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Bath Ruby Conference: Our Take

Lawrence
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Bath Ruby Conference

Developers occasionally move away from coffee and backlit monitors to venture outside. These occurrences are more common than you might think and are often referred to as “lunch time”. Other times developers will leave the comfort of their desks altogether and head out into the world, in order to meet other, like-minded, individuals. Bath Ruby Conference is one such event.

Some of you may know me as, “Lawrence the support guy” or other (less wholesome) sobriquets. However, I’ve also been coding in my spare time for a couple of years. Brilliantly, over the past few months, I’ve been coding more and more around the office too; working alongside our development team and straddling two worlds. Support and development.

With that brief bio divulged I can now tell you about Bath Ruby Conference. My first development conference! Needless to say, I was very excited and wanted to share the experience.

The Bath Ruby Conference Experience

For those of you who don’t know, Ruby is an object-oriented, dynamic, language. It’s one of the younger languages out there and was originally published in 1995. It gained widespread exposure ten years later, with the popular Ruby on Rails web framework; around which vzaar is built.

That all adds up to make Ruby a young language, primarily focused on web development. However, referring to it in such a way doesn’t really do it justice

The best thing about Ruby (and there are a lot of really good things about Ruby) is the community. It’s all about sharing, collaboration and making everyone a better programmer. Conferences highlight that better than anything. Take our first talk of the day as an example: it wasn’t a high-level discussion of how to approach a particular problem, it wasn’t a comparison of tools or methods. It was a talk about a children’s book, designed to get kids coding.

Linda Liukas
Linda Liukas is a Ruby developer from Finland, who began a KickStarter project in 2014. Her goal was to create “Hello Ruby”, an illustrated book based around the adventures of a young girl called Ruby. “Hello Ruby” was intended to introduce kids to the logic of the Ruby language, in a fun and engaging way.

At present Linda has exceeded her $10k by miles, raising $380k for the project over the past year. Listening to her speak was motivational to say the least. It’s great to see someone completely focused on giving kids the ability to make cool stuff, with an audience so enthusiastic about seeing that happen.

That concept – engaging the world around you and helping others engage with programming – is something which became a bit of a theme. And, I must say, a damn good one at that.

Saron Yitbarek
Like me, Saron started coding about two years ago. She went through a coding Boot Camp and, having survived it, now works with ThoughtBot. It sounded like her experiences were often much like my own. Sitting up late into the night, trying to work out why the computer won’t do what I’m telling it to do.

Keen to share these experiences, Saron tried help us think about how we learn and the steps we take towards gaining expertise. In particular, how we can help others with that experience.

The short answer: read code. Lots of code. Good code, bad code, and anything else you can get your hands on. More importantly though, do it in a group. Get together with some friends in the same boat, read it together and share your thoughts. It’s not often you can say this but, “it will make you a better person”.

To help everybody achieve that collective learning experience, Saron has also created #CodeNewbies, a Twitter chat which runs every Wednesday at 9pm (EST), to help newbies discuss what they’re doing and receive support from the community.

Another common theme for the day was making everyone a better programmer. Looking at how we think and why we engage with problems the way we do.

Tom Stuart
Tom explored mathematical abstractions and how thinking about them can make us better programmers.

It’s probably best if I show you an example, so you can see what I mean. What’s the sum of all the numbers from one to ten (i.e. 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10)? The answer: fifty-five!

Ok, so how about all the numbers from one to a thousand? What would you get if you add all those up? A long and boring sum would certainly be one answer. Just imagine: 1+2+3+4+5+6….. +98+99+100….+742… Urgh.. To save your sanity, you’d need a better method.

Finding that better method, as Tom would tell you, is exactly what mathematics is meant to do. In this case, there’s a simple mathematical rule, which was discovered by Carl Friedrich Gauss. You can use to work it out the answer very quickly. It’s just…

n(n+1)

2

…. where n is the number you’re counting up to (in this case 1000).

That, Tom says. is exactly what all good programmers should be doing. Looking for patterns and coming up with rules. Letting logic doing all the heavy lifting and leaving clean, short, elegant code.

This also serves as a reminder to every programmer out there, who had an awful time with maths at school. Maths is cool and will let you do cool things quickly, when you apply it properly. When you remove the fear and the stigma, it is just a incredibly powerful and elegant tool. Check out the slides here, if you’d like to know more.

Of course, as you’d expect from a programming conference, there were some more meaty discussions too. The general focus was looking at how we code, the way we write, and how we can write better. The goal being cleaner, more elegant, more logical code.
Ben Orenstein
slack_for_ios_upload (1) Ben’s a brave guy to say the least. His talk centered around refactoring some simple code, which he demonstrated in real-time. That’s no mean feat, when you’re standing in front of 400 people. Particularly when some of them are truly impressive thinkers.

This demonstration finished with a look at dependency injection. Dependency injection is, at the risk of being a little tautological, a more flexible method for handling dependencies. Rather than objects creating their own dependencies, they receive them from elsewhere. The idea being that, in detaching an object from its dependencies, you can freely reuse them elsewhere and, as the project grows, end up with more concise, readable code. There’s a good blog, summarising the idea, here.
Katrina Owen
Entitled “Here be Dragons”, Katrina’s talk would definitely win any prizes for animation. Katrina showed us some truly terrible code, illustrated with pixel-art, and we all had a good chuckle.

Of course, writing terrible code is something we’re all guilty of from time to time (I’m told this is an understatement). Katrina highlighted it to talk us through common mistakes, some debugging techniques, and some more elegant solutions.
Sandi Metz
Finally, I’ve been saving the meatiest subject for last. Sandi’s talk was certainly the most involved of the conference and I’m certain that this summary will not do it justice.

Like Ben, Katrina, and Tom, Sandi focused on methods for writing good code. In particular she focused on what nil is in Ruby and ways of handling it.

Basically nil is an object which adheres to it’s own rules. So let’s say you’ve got a group of objects, which you’re performing an action on. That action’s going to be tailored towards the objects you’re expecting to receive.

Then your method hits a null value and BOOM!

NoMethodError: undefined method 'some_method’ for nil:NilClass

There’s a great discussion of this over at Sandi’s blog, where you’ll find the writing much more concise than this rambling, mixed, summary. She explores the problem further and what it leads to, then offers an elegant solution: a null object pattern. There the blog ends but, at the conference the talk continued.

In it’s simplest terms a null object pattern provides attributes to nil. Giving it characteristics, which will allow it to interact with your methods more elegantly. Here’s an example from Wikipedia, to show you what I mean.

Massive disclaimer: the above example uses conditional logic and I’m not entirely sure Sandi would approve.
Lightning talks

Last but not least, I can’t finish up this blog without mentioning the lightning talks. For those of you who haven’t come across the concept of lightning talks before, imagine the conference equivalent of an open mic session. People just volunteer and then talk about a subject of their choosing for up to five minutes. Nothing highlights the creativity, diversity and all-around madness of the community better!

I don’t have time to run through them all, so I’ll leave you with this…

www.sonicpiliveandcoding.com

… these guys have written a program containing a synthesizer, in Ruby. Not just any synthesizer either. It’s a synthesizer which you interact with via code… in real time! Their lightning talk involved no talking whatsoever. Just a laptop and some phat beats :-)

And one more thing….

A masshoosive shout out to the guys at Eastern Eye in Bath. The team went out for dinner there last Thursday. I challenge anyone to find a more ornate Indian restaurant!

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Categories Community, Tech, Wider World
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Want more video tips?

Corrina Stegnar casual films Last week the brilliant Corrina Stegner from Casual Films joined us to talk about “How To Make The Most Of Your Video Budget”. In her 4 years at Casual Films, Corrina has produced hundreds of films with budgets ranging from £2,500 to £250,000. Whether it be a 2D animation, stop frame, talking heads or something more creative, she believes there’s always a way to make your budget work. Corrina’s client’s include EY, Bloomberg, Tesco, HSF, Roche, Rolls-Royce and Breakthrough Breast Cancer to name but a few.

Corrina walked us through 6 typical scenarios clients face when juggling budgets. Here are her tips for making sure you spend your money wisely (plus a video round up at the end)…

Scenario 1: “My subject is really boring and I don’t really have much to spend. What can you do?”

We get this question a lot from clients who are searching for a better way to engage their employees during health and safety training, for example.

The key thing here is that the obvious choice isn’t always the best one. It can be very tempting to try and cut the costs by just filming a talking head of your health and safety manager. But the thing is that’s still going to cost you money, plus it’s not going to be engaging – and this was the very reason you decided to go with video in the first place!

Something that works really well here is to use animation. This will bring a humorous visual to punctuate what can often be a fairly dry script. And, animation doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot.

Top Tip: Use one character throughout the animation. This means you can reuse this single asset throughout the whole animation, instead of having to create new content for every scene.

Scenario 2: “The story I need to tell is really long, but I need to retain interest”

Generally speaking, we encourage people to reduce the length of their videos. As a rule of thumb we try to keep promotional videos to less than 90 seconds; otherwise people just don’t tend to watch all the way to the end.

That said, there are situations where a longer video might be necessary. A career video perhaps. Or if you’ve got a long company history. The problem is that if you use a talking head, while admittedly cheap, the reality is your video will get boring. On the other hand, a more engaging animation will just get really expensive because of how long it needs to be.

Top Tip: Vary the visual. You could, for example, use hand drawn illustrations which will bring the benefits of animation, without the associated costs of computer generation.

Scenario 3: “We just need content. We have gaps to fill on the website but we can’t afford to do anything too complex. We don’t want it to be rubbish though”

This is particularly common for businesses doing a website redesign. Their design includes video components, but by the time they are ready to make the video they’ve already spent a large chunk of their budget elsewhere. In this scenario we encourage people to use just one creative device in the edit to add a bit of interest.

Top Tip: Intersperse B roll with your main footage. Typically with talking heads we’ll do a two camera set up which gives us some behind the scenes type stuff which is really, really simple to get but instantly makes the video more watchable.

Scenario 4: “We’re a charity so we don’t want to spend a lot…but we need to generate maximum return”

The key thing here is that the video HAS to be functional. Before you start to craft the creative, you need to be really clear about what the goals are. Often you don’t often need a big glossy film to meet those targets. The video’s form really comes second to its function.

Top Tip: We tend to use the real people who work for the charities rather than spending money on actors. To get a relaxed performance out of these employees it’s really important to spend a bit of time chatting to them before hand and getting to know them as a human being. This will help them feel more comfortable when the camera starts rolling. And remember, editing can work wonders!

Scenario 5: “We’re a global business and we need to include everyone”

It’s not very cost effective to send a crew around the world to film everyone in all your offices. User generated content can be a great way to get around this. Give your employees some cameras and set them loose. But, beware! It is super important to teach your employees how to make good quality UGC, otherwise you might end up with completely unusable footage. And that’s just a waste of their time filming it, and your time reviewing it.

Top Tips:

  • Make sure there’s enough light
  • Make sure the camera is close enough to hear you over any background noise
  • Think about framing – the camera shouldn’t be too close, or too far away. Try and get the head, plus shoulders, in shot
  • Keep the camera steady. You don’t want to make the viewer vomit!
  • Tee up each shot – don’t just switch location without an explanation

Scenario 6: “We don’t have much money but we’d like to make a video that’s really fun”

The beauty of a brief that basically tells you to have fun is that you get to go a bit crazy with it. And quite often you don’t actually need a big budget for this – you just need to get a bit creative. In our experience, budget limitations actually breed creativity so it can work to your advantage in this case.

Closing Questions

If you’d like to make a video with Casual Films drop the team an email here.

Categories Community, Video Production
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We’re really excited for Thursday October 2nd. No, not because it’s it’s National Name Your Car day. But because iiiit’s…

Video Marketing and Production Meetup, day (cheers)

We’re hosting our very first meetup and we’d love you to come join us :)

When: Thursday October 2nd, 6:00pm

Where: RMP, 22 – 26 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7TJ (map)

What: How to make the most of your budget

Corrina Stegner casual films

Update: We’ll be joined by Corrina Stegner from Casual Films. In her 4 years at Casual Films, Corrina has produced hundreds of films with budgets ranging from £2,500 to £250,000. So whether it be a 2D animation, stop frame, talking heads or something more creative, she believes there’s always a way to make your budget work.

Corrina’s clients include EY, Bloomberg, Tesco, HSF, Roche, Rolls-Royce and Breakthrough Breast Cancer to name but a few.

Don’t miss out – RSVP now.

Can’t make it?

Not to worry, we’ll be filming all the action on the night and we’ll post a video following the meetup. Sign up to our email newsletter below to make sure you don’t miss it.

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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