Creating CHI Video Previews on the Cheap

Our submission to the ACM Conference on Human Factors of Computing was accepted a while ago. As part of that submission, we were also required to create a video preview for the conference.

This presented to us a few logistical problems. First, none of us had camcorders. We had iPhones, which can record video in a pinch, but that can be rather spotty as far as recording goes. Second, we did not have a lot of time in which to arrange to do principal photography or other setups that would require fieldwork. The CHI video is not particularly long – under one minute – but it still requires us to know what we’re shooting, and to ensure that we can do this all in a clean, professional manner. When you have a week, and when you’re also considering the camera-ready version of a paper, trying to direct a video is a lot of work on top of that.

We decided to take a simpler route and use an animated video instead. This presented its own suite of problems. The first one was that no one on our team had computer-based animation experience in Flash or other art tools. Thus, it was up to us to figure out how we could do this nicely with inexpensive, off-the-shelf software.

First, here’s the video…!

And here’s the preprint of the paper! D. Piorkowski, S. D. Fleming, I. Kwan, M. Burnett, C. Scaffidi, R. Bellamy, J. Jordhal. The Whats and Hows of Programmers’ Foraging Diets, ACM Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (CHI), Paris, France, 2013.

Getting a decent video preview together using inexpensive software

If you want to make an animated video and don’t know other animation tools, you can build something reasonable in Apple Keynote and iMovie! With some high-resolution graphics, transitions and Keynote actions, good builds, and a high-resolution export, we were able to create something that, while it’s not going to win us any awards, serves as a presentable video preview.

I used Apple Keynote 5 because it exports high-frame Quicktime movies. I tried to use PowerPoint on various systems, but it exported movies that were not at a high-enough framerate to animate transitions properly.

The main workflow works like this:

  1. Use Keynote to create an animated presentation, then export it to a MOV file.
  2. Record yourself talking about the slides using a headset and Audacity
  3. Use iMovie (included for free in all Macs) to match the talking to the slides

It should be noted that if you do happen to know how to use a professional animation and video tool like Adobe Flash, Adobe Premiere, Apple FInal Cut Pro, etc., you should use those tools instead! This guide is meant for people who don’t have time to learn a real animation suite or don’t have something to field or screen-record.

When you create your presentation

We decided to use an animated figure doing some actions, some text-based transitions, and a voiceover. These won’t get us the “CHI video preview of the year”, but they’ll communicate the idea across! David, in this case, drew a few initial pictures that I used for the basis of the video.

He gave me static images, so the first thing I did was use an image editor to cut out the hands to “animate” them. I believe that’s the extent of the actual hand-drawn animation in the video. The other main animation that you see is the IFT “magnifying glass”, which is animated using Keynote’s build effects.

Here are some tips:

  • Use the effects for moving, building in, and building out liberally. These make your presentation look like an actual video with movement instead of just a set of still slides. Make sure you set them to fire automatically and after an appropriate delay. Here’s some ideas:
    • Swap two images using a really fast (0.1 second) Dissolve effect to get minor animations going.
    • Use a PNG with a partly-transparent background that moves in front of the scene – this is great for magnifying glasses, speech bubbles, and so forth.
    • Use actions such as “move” and “rotate” at the same time to add more dynamic movements.
  • Be sure that the slides advance automatically. Put a lot of “time” between your slides. Even after exporting the times won’t be accurate, they’ll be off by a few fractions of a second, and that’s enough to mess things up. You’re going to need to fix these manually in iMovie.
  • Break up everything into separate slides. If you can afford to have something not animated on the screen (good for static builds), then you can take a still screenshot and insert that into iMovie – it should seamlessly transition.

Even if you get all of your timings right within the presentation itself, the Quicktime movie that Keynote exports will still not have good timings. This is simply due to limitations with frames per second and how fast you can get transitions to fire in Keynote. You’ll want to edit the resulting file in iMovie.

Editing the Audio

My colleague David recorded the audio. I asked that he use a headset and that he record in a quiet room. Doing so will save you a lot of headaches! If possible, you want to record in a reasonably small room without any noises (closets and bathrooms work great in an emergency!). I don’t know how long it took him to record the video, but it was a reasonably clean recording.

I used Audacity, an open-source program, for my audio editing. I personally sliced up the audio into separate sentences, it made it easier to match the beginning of each sentence to the actual transition. I also took the time to edit out any “ums” or “ers” that were in the reading. His voiceover was pretty good overall but I was able to fine-tune it.

Once that is done, you have to match up the audio with the video in iMovie. This is a reasonably tedious, manual process. iMovie is accurate to something like a tenth of a second, and likes to nudge things to the closest 0.4 seconds, so you do want your video to be liberal enough to not go up against these limitations. Use the “clip adjustments” and “audio adjustments” settings. If necessary, slice up the audio into smaller segments and drag and drop them into iMovie at the right points to fine-tune.


I added music to my video. Be aware of licensing arrangements! When you submit a video to the ACM, they require you to have proof of copyright usage of any media, which includes the video and music. In my case, I asked permission from the original author. (The track, by the way, is called World of Snow by DDRKirby(ISQ)).

One thing you don’t want is for your music to drown out your speaker. iMovie almost automates this process, though! There’s an iMovie feature called “ducking” that reduces the volume of the music while someone is talking – this is a common radio technique. For all of your voiceover tracks, set them to “duck other audio tracks” to a small value, like 8%. If you happen to have any gaps in your voiceover, you may need to insert some silence so that your audio doesn’t duck in and out while your speaker pauses.

In Conclusion

I am by no means a professional video editor. No one on our paper-writing team was! That was what led us down this path to creating a short video on the cheap, but the reality is that a lot of people out there aren’t professionals, and many had not ever edited a video clip or tried creating a movie. I think this just underlines the fact that researchers in any discipline have to have a large number of diverse skills, and require the ability to be resourceful and adaptable. We couldn’t afford the time or energy to go shooting video or learning video-editing software, but we also wanted something that was reasonably engaging and that would stand on its own!

I hope that some of the content on this particular post will help some others out there who are working on brief video clips or previews of their own content, be it research papers or other work. Enjoy!


2 thoughts on “Creating CHI Video Previews on the Cheap

  1. Eric Knauss

    Great post, thanks for sharing. I would have loved to read this earlier. For my last video I used iMovie to record the audio. I had my script and was then starting to speak whenever the movie showed the right content.

    The biggest challenge is if you have not enough or too much movie for the text. And as always, it is easier to cut away then to make existing video material longer.

    Also, I think with your technique the speech is nicer, because you do not record sentence by sentence.

    1. irwinhkwan Post author

      Yes, doing audio post-production is great. As you mentioned, it’s so difficult to get a voice-over correct the first time, and even though many slide show presenting software (PowerPoint, Keynote) and iMovie support voiceovers, they’re not easy to do in a single take.

      I’m a little bit of a perfectionist when it comes to these things, so it’s so much easier just to remove all of the small errors in post-production. You can also just record individual sentences that don’t sound good either!

      Audacity is a great tool to do this kind of work in, especially because it’s free. If you want to be fancy, you could use some of the effect plugins to increase or decrease the volume, remove noise, and other nuisances.


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