Today I released a trailer for my iPhone app Alcohology. This is the first trailer I’ve ever worked on1 and I documented the process. This post is a behind the scenes / making of / evolution / post-mortem rolled into one. It’s got a little bit of everything.
Here’s the final edit. If you’d like to follow the process in “real-time” then don’t watch it until the end.Ensemble Cast
I’m only a programmer and there’s no way I could make a good trailer by myself. Fortunately I work with incredibly talented people during my day job2 and they were willing to help out. All video editing was done by Steve Thompson and the original music was produced by Howard Mostrom. Lighting and camera work was done by my girlfriend Liz Heidner. Without these superstars the trailer would have never been possible.
The goal from the start was to demonstrate what this app could do and why it was cool. Once Steve was on board I told him three key points that we needed to get across.
- Users can customize ingredients and browse recipes that can be made using those ingredients.
- Demonstrate suggestions feature.
- Demonstrate random feature.
With a general idea in place we needed test footage to make an animatic. Armed with a Canon Powershot SD880 (~$300 in ’08) point-n-click I grabbed all my liquor bottles and took as many shots3 as I could think of. Steve edited this into the following animatic. It was originally set to placeholder music which copyright law prevents me from including so there is no audio. :(
Much better! This edit proved our concept and served as a baseline.
With a solid concept in place it was time for a more professional setup. This is where Liz came in. She’s a hobbyist photographer with a keen eye and access to a Canon EOS 7D DSLR (~$1500 + lens) which is a massive upgrade. It’s primarily for still shots, but takes great video at 1080p. Shooting at 1080p was great as it gave lot of room to crop an ideal 720p frame.
To say that our setup was ghetto would be an understatement. It required duct tape, wire, stacked books, Amazon Fresh crates, five household lamps, and several trips to the fabric store5.
The first filming pass with the Canon 7D focused only on the Toucan, bar setup, and lots of experimentation. Here is the next edit which contains a mixture of old and new footage.
We devised a partial solution that allowed for basic sweeps and pans. I present to you the ghetto dolly.
A piece of cardboard with a tripod on top! Ok, that’s a bar stool because I took the picture after filming when the tripod was unavailable, but you get the idea. The camera was set to record while I sat on the floor and slowly pulled and then pushed the cardboard across the floor. A second take was done with Liz turning the camera to stay centered on the target. I hate to say it, but this actually worked. It required a few takes to minimize shake, but it worked.
Unfortunately it did not enable elaborate handheld shots. The final trailer only has advanced camera maneuvers for the Toucan. Steve achieved this magic by setting the camera crop frame by frame. Sorry Steve!
The goal for a trailer is to get people excited for a product and this didn’t do it as well as the placeholder. It was a little too jazz lounge like, particularly around the first and last mixing shots. Here’s some experimental audio to try and spruce things up a bit.clicky). It’d probably still suck with the DSLR.
I’d also want to decrease filming iteration time. A single take on mixing a drink could take as long as 30 minutes. Planning, prepping, filming, and cleanup was ~15 minutes. Yanking the memory card, copying to PC, viewing, and discussing was another ~15. Having a live monitor setup attached to the camera where the footage could be instantly viewed would have been rather nice.
You’d think it wouldn’t take long to record footage for a 70 second trailer. Protip: It does. All of the footage for the final edit came from a marathon 12-hour Saturday. That was only possible after ~4 nights of 2-3 hour test sessions. It’s a lot of work.
There were about 7 passes (film, edit, discuss) made for the video plus 3 or 4 for audio. Raw footage was transported on thumb drives6 and trailer edits were shared via public dropbox folders. The whole process took five weeks, but that is in large part to this being an after hours project for everyone involved.
Working on this trailer was a huge learning lesson and a lot of fun. No matter what happens next I’m proud of how it turned out and have no regrets. Countless thanks to those who assisted me and I hope this post is informative or helpful to you folks on the intertubes. Cheers.
Time: Planning and Discussion, 4 hours. Filming, 22 hours. Editing, 25 hours. Audio, 16 hours.
Hardware: Canon SD880, Canon 7D
Software: Sony Vegas, video edit and post. Photoshop, 2d work. 3D Studio Max, 3d intro work. After Effects, vfx and post. Digital Performer, composing. Dropbox, file sharing. Protools/Sound Miner/Peak, mixing and sound effects.
- I have observed the production of many trailers at work, but was never a participant.
- Programmer at Uber Entertainment working on Super Monday Night Combat.
- Film shots, not liquor shots.
- Thanks to Brittany Aubert for sharing this eye catching recipe.
- If you’re a dude who walks into a fabric store you are immediately assisted because you obviously have no clue wtf you’re doing.
- The final push was 12gb of video data and required 3 thumbsticks!