Behind the Scenes: A Minimal Viable Setup for Creating Video Scribe

02 Jun, 2016
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I’m getting a lot of questions about my previous blog post. Fortunately also about the content, but mostly about how I created the video. So in this episode we will look at the MVP (Minimal Viable Product) version of a video scribe and the lessons learned. This way you can make a better video scribe based on my learnings.

Simple Tools are Key

Simple Tools are Key

As with most things, this video scribe came to live by accident. Whilst explaining what changes we can make to improve existing processes we frequently end up scribbling on a white board. I my case we came up with the following drawing to explain what we could change and how we could embed agile practices in a Prince2 environment.

The Baseline of the Story

The Baseline of the Story

It was exactly a “van Gogh” but it served it’s purpose as a discussion piece and over time the narrative got more and more refined, but how do we preserve the story that goes with the “painting”? This is how got the idea of a video scribe, heavily inspired by Daniel Pink’s video on “Drive” or that of Hindrik Kniberg on “Spottify”.
Before you start making a video scribe, it is important to think about your audience. Agile coaches operate in an environment where people are well aware of what roles should be implemented and what skills and behaviour is expected from people in those roles. But you won’t be there when they play the video. So you won’t be able to detect the blank stares of ignorance when you are using a phrase or concept that is unknown. So think about the average vocabulary and knowledge of your audience and be sure to explain important aspects that are not all too common. If you manage to make feel people “stupid” while watching your video, they will turn it off.
The goal of the video is to convey a possible solution in a way that it captures the attention of the listener. It does this by drawing roughly in the same pace as the narrator talks. Use pauses in the drawing if your are elaborating away from your core message, use pauses in the narrative if you want people to remember something! The narrative and the pace of drawing are tied closely together.
Now, how can you make a Video Scribe (thanks for reading patiently till this point.)
Start out with your story, make sure it is correct and create a diagram that supports your narrative. Then go through it several times and explain your story to stakeholders and other people. Use it to make the story right, video is kind of permanent, so this is where you should shape your narrative. Once you have the drawing and the story, use these 7 steps to create a video scribe:
1.) Create a Trace Template
I knew what to draw where because I simply traced over the original drawing. Simply use scotch tape to fix the original on a table and add a clean sheet on top of it. Trace it just like you copied comic books in your youth (never knew that would come in handy.)
The sequence in which you draw is based on your narrative, just hum along and create the drawing while telling the story to yourself.
2.) Create a Stable Camera Mount
You can create a very simple recording solution by fixing a 75 cm (that is about 2 foot for those in the land of the Imperial system) piece of wood (pine) to a regular camera stand. I used a 3/4 inch pipe fitting to match the spring lock of the camera stand.
A Low Tech Camera Mount

A Low Tech Camera Mount

Make sure the stand is on a separate table and vibrations from the “drawing station” are not carried over to the “recording station.” You need to play a bit with the height, adjust until the camera covers the entire sheet of paper, use a pencil to mark what parts of the paper you should not draw on if they are outside the recorded area.
I recorded an area that is slightly larger and masked the non-drawn area’s in the video editing software.
3.) Build a Studio With What You Have
Did you know you can record the video of your iPhone directly on your Mac? Open QuickTime and select “New Movie Recoding” from the File menu. Then click the little triangle directly next to the giant red record button to select the source. If you connected your iPhone through USB to the Mac it will show up there as a potential source.
QuickTime wants to record your iPhone screen, so that includes all kinds of controls. I grabbed an App to avoid that, but really if you have a bit more time, dive into Xcode and build the App yourself.
If you are using Windows, Linux, Solaris, Android, etc. I’m sorry. There are probably tools out there that do the same, I just don’t know them. But feel free to drop them in the comments.
Oh and in case you are wondering. My USB chord was not long enough, so I raised the Mac.
4.) Record
Just draw. Make sure you pause every now and then and remove yourself from the image after each element has been drawn. This way you can insert still frames later on if you need to. Keep an eye on the light and how far you are bending over the table. People are interested in your drawing, not the back of your head.
I recorded in several files because I was afraid of the files becoming corrupt due to being to large. Your millage may vary.

5.) Workflow
Before we can record the audio, we need to make sure we stick to the flow of the video. I placed Post-IT’s on the drawing indicating the flow. Just numbers with arrows are fine, that way you won’t get lost and end up with a part of the drawing appearing out of no-where without a narrative.
6.) Audio
Just stick your headphones in your Mac and use “New Audio Recording” from the QuickTime File Menu. Make sure you have a quiet room and start with an introduction. Don’t worry too much about noise, you can use Audacity to cleanup that afterwards. Oh you should use it to normalise the audio anyway! and.. cut out the pauses and “eeehhhh” parts.
7.) Putting it all Together
Use a simple Video Editor to put it all together. I used iMovie because it had two very important features: Insert Freeze Frame and Adjust Speed. Cut the video into drawing scenes and use the Adjust Speed to make everything appear really fast. Then add a Freeze frame to extend the scene until the next scene begins.
You can also play with brightness of your video feed in case the trace is showing. Typically when you increase brightness the original drawing underneath the trace can be “washed out”. Now go out and be Spielberg or Tarantino of your time.
Tips to Make a Better Video Scribe Than me
Minimal Viable Product means: Go out and try! So there was an emphasis on getting this done fast and low-cost in order to learn what can be improved. The good news is: it works in conveying the message! So mischief achieved, but here’s what you can do to make a beter Video Scribe than me:

  1. Make sure you have lots of light, not artificial, but natural light. It’s really hard to correct light afterwards.
  2. If you trace a drawing, make sure the original is not drawn with strong ink. Rather than re-using your first drawing, create a separate one with pencil. You need to see roughly what the outline is, but not everything.
  3. Record the audio first, then draw while listening to it. You will be able to add more detail to support your story if you record it in that order.
  4. Zoom in. You can use your video software to zoom in on parts of the diagram, this will keep your audience focussed. Regularly zoom out to avoid that they loose the overview.
  5. Experiment! If the investment is a couple of hours, there is no pain in trying again.


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