Things are abuzz at Common Craft these days. The book is coming out very soon and we're working on new tools and services that will help you become an explanation specialist.
For example, we will soon be offering Common Craft members a library of over 500 colored "cut-outs" just like the ones in our videos. These high quality image files can be downloaded and used in presentations or in making Common Craft Style videos. Yay!
Of course, creating a library of cut-outs requires some strategy. For example, people are a big element in explanations and we saw the potential to provide a set of cut-outs with men and women wearing consistent colors. This way, an explanation can use a consistent character, in many different forms, throughout a storyline. To acheive this, we needed to color and scan a lot of images. Here's an example.
We also want to provide a solid set of objects and shapes. We've been using digital images for years and have our own library of Common Craft art, but most needed some color (we cut and color the cut-outs just before shooting). For this new library, we're coloring and digitizing almost every image, by hand. Here's a sample of some freshly colored images.
While we'll start with 500+ images, we plan to consistently add more cut-outs to the library and even do seasonal and topic-based themes. We have some zombie cut-outs around here somewhere.
I'll be talking more about this new kind of membership soon. For now, I have to get back to coloring.
Question for the comments: What kinds of cut-outs would be most useful to you?
People often wonder what it looks like to make a Common Craft video. So, every once in a while, we take photos as we're making a video. This video shoot is for a forthcoming title that's under wraps, but will come out within a month or two.
To acheive the light we want, we work with four really bright halogen lights. They're so bright that I wear sunglasses when recording - it feels like I get a bit of a tan each shoot. This is Sachi getting things set up.
Prior to shooting, we go through a phase we call "cut and color". Basically we get all the visuals together, color them and then cut them out. Most videos have over 100 of pieces of paper. We try to stay organized by segregating the small pieces from everything else.
Learning to shoot the videos has been a constant experiment over the years. These days we can keep the materials in chronological order if we're careful during the cut and color process. If it works, we can lay out the paper in little stacks for each scene and then shoot them in order. We're all about finding little efficiencies. And - I never would have guessed that I'd be so proficient with scissors.
A while back, we realized that attaching a monitor to the camera is important for seeing the layout of each scene. This is Sachi's station.
Recently we discovered something that has come be known at "the innovation." Basically, we learned that we can write on the monitor screen with dry erase markers. This was a revelation. It meant that we could mark the exact position of images to create consistency in the stop-motion process. When we needed to animate something across the screen, we could draw a line on the screen and follow it. It made our production lives easier.
Lastly I'd say we've changed our shooting schedule. We used to put our heads down and push through a 4-5 hour shoot. These days, we break up the work into 2-3 session over 1-2 days. As a plus, the shorter sessions create a smoother, more consistent tan. Seriously though, it's so much more manageable and made us ask why would we do it the other way? At the end of the day, that's what doing something new is all about - always solving new problems.
People often ask for a look at how we make the videos. When we were putting together the the "Electing a US President" video, I made a special point to take photos of the process. Here's how it works:
Every video starts with a script. If there is "secret sauce" it happens in writing the script because the script drives the video. We use Google Docs to collaborate until we feel like the script is close to finished. Then, we start looking at a thumbnail storyboard.
I draw the scenes for the thumbnail storyboard. It's our first attempt to represent the visuals.
After a couple of rounds of thumbnails and lots of talking between us, we make a list of all the elements that need to be drawn for the video. At this point, I start drawing and digitizing the images. Of course, with the maps in this video, I resorted to tracing.
Once the images are drawn and digitized, we set up a new storyboard using purely digital images. This way, we can manipulate sizes easily and see how everything fits together. Once we feel confident, we print out the materials and start cutting and coloring.
Sometimes, we leave things laying around and our dog decides to put them in his mouth.
Before shooting the video, we assemble all the materials and take them to the studio. We iterate at every point in the process. The script and visuals change every day.
Once production begins, we follow the storyboard and slowly lay out each scene. Often, scenes are revised on the fly. You can never really see how it will work until you see it on the screen.
Each video is different. Sometimes we go down a road, only to find a dead end. We are both prepared to throw away our work and start over if it doesn't feel right. It's painful, but necessary.
Sachi takes over control once we get to the studio. She runs each scene, the camera, lights, etc. She manages the voice-over and all the post production work. Editing is a huge part of what makes the videos work and those decisions are Sachi's. While she's doing that, I start this process over for the next video.
Like our videos, the tools we use to make them are quite simple. Below is a quick tour of some of the non-electronic elements of our productions...
The photo below represents a near-complete selection of the tools we use almost everyday to create illustrations and videos. You can view the photo below with "notes" on Flickr.com.
Because neither of us brought video production/scripting/storyboarding experience to the table, we've tinkered our way through and created a couple of resources that help. One is our thumbnail storyboards. Once a script is written, the first draft of visuals are done on small squares. This one is from Blogs in Plain English.
Of course, we couldn't do what we do without paper. We go through more of it that I would have ever imagined. It's nothing fancy - just HP inkjet paper. And yes, we recycle the waste.
OK, this is a electronic, but still fits. We couldn't be as productive without coffee and have fallen in love with our Keurig coffee maker. It makes a consistent cup of great coffee or tea anytime.
I see this as one of the iconic tools we use - a traditional paper cutter. Sachi is better than me with the scissors, but neither of us can cut a straight line. This does it right.
I spent too long with my art supplies spread all over the house. Finally I invested in a toolbox. Now it's like my own portable bag of tricks.
You might have noticed more color in the videos. We invested in some Tombo watercolor brush pens that I love to use. We have a set of color pens and a set in shades of gray. Inspiration from Nancy Margulies.
This looks kind of gross, but it's putty and we use it in almost every shot to stick paper to the white board.
Of course, Amos is a part of everything we do (see photo above). One hair at a time, he appears in every video.
We're very big believers that we don't need big investments in production to make our videos. We'd rather invest our time in developing what matters most - the script.