How to Make a Video without Film Footage: Montage Revisited

montage_thumbnailA commenter recently took me to task for using a blog post title that was misleading. The post, which was one of my first on this blog (August 2012!!), described a film editing technique called “montage” in which the filmmaker uses a series of still images instead of footage to tell a story in a video. The title of the post was “How to Make a Science Video Without Film Footage”. The commenter said that I failed to tell how to do it, what software to use, or to provide a tutorial. Therefore, my post was “wrongly named”.

My intent with that post was to encourage budding scientist videographers, who have no video footage but do have lots of photographs depicting their research, to go ahead and make a video with whatever media they have in hand. I described how someone in this situation could still create an effective video with a sequence of photos and included a video example that primarily used still images to produce a narrative. I also described how one might use the “Ken Burns” effect to add motion to photographs and also sound effects (birds or crickets chirping, water sounds), all of which add to the illusion of movement in the montage.

My plan was to do a follow-up post and tutorial to demonstrate how to implement the montage technique….but I never got around to it.

The comment, though, told me that people were searching for tutorials showing how to make a video without film footage. So in this post, I would like to offer a tutorial that shows step by step how to edit still images to create a video. As you will see, I provide instructions on how to import photos, how to add a “Ken Burns effect”, how to add transitions between photos, how to add text titles, and how to add music or sound effects to bring the montage to life. Although I used iMovie (Version 10.0.8) for this tutorial, the principles of the montage technique generally apply to other editing software.

Note: This tutorial assumes that the viewer is familiar with the basic editing tools in the iMovie application (or some other editing software). However, you don’t need a lot of editing experience to apply this technique. In fact, montage is perhaps the easiest technique for a novice videographer to use when first starting to make videos.

Be sure to select the HD version (1080p) and full screen for best viewing (direct link to the video on YouTube):

How to Make a Video Abstract for Your Next Journal Article

As I’ve tried to demonstrate in this blog, video is a fantastic way to show off your research in a way that goes far beyond the traditional text-based paper. Today, I’d like to talk about a specific use of video to augment scientific articles. Science journals are beginning to publish video abstracts along with technical papers, an approach that is designed to increase the visibility of authors and their work.

What is a video abstract? A video abstract is a brief description of a technical paper in which the author(s) explain their work on camera, physically demonstrate their methods, use animations or simulations to illustrate concepts, and/or discuss the implications of their findings. By using video and other multimedia, authors can explain their work in a way that the print article cannot, an approach that provides a richer, more diverse experience for the readership. The following is a video abstract I created with a smartphone to demonstrate how easy it is.

Example of a video abstract:

Transcript of video abstract:

Download (PDF, 42KB)

Why would an author want to create a video abstract? Video allows much greater flexibility to an author in describing their work and to more effectively explain the significance of their findings. By posting a video on the internet, an author can raise the visibility of themselves and their research. Because search engines rank video high in relation to text-based descriptions, a video abstract can make an author’s work more visible and accessible to people searching for papers on that topic.

What journals or publishers accept video abstracts? At the moment, several science journals routinely accept video abstracts, including the New Journal of Physics and Cell, to name a couple. Other journals are experimenting with video abstracts but have only published a few so far. Many of these video abstracts are hosted on a YouTube channel (rather than the publisher website), which then means that the author can embed the video on their own website without worry of copyright infringement.  If journals in your field do not currently publish video abstracts, you can still prepare and publish your own video abstracts for any of your papers.

How do I make a video abstract if I do not have a media specialist to help me? So far, there are few guidelines or tutorials available to guide authors in this regard. In the tutorial below, I show how to create an effective, engaging, and professional-looking video abstract entirely with a smartphone. I emphasize use of a smartphone because many people already own one and know how to use it to shoot photos and video, the quality of the cameras in smartphones is high (and getting better), and movie editing software for smartphones is cheap and easy to use. These points are especially important for scientists working in developing countries and who have limited resources and budgets.

Make a Video Abstract Tutorial:

Transcript of tutorial:

Download (PDF, 54KB)

Use Online Interviews in Your Science Video

An effective technique to use when you cannot afford to interview your subject in person or at their field site, is to do an online interview via Skype or similar service. You can record your computer screen while your interviewee answers your questions online. Then all you have to do is edit in footage and still images illustrating the points that your subject mentions. Here is an example of one such video:


Using Graphic Novel Apps to Tell Your Science Story

I’ve been experimenting with the graphic novel format to see how it might be used to tell a story about science.  The application I used is called MotionArtist, which is available for free (as the public beta version) until early next year (January 15, 2013) when the retail version will be offered for about $60–70.   You can watch a video here that shows what MotionArtist does and how it works:

As you can see, with MotionArtist you can create a graphic novel or web comic relatively easily.  There is a slightly steep learning curve, but the tutorials offered on the MotionArtist website provide enough information that most people can get started and then learn by playing around with the application.  It does help to already have some experience with other animation software, but most of the tools are fairly intuitive.

I decided to learn as much as I could about the various tools, panel options, workflow, etc. by creating a short project.  That has been my approach to learning videography:  pick a project that requires some new technique or software that I want to master and then learn by trial and error in the process of creating my project.

In this case, I wanted to use a science topic but one that I could have a bit of fun with and that would be complimentary with the graphic novel/web comic format.  So for my project, I chose an environmental phenomenon known as “brown marsh”, which refers to sudden dieback of coastal marshes.  Instead of telling the story from the viewpoint of scientists, however, I decided to use marsh snails as the protagonists in my story.  Although I set out to tell quite a different story, once I “created” the snail characters, they took over and told a very different story from the one I had initially envisioned (funny how that happens).

I used MotionArtist to set up the panels, import images and some video clips, and add text boxes.  If you want to animate, you will need to set up layers so that individual components can be moved independently.  I wanted to animate the snails and have them moving around.  I started with photographs of marsh snails and removed the image backgrounds as I’ve shown in a previous tutorial.  I used Photoshop to develop layered images of snails, marsh grass, and backgrounds.  These could then be imported as individual layers in MotionArtist or as a composite image.  I also used Photoshop to “cartoonize” some of the images prior to importing them into MotionArtist.

Once complete, the project can be exported as a video or as HTML5.  However, I exported as a video because the HTML5 did not seem to work with my content (except for the opening scene); perhaps this glitch will be “fixed” in the retail version of MotionArtist.  Although you can add audio and voiceover in MotionArtist, I used iMovie to add some sound effects and music and then to render the video.

Here is the final version, which I titled “Brown Marsh Apocalypse”:

I see a lot of potential for creating interactive graphics with this software to illustrate science concepts and will be giving this a try in the future.

Can Plants Move?

Here are a few videos that answer that question.  These are good examples of footage that one might use to illustrate plant “tropisms”.

The first video shows the rapid movement of a carnivorous plant, Drosera glanduligera (sundew), from Australia, captured with a high-speed camera.  The video is my compilation of footage posted online in the journal PLOSone with the article describing the phenomenon (access article here). This species has two types of tentacles, one with the sticky globules, which trap anything touching them, and non-sticky tentacles that fling insect passersby towards the center of the rosette where it gets stuck to sticky tentacles that then slowly pull the insect toward the area where it will be digested.  That flinging movement is one of the fastest trapping mechanisms found in the plant kingdom.  The speed is actually amazing when you think about it….this is a plant, not an animal with rapid-fire muscles.

For best viewing, select the HD version and full-screen options (see menu bar at bottom of player window).

By the way, I put together the video above in iMovie using the downloadable images and video footage offered on the open access article in the journal PLOSone.  All such images published there are under a Creative Commons Attribution License, which means that anyone can use them without permission as long as the creators (authors) are acknowledged.  This is a good example of how the scientist videographer can use published footage, images, and graphics to create a video about a science topic and without paying for or having to acquire the permission of the creators.

The second video is a time-lapse sequence showing Cuscuta reflexa (dodder) growing on another plant (Perlagonium sp.) in a phytotron in Norway.  This type of plant is a parasite on other plants and can actually insert root-like structures called “haustoria” into the host plant.  Once established and drawing resources from the host plant, the dodder’s roots growing in the soil eventually die, and the parasite then relies on its host for water and nutrients.  The sequence in this video was shot over 14 days with each second equaling about 40 minutes of growth.  Thanks to Joy Marburger for the link.

The last video is one based on footage I shot in Sri Lanka of a “sensitive plant” I came across in a parking lot.  Using that (admittedly shaky) footage plus some text explanation, I created a short video about seismonastic movement in plants.

It’s difficult sometimes to make sessile organisms such as plants interesting to the general public because, well, they don’t move or appear to do anything interesting.  However, the scientist videographer can use this fact to advantage and use footage that shows something unexpected, which as we’ve learned, is one feature of a video that appeals to viewers. Most people don’t expect plants to move, so videos about plant tropisms, which challenge that perception, can be quite effective.  Moreover, adding the question as to why plants might have evolved movement raises the viewer’s curiosity and perhaps stimulates them to learn more.

Another point I’d like to make here is that I was able to produce these videos in a very short time. The sensitive plant video took about five minutes to pull together and another five minutes or so to export and upload to YouTube.  The video on the carnivorous plant took somewhat longer (about 30 min), mainly because I had to read the paper to understand what the video footage and other images were demonstrating.

With a small effort, using your own or published (but public domain) images and video clips, you also can create short, informative videos.