I recently had the happy chance to meet Mel Aclaro when he came up to visit our headquarters in Nevada City, California. Mel is not only a really nice guy, he is also a veritable wealth of knowledge when it comes to screencasting and online learning. With a background in communications and online learning, his blogs are full of useful tips on using screencasting software, as well as developing better online techniques.
Thanks Mel, for taking the time to share with us!
(p.s. Mel’s new online course “Beyond PowerPoint: Teach Online With ScreenFlow For Mac” has just been released on Udemy.com. If you’re looking for a ‘deep dive’ on how to use ScreenFlow, this is a great resource to check out.)
How long have you been screencasting and approximately how many screencasts have you made?
I started screencasting when I first got ahold of a PC-based screencasting product back in 2002. That was when the entire feature set could still fit on a few 3.5-inch / 1.44MB floppy disks.
Before that, I did some “screencasting” work on contract projects through my work with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture). Back then, we used tools like Authorware to build eLearning programs and bantered around terms like CBT (computer-based training) and WBT (web-based training) to describe projects that developed online learning programs.
It’s interesting to compare the resources—and number of people—it took back then to create one “screencast” versus what we can pump out today in just minutes with just one person proficient in a tool like ScreenFlow.
In just the last couple of years I’ve created over two hundred individual screencasts for course training modules. In addition to that, I create at least one or two How To videos per week for my blogsite at ScreencastingWizard.com – and over a hundred or so individual modules for a few online screencasting courses I’ve published—and am currently publishing—on Udemy.com as well as several on my online training website at Digital-Know-How.com.
What kind of studio or set up do you have ?
I like to say I have two studios: my office and my “office annex” locations. The latter being whatever regional park or coffee house I tend to find myself in.
When I’m at one of my “office annex” locations, I typically use a Logitech C920—which houses a built-in stereo microphone—to record any picture-in-picture type web videos I want to use in my screencast tutorials. Along with that, I use ScreenFlow on a MacBook Pro. Occasionally, I might augment the audio with a lavalier microphone (Audio-Technica ATR-3350) connected to a Sony digital voice recorder. For web access, I use one of those nifty mobile wifi hotspots from Verizon.
Meanwhile, at my brick-and-mortar office location, my setup is a bit more involved. There my studio is configured with:
- 2 Dynaphos softbox lights
- three 500-bulb LED panels
- a white paper-based backdrop on a Fancier frame – both of which I got from Amazon.com for under $100
- a Yeti desktop microphone from Blue Microphones
- a wireless lavalier system (Shure FP1/FP5 transmitter/receiver) connected to a DSLR (Lumix GH3)
- I run ScreenFlow on my MacBook Pro connected to a Thunderbolt display monitor
- All of which sits on top of a motorized desk that adjusts the height to accommodate a standing position (when I’m recording screencasts and web video) or a sitting position for those extended editing sessions.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of creating your screencasts? Why?
That would probably have to be lighting. Since I usually include a picture-in-picture web video overlay of a narrator speaking along with the screencast tutorial, getting the lighting just right is sometimes a challenge. It’s a bit more of a challenge when I’m recording in locations away from my office. In those instances, I find the video filters provided in ScreenFlow – especially those for exposure, gamma and white balance – to be especially helpful in adjusting imperfect lighting situations.
What’s the process you use for creating your screencasts?
If I’m recording a structured/non-extemporaneous screencast – especially on a topic that requires clients or subject matter experts (SMEs) to review and approve the content—then I typically use a script. In those cases I use a 2-column storyboard template to help my clients/SMEs plan and visualize the script.
Once the script is approved, I then record the audio right from the script. No screencast video at first; just audio. I then clean up the audio a bit using some of the audio filters available in Audacity.
Once cleaned up, I then export the audio to a standalone aiff or wav file, depending on whether I’m using ScreenFlow or a PC-based screencasting tool. When the audio file is ready, I prepare my desktop, along with the software or any website(s) that is the subject of my screencast.
Just prior to hitting the “record” button, I’ll confirm the video and audio sources I’ll need in ScreenfFlow’s recording configuration.
Once everything’s all set, I hit the record button on ScreenFlow, and then hit “play” on the audio player. As the audio file plays, I’ll follow the narration with my mouse and keyboard movements so they get captured in the recording along with audio from the audio file, which gets captured via system audio.
Do you have a screencast that you’re especially proud of?
Not surprisingly, my most recent screencasts tend to be the ones I like best. Mainly because I gain more experience as I go along so the most recent ones tend to be more polished. The more recent ones tend to benefit as well because they’re the culmination of new things I like to try in earlier projects.
For example, I’ve been experimenting with iPad and chroma key in past months and it’s interesting to see the progression of elements I incorporate in later projects, as compared to earlier ones.
My post on “Dummies Guide to Drawing Custom Sketch Graphics”, for example, was something I did to experiment with screencasts that incorporated the iPad. Later, I added a picture-in-picture element to support my use of the iPad as a presentation tool. You can see that in this Q&A post.
In other projects, I began experimenting a bit with the chroma key effect. In this post, for example, I used ScreenFlow to record a recording to explain to some users how to use green screen in (*gasp*) Camtasia Studio.
Later, after gaining inspiration from a colleague, I then extended the use of ScreenFlow’s chroma key filter to create new screencasting effects, as in this one I did recently with the Magnifying Glass Effect using ScreenFlow.
What advice would you give to other screencasters or video makers?
If you’re a regular/pro screencaster: Connect with other screencasters; collaborate on projects. In addition to collaborating on for-profit projects, consider collaborating on other projects for the public and non-profits.
If you’re new to screencasting: Take stock of your unique experiences. Consider how a tool like ScreenFlow can help you digitize your knowledge about those experiences so it can be presented and shared with others online. Chances are, you already have an audience… they just haven’t heard from you yet.
What’s the stupidest mistake you’ve made when creating a screencast?
This one’s easy. It’s when I get all the way through a screencast recording, only to discover afterwards that I forgot to turn on the microphone. Another one is when my computer is connected to two monitors—and (yep) later I discover that I had performed a flawless extemporaneous screencast… while recording the wrong monitor.
Besides ScreenFlow what’s your favorite program for the Mac?
Besides ScreenFlow, free online tools like Audacity and Levelator come as some of my all time faves. Audacity is immensely helpful for filtering ambient noise from audio and for also giving it that extra bass boost that helps make audio sound sweet.
Meanwhile, Levelator is another free tool that I think is great for evening out the “peaks” and “valleys” in some audio recordings like interviews where two people on the same audio track can otherwise sound so different in audio “strength.” Levelator is an easy drag-and-drop tool that can be immensely helpful in normalizing the amplitude of the audio.