Behind the Scenes with "Teh Funny"

Part of the reason for recording and posting the sessions from Northern Voice is to learn and share the experience of doing event videos, which I hope will encourage others to do more of the same. Here's the short story behind the Teh Funny. More extensive details are below.

The video was shot by three cameras, one of which was a cell phone camera. Audio was recorded on a standalone audio recorder. Slides were recorded directly from the presenter's laptop. These five recording sources were synchronized with our software and then edited in Final Cut Pro.

There's a lot more to it as I'll now explain. This is pretty detailed technical info, so hide your eyes if you find it too scary.


The slides were recorded onto a T61 laptop using an Epiphan VGA2USB and VirtualDub. I used the ffvfw MPEG-4 codec and recorded audio from the laptop built-in mics. That's poor quality audio but it was only needed for synchronization purposes later so it was enough. Unfortunately the quality of the video was not good. The Epiphan box does a good job about 90% of the time, but this was not one of those times. So I asked the presenter for his slides. They were in Apple's Keynote which has an easy way to export all the slides to individual images: look under Share > Export... I did use the Epiphan recording, but just to know where to place the slide images in the timeline.


I recorded video from the back of the room using a Canon XH A1. It was equipped with a Rode shotgun mic for backup audio and to pick up some room tone and audience sounds. Another attendee recorded B-roll footage using a monopod at the front of the hall. (You can see her on the right in some of the early frames.) A third attendee posted live video to Qik which was downloaded later.


The primary audio was recorded using a wireless lavalier mic into a Zoom H4. Secondary audio was to come from the camera-mounted shotgun mic. These would be mixed after synchronization.


I dumped everything into Final Cut Pro and used our software to automatically synchronize it. It worked like a charm. The Zoom audio had a bit of drift but the software corrected for that and it was perfectly synced with the shotgun audio so they could be mixed. Normally at this point I would throw both audio tracks into The Levelator and then do the editing.

That would be the end of the story, but there was a problem. I'm fussy about the quality of the audio and I've had excellent results using this setup, but in this case the primary audio recording was beyond bad. First of all, the lavalier mic on the presenter's shirt kind of flopped over, so there was lots of bumps and clothing noise. Second there was electrical interference with the wireless system. I'd tested it all beforehand, but once the room was filled with dozens of laptops and all the AV systems fired up, something caused nasty hissing and zapping sounds.

I knew some of this was happening during the shoot, but I couldn't bring myself to interrupt the presenter to tinker with everything. So I decided to fix it as best as possible in post.

It was a nightmare. I spent a loooong time in Adobe Audition cleaning it up and I think I used every trick that program has to offer. There were three different noise profiles used at various times, lots of gating, some EQ, envelope shaping and the healing brush. The more I used Audition the more I appreciated what it can do. Not only are there lots of tools, but they have implemented the algorithms very well.

In the end though, it's garbage in and just slightly less smelly garbage out. After mixing in much more camera audio than was originally intended, it was done. The best that can be said about it is that the speaker is intelligible and it doesn't actually make your ears bleed.

Compared to the audio, the rest of the editing process was a breeze.

Lessons Learned

1. Watch where you clip on those lavalier mics. Get it as close as possible to the mouth but at all costs keep it from rubbing or bumping clothing or anything else.
2. Wireless mics can work well but if you have any reasonable alternative, go for it. In other sessions at this conference, we used an Olympus portable voice recorder with excellent results. With hindsight I wished I had fed the wireless audio into the other audio track on the camera instead of the Zoom and instead just propped up the Zoom on the lectern to record with its own mics (as backup audio).
3. If people are recording to tape, just grab the tapes from them at the end of the day. We ended up having to do a complicated compress-upload-download cycle that slowed things down a lot.
4. It's a good idea to have a USB key handy to grab a copy of the slides from the presenter right after the presentation. As much as I love the Epiphan box, the original slides are better quality and it can make a noticeable difference even at web resolutions.
5. By all means, go with multicamera/multiaudio recording. If you ignore my whining about the audio quality problems, you'll see that the process was amazingly simple despite the number of variables involved. By doing synchronization in post, the cameras and audio don't need to be connected to each other during recording. And by having a precise sync on the audio, you can get a pleasing mix of presenter and room audio.

Teh Funny

Rob Cottingham of Social Signal delivered a hilarious keynote at Northern Voice 2009. Here is the much-requested full length recording of that presentation, in glorious multicamera goodness.

This is the first video to be released in the grand experiment of trying to make all sessions from Northern Voice available online. It was also a great use case for our company's automatic synchronization software which is currently in beta. The technical details are described here.



Northern Voice 2009 Recordings

Some videos from Northern Voice 2009 are already available (no thanks to me--yet). Several others will be trickling out at a steady rate as we crunch through the material. The hard part is getting everything off people's cameras and into a common location. Unfortunately the files are a little too big (e.g., tens of gigabytes) to be sending through e-mail.

For those of you who just can't wait, there are several Qik videos here and more here.

Stewart Butterfield's keynote is below, thanks to James Cogan.

Stewart Butterfield Keynote - Northern Voice 2009 on Video.ca


Links for Northern Voice Presentaton

[Update 2009-02-27] What looks like the definitive guide to recording phone conversations has been posted here.

Added links for embeddable audio players.[]

I am presenting at Northern Voice 2009 tomorrow. The talk is titled How to Bring Your Blog to Life and is about getting started with audio and video. In this post I gather together all the links to the sites referred to in that presentation.

General Info
Wikipedia entry for podcast

Example Sites
Doug Kaye's blog
Apple Store Opening video
David Howell's short films for the Web
NowPublic crowd powered media
Vancouver Weekly Underground Review Podcast
YouTube unbox video example

Olympus WS-210 voice recorder
Zoom H4 digital audio recorder
Basic USB mic at Best Buy
BlueMic Snowball USB microphone at Long & McQuade
Shure SM58 at Tom Lee Music
Flip Video site
Velbon C600 at London Drugs
Manfrotto Tripod Kit at B&H Photo
Flourescent light kit at Broadway Camera
Green screen supplies at TubeTape
USB headset at Best Buy
Recording from two USB mics on the Mac

Camera Review Sites
Still cameras: dpreview.com
Camcorders: camcorderinfo.com

Pamela for Mac Skype recording
Audio Hijack Pro
Total Recorder for Window Skype (and other recording)
MX Skype Recorder (free)

Phone Recording
Cheapie phone recorder at The Source
JK Audio

Screencast Software
SnapZ Pro X

Audio Editing
The Levelator
Adobe Audition
Soundtrack Pro
Windows Movie Maker
Pinnacle Studio
Final Cut Express
Sony Vegas Pro

MPEG StreamClip
17 Places to Find PodSafe Music
Soundsnap (sound effects)

LAME for Audacity

Hosting and Publishing
Resources for WordPress podcasting: PodPress.org

Embeddable Audio Players
Yahoo media player
Wordpress plugin (MP3 only)
Tutorial: using the Wordpress plugin in non-Wordpress pages

Podcast Directories
Podcast Pickle.
Podcast Alley

Coding Resources


Embedding F4V Files in Keynote

I just ran into (and solved) a little problem. I'm preparing a presentation for Northern Voice 2009 and am using Keynote for my slides instead of boring old PowerPoint. My talk is about producing audio and video for the Web and I have several F4V videos that I want to include in my slides. (F4V is Adobe's Flash wrapper for H.264-encoded video.)

Keynote lets you easily embed a QuickTime movie, but what about F4V? After many failed attempts here's what works. Fortunately, it's simple.
  1. Download and install the Perian drivers so that QuickTime can play Flash video.
  2. Select the video file to be embedded, Ctrl-click and choose "Get Info".
  3. Set "Open with:" to "QuickTime Player".
  4. Change the extension on the file from .f4v to .mov.
  5. Drag and drop the file into Keynote.
Step #4 in particular is a pretty miserable hack, but it does the job: Keynote should play the file now, just like a "real" QuickTime file.


PNWS: Gerry Chan and The Future of Wireless

Phones made from bamboo, networks of nano robots, RFID biological implants and more. Gerry Chan of the Wireless Research Centre Canada talks about The Future of Wireless in this keynote from the Pacific Northwest Wireless Summit, Jan. 19, 2009.


SpokenWord.org goes live

SpokenWord.org is the latest creation from the indefatigable Doug Kaye, founder of IT Conversations and the Conversations Network. Just out of beta, this new site is a must for anyone who loves podcasts and other Web media content. It provides a number of ways to find, manage and share spoken-word recordings. There's been a lively discussion during development among many enthusiastic alpha and beta testers and Doug has boiled all the ideas down to a site that hangs together nicely. Recommended.


Northern Voice 2009

I'll be giving a presentation at Northern Voice this year. The title is Bringing Your Blog to Life and it's all about getting going with audio and video in your blogging world. (Friday, Feb. 20, 1:30PM)

In addition, I am organizing several of the participants to record as much of Northern Voice as we can. It's a fun and useful conference and deserves to reach a broader audience than its small venue can support. There will be more information about this on the Northern Voice wiki "soon". Watch for videos from the conference to appear on this blog and elsewhere.

Canada's Blogging and Social Media Conference

Update: The manifesto describing the recording project has now been posted here.