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How To Roll Your Own Screencast

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With screencasts seeming to be all the rage – and having done a handful myself – I thought it might be useful to run down some of the high points of putting together a screencast that conveys a point in a clean and concise manner. It should be said that prior to any software and settings, preparation is the most key element. Know what you’re going to say and show, and in what order. In fact, setup the items that you’re going to show and do a run through to make sure it plays out the way you expect. Your audience will thank you.

Ok, so first off, you’ll need some software. I’ve listed the more popular options here, but for this article I’ll be referring to Snapz Pro X which is my favorite for this kind of task.

Setting the stage for video…
Use a fixed camera. This means that the camera won’t move around your cursor as you traverse the screen. It induces vomiting – don’t do it! I assume this practice is a ‘happy medium’ for those who want to show things in a large format while still keeping the final file size down. The solution I’ve settled upon goes something like this:
– Set your display to a lower resolution – on my MacBook I go from 1280×800 to 1024×640. This makes on screen items a bit larger for the final product, while still giving me space to work.
– Then within Snapz, I select the entire [1024×640] screen and then I scale the final movie to 70% (at 30fps) to save a little file size on the backend of things. Generally I leave the default output file from Snapz as is when I upload it. It’s a bit larger, but the quality is pretty darn good.

Of course if you’ve got something like Quicktime Pro (or the time available to use iMovie) you can then export your raw .mov file (from Snapz) into a more efficient encoding format. If you’ve got that time, more power to you.

Sounds great…
You can handle audio a couple of different ways. Snapz allows you to grab both Microphone audio as well as system audio. The latter seems to get out of sync after a couple minutes, so depending on the length of your screencast, this may not work for you. Microphone audio on the other hand, works wonderfully, especially if you’ve got a half-way decent USB mic.

Another option would be to cut the output movie from Snapz, using iMovie. As stated above, this takes more time. But you can add a voice-over track, soundtrack, or whatever you want to enhance the final product.
I’ve found that while the iMovie way of doing things is a little more polished in the end, the added value compared to the time spent isn’t always worth it. Find what works best for you.

Some items I’ve learned along the way…
– Even though it’s video that viewers can pause at will, it’s hugely useful to go slow. So make your actions as well as your explanation of those actions measured to be clear and concise. In my first few screencasts I thought it was cool to show just how quickly I could perform some function in Quicksilver. But being My Speedy didn’t really help viewers out. So slow it down.
– Another technique I’ve employed and believe to be useful for viewers, is having the Keyboard Viewer on screen so people can follow your keystrokes. This is especially helpful if you’re trying to describe the keys you’re pressing as you work.
– Remove distractions as well. If your desktop is a mess of icons, hide them or move them to a nested folder temporarily. They’ll just distract from the main event.
– Lastly, a software utility such as OmniDazzle can be quite handy for directing the viewer’s eye to a certain part of the screen.

None of this adds up to any huge secret recipe, it has more or less been a lot of trial and error. You’ll get more comfortable the more you work at it so get started and have some fun!

7 Responses to “How To Roll Your Own Screencast”

  1. I’ve been creating screencasts since 1994, when we produced our first training cd on QuarkXpress – over 80,000 screencasts later, we still record them at 5fps, and deliver online at 3fps and tell the instructors not to move the mouse or other things on screen too much when not showing anything. Unless you are recording realtime video, this is good enough and we’ve never had complaints about the fps rate.

  2. NIck, I’m currently using the “default” keyboard viewer included in OS X. But I want to use like a Growl notification of each keystroke like you’ve started to do in recent screencasts. Please let me know which software are you using. I want to use that in my next screencasts, since I run a blog in spanish about Tips for OS X. Thanks.

  3. When you have Quicktime Pro you could record your screencast in 30fps and experiment with the FPS in the export dialog of Quicktime to get the most bang for your buck. ;-)


  4. I guess it depends what you want to show. the things I’ve focused on in my screencasts have – for the most part – been about the way the UI looks and reacts, so that can be an important thing to capture at 30fps.

    But point taken – if you’re just showing settings, and where those settings reside, something around 10fps would probably get the job done.