Matt Radel writes:

Hey guys, kudos on the new [Highrise] intro videos you just unveiled. Very well done. I’m going to be working on some for the new app my company just finished, and I was curious if you could drop any wisdom. I’ve got Snapz Pro and Final Cut Studio 2 at my disposal, but I’m really not sure where to start. Did you guys follow a tight process, or just kinda wing it? Any info you could give a would be screencaster would be swell.

Thanks Matt. Here’s the process I used to create these screencasts:

1. Write the script.
2. Record the voiceover in Logic Express and export as MP3. Logic Express is helpful for moving tracks around, evening out volume levels, compressing tracks, adding background music, etc. Leaving extra space at the beginning helps ensure you’re ready to shoot when the audio begins.
3. Create a fake account flush with data so the video shows how an account looks when it’s active (but without revealing anyone’s confidential data).
3. Shoot the video while listening to the voiceover track. I use Snapz Pro, shooting at 15 fps, for this. (This step can require some adjustments in spacing on the audio track to make sure things sync up properly.)
4. Combine audio and video in Quicktime Pro. Export as .avi file.
5. Import the .avi file into Camtasia for final editing, adding zooms and pans, exporting to Flash, etc.

Running through this process in small chunks this way means you can solicit feedback from others along the way and retrace your steps relatively easily. (I imagine it’d be awfully frustrating to spend forever nailing a perfect combined audio/video take only to find out that the script needs to be changed or some other tiny thing in the video is off.)

Sometimes the order switches. For the recently made video demo on creating a page in Backpack, we needed some fades between screens that had to be added at the end. So, for that one, I shot the video first and then added narration after the transiton fades had been added to the video. It came out alright but I prefer nailing the audio first and then shooting the video second, if possible.

I run Camtasia, which is PC only, on Parallels on my Mac. It’s a thoughtful app but running it on a Mac is rather unwieldy/slow. That’s why I prefer to do everything I can in Mac-native programs before entering Camtasia.

(Btw, where’s the killer screencasting tool for Macs? One that can handle zooms and pans and do what Camtasia does? Seems like there’s a big opening in the market there.)

For the marketing-oriented videos, we use the zoom/pan feature (where you can slide around the focus of the screen) and add in some background music too. For the detailed tour/blank slate videos, we go with full size screens and no music.

Narrating the videos
It’s an interesting challenge to try to find the right tone when narrating videos. Too serious and you make the product seem somber. Too enthusiastic and you come across overly salesy, like ‘ol Gil on The Simpsons.

I suggest aiming for the tone of how you’d talk to a friend. Something positive sounding but still conversational. Don’t be surprised if it takes a lot of takes to get it right.

Just for kicks, I recorded one version of the Tasks video narration with way over-the-top enthusiasm (think Monster Truck Rally commercials). You can listen to the MP3 here.

Update: TechSmith, the makers of Camtasia, will “soon begin” Mac development. You can enter your email address there to receive updates. Troy Stein, Camtasia Studio Product Manager, writes:

Camtasia for the Mac under way. Its being built from the ground up. New code, new UI, new workflow. Not a port over to the mac. We hope to have it out by the end of this year. If you (or your readers) care to help us beta test it later this summer, shoot me an email at t dot stein at (email obscured to minimize spam).

[tx Chris]