Coolson’s Artisanal Chocolate Alphabet, our iPad game, has been out for almost a month now! (You should buy it before it goes up in price on Friday :-).
This is the first of hopefully at least a couple ‘behind the scenes’ blog posts about its creation. This one’s about its trailer video, and how we made it on a budget of $0 1.
We submitted Coolson’s to the App Store in mid July, hoping it would be reviewed in a week or so, and knowing we’d need to have some publicity and marketing materials ready. The most pressing thing to do was create a web page. All the best game web pages have a great trailer in them, so that people can get an idea of how the game feels to play - and hopefully be enticed to buy it. A good trailer can also be great for word-of-mouth publicity - people can send it to friends or post it on Facebook or Twitter.
We could just have recorded screen video from the simulator - and for some apps this works great (for my iPhone app Eucalyptus2 it gives a great ‘walk-through’ feel to the video). For Coolson’s, though, we wanted to show the game on a real iPad - especially in its two-players-across-a-table mode. We also thought it was important that people see not only the gameplay3, but also see some of the artwork and cut scenes, and be left with at least an impression of the hand-drawn, made-on-iPad style. The video needed a memorable hook too - something that hadn’t been done before.
We came up with the idea you can see above - Em’s Cosmonaut-wielding Paper drawing interspersed with gameplay video. We knew that getting what we imagined from our heads into the video would necessitate good quality recording of a real iPad at professional looking HD resolution. We’d also need great quality screen recording.
Here’s how we did it.
Live-action iPad recording
We first tried to find an HD camera. Could we borrow one? Should we buy one? We tried a friend’s GoPro. It’s a great camera, but the fish-eye was bit too much.
We realised that we had supposedly-HD cameras just lying around. iPhones! Perhaps we could just use them? You can see the setup we came up with to try this idea out in the picture above. That’s an iPhone 4S elastic-banded to an GorillaPod, elastic-banded to a bench that’s sitting on a table. It’s set up next to a big window, for plenty of natural light.
The video recorded by the iPhone 4S was pretty good, but the focus and exposure kept changing, especially when Em drew on the screen and her hand moved in and out of shot. We wanted to be able to seamlessly edit the recorded video afterwards, and the constant change in appearance made that impossible. Could an app help?
We tried more than a few apps - and settled on Camera Awesome. It’s a great app that, importantly, lets you set focus and exposure separately, before beginning recording. Just tap with two fingers, then drag the exposure and focus points around - easy. One last variable - even with pretty consistent light, we had to set the brightness manually in the Settings app, and turn off Auto-Brightness to keep things stable.
This setup worked really well. We ended up with great looking, HD-resolution video. As I said, we used an iPhone 4S. I suspect an iPhone 5 would give even better quality video, and an iPhone 4 might even have been acceptable, since there’s so much light around.
We wanted to include full-screen video from the iPad in the trailer, intercut with the live-action video. Previously, I’ve just recorded the simulator with Screenium to get videos of apps, but I couldn’t get a non-jerky video of Coolson’s - I think there’s just too much going on on-screen at once and the extra overhead of the recording means that it’s not possible for it to be smooth. Even if recording from the simulator worked, it’d still be hard to intercut it with the live-action shots. It would be better to get a recording of the iPad as it was being used.
The obvious solution is AirPlay - set the iPad up to mirror to an AirPlay receiver app on the Mac. We tried a few receiver apps, and the one that came out on top was Reflector - it even has the ability to save the AirPlay stream direct to a QuickTime movie, cutting out the step of recording video of the Mac’s screen.
Our hopes were high, but unfortunately videos recorded this way proved very glitchy. It would work smoothly for a little while, then start being jerky, or the audio and video would get out of sync.
Crestfallen, we experimented a bit. We found that moving the iPad and the Mac closer to our Wi-Fi base station improved the situation dramatically - we got rock solid, smooth recording. This was great news, but presented another problem: the Wi-Fi base station, connected to the cable modem, was in another, much darker, part of the apartment. We couldn’t move the recording setup there and still get high quality live-action recording.
We had the idea to set up an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network, distinct from the apartment Wi-Fi, just for the iPad and Mac. Mac OS X’s Internet Sharing can do that. It’ll only do it, however, if there’s an internet connection to share, and our internet connection was coming from the apartment Wi-Fi. Catch-22.
The solution? Add to our Heath Robinson recording setup an iPhone 5 connected to the laptop, sharing its mobile connection via tethering. This allowed us to share the tethered connection using the Mac’s Internet Sharing to the iPad, giving the Mac and iPad their own private Wi-Fi network.
This convoluted setup gave us super-stable AirPlay recording.
The Whole Setup
To go over the whole Rube Goldberg setup again, what we had in the end was:
- An iPad being drawn on.
- An iPhone 4S, elastic-banded to a GorillaPod, elastic-banded to a bench, sitting on a table, with its camera pointed at the iPad.
- A MacBook Air in the middle.
- An iPhone 5.
- The iPhone 4S was connected to the MacBook Air, to keep its battery full.
- The iPhone 5 was connected to the MacBook Air, sharing its internet connection via tethering.
- The MacBook Air was sharing its internet connection (from the iPhone 5) with the iPad via WiFi.
- The iPhone 4S was running Camera Awesome to record the activity on the iPad.
- The MacBook Air was running Reflector, saving the received AirPlay video to disk.
- The iPad was AirPlay mirroring to the MacBook Air.
Phew! Here it is in action:
A day of recording later - and a run of Image Capture to get the videos off of the iPhone - and we had a bunch of movies on the Mac. It was time to put the trailer together.
We thought about looking for video editing apps, but we already had a copy of iMovie, so that was what we tried out first. With some caveats about some non-intuitive UI, especially around cutting between two camera streams (in our case, one camera stream and a screenshot stream), and around matching cuts to music, it turned out great. Em spent another day putting together the trailer, then it was ready to go!
We exported the video as H.264 with the highest quality settings, knowing that YouTube, where we planned to host it, would recompress it anyway.
Creating a YouTube Account
If you want people to share video, you really have to host it on YouTube. So you need a YouTube channel.
Wow, was getting one complicated! We didn’t take notes, I’m afraid, but I hope you’re ready for this to take some time! The process is byzantine. I can’t imagine how many empty Gmail accounts and unused Google Plus pages have been created ‘by mistake’ by people just trying to set up a YouTube channel - not to mention people how many people must be using personal Gmail accounts to run the YouTube channel of the company they work for.
After setting up the channel and uploading the video, we associated coolsons.com with it and set it up to allow monetization, so that we could add a link to the iTunes store at the end of the video (again, we didn’t keep any notes here, sorry!).
Having complained about the setup complications, after getting everything set up, YouTube is great in use, and it’s really easy to embed a YouTube video in a web page nowadays.
Embedding the YouTube Video on the coolsons.com Web Page
In contrast to setting up the channel, this was super-simple - thanks, Google! It’s just one iframe tag in the HTML. It’s easy to configure the player using URL parameters to get it to look and behave just the way you want it to. Full details are on Google’s page here.
That’s how we made the Coolson’s trailer. We’re really pleased with how it came out - I hope you like it too. I hope there’s some useful stuff there for others in a similar situation. To see it in-situ, take a look at coolsons.com.
Warning, 2009-era web site with QuickTime plugin-based video. ↩