Perfecting the green screen in elearning videos

There are some activities that seem like they always could be improved. One is creating an authoring environment where professional technical communicators and other staff can work together; the other is setting up the best lighting for training videos.

This is especially true for videos where chroma-key will be used to remove and replace what was behind the person being videoed. The type of background designed to be easy to be removed from a video is known as “green screen”, although sometimes the colour can actually be a shade of blue.

photo studio backdropIn the past, we’ve used a green screen cloth on a frame, which has worked fairly well. However, it was bulky. We’d either have to dismantle it and the reassemble it for each recording, or live with office space being taken up by the frame and cloth.

There also always seemed to be a few wrinkles in the cloth that resulted in a green halo around the presenter. Photographers call this “spill”, and it’s caused by light bouncing off the green screen on to the presenter. Many professional video software applications have a feature called spill suppression, but it’s best not to have to use it in the first place.

In the end, we decided to take a different approach and paint one of the office walls. Using a special latex green screen paint from Germany, we painted a large green rectangle. Here is a photo taken after the first two coats of paint:

walll painted in green screen paint

It took quite a few coats to get an even colour, but it has made recording videos a lot easier, and it’s given us back some office space.

It’s reduced the amount of green fringing around the presenter, but there is still a little of that if someone looks closely. We may never be able to get rid of it completely, unless we carry out post-processing spill suppression. However, we believe we can make some improvement by changing the bulbs in the kicker lights.

 

This image from Virtualsetworks.com shows where the kicker light should be placed:

You can never have too many lights.

Hopefully, we’ll come up with even more improvements, and report on those in the future.

New date for our advanced technical writing course

Trends in Technical Communication Course – Advanced Technical Writing TechniquesWe’re moving our public classroom course on Trends in Technical Communication Course – Advanced Technical Writing Techniques from the 18th September to Tuesday 22nd September. There are places available if you’d like to book.

We’ve also run this course a number of times during the summer as an “onsite” course for clients, using WebEx and Lync (soon to be called Skype for Business). Using online meeting technologies like these means we can deliver training to authoring teams throughout the world.

We have been asked if individual delegates overseas could use these platforms to participate in our public, classroom, course. I’m afraid we don’t offer this. The “online meeting” courses involve using special lighting and audio equipment that isn’t available in the training rooms we use for the public courses. Also, it would be very difficult for the trainer to manage two different delivery methods simultaneously.

Trends in technical communication – the funny airline safety video

The airline safety video is about actions that could save your life, but it can be very dull and mundane if you’ve flown more than once. So airlines are using the third aspect in good design – emotion – to engage with their audience.

The latest video to follow this trend is from Delta Airlines:

Other examples are:

Accessibility is not only for people with disabilities

Accessibility is in the news again:

“Advocates for the deaf on Thursday filed federal lawsuits against Harvard and M.I.T., saying both universities violated antidiscrimination laws by failing to provide closed captioning in their online lectures, courses, podcasts and other educational materials.”

“Much of Harvard’s online content is either not captioned or is inaccurately or unintelligibly captioned, making it inaccessible for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, the complaint said, echoing language used in the M.I.T. complaint. Just as buildings without ramps bar people who use wheelchairs, online content without captions excludes individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

“I’m also hopeful that Accessibility is the next big project to tackle for the engineering team. A 2.0 release, if you will. But more than anything, I am dismayed. I am dismayed that Accessibility was treated not even as a mere afterthought, but as something worth sacrificing completely for the sake of flashiness.”


“Website owners, audio and video producers, event organizers, those considering careers in captioning and interpreting, and anyone interested in improving communication and information access will find this book useful and enlightening. It dispels common myths about deaf and hard-of-hearing people, describes my personal experiences with deafness, and shares some examples of quality captioning for various types of aural information that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of hearing abilities.”

Many organisations have made their websites accessible, but there’s many (us included) that need to add subtitles (known as closed captions in the USA) to all the videos they publish.

Hopefully, the case for accessibility will continue to pervade over the desire to use the latest flashy, inaccessible, technology.

Our process for creating elearning videos

I will be talking at the Technical Communications UK 2014 conference (TCUK14) next month about creating videos for technical communication and elearning videos.

elearning video screen captureIt covers how to embed video in a course. The delegates see, in each recorded module, a video of the trainer on the right of the screen, with the slides, application walkthroughs or images on the left of the screen.

This format is more engaging for delegates than a disembodied voice talking over a slide or image.

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How we record videos for our online training courses

We’re just starting to record the video inserts for a new online training course we’re developing. As I’ll presenting at the TCUK 2014 conference on on this topic, I thought I’d take a few photos in case they come in handy during my TCUK presentation.

We record the presenter actually presenting the slides, as this results in a more natural presentation style. The presenter sees the slides on the laptop, and we use the laptop’s camera for recording the video.

our studio set up

Previously, we’ve recorded to a white background, but for this course, we’re going to be using a green screen. We record the audio using a USB microphone and a digital voice recorder. This means we have two audio recordings of the presentation.

The presenter sees a copy of the slides on the laptop screen, which he can progress through using a remote control. He also sees the script via a teleprompter on a tablet.

What the presenter sees

The green screen (we use chroma-key to remove the background) is giving us more consistent results than having a white background.

It’s a comparatively low budget setup, and it seems to work.