Tuesday, December 30, 2014

FAQ: How do I make videos that look like yours?


Let me very quickly get one thing out of the way.  I will not share any precise lists, photos, or videos of what I use in my own studio for two big reasons:
  1. I don't want to give or in any way support the impression that you must use the exact equipment I do to get nice results, or that copying my methods will copy the popularity my work has been so lucky to acquire.  Both of these ideas are miles away from reality.
  2. The overwhelming majority of my setup is home-grown and hand-built by me (with raw materials & tools) to my own design that's specifically tailored to my needs and quite different from any commercial product or industry standard arrangement I've seen.  I also change & evolve it continually over time.
So, let me redirect & morph all of the relevant questions into a more useful form.

What should I use to make good-looking LEGO videos?

It may seem cliche to say, but there are probably a million ways to go about producing high-quality videos.  There is no one single "right" strategy nor any magic formula for success.  I'll do my best to provide some fairly universal tips & suggestions that can work with many different video styles.

Cameras

Truly amazing quality HD video recording devices are everywhere these days.  Quite many fairly low-end camcorders and point-and-shoot digital cameras are capable of recording HD footage you can be proud to put on YouTube.  Many smartphones will do the job as well.  If you're just getting started, try to make the best of what's already available to you before you consider making a big investment.  If you do want or need to step up to something new, consider bundling multiple needs into one device -- if you're going to get a new phone or digital still camera for other reasons, look for one that's well-reviewed for video use as well.   You don't need to go high-end & expensive! Some folks will insist that a "prosumer" level DSLR is a must, but I've not used one for video production in the 10+ years I've been on YouTube.

Because many LEGO elements are very small, make sure your device of choice is able to focus on objects that are close to the camera ("minimum focus distance" is the term often used).  Prioritize optical zoom range over digital zoom, as the latter resizes images after they're captured, rapidly degrading quality.  When you're new, you'll want to leave a camera in full "Auto" mode, but as you gain experience, it's very helpful to have a full manual mode that lets you set your white balance, shutter speed, and aperture exactly where you want them.  If you're planning to ever turn or move your camera while filming (as opposed to leaving it fixed and moving objects in front of it), you'll want something with built-in image stabilization to minimize shakiness.

Thankfully these days there are a ton of independent hobbyists who happily share not only their opinions of virtually every commercially available camera, but raw footage as well.  When shopping, do your research, and then do some more.  Put your hands on store demo cameras wherever you can.  Before you make a purchase, you should have a very solid understanding of the capabilities of the product you're about to buy.

Camera mount/holder

I could have called this section "tripods," but that would be a bit presumptive.  If you're just starting out taking video with a phone, you may be able to rig up a simple stand that uses something as low-tech as rubber bands to secure the device.  Again, there's no one right way to do these things.  Do try to ensure that your camera won't wiggle around while filming, though, from either an unstable stand or wobbly table/chair/stack of books beneath.  You can do a lot with something inexpensive like a Joby Gorillapod, from standing a light camera on your table to wrapping it around a lamp post or using it as a handle for self-facing shots.

Ultimately I do quite like tripods, myself, and I personally prefer 3-way pan/tilt heads to relatively unwieldy & inconsistent ball head designs.  When buying a new tripod, make sure it's truly sturdy (many of the cheapest have thin, wobbly legs), accommodates both ends of the height range you need, and has feet that are compatible with the surface you're going to use -- wide rubber pads for hard floors or thin or spike-like tips to penetrate deep carpet & find a stable base.

Lighting

Few things are more important than this.  Enough well-placed light can make a really cheap camcorder come to life, while a bad lighting arrangement can produce results that even a cinema-level pro camera and copious post-processing will fail to overcome.  Thankfully this is another area where a big budget is unnecessary.

The best results on a budget these days come from compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs).  They last a long time, are very cheap, and don't heat up your working area as much as traditional incandescents or high-powered halogens & such do.  I just recommend that you pick one color (not all "white" lights are the same!) and brand for maximum consistency.  I prefer "daylight" bulbs, myself, which are more of a pure white than the typical "soft white" or "warm" home bulbs.  Do note with CFLs that they need a minute or so to heat up and come to full brightness the first time you turn them on in a day.

LED lighting is also an option. It's more energy-efficient and gives off less heat, but it's costly. Also, most common LED lights have a pronounced high-frequency flickering which, although imperceptible to humans, can cause strange and irritating issues in videos and will limit the range of camera shutter speeds you can use.  You can get even higher-quality LEDs specifically made for video use (and "flicker-free"), but they're even more expensive, still.

In addition to multiple lighting technologies, there are different physical designs of light bulbs and fixtures.  Spotlights focus everything into a limited area, wasting very little, but they cast very strong shadows just like the sun does outside; if you use multiple spotlight bulbs, you'll get multiple shadows!  To reduce shadows in general (regardless of the type of bulb), you'll want "diffuse" light, sometimes accomplished by bouncing your source light off a large surface to spread it out, or by passing it through a translucent sheet of some sort.  Two common ways to accomplish this are with softbox units or a lighting tent.

Backgrounds

When I first started experimenting with the "infinite white" background style on another channel in 2009, I didn't see anyone else trying it in the subject area that channel was about. A couple years later, a lot of folks were using it.  When I first introduced that style on the JANGBRiCKS channel, again, it just wasn't the thing folks were going for.  Years later, it's now practically the de facto standard.  If I were to start a brand new channel about brick-based construction toys today, I'd personally do my best to avoid infinite white, as I wouldn't want my videos to look like all those other channels. Being unique and original is important to me.

That said, if you do want the "infinite" look, the above-mentioned lighting tent setup is a very common solution, or you can just curve a large piece of heavy paper or thin plastic sheet from your horizontal surface up to a wall behind it.  Poster board works well, though it's limited in size.  You can also get paper on rolls from some craft supply stores, photography shops, and online.  Different colors are available, too.  To make things rotate without putting your hands in your shot, most people use a "lazy Susan" (just search for the term) or a cake turntable.  There are also powered ones available like this, but they get pretty expensive, pretty quickly.

Do consider trying something different, though.  Everyone doing the same thing the same way gets quite boring and uninteresting, if you ask me.



I hope this was useful.  Also check out my tips for new YouTube channels.  Now go get to searching, reading, and experimenting!

15 comments:

  1. Great post, Jang! I have no desire or intention to start video reviews but I am constantly in awe at the quantity and quality of those you churn out. To be honest I don't watch many but I do keep an eye out, via RSS, on what you're up to.

    Keep up the good work!

    Huw@brickset

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am a long time subscriber to your channel, and you're right when you say your channel has improve in so many ways. At the beginning of our channel, when I found you, I loved the intent of your videos. The material of your clips like talking about Lego reviews, making short Lego films and most of all your MOCs. Although, I didn't like the content, I felt like you'd ramble on and on over the smallest of things. Quiet frankly, I would grew bored of your videos. But I stayed subscribed and over the months I noticed less rambling and more of what I like.

    With that being said, I have not made Lego clips mainly because I don't have any equipment. I fully agree that people should put their own twists on their channel and fully copying someone just isn't worth watching because I could of just watch said person video to begin with. What I don't agree is not making a "tour/set-up video" because you think people will copy you. I think it gives other people that are interested in that genre of video making some ideas. I have not came across a full description of how a Lego YouTube sets up their work place with the equipment they used. Yeah, you say to do research, but in today's life videos are a great way to show case said research. If I wanted a review on the next big Lego set I could just go to amazon.com but instead I come to YouTube and look up your channel for your review. If someone posted a video of equipment they suggest is no different then googling said item, read a book of said item, or talk to someone at a department store for said item. If you bought a book about Sony camera then decided you liked what it said so you bought the camera does that make you a copycat? I, for one, would enjoy an equipment room not to copy, but to get a starting point.

    I am a huge fan and support your work. Just remember, "imitation is the greatest form of flattery."

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think you could/should script your reviews and voice over them on postproduction

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great post Jang. I have no desire to copy your work, but am simply curious if any of the skills involved in your videos was / is your job at any point in your life? Especially your narrative skills. You don't learn those from books. Sorry if that's too personal.

    ReplyDelete
  5. How do you make objects spin? And by the way great post!

    ReplyDelete
  6. You are correct that if anyone tries to imitate you (or anyone), it will fall short as these types of videos are an extension of one's personality. A person may be able to do it for a while, but eventually it will wear on them, and it will never come off as completely natural or genuine because, well, it isn't.

    I never liked the saying, "Imitation is the greatest form of flattery" as imitation in this sense is not flattery but an annoyance (or worse). Anyone who has suffered financially from cheap knock-offs of their work(s)would most likely agree with me. :)

    However, that all being said, although assuredly some are asking for actual coaching, others may just be thinking out loud or in awe, not really expecting an answer to "How do you....."

    And finally, Jangbricks, you just come off as such a dang nice guy in your videos and the fact that you make them "family friendly", I think some people just kinda sorta think of you as a "friend" when they ask you such questions. They don't really think through that is an occupation of yours and that they are asking you for "trade secrets". (Please note I said "some" people, not all :) )

    ReplyDelete
  7. There is a reason why you are the biggest and the best JANG. It is because you are the hardest worker, the most dedicated and efficient with the most honest desire to make all things the best in order to attract viewers and uphold consistency of continuous improvement of something that is near impossible to already improve as it is. Although it of course would be interesting to see videos of behind the scenes, making the magic of the JANG, it would be just that, revealing your magic and your secret recipe or formula for success which you have once again worked so hard in every way to attain. I support the JANG all the way. I believe you truly have the power to affect the LEGO Group designers with your opinions and full proper reviews of their products. You hold the most power in this sense outside the LEGO Group. Mightiest of AFOLs - THE ONE AND ONLY, the JANG.

    You should still make yourself the mayor of your town. / LEGOholicDAN

    ReplyDelete
  8. I agree with you. Doing it yourself is the best way but the one question that I still am searching an answer for is how you spin your sets in your reviews.

    ReplyDelete
  9. First off, great videos and content in general. I'm a fan and a recent subscriber(about a week ago actually). I love the amount of information you give and how impartially you review the products. It’s been very helpful when I’m on the fence about buying a product and I will continue to watch your videos regularly.
    That said, I am pretty bummed out by your response here. I understand your trepidation in answering the question of "how do you make your videos?" and I respect your advice to "put in the hard work and do some research" but I can't help feeling that this post doesn't answer anything at all. I have been through university where I learnt photography and film making as part of the course (although it wasn't my specialism) so I know my way around cameras and lighting (another thing I respect you encouraging people to research) but I also know that sharing a list of equipment that you use wouldn't hurt your channel. Nor would it lead to people being able to carbon copy your content (which at the end of the day has very little to do with equipment and everything to do with planning, presentation and editing and other facets that come from you as a creator and presenter).
    So really, I guess what I’m asking is, what equipment do you use? I appreciate this is the question you are probably avoiding answering so let me be more specific; My main reason for asking is that the product shots you get appear as though they are taken on a light table but they also very clearly aren’t as I can see no way of having a turn table as part of a lighting table. The alternative is to have a rig on which your camera spins around the product (giving the illusion of it spinning), but again the way you have shots set up doesn’t seem to support that conclusion. I can think of one or two other possibilities but really none of them seem satisfactory to produce the content which you have.
    So it would be great if you could share a brief statement on what it is you use. Not enough for someone to simply copy your set up but enough for someone to understand how it is done.

    All the best to you and your channel. I look forward to more videos. Especially in the wake of the New York Toy fair.

    Keep Smiling and thank you very kindly :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your feedback, which to me seems perfectly level-headed and reasonable. As I noted in the post, though, much of my setup is custom-built by hand, and is far more the case today than it was when I first did the writeup, with the entire studio evolving every season. An equipment list would would literally say, 1/4" MDF, 18ga. insulated stranded wire, 3/16" basswood, etc. Literally nothing that you see (or can't see!) behind or beneath the models today can be simply bought :( It's truly one-off, my own design, built by my hands, and it's that way because I found no single piece of commercially-available equipment, nor any combination of purchasable components, that can do the range of things I need it to.

      Delete
    2. Great! Thanks for the detailed reply. And also well done on creating the equipment. The more I watch the videos the more I get an idea of what setup you have and knowing that it's not constructed of commercially available equipment helps quite a lot.

      It seems to take up a lot of space based on the scale of the builds you manage to keep in a completely white backdrop (and still manage to rotate). Do you have it in it's own room?

      Thanks for the videos and the great quality content.

      All the best

      Delete
  10. You're right JANG... And by the way I'm a big fan and tune to your channel everyday! No day is complete without me watching your videos.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Absolutely awesome post! I'm in the music production industry and get a thousand questions asking the same thing, and I couldn't have addressed it any better myself. Love all your stuff, keep up the great work Jang!

    Kevin from Minnesota

    ReplyDelete