Making Story Videos

Several of my writer friends have asked me how I go about making the videos in the Hear A Story section of my website. I thought the best way to do it would be to post the process on my blog. That way it would always be here and easy to find. I can’t say the same about Facebook. Stuff goes off into that FB cloud and I’m not really sure how to get it back.

So let’s get going. I’ll assume you have a picture book that you’d like to turn into a story video. The first step is to scan in the illustrations. This is easier to do with unbound pages. Save your f&g’s. My friend, Dianne de las Casas, who is way ahead of me in knowing how to combine writing, media, and marketing, is willing to sacrifice a book. Take off the cover and cut the stitching is an Exacto knife or sharp blade. That will give you flat pages to work with.

Scanning pages for a story video is more than just photocopying the illustrations. At this point you should start thinking about how you are going to match pictures with words. You may choose to break that up in a different way than the illustrator chose to. Your “page breaks” may be different. I may turn one page into two by cropping and/or selecting different parts of an illustration.

I use Photoshop to manipulate the scanned illustrations. Use whatever program works for you. One way I use the software is to take the text out of the picture. Text isn’t necessary because I’m going to be reading the story aloud in the video. I feel it can be a distraction if it’s left in. I took me a while to figure out how to take out text without leaving a glaring white gap in the picture. Photoshop handles this with the same tools that take blemishes and defects out of the pictures. Play around with this because I think this is a good thing to know how to do.

Save the pictures as jpegs. Save them in the basic quality. You don’t need the higher resolutions.

Now we’re ready to roll. I’m a Mac person, so I use Apple software. I’m sure there are other options. I’ve never used them, so I can’t talk about them. Feel free to experiment to find what works best for you. Apple’s iLife Suite gives you the two key programs for making story videos. These are iPhoto and iMovie. It’s a good idea to become familiar with these programs. At least watch the video tutorials to get a sense of how they work. The videos are pretty good. I learned a lot from them. They got me started.

I’m not sure if this step is necessary, but I do it anyway. I import the file with the illustrations I’ve scanned into iPhoto. I can do some more fine tuning if I care to. You can crop, adjust the color, lots of other things. It’s an excellent program and very intuitive.

Once I have my iPhoto file set up, the next step is to start up iMovie. Watching the video tutorial is vital. In fact, I’d say watch it before reading any further. If you know how the program works, you’ll be able to follow me. If not, you may end up being really confused. So watch the video first.

In iMovie, go to the library and start a New Project. Import the story file by selecting it in iPhoto and dragging it over to the New Project space in the iMovie library. As the pictures upload, you’ll see iMovie get to work. In a minute or two you’ll have a movie set up, ready for you to start working.

What you now have is a silent movie. Each illustration jpeg has become a four second clip. You can watch it by clicking on the arrow that plays the video in the full screen mode.

All you have to do now is add the audio part. Your computer may have a built-in microphone. I found mine didn’t give me the quality or control of the sound that I wanted. I use a Yeti Blue USB microphone. All you have to do is plug it into a USB slot and you’re ready to go. Here’s a link so you can check out the microphone. I believe it’s well-worth the expense. Click HERE to see it on Amazon.

Now it’s time to record the story. Each separate illustration is a clip. Move your cursor into the first clip. A menu will appear. Click on the arrow. Three choices will appear: clip adjustments; video adjustments; cropping, Ken Burns effect, rotation.

Click on cropping. Look at the screen on the right, which will show an enlarged image of the clip. You’ll see three choices at the top. This lets you put in all kinds of effects. To keep it simple for now, click FIT. The whole clip will show up in the video screen. Continue going through all your clips and click FIT.

Now go back to the first clip. Click on CLIP ADJUSTMENTS. DURATION lets you set the amount of time each clip lasts. Depending on how much needs to be read, I set this between 30 and 90 seconds. Always overestimate.

Let’s start recording the first clip. You’ll see a row of icons in the middle of the screen beneath the clips. Click on the microphone icon. A small screen opens up. Select the Yeti microphone in the menu. Adjust the sound level by reading some of the story. You’ll see a gauge that measures the sound level. You want it to stay in the green most of the time. If it keeps going into the red, lower the level. I keep mine at about 50%. I recorded my videos at those levels  and it appears to work.

On the right hand screen you’ll see a message telling you to click on a clip and start recording. Do it. You’ll hear the countdown. After three, recording will start. Begin reading the text. When you’re done, press the space bar to stop. Now click on the next clip, and the next, until you’re done. You can play each clip back if you care to. I generally just go on until I reach the end.

Now you may wish to adjust the size of the clips. You can do this easily by selecting the clip, moving the cursor to the tab at the end, and moving that tab to the end of the audio clip, which is the purple line beneath the video clip.

There! That’s it. You’ve made a story video. Now check out Vimeo for a good place to post the story videos you create.

(I’ve oversimplified this almost to the point of distortion. Still, I want to stress that with a little practice the process becomes surprisingly easy. If you’d like to get fancy, iMovie lets you add all sorts of special effects. Experiment and have fun.)

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