30. 12. 2020 Charles Callaway Development

Making Your Own YouTube Tutorials, Part 1

In a recent blog post I described our new Alyvix YouTube channel that contains the 20 Alyvix tutorial videos we’ve created this year. Each video is a self-contained tutorial that showcases one aspect of how Alyvix can be used for visual monitoring, both practical application examples and for learning basic concepts and operations.

Since one day you might want to create video tutorials for your own projects, I thought I’d break down the work and tasks needed (rather than ideas about style) to pull off an acceptable quality YouTube tutorial video. After all, if it was really effortless and inexpensive to create high quality videos, they would be all over YouTube, right?

Of course, there are lots of genres of videos besides tutorials, such as those for marketing and human resources. While there is certainly some crossover, the tutorial genre treats features like music and fancy animations as distracting rather than attractive. We’ll focus just on tutorial videos.

Tasks

Each video we created represents a lot (and I mean a lot!) of effort spent on the following tasks/steps:

Planning

Planning consists of deciding on a topic to present, the length of the video, and the content it should include to meet the goals. We tend to produce videos about either real-world applications or basic concepts, and we can generally repeat the basic structure for videos of the same type. But every topic is different, and a template will only get you so far.

Ordering

What comes first, and what comes last? You need to decide where each bit of content fits into a series of “scenes” to tell a story briefly but fully. For a tutorial video you’ll need to use informative slides that explain concepts, and video clips for hands-on examples. Our videos usually follow a regular structure: for instance an application-based video will typically show the steps needed to build and run a complete test case on that particular application.

Layout and Construction

For conceptual slides you’ll need to structure them so that they communicate well. Here we tend to use text just for the main points, with most of explanation in audio, but that’s a matter of style. Explanatory slides are more elaborate in videos about basic concepts, with animations and extended explanations, and using the simplest applications possible to avoid extraneous details.

Video Recording

For practical demonstrations instead we use video clips, usually recorded in multiple segments and with multiple “takes” per segments, just as if it were a Hollywood movie. This requires an action plan not just thought about in general in advance, but a specific set of steps tested to make sure they work every time. Our style is to show every single necessary step, but as minimalistic as possible to keep the videos from becoming too long. When was the last time you watched a tedious, very long video all the way to the end?

Editing

Each video clip will need to be edited, because nobody is perfect (well, not all the time). You can use video editing tools to eliminate any eventual errors (for instance by cutting out parts of the video), remove “dead” time between mouse movements (often by speeding up), and ensure GUI events like mouse movements can be followed (speeding up, slowing down, adding highlights, etc.)

Writing

Believe it or not, the part that takes the longest is writing the voice-over script. Of course, if you could ramble on it would be easier, but probably nobody would want to watch your video. You don’t just need to be correct, you need to be brief and communicate well at the same time. Plus you’ll want to match what’s being said to what’s currently being shown on the screen at each moment and staying within the allowed time limit. What will you do if you want to talk for 1 minute about a video clip that only lasts 10 seconds?

Audio Recording

Once the voice-over script is written, with the correct timing and length, you’ll need to record your voice using proper audio equipment. For that you’ll want a room that’s almost soundproof, which is difficult in most office buildings unless you like basements. And of course, during a pandemic, you may have to worry about church bells, tractors, children at recess, and who knows what else.

Aesthetic improvements

So you’ve made your video! Take a break and watch it from start to finish without interruption. Ouch, it looks a tad boring! If you still have time and it won’t distract, you can add some finishing touches, like simple animations and highlights, some sound effects, and maybe even some background music.

Design Processes

If everything goes well, you now have a video that you can upload to YouTube (you won’t believe how many YouTube videos there are showing you how to upload a video on YouTube). So now you can reflect on the experience. If you’re like me, your first effort probably leaves a bit to be desired, and here I’m not really talking about the resulting video, I mean the design process you used to create it.

Did you try to do everything all at once? That’s not how an expert at design would approach it (think how Apple designs the iPhone). It’s probably better to do everything as a rough draft first and use an iterative revision process. This is where you first create a draft of all the elements, then repeatedly improve the worst parts.

Of course, if your budget is like mine, you can’t risk more than one cycle: making one rough draft and then one final version. If it sounds like it would take even more time, consider what would happen if after completing 90% of your project you discover a problem so big you have to throw everything away and start over. If you think about it in terms of risk (the riskier it is the more effort you should devote to it), then the longer the video is, the more effort you should spend ahead of time to plan.

Resources

Beyond planning and writing, which you could do with pencil and paper if you wanted to, your video will need a number of assets which can be manipulated by your video editing software:

  • Video: You’ll need to record either the screen while you interact with an application, or else external video. You’ll then need to be able to speed it up, slow it down, and cut out bits in the beginning, middle or end. Only once in 20 videos did we feel a need to use anything more elaborate like picture-in-picture.
  • Images: These can be photographs, clip art, a logo, or a composited image like a flowchart created in an external program. You can insert them either on top of a video or a static background, which may itself be an image.
  • Polygons and Text: You’ll need to create labels and objects to fulfill a number of functions like pointing to a certain part of an interface for illustration or emphasis, and explaining what’s going on in parallel to (and thus complementing) the audio.
  • Audio: The most common need for audio is for narrating what is seen on video or for explaining concepts in parallel with text. If you select a good video editor, it will include support for recording audio during video playback, which is much better for maintaining timing than if you have to use a separate program to record audio.

When you have everything, you’ll need to import or create them all in a single video editing program that typically including additional features like animations, slide transitions, and manipulating both objects (resizing, repositioning, coloring, etc.) and the view (zoom, select, reordering, etc.)

Software Tools

So what software do we use at Wuerth Phoenix? Why, the best open source or freely available software whenever possible, of course! Some of this software is awesome, and some is pretty much interchangeable, so use what you already use if you prefer.

  • Video Editing: We’ve been very happy with ActivePresenter, which provides all of the basic features listed above in a free, although limited, download version. If you like the style of the videos we’ve made, you’ll be able to easily replicate it with this program.
  • Audio: We use Audacity, the well known, fully open source and fully featured audio editor. Truth be told, ActivePresenter does most of the audio work we need, we use Audacity almost exclusively for special effects and music editing, not for voice work.
  • Image Manipulation: While we use PhotoScape, you should feel free to use whatever editor you like. The main deficiency in Photoscape is the lack of compositing, so we switch to Microsoft PowerPoint as needed since it can easily produce transparent PNG images.
  • Stock Images: Google has a nice feature on its image search under Tools > Usage Rights that lets you find royalty free images by typing in search keywords.

Believe it or not, that’s all the software we use!

Conclusion

So now you know what’s involved in creating a tutorial video (well, you’ll have to supply the content and style). Looking back at the first videos I made, they were quite rough around the edges, and took a long time to make since I was also learning how to make videos at the same time. So keep reading the second part of this post to see some suggestions and shortcuts to learning how to both make better videos and be faster at it!

Charles Callaway

Charles Callaway

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Charles Callaway

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