I’ve made a number of iPhone videos in the past couple of years. One of the first was of DuckDuckDuck
That was so awful I tried again. Notably it claims to be ‘Better Quality’ which is a bit of a joke. The focus is perhaps a little better, but it’s still terrible. The DuckDuckDuck 2.0 trailer was considerably better, and around the same time I also helped out with the Burnball trailer.
Then there were various Chopper 2 videos, one of which has been viewed over 100,000 times now, and now I have just completed the Chopper 2 trailer:
So I’ve been through 3 video cameras, a bunch of different techniques and a few terrible videos, and thought I would share a few things I have learned and techniques that were used to film and produce the Chopper 2 trailer.
So first up, the camera is very important. Chopper 2 uses a Canon 7D digital SLR. Previously I had used consumer level video cameras, with the DuckDuckDuck 2.0 trailer as well as the Chopper 2 bluetooth video being shot with a Sony HDR-SR11. This was OK, though I just wasn’t quite happy enough with the quality I was getting. White balance always seemed to be a problem, and even when it was in focus it always seemed a bit blurry.
I bought the Canon 7D for the explicit purpose of filming the Chopper 2 trailer, and as such I was not very familiar with it, but found I got pretty good results very quickly. Focus was again an issue, which I’ll get to later, but white balance wasn’t a problem and overall setup was quick and I’m happy with the results.
Whatever camera you choose, make sure you have manual control over white balance, focus, and exposure. Without any one of these features your video quality will suffer greatly.
Lighting is the next important thing. You need to have well lit hands (none of that silhouette rubbish) and some kind of lit background as well, but without causing reflections on the screen. I have found that the best way to achieve this is to have lights on either side just a bit above the device level, and a lot of black fabric around and above to prevent any reflections from walls or the ceiling. You also have to constantly monitor for reflections of yourself or the camera, which is just one reason why you need two people to do the job. Someone has to monitor the footage as it is being recorded and constantly tell the player/user to move to the center of the shot, get their forehead out of the reflection, hide the audio out cable, and refocus as needed.
For the lights themselves I am using 6 roughly 50 watt fluorescent energy saver type bulbs. 3 of them came in a mount designed for photography, and provide a slightly yellower light, while the other three I picked up cheap and stuck in some cheap clip on lamps and give a slightly bluer light. I think in general you can get away with this cheaper option, and don’t need to spend a huge amount on lighting gear. Don’t rely on natural light, you need consistency which that cannot provide. And don’t rely on what ever is hanging from your ceiling. Aside from the reflection issue, that just doesn’t provide enough light, and often has a strong yellow cast.
For the background I went down to an art supplies store and bought a $20 roll of what they called ‘Printable banner material’. which was a little glossy, flexible and very white, which suited my goal of having a pure white background nicely. I taped this to a wall, and rolled it down onto the floor, and then my lights on either side pointed slightly down/back to light it up while still providing enough light for the hands.
I also got a tripod with the explicit purpose of filming this trailer. I have had issues in the past trying to play a game comfortably while remaining out of shot, so opted to get a tripod that had a multi-angle central column, allowing me to get the camera over top and look down on the device while I sat comfortably. This was very important, as there was about 8 hours of filming all up, a lot more than there would have been otherwise!
So now on to focus. This is really really hard, especially with tilt controlled games. All iDevices, the iPad in particular are prone to unsightly moire patterns when perfectly in focus. So all shots have to actually be slightly out of focus. It was also impossible to tell sometimes by looking at the LED display on the camera whether the current shot was too in focus or not. Add to this the tendency to slowly change positions, and the huge distance variation introduced by having a tilt controlled game, and you end up with a bit of a nightmare. Much of the footage I got was too blurry, and a lot of it had the moire patterns too. I just came to accept this, aim for slightly out of focus and just shoot 5x as much footage, expecting to chuck away 80% of it for focus reasons. It pays to regularly stop and view the footage on a computer to make sure you’re at least getting some of it right.
What I did find is that the iPhone 4 is much less prone to the moire effect, and on that device it can largely be ignored. I also found that shots taken off to the side at a high angle mean that the area perfectly in focus is pretty small, and it seemed to just generally reduce the effect a lot.
Exposure wasn’t much of an issue. I pretty much set it and left it, though I did have to balance the screen brightness with the exposure to get the background white, and both hands and screen not too light or dark. Notably the screen in the bluetooth video I shot earlier is too dark. Don’t forget to check for that every time you film.
Audio was an interesting problem too. You almost definitely want to record without any music, as you can add that in later, but you will however want to record any sound effects. This introduces the issue of having an audio out cable in the shot, as you definitely don’t want to just let the built in speaker be picked up by the camera mic. I actually took an old pair of iPod earplugs and spliced the cable onto a cable with a 3.5mm plug on the end. I did this because the other cables I could find all had plugs that were too bulky to hold comfortably while trying to conceal the cable. It also had the benefit of looking like proper Apple gear when it did come into shot, and not just some cheapo cable from the corner electronics shop. If you do decide to chop up some earplugs, note that you can just burn off the coating that would otherwise prevent contact with another cable.
So all of the footage in the trailer has this cable plugged in, and my hands or arms are concealing it most of the time. There was one shot where I crudely edited out a cable post production, and there are a couple of shots where you can see it here and there, but it seemed pretty effective. The audio was wired to a Mac and recorded with Quicktime Player. I had tried plugging it into the 7D but the quality was terrible. So I had to sync up the audio later.
Holy crap this is turning into a book. But while I’m on the subject of post production, the footage was compiled and the trailer made in Final Cut Pro. The Majic Jungle Software intro and Chopper/explosion ending were created in Motion. I love both these apps very much. I’ve never used another proper video editing app (and only got Final Cut a few months ago) but found them really intuitive and just really like them. Expensive, but worth it.
The rest of the footage, the text titles, and the full screen game footage at the end was rendered out from Chopper 2 itself. I cannot recommend enough that if you are making an iPhone OpenGL game, make it compile on a Mac too. UIKit stuff could be a bit harder, but for OpenGL it’s dead easy to make it cross platform. Anyway, with my editor I was able to tweak a couple of things, get it rendering to a 1920×1280 FBO, then readpixels and spit out full frame images at 25FPS. Of course I had to record audio too, which was done using SoundFlower and Quicktime Player. Then I compiled the image sequence, synced the audio and had 1080p footage of Chopper 2. I had tried using screen capture programs to do this, but found the ones I used would drop frames frequently even at lower resolutions.
Using the game engine to render the text was an idea I’d had for a long time. I think it’s great to have as much actual game engine footage in a trailer as possible, and personally loath it when trailers are full of pre-rendered footage you’d never see in game. I just don’t see the point.
The music was a quite heavily modified version of the Chopper theme. I always like to match cuts with music beats, so i actually planned out the whole thing to fit evenly into bars, and gave myself a certain number of bars to fit the music into. It was a bit tricky, but pretty effective I think, particularly with the ramping up at the end. All of the music in the trailer and in Chopper 2 was created with Reason, which is another software package I like very much.
So I think that pretty much sums it up. If you’ve made it this far hopefully you’ve learned a thing or two, I sure have over the past few months. Feel free to ask any questions you might have in the comments, I’ll do my best to answer them.