THE IDEA FACTORY- "How To Make Training Videos Fun!"
By Bob Ketchum

Because Advanstar Press ceased publication of Newtekniques Magazine recently, all links to the original articles are down. Due to the number of requests for the content of my Idea Factory and Hear Ye! Hear Ye! columns, and in the interest of making the information in these articles available to the public, I have posted them here through my site. I am told that the original html docs and image files are being released soon. When I get them I will add the extra text and images and the columns will LIVE AGAIN!.

Idea Factory
Subject: "How To Make Training Videos Fun!"
DEC 1999
By Bob Ketchum

I know there are a lot of you videographers out there who make their living doing corporate/industrial video work. I'm sure there are many also out there who have infinitely more wisdom than I on the subject of "how to" produce training videos. But this time the Idea Factory will cover the subject of using humor to convey a message and make a (usually) boring video more entertaining and fun to watch. And to accomplish this amazing feat you don't need a 5-figure budget and an arsenal of Hollywood gadgets, just your trusty Video Toaster/Flyer and some imaginative ideas.

I will use as an example, a video project I have just completed for Baxter Healthcare Corporation. This international manufacturer has plants in 35 countries and is the world's largest healthcare manufacturing company. They make everything from kidney dialysis machines to blood bags and IV tubing. They are governed by the FDA and have to deal with miles of red tape every time they do a start-up procedure. They are proud of their "Zero Defects" status, and work hard to maintain the utmost in product integrity. One small defect may cause the life of a "customer". To those ends, Baxter has a very stringent and extensive training program. I produce an average of 3-6 training and safety video projects per year. For those of you who think you don't have a chance getting your foot in the door on companies of this size, think again! Although Baxter has their own corporate video production unit, I can produce these "smaller" projects much more economically that having the corporate video crew fly in with their per diem's and entourage. They can concentrate on the "big picture" and multinational service while I churn out their "in-house" training videos.

One such project is the yearly QSR (Quality System Regulations) video. These productions delve into issues of supplier quality and process controls. Generally speaking it's pretty dull material. So how does Baxter convey their message while at the same time keep their employee's attention? Humor! Last year we did a spoof on Kung Fu called "PM Ninja" which was well received by the company. This year we decided to spoof Star Trek with a mini-movie called "BaxTrek: The Dilithium Incident". To date it is the most ambitious video project I have undertaken on behalf of Baxter. The plant's "media mogul" (read: Human Resource Trainer of Information Technology) developed the script and procured the talents of several plant employees to act and work as crew on the production.

We held a pre-production meeting one month prior to the start of production to determine what elements would be needed to bring the script to life in the video. Since we were using plant employees for actors we were careful about making them deliver large strings of dialog without establishing a cutaway shot so they could just read their dialog and we could paste it in under footage. The unusual, exciting (and potentially dangerous) twist was the decision to key many scenes over a background still. Many of the "bridge" scenes with Kirk, Scotty, Bones and Spock would be shot in front of a large screen. More on this later. Since we knew this would take some time and we also wanted many LightWave animation's, we knew w would have cut costs somewhere, so we elected to keep it simple and shoot the entire video with a single camera. During the read-through of the script I made notes in the margins about animation's and sound effects.

The script was created with maximum attention span in mind. Considering our projected running time would be (hopefully) less than 30 minutes we placed the "entertaining" segments in three sections, with two "informative" sections sandwiched between them. The video starts out with an opening animation and CG title page sequence copied after the Star Trek series, then leads directly into an action section to establish the tone of the video. Four minutes into the video we segue into one of the "informative" sections which runs about 6 minutes. Even the most boring training video can hold the attention span for 6 minutes. Then we go back to the bridge of the Enterprise for another 4 minutes (complete with Klingon battle scene) before segueing into the final 5-minute section pertaining to Process Controls. Finally, the video ends with the usual "crew on the bridge" shot as Kirk says "Engage!" and the Enterprise warps out of this solar system. All in all it was a very ambitious project. It contained almost 12 minutes of plant footage and narration describing what Supplier Quality and Process Controls means to every plant employee and line worker. The rest of the video (28 minutes) comprised of animation, location shots, and staged scenes shot against a white screen to be keyed in post production.

BAXTREK: "The Dilithium Incident" from Bob Ketchum on Vimeo.

Why did we choose to LumaKey instead of ChromaKey? The main reason was production cost. First, we would have had to provide and construct a blue/green screen. Then, in order to ChromaKey with the Toaster I would need to run all the pertinent footage through ImageFX and literally render each and every scene, THEN strip the audio off the original clip and re-render the audio back onto the ChromaKeyed clips. By using LumaKey and Co-Pilot Video I could initiate Aussie's DISK RECORDER function and make Flyer clips of the "live" LumaKey footage, WITH AUDIO, direct to a Flyer drive for posting. It proved to be MUCH easier to do and took much less time to do it in. We DID have to schedule a re shoot after our first production day, as I discovered flaws in the original footage after returning to the studio and attempting the LumaKey process. When I did our test shoot with the screen I simply stood in front of it by myself and shot video, which worked perfectly in the studio. But, on our real shooting day we had multiple actors, which increased the shadows on the screen and defeated the ability of the Toaster to adequately LumaKey the footage. Our solution was to use a larger projection screen (12w'x 8h'), more light (4-1KW's on the screen and 2-1KW's on the actors), and separate the actors farther away from the screen, thus reducing the possibility of shadows. The improvements made it perfect. As with most LumaKeying, you can sometimes see a white "edge" around the subjects, but for our purposes it was perfectly acceptable considering the alternative. Incidentally, the background images we used for the LumaKeying were stills of the bridge interior taken from an episode of StarTrek, which had no characters on the bridge. All it takes is a single frame and you've got it!

As for the actors, we retained the "low budget" scenario throughout. It even reinforced the "campiness" of the spoof. Mike Rotenberry, my counterpart at Baxter and producer of the video, arranged to purchase "official" green, blue, and gold Star Trek uniforms. Spock had his ears. We bought a Klingon skullcap and even dubbed sound effects from Star Trek keychains! But the icing on the cake had to be the combination of LumaKeying and the LightWave animation's. In the past 5 years I have amassed quite a library of LightWave objects from various sources. The Enterprise model I used was an excellent one created by Carmen Rizzolo and found on the LightROM-2 CD. I also found an excellent Klingon Bird of Prey object on the same CD-ROM. We even used an "official" Klingon PostScript font, which was thoughtfully provided by "Dangerous" Dan McGrew on the Video Toaster/Flyer Mailing List (VTFML). During a heated exchange between Kirk and the Klingon Captain, I used ProWave's OverlayFX routine to render the "Space View Screen" (which I think came from the ClubToaster series) over the clips, giving them that certain "something extra". Every time the script called for a "Captain Log" or "Captains Log Update" segment I rendered an appropriately-lengthen LightWave anim of the Enterprise slowly moving through space. For some added visual stimulation I took some Hubble photographs off their website and used them as a background image in LightWave. It added real authenticity to the animation.

I saved valuable production time by simultaneously working on both platforms. While I created each LightWave scene on the Amiga I was rendering another scene on the much-faster Pentium II with LW 5.6. I transported each FlyerClip using my dual ZIP drives. I created 12 LightWave animation's in lengths ranging from 5 seconds (150 frames) to 25 seconds (1,050 frames) all in the space of eight hours.

Whenever possible I used AddAudio when using multiple sound effects on certain clips. For instance, the space battle between the Klingon Bird of Prey and the Enterprise had multiple explosions and phaser and proton torpedo visual effects with accompanying sound effects. The clip itself was only 8 seconds long, but it had a total of 9 Flyer audio clips, so after setting each clips volume and synchronized trigger time I ran AddAudio and had a video clip with a single stereo audio track containing all the effects. Sometimes the Spock character's dialog was too low in volume to be heard in the context of a scene containing three or four actors, so I used a technique I read about on the VTML and stripped the audio to an audio drive, cut only Spock's dialog out and added that clip to the original clip (sometimes several times) to raise the overall audio level of just Spock's dialog. Then I ran the AddAudio to that clip and made a new composite. Another trick I used was playing the audio from all the Klingon's dialog into Cool Edit PRO on the PC and dropping the pitch down two octaves. Then I would simply play the transformed audio back into the Flyer, and using AddAudio I combined both audio files with the lowered version at only 25%. The result was that the Klingon's lines all had a weird guttural quality to them without sacrificing the intelligibility of the dialog to the audience.

The "transporter" effect was the easiest to create. We simply locked down the camera and shot the set with no actors on it, then moved the actors in place and used the "Fade Grainy!" Toaster effect set to about 4 seconds. After adding the appropriate sound effect (supplied by our keychain) it was so convincing that it was just about the most talked about effect in the whole video. Go figure! For the credit roll at the end we showed outtakes of the production and everyone got a good laugh. The final version of "The Dilithium Incident" was exactly 30 minutes. The Baxter bosses said it was the best video we've ever produced, so they didn't mind the price tag so much. We had a total of 44 production hours involved, not counting the 8 hours of LightWave rendering. The video will circulate throughout the Baxter organization, so the Cedar Crest Studio logo, which closes the video, will be seen all around the world! Not bad for a hick from the sticks! I was just informed during the writing of this article that Mike and his team have decided to use the Star Trek theme again for next year's QSR project, so now I'll have to come up with some new ideas, which shouldn't be too hard with all the software at my disposal, thanks to NewTek, ProWave, OzWare, Dimension Technologies, and the LightROM catalog.

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