ok, so let’s show you what we do so obviously the most effort and time you get given to make a video tends to go into marketing videos so you’re more than welcome to ignore the content of this per se as this is basically a marketing video for us, but its also a good example of the kinds of videos we can now make. It’s by no means perfect but it’s certainly a good example of where we’ve got to thus far.

Ok that’s quite enough beard, although you can never have too much beard!

Yeah and we did all that with fairly simple kit. A humble prosumer DSLR, its’ actually couple generations out now but it still takes reasonable video, we’ve got a pretty cheap and cheerful lens a properly bottom of the range tripod and we did spend some money on the audio gear. I’ll come on to that in a minute. But really we haven’t got an awful lot of kit

The thing we do to make that work for us is we try and make it as simple as possible basically. One way to keep it simple while you’re shooting is make a really good plan. So before we get to the actual filming stuff we spend quite a lot of time planning it making storybooks making scripts. We’ve got here the documents we use to plan out the video you just saw. We start out writing the basic script out then that gets transferred into a written storyboard, if you like, because none of us can draw and if we tried it would look awful. And then for a particularly big shoot like this that gets transferred into a full on blow by blow shot list with a prop list to the side as well.

What you find is you’ve got enough going on. These cameras aren’t really designed for video – you can make video with them – but they aren’t really designed to make video so the key thing is to keep as simple as possible while you’re doing it. And just be able to tick off a list. If you know you’ve got everything in the list and you can just tick off “yep I’ve done that, done that” you haven’t got to fuss about “oh have I got every shot here,” because you’ll invariably forget about something because you’re focusing on getting the shot right or is the audio guy over there or something like that so just plan it as neatly and as tidily as you can. Even do a run through before hand, practice it before you get there, plan it and stick to it. Just get yourself as organised as possible do all the pre planning first and then you can just focus on the filming itself. And you’ll find that a lot easier.

And very important as I said always do everything in full costume and make up. It’s the only way. But yeah always keep it very, very simple.

So, yes, your kit. As I said we’ve got fairly basic kit. We asked ourselves three questions before we got going on video.

The first one does our camera actually take video? It sounds like a bit of a stupid question you know we’re here to make video. But you don’t technically need your camera to take video to make video. You can do quite a lot with stills. So this is all just a sequence of stills and it turns into a perfectly reasonable video so you can do it, you just have to think about it a little bit and plan it out.

So then you need to move onto the next thing – does your camera capture sound well? Most of these camera have got a lovely little microphone on them that’s, you know, the size of a pea not going to pick up anything and you’re just going to end up with massive disappointment when you come to the edit suite to put it all together and you’ve got you know bus noise going past, someone coughing at the back, huge amounts of hiss and ambient noise on it, it just doesn’t work. Basically any kind of mounted microphone is never going to sound as good as some guy dressed up to look like an idiot with headphones on and running round after you with a microphone.

So yes always go for a decent microphone if you’re going to record your sound or even a mid level microphone because this isn’t particularly big or clever, just a basic Rhode shotgun microphone with an audio recorder which I’m actually using today and then the cheapest boom microphone stand we could find. That makes such a difference to the shot and final edit. It’s amazing when you’re putting everything together looking at the rushes and you’ve got the normal track and it sounds ok but then when you switch out for the real audio it’s like wow it sounds so much better so I cannot stress how much you need to make sure your audio is good. But the audio you get from your camera is still valuable and I’ll point out why a little later on.

Yes, the reason you have a guy running around like this is because you need to monitor your audio while you’re recording. There’s enough problems to solve in the edit suite the last thing you want is to get to the edit and the perfect take you saw was brilliant when you watched through the camera, you get to the edit suite like “that’s awesome” and then you find out oh no somebody’s knocked the mic or theres a massive pop so the key bit of video is completely unusable its a complete disaster you have to reset the shoot or use the b roll. Just always monitor the audio. You don’t have to do much you can get Dave form the street to listen to it. Just the second something goes wrong with the audio get the sound guy to hold up his hand guys we’ve got to do that again, as I said keeping it all simple mostly for the edit suite.

Talking of the edit suite this is what I was meaning about using the audio capture from the camera. Obviously when you’ve got a secondary track you need to match it up later on. It’s so easy when you’ve got the audio from the camera to just line the peaks up pretty much do it straight away so its not even a complicated thing to put the audio together with the video later on just line it up visually zoom in a little bit and you’re done you’ve synced your audio up and its really easy.

Obviously a bit like with the camera not taking video, there’s still ways around if you don’t want to record your own sound. You can use background music there’s creative comms music around. There’s a lovely chap at the back who’ll do your voiceovers for you, or you can head to Fiverr. Yes you know you can get all this stuff recorded in and you can just record your video, get a voiceover done and just sync it up in the edit so there’s loads of ways to do things if you don’t want to go down the audio route. If you are do it properly, if you’re not then relax and just get someone else to do it properly for you.

So ok yes what lens should you use?

It sounds like there’s a lot of people in the room who’ll know about this already so I’ll just gloss over it a little bit. But yes there’s a shed load of lenses for a load of different reasons. There’s no right lens necessarily, there’s no wrong lens necessarily but you can make your life an awful lot easier by using a more correct lens for the thing you’re shooting.

Obviously wides get more in, mid range portrait kind of zooms in a little bit – thank you Hayley for posing for the photographs there. And then your telephoto lens there gets the guys in the background kind of laughing at us taking photos of Hayley for no reason and there’s Hayley’s head to the side there. So yeah depends entirely what you’re shooting what type of lens you want to use.

I do find though, I mean we use the incredibly cheap but really useful Canon EF 50 for most of the things we do because its bright and its really cheap and easy, light and its a prime as well and I find prime lenses, er fixed focus lenses make my life so much easier when I’m filming just because it’s one less thing to worry about. It’s so easy to knock the zoom slightly on a zoom lens and suddenly you’ve got slightly different aspects on your photograph and then in the edit it your zooming through and it just looks that little bit different you’ve two shots next to each other and ones at 37 and ones at 32 or something like that. But if you’re using a prime lens its always fixed you don’t need to worry about that and that’s why I love a prime lens and we in particular use the 50.

So you’ve got your kit now you need to set up your shot. The first thing I’d say is put your camera in manual. It makes a massive difference.

Obviously most cameras you’ll need to use auto focus in some way shape or form but, if you can, get your focus and lock it off. These cameras are set up to take a single shot at a single point in time and then move onto the next thing. They aren’t really built for video and video is a continuous thing taking lots of shots over a period of time, and if its constantly focusing and changing all the time for each shot which they’re kind of built to do then you’re going to end up with a complete mess with a change of focus, change of depth of field as its trying to do your auto set up on the exposure it’s going to be changing the color balance which looks shocking if you get to the edit and you’ve suddenly got to start doing color balance as you go along. So, just whack it in manual it’ll make your life an awful lost easier when you get to the edit suite again if everything looks consistent even if one bits too dark its consistently dark so it’ll make sense in context.

Yes now composing the frame. Another one of Hayley’s lovely photographs thank you Hayley. Once again there’s a million and one ways to compose a shot but if you’re starting out and you’re just getting used to it a really simple way is rule of thirds. Kind of 101 for school lessons I think I learnt it at GCSE many years ago when I first got into it and I’m still using it now. Basically on the grid there you’ll see just sort of stick it on the third, I don’t know what the psychology is behind why we do find this more pleasing to the eye but we do I’m not going to argue with it I’m just going to exploit it to its maximum potential and it just means its one less thing to worry about later on rather than trying to do something clever just stick it on the third and the world moves along nicely.

Now lighting. Proper lighting is an entirely different story. I’m assuming if we’re just starting out making videos we probably don’t have a huge lighting rig and if you have you probably know everything I’m saying already and are probably falling asleep at the back wondering when you can go to the pub. So I’m going to gloss over all that and just talk about what we use which is ambient lighting. We haven’t got anything clever, we have the window and dirty little fluorescent lights like these and you can make videos with them you just need to be a bit careful about it. As I was saying the color balance is something you have to look out for. You can see even on this projector you can see that’s a much brighter, while this is almost yellowish over here. If you were to shoot for instance over from Dani and coming round to Julius cutting across the two, you’ve got a complete change there its much more blue over this side and yellower over on this side. So you can easily make the shot feel inconsistent so what you’d try and do is be aware you’ve got two different lights and shoot on only one side of the room.

Just try and keep everything simple again keep the location the same and if you’ve got to move it around because you need a different location make it actively a different location in the shot. You know there’s no harm in changing the color balance if you the moved into a room inside and you want to show it’s inside but use the change in light as part of the narrative if you have to change it. If not try and keep it simple to keep everything balanced.

When you are using natural light it doesn’t necessarily work very nicely with a camera. As photographers will know when you’re trying to take a portrait in bright sunlight you end up with it burnt out one side and completely dark on the other side. You know most days aren’t a beautiful hazy overcast diffused light naturally for you. One tip is a cheap shower curtain over the window basically does the same thing as the frosting you’ve got on the window here, it’s amazing what difference it makes. Pop that on one side and then on the other side just get a bit of mount board one side leave white, on the other side tin foil just tape some tin foil on it and then you’ve got a bright reflector or a mid level reflector to fill in the other side of the face.

You know little things like that, £15 there and you’ve got yourself essentially a lighting accessory pack and you’re away and you can make a huge difference to your shot. So those are some top tips.

Once you’ve got all that set up, consider your background. Do it in steps you’ve got your subject you know what you’re shooting. What’s going on behind the subject?

As per everything else it completely depends on what you’re trying to shoot whatever kind of mood you’re trying to give. No right or wrong answer you might be trying to go for a simple one, there was a charity called Make Poverty History a few years ago they did, it was basically a white background and celebs in white t shirts very little makeup on just sitting really still and because they were trying to put the message across they kept everything else as simple as possible to make it eye catching and really strong and they didn’t want any distractions at all. But at the same time you’ve got BBC news room where they want to show bustle, they want to show excitement, they want to show movement so they’ve got glass going through to the background to show all these very active journalists who’ve all gone home at 10 o clock and it just looks a bit dead anyway but that’s by the by. So that’s another thing just think about it, decide what you want to do plan it ahead of time and then roll with it. But setting the right background really helps set the mood.

We tend to do somewhere in the middle. We use kind of a more interesting background, if you like, the more active background but I’ll use the prime lens at f2 or something like that I tend to drop the depth of field so the area that’s in focus is kind of from the front of the face to about half a foot behind the face so literally just the subject is in focus so you keep the attention of the viewer on the subject. We’re normally only shooting one person in our videos. And try and just drop everything out so it’s kind of hazy. Anybody, you know, it sounds like some people might know what I’m talking about, if anybody’s getting bamboozled by apertures and depth of field and all that sort of stuff and wants to learn more just give me a shout afterwards and I’ll go through it, I don’t want to talk through it too much and bore people who know what’s going on. So, that’s the background.

Now, hand held versus tripod. Obviously, you see people running around with cameras all over the place, lots of people with nice rigs and all the rest of it. When you think of cameras you maybe think of the hand held camera. But hand held for a DSLR does not work. It’s all over the place, it’s properly jolty. If you compare that with a still shot, these things are too light to hold easily, you need a rig for them to weight it to make a DSLR hand held. Basically stick it on a tripod; unless you’re going to buy a whole load of rig, trick it on a tripod can be a really cheap tripod. The difference is amazing you know otherwise you’ve got a whole audience there, trying to enjoy your videos, and particularly if it’s on a large screen they’re actually just vomiting because they’ve got motion sickness. It’s not a good look, I can definitely recommend that. And I do get motion sickness, I’ve experienced that. Blair Witch was horrible. Worst two hours of my life.

Anyway. And then, another thing. Don’t think like you believe a human thinks. So, it sounds a little bit silly. But, you kind of don’t process it but when you look from something you actually pan. So I’m looking from Dexter to Dani and I actually cut with my eyes. So I see you and I don’t see anything in the middle, and then I see the other side of the shot. But what you think you do you kind of feel like the body pans around, you feel like your head moves and you kind of pan from one to the other. And that’s what you end up thinking you want to do with the camera. And if you’re panning around all over the place you get wobble, you lose focus. So it just doesn’t work.

What you actually want to be doing is just cut. Cut to shot. It’s amazing the difference. The brain, it’s actually what the brain is doing, what you’re seeing when you actually look at things naturally, it’s just not what you realize you’re doing. So never be tempted to pan and focus and waste time in a shot. You’ll also bore the viewer while you’re panning and refocusing and losing the impetus of what’s going on. Just cut it. Everything’s clean, everything’s neat, everything’s tidy. Keeping it simple once again.

Right. A few other random bits that didn’t fit under any particular title. Tails on your takes. It’s a really simple thing, Dexter will know from today, if you haven’t got tails on your takes, when you’re shooting people particularly, you can think “oh yes that’s all fitting in perfectly” but you’ve got, I don’t know, maybe some underlying audio and you just want to match things up you just need that little bit, that one or two frames. And if someone’s gone, literally the second the red light’s gone on they’ve started talking, you haven’t got any space. And if you’ve stopped it as soon as they’ve finished talking you haven’t got space at the end either. And it just makes things go wrong very quickly in the edit once again. Never make anything go wrong in the edit on purpose. So just give a second or two at the beginning a second or two at the end and just kick of with the action in the middle of it. It just makes all the difference.

Once you’ve got the take you want, because you might have been shooting for ten minutes or so, mark it. So in the edit suite you get a nice little strip, you get like thumbnails of what’s going on. If you had a good take whack your hand over the lens, great little tip I think skateboarders use it quite a lot. You’ll chuck your video into the editing suite at the end, it might be ten minutes long you know you’ve only got 15 seconds you actually want but you can’t find out where they are. You don’t want to watch ten minutes, look for the big block where there’s a huge block over the lens and that’s the finish of it, work back to where the footage started last and you’ve got your take, so you’ve saved ages in the edit suite finding stuff. So that’s quite a useful little tip.

And then, clap to mark the audio. It’s what a clapper board does. You’ve got your hands you can do it naturally. Gives you a better peak so when you’re lining up the audio for the syncing the audio from the external source versus the cameras, you’ve got a nice solid peak that doesn’t look like any other bits and can easily line it up and it speeds things up even more. That’s a great one.

Refocus every shot. Even if you’re on a tripod, even if the subjects apparently standing on their mark continuously, just refocus. You invariably find that something’s changed and you can’t see on these little screens. You can’t see if you’ve lost the focus or not. And you’ll get to the edit suite and you’ll find the ear is perfectly in focus and the nose is out of focus. And that’s another disaster. So just refocus every time. It’s a great habit to be in: if anybody moves, rocks back, the camera has been knocked something like that, I don’t know what it is, but these things drop focus tremendously quickly. So just every take, stop it, take another focus and you’re off on your way.

And smile for your subject. There is some psychology behind this, I don’t entirely know what it is, I did get told once. All I know is if you’re happy to make a fool of yourself behind the camera then the person in front of the camera that’s being forced to is there being filmed, feels a lot more comfortable doing it. So just creating a bit more of a comfortable atmosphere basically. I think smiles breed smiles or something like that is the psychology behind it. If you’re kind of sitting there feeling grumpy and you’re like, you know, “I just want to go for a tea break” then you know the person in front of the camera has no chance of being vibrant and being happy and engaging with the camera and therefore the viewer. So, be happy, be smiley put some energy into it yourself, you’ll get a much better output from it basically.

And last but not least: get it right at the shoot. Obviously, you can’t get everything right at the shoot, but get it as much as you can. Follow the shot list. Keep everything really simple. Don’t do anything too clever. Just take it step by step and you’re going to get a lot more right. And that just means when you get to the edit your life is going to be so much easier. Because, when you get there, if you’ve planned for anything to go wrong, everything else has already gone wrong in the editing suite and it’s just snow balling. And you’re just going to be there for hours fixing something ridiculous when you could have just thought “no I’m going to do this right the first time, that bit wasn’t quite right so I’m going to do it again,” and it’ll just be so much easier. So always try and get it right at the shoot.

So in summary, because I’ve waffled more than enough now, work with your kit’s strengths. As I say, you know, if you haven’t got audio shoot nice video and put it with a voice over. If you can’t shoot video shoot a great still sequence and turn that into your strength. And that can be your key creative for it, it breeds creativity, if you’ve got restrictions and you can’t spend millions of pounds on some massive Hollywood budget, you actually find yourself being much more creative with what you’re producing. It makes things a lot more exciting for you and then for the people who are viewing your videos because everybody expects to turn up now and see huge explosions and things at the cinema but they can be just as drawn in by a nice narrative and something clever and quirky. So, work with your strengths and play on them.

Always choose the simples option and make it awesome. Once again you can do something clever, you can do something big and it can be sort of all right. You know, you can just about pull off a new technical trick you’ve learnt and it can sort of flow through. But you could have just done that really simply. Maybe you tried a, I don’t know, a nice pull focus or something like that, it might look ok, it could look a little bit sketchy, it might even distract the viewer slightly. If you’d just done a straight cut, so really simple, no distraction for the viewer everything’s much smoother and then you can maybe maintain the narrative a bit more and get a much better result at the end of it. So keep it simple, keep it awesome is the way forward.

And practice makes perfect. We’re not perfect. We don’t claim to be, you know that video you saw there at the beginning it’s ok it’s certainly not perfect but we’ve been practicing and it’s a damn sight better than when we started out. I can assure you. And I’m definitely not showing you some of the earlier ones. So, just keep practicing. And you can’t fail to get better.

Thank you very much.

Making Your Own Video On A Budget

Categories Community, Video Production
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Video Production Behind The Scenes“Budget”. The word sends a shiver up many creative minds. How can you make something awesome when you’re working within limits?

But – and stay with me on this – a budget isn’t a bad thing

When you’ve got limited resources – be it time or money – you are forced to be creative. You’ve got think fast, learn quickly and find a way around setbacks.

And that’s exactly what we’ve had to do when making our videos. We don’t have flashy kit, we don’t have talented actors (sorry guys!), and we definitely don’t have time to spare.

You don’t need to throw money at something to make it good – great even. I’m going to share with you how we squeeze every drop of performance out of our humble (but well loved) DSLR…

1. The Plan

Make a plan. And stick to it.

When you get to the shoot itself you’ve got loads to think about to just get each shot right. You’ll make your life so much easier if you’ve planned out what you need to do before hand.

First, we write our script, then (because none of us can draw!) we create a written storyboard so that we know exactly what’s happening at each point in the script. Audio down the left hand side, visual on the right:

vzaar video planning process

This then gets translated into a shot list. I tend to visualise the shots we’re going to need whilst reading the storyboard, but running around taking test shots at a rehearsal also works very well. For larger shoots we also create a prop list to make sure you have everything you need to hand, and you don’t get caught out by continuity errors.

This gives you some lovely little (or long) lists from which at you can just tick things off as you go along.

2. The Kit

A little kit can go a long way. You don’t have to have a Hollywood sized budget to pull of a great looking business video.

Three important questions to ask:

Does your DSLR take video?

I know, I know, stupid question. But some of them can’t. Don’t worry though, your dreams of video stardom don’t have to go to waste. You CAN still create a video from stills. It does require a touch more planning before the shoot, and a bit more effort in the edit suit, but it’s definitely possible

For an easy life just check before you start you’ve got a camera that’s fit for purpose!

How well does it capture sound?

Chances are, not that well. Most DSLRs have a teeny tiny mic on them which will pick up all sorts of hiss and ambient noise. vzaar audio kit Clear audio makes such a difference to your overall video. Often people can be forgiving of a less than perfect visual – as long as the audio is clear, so it is worth spending a bit of budget on some higher quality kit.

Now, I’m not talking trillions. We got ours for under £500 (about $800).

Our preference is the Rhode NTG2 Shotgun mic, but you could also try lapel (we tend not to just because they look a little clumsier in shot).

We then capture that with the Zoom H4n audio recorder and sync everything up in the edit.

Which lens should you use?

No right or wrong answer here. It depends on the shot you’re going for. Both portrait and wide-angle lenses pretty much do what they say on the tin. Use these for your close ups and wider angle shots. And if you do need to capture something in the distance the telephoto is the one for you.

Our lens of choice is the Canon EF 50mm f1.8. It’s nice and bright, great value for money and it’s a prime lens which means there’s no chance of it unexpectedly changing focal length in between takes.

3. The Shoot

Congratulations. You’ve made it to the shoot. Let the games begin.

Stick to the plan

I cannot stress enough: get the shoot right.

Putting out fires in the edit is never ideal – and sometimes impossible to do. Creating and sticking to the plan you created way back in step 1 will pay off big time when you’re in the editing suite.

Now, on to setting up your shot…

Manual vs. Automatic

The problem with keeping your camera in automatic is it will constantly be auto correcting, focusing and generally changing its settings between takes. The only way you can ensure each shot is consistent is if you lock it all in yourself.

Put your camera in manual. It will give you so much more control during the shoot.


If you’re doing this on a budget I’m guessing you don’t have a full on lighting rig (if you do you can skip this part). You’re probably working with ambient (natural daylight) or artificial lighting.

If you’re filming on a sunny day you’ll probably find the natural lighting can be very harsh. On the other hand, artificial lighting can be quite yellow – making everything look like it’s been spray tanned to oblivion!

How to balance it all out? Well, you can do it for about a tenner (around $17).

For this you’ll need: 1 shower curtain, 1 piece of A1 cardboard, a roll of tin foil and a bit of masking tape.

A shower curtain makes for an amazing light diffuser. Just stick it up over your window and – hey presto – your harsh light becomes softer.

Now, take your tin foil and cover one side of your cardboard with it using the masking tape. Congratulations. You just got your very own reflector board. Use this to reflect the light and fill out any harsh shadows in your shot.

Handheld vs. Tripod

Use a tripod. I mean it.

Shaky camera work is nobody’s friend. DSLRs are just too light to be able to hold ‘em steadily. The last thing you want is to give your viewers motion sickness!


The problem is people working in your business are experts at selling clothes, at managing accounts, teaching first grade math – whatever. They’re NOT experts in front of the camera.

One really simple thing you can do to put your subject at ease is to smile. Better minds than mine have done the research and found that smiling is contagious. If you’re smiling: they’re smiling. You’ll get a much more vibrant presence on camera that way.

Final Thoughts

If you remember anything, remember this:

Keep. It. Simple.

Bells, whistles, after effects, explosions. These all come later – if at all.

Work with your kit. Don’t try and do things that it just wasn’t designed to do. An effective video does NOT need a ton of special effects. Concentrate on crafting a compelling, engaging narrative with simple, clean shots.     Making Your Own Video On A Budget

Categories Community, Video Production
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Terry Shares Video Production Tips

Over the last few years we’ve experimented with talking heads, screencasts, location shoots and full on narrative pieces. Juggling props, working with different kit and getting to grips with audio.

There’s been trials. There’s been errors. There’s been a LOT of bloopers.

Putting all of that learning to good use, our in house video producer extraordinaire Terry went along to the BBC Media Village to join videophiles from all over London.

He shared some of the lessons we’ve learned (more often that not the hard way!) from our own video making experience…

Making beautiful videos from the humble DSLR

For anyone holding a DSLR in their hand and thinking about dipping a toe into video, there’s a multitude of things to consider.

Stringing hundreds of frames together to tell a coherent and effective story requires a new mindset and approach, but with a bit of technical know-how and a few production hacks it really is possible to get extraordinary results from some strictly ordinary kit.

And last night Terry shared how.

We’ll be bringing you a video and slides from the night soon. So you’ll be able to skip all those painful bits and go straight to making awesome videos. Subscribe using the form below and we’ll let you know when we post ‘em.

But, if you can’t wait that long (and frankly who can blame ya!) here’s a sneak preview…

And, just to show you that Terry does know what he’s talking about…

Who is Terry?

With a background in interactive applications and over 10 years development experience, Terry is equal parts technician and creative. He currently acts as vzaar’s one man video making machine, spending his time filming, editing – and sometimes acting in – our marketing and support videos.

If you’re making your own videos and have any questions let him know in the comments below…


GC_Med vzaar Chairman Gareth Cadwallader recently caught up with social video expert Barney Worfolk-Smith of Unruly Media to get the lowdown on how brands can harness the power of video sharing.
Barney talks video sharing at The Future of Video Marketing

Barney talks video sharing at The Future of Video Marketing

GC: Barney, one of the first things you said that struck me was that despite all the dancing cats and the increasing presence of longer-format film content, fully 25% of views of video on the web are of ads.

B: That’s right. But people who are interacting predominantly online need to be advertised to differently. More so than in the era of TV and print advertising, people are living in a live stream of conversations with their friends and colleagues. What your friends are retweeting and recommending has never been a more powerful influencer on buying decisions than it is for the online consumer today.

GC: And that has big implications for the way we think about our video marketing campaigns. More than ever, our ad content needs to get into those conversations and become part of the flow.

B: Yes, exactly. Smart brands don’t use their ads to interrupt the conversation. They become the conversation. This is the design criterion for ad campaigns today: to become the thing that your target audience is talking about.

GC: What would a good example of that be?

B: During the recent Superbowl – which has become a tent pole event in the global advertising calendar, GoPro remixed Felix Baumgartners astonishing Stratos jump. It’s in full HD and I shared it the moment I saw it.

GC: So, I know at Unruly you pride yourselves on your scientific approach to video sharing and ‘virality’. So, analyse the GoPro campaign for us.

B: You’ve got to start with the most powerful findings from our research: that, when it comes to content, there are two significant variables that get videos shared. First, videos that have highly emotional content get shared twice as much as those that don’t. It stands to reason, why would you share something amongst your peers that was average? The GoPro content isn’t just exciting. It’s exhilarating! Next, give people a reason to share. That could be attention seeking from their peers, a shared passion for extreme sports or tapping in to the zeitgeist of the moment. The GoPro piece manages several of these.

GC: So, tell me how I recognize highly emotional content when it’s at home?

B: You can get positive or negative emotional content. We talk in terms of arousal levels. Positive emotions that generate high arousal levels would include hilarity, inspiration, astonishment and exhilaration. Negative content that generates high arousal would be disgust, shock, deep sadness and anger.

GC: So videos with either positive or negative high arousal are more likely to get shared.

B: That’s right. If you are a creative artist, or maybe certain types of charity, or a Government agency issuing warnings you might find negative, high-arousal content to a really effective way of disseminating your message. The remake of the classic horror film Carrie used shock to great effect in a recent ‘prankvert’, for example. But if you are a commercial brand, you’re playing with fire. In practice, commercial brands are increasingly looking to mine those positive, high arousal attributes.

GC: So, the first big message is that online videos that get into the conversation need to evoke strong positive emotions and among those, stories of personal triumph can be particularly effective. What else?

B: One of the differences we’ve seen between TV and social video ads is that brands are often far more tentative about asserting themselves online. On average it takes 30 seconds for a brand to reveal itself in a social video, much longer than is typical in traditional media. So, we advise our clients to challenge themselves to express more of their pride in their brand up front.

GC: And I know you have a strong message about distribution, too. Despite the mythology, very few videos go viral without a plan, isn’t that right?

B: It is, yes. There’s a simple piece of arithmetic that says: if a video is only seen by a few people it can only be shared by a few people. Malcolm Gladwell has confused people with his book The Tipping Point into thinking that just a few key individuals can spontaneously turn a video that a hundred people have seen into a global phenomenon. In practice, while the tipping point effects can happen, the fact is if you want to have a reasonable chance that your video is seen by millions of people, it needs to be seen by many people on many platforms early on in its life. Get the arithmetic working for you, not against you.

GC: So, here at the start of 2014, what would you say are the practical implications for video marketers of Unruly’s research?

B: This is the year of the World Cup, and I think that more than ever before we are going to see brands focus on intense emotional content in their video campaigns. Of all the positive high-arousal attributes, exhilaration is the most effective when it’s successfully conveyed – effective in both the propensity to be shared and to be recalled. Likewise, we’ve undertaken a specific study in Brazil about sharing habits there and it’s the emotion that drives the highest sharing at the epicenter of the biggest global sporting event. So, I predict that 2014 will be the Year of Exhilaration when it comes to video marketing.

GC: Well, to finish on that highly positive emotional note, thanks so much for talking to us, Barney, and to everyone at Unruly for sharing your research on the Science of Sharing with us.