Have you ever heard of Luigi da Vinci? Luigi was a brilliant maker during the Italian Renaissance. He spent all day building models and perfecting his ideas. He was a happy man doing whatever he wanted and exploring his curiosity. One day he’d play with his model flying machines and the next day he’d imagine new buildings or study the nature of living things. He was content to pursue his passions and the world left him to it. He mostly kept to himself but once in a while he liked to share a wineskin with his neighbor Leonardo the artist, and they would spend a nice evening talking about Luigi’s toys while Leonardo sketched amusing pictures. ”
“Ah , Leonardo,” Luigi would tease. “You live your life in pictures. Men are remembered for doing, not dreaming! I build machines that fly while you sit and doodle them on parchment. What legacy is that?”
At these times the artist would smile slyly and offer Luigi another drink and soon he was off on another wild demonstration while Leonardo scribbled away.
You’ve heard of Luigi da Vinci, right? He was a genius!
To do is to be- to document is to be heard
How is a maker different from a hobbyist? I’ve had a few lively debates about this in various forums and I think it boils down to communication- makers love to share their work and knowledge. Makers don’t read Popular Mechanics and write letters to the editor- they read tech web sites and leave comments that other readers can comment on. Makers don’t just use gadgets- they hack and modify them and then go on their blogs and tell others how to do it. While a hobbyist can enjoy their craft in isolation, a maker has a need to share what they do and how they do it. Openness and sharing are at the core of the maker movement.
Much like academia, in the maker community it’s ‘Publish or perish‘. The growth of the maker movement was fertilized with millions of blog posts, Instructables, Youtube videos, comment threads and Tweets. The internet allows enthusiasts to become ambassadors. I’ve learned everything I know about electronics from Forrest Mims’s Basic Electronics book and the internet. No matter what problems I encountered or questions I had, the answers were just a few mouse clicks away. I was able to learn everything I wanted at my own pace.
Most important- I stayed interested. I got exactly what I wanted out of electronics when I wanted it thanks to thousands of other hobbyists who took the time to post a video or answer a question on a message board. Through this easy access to shared information makers become self replicating. User created resources inspire new users who create their own resources- rinse and repeat. By documenting our work we help others become makers.
OK I’ll confess- I’m the worst! I hate to break my work flow with camera work or blog posts. Stopping to set up a camera and tripod takes time that could be spent learning and building. Even as I’m writing this article I’m thinking that the four channel mixer I’ve been working on for my lunetta synthesizer isn’t building itself. When I finish a project I’m already thinking about my next one so I rarely stop to shoot a video. I rarely even get good photographs of my projects- I just play with them and then go build new stuff.
Even when the video or photos get shot the job’s not done. At the least it needs to be trimmed and edited. You may want to add graphics and titles, animations, music or voice-overs. It may need to be reformatted to load quickly on Vimeo or Youtube. You’ll also want to write a description and add the right tags so folks can find it. In the end picking up my soldering iron and starting the next project seems like a lot less hassle.
A New (Maker) Year’s resolution
In the last couple of years, Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire, now Gulf Coast MakerCon, has become the focus of my year, project-wise. Everything falls into two categories- things to get done before MakerCon and things that I can’t start until after MakerCon. Since it has become the bookends of my year, maybe a New (Maker) Year’s resolution is in order. Mine is to better document my work.
This happens to coincide with the start of Hackaday’s new Projects page. I signed up and started a page there but I really need to change my approach to documentation. I want to focus on video since my projects are mostly sound based. As usual I went to the internet to see what others were doing. People make instructional videos on how to make instructional videos- now that’s meta. After a few hours of good and bad advice, I found my game plan for documenting my work. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you set out to document your projects with video.
Plan your work and work your plan
Planning is the key. Figure out what you want to say and show before you start recording. It can be as simple as an outline that covers your key points or a full script- whatever works for you. Also plan the visual aspect of your video. Is there good lighting? Can the camera ‘see’ you? If you need to move or change positions can you do so without blocking the shot? If your dealing with lots of steps or movements in your video it may help to create a simple story board, a comic book-like set of sketches planning out key scenes, movements and actions. You can download story board templates from Incompetech here http://incompetech.com/graphpaper/storyboard/ Planning and visualizing your video project will help you see problems and solve them before your cameras are rolling. When I’ve made videos in the past I’ve found that hand written cue cards and a plan for the shot save me a lot of time and frustration. Planning your steps will also help you insure that you have all necessary materials handy when you need them.
Make it easy for yourself
After you have your video planned out it’s time to start filming. In my house this is always a daunting task. My workbench is in the living room so things need to be rearranged a little to make room for a tripod and lights. Since my bench is along a wall it’s hard to get a good camera angle. The best way to avoid these hassles is to plan your work space with video in mind. Avoid tripods and design camera mounts into your workbench. Action cameras like the GoPro with lots of mounting options are great for this. It can also be as simple as using squares of adhesive Velcro with a cheap webcam.
While it’s possible to shoot a simple video in one single take, it can get a little boring and it increases the chance of flubbed lines.. Using two cameras, or even one camera with two separate mounting spots, can make your video much better. Use a wide shot when you are talking and explaining things and a close up to show details. If you do moving shots look into making a DIY steadicam set up to make your camera movements smoother. Watch TV with an eye towards the technical details. Observe how the way something is shot makes it more interesting.
I’ve decided to use an old Manfrotto lighting clamp modified to accept a standard camera mount for my main camera. It mounts easily to my bookshelf and gives a nice long shot along the bench. I also have a small webcam with Velcro for closer angles and a custom mount for my tablet for overhead close ups of my workbench. These are all things I had laying around.
Use a similar approach to lighting. Good lighting will make a cheap camera look better. Flea markets and yard sales are a good source for lighting fixtures and lamps. The main thing to keep in mind is to provide even lighting. Avoid a single bright light as this will cause bright glare and dark shadows. Use several softer lights for better illumination from many angles. Keep your work area well lit and you will always be ready to shoot a video. I have two angle-poise desk lamps mounted on my workbench as well as a couple of small fluorescent tubes. I also use a rechargable LED flashlight with a diffuser for a detail spotlight.
The main thing to keep in mind is that the easier it is to shoot your video the more likely you will be to shoot a video. Having your camera mounts and lights in place all the time makes it much easier.
Don’t forget the audio
Great video quality is no good if the audience can’t hear what you’re saying. Keep the audio in mind in your early planning stages. When you’re ready to shoot turn off the A/C or fans. If you live near traffic or playing children, close the windows. Most cameras have a built in microphone. This is fine, but if you are shooting in a noisy environment try using an external microphone or an inexpensive clip-on lavalier mic. If your demo is really loud you can always do a separate voice over later. I have a small collection of microphones and a couple of digital audio recorders but I usually just use the mics on my cameras. Think about adding some music or sound effects. Keep in mind that using music that you don’t have permission to use may get your video pulled by Youtube or Vimeo. Use royalty free music or create your own with Garage Band, Fruity Loops or similar software.
Putting it all together
The final step is editing. Editing allows you to combine video and audio clips to create your final video. You can also add titles, video and audio effects and transitions that add variety to the way one clip fades into another clip. There are plenty of free video editing programs out there, and new ones pop up all the time. Do a little research and find one that fits your needs. There are many video editing tutorials out there that will teach you the basics of your chosen program. Don’t go overboard with the effects and transitions- the information you are presenting should always be the focus. I use Windows Movie Maker and a shareware video format converter. I’ve used expensive, feature packed software in the past, but this does everything I need and it came installed on my laptop.
When you see a video you like, make a mental note about what made it interesting. Was it well written? Was the camera work smooth and clear? Were there interesting extras like graphics, titles or music? Was the presenter enthusiastic and engaging?
Don’t be afraid to learn from others and borrow from other peoples successes. That’s what being a maker is all about.
Keep it simple
The most important thing is to keep it simple. Relax- you’re just talking to some friends, not going out for an Academy Award. Just be yourself and have confidence. Don’t rely too heavily on fancy effects. A clearly presented video done in one shot without titles or effects is better than a video with so much music and graphics that it distracts from the subject. Keep your budget simple, too. A well planned, well lit video shot on a low end camera will be much better than a disorganized, shadowy mess shot in HD. If you don’t have space or decent lighting in your home, go outside. If you don’t own a camera check with your friends, local library or makerspace to see if they have equipment you can use. Work with what you have, but just do it. Learn by doing and experimenting- you can always shoot it again.
Sharing is an important part of making. Chances are you have learned a lot from others around you. Documenting your work is a great way to pay it forward and inspire someone else to try their hand at making something. Makers make makers!
Do your part or you’ll end up like Luigi da Vinci.