Back in April, our local astronomy club decided to use Zoom to hold our monthly meetings for members as a virtual meeting and they did it again in May. It is working well and a side-benefit is that in addition to being able to see it on Zoom, the video can be automatically streamed to YouTube (with about a 15s delay) and saved there when the meeting ends. Our group isn’t alone in this, lots of organizations are doing the same thing for virtual conferences.
However, one downside to the final saved video is that you get the entire raw footage from the time you press RECORD to the time you press STOP. This means for meetings and conferences that you often see hosts saying exciting things like, “Okay, we are now recording and streaming. You can begin.” And another host saying, “Okay, I’ll just share my screen…can you see that and hear me okay?” etc. Basically the technical administration of hosting a meeting. In other cases, hosts often introduce the next speaker, followed by a 10-15s segment of that speaker getting set up to share their screen, switch over, etc. before they actually start presenting. When you watch it live, it seems normal. When you watch it on a recorded segment, it feels weird. We’re so used to seeing TV segments that are edited and seamless, it can seem odd to see the behind-the-scenes management showing through. You don’t see TED talks where the presenter starts by asking if the microphone is working, for example.
But what’s the alternative to the saved video of the raw footage? The same solution — editing the file to take a bunch of that stuff out. Equally, you can also decide if you want a shortened “single” video with multiple presentations within it or parsing it into separate videos for each presentation. For our monthly astronomy meetings, I was editing it while keeping it together as a single long video. For a recent “virtual astronomy day”, I parsed 11 hours of video into 25 separate videos.
Here are the steps I used in my workflow in case you are thinking of or needing to do the same with one of your videos.
A. Clean the videos
The first couple of times I was trying to edit video, I found a few video gremlins in the file. For example, a presentation segment would have part of one slide overlaying another. Essentially, part of the video picture didn’t transition when the page turned. It looked fine when first broadcast, and most of the time, it was still okay in the raw footage to the extent that it tended to “smooth itself out”. But when you pull the file into an editor and start working with more granular layers, some of that smoothing showed up as bigger bumps than expected. It made for some really weird looking segments. The image would eventually resolve to normal, but in the short-term, it looked like a bad TV connection from the 1960s.
To avoid this, I clean the videos. I take the full “raw” files in MP4 format and I run them through a program called Any Video Converter (although lots of others exist) and upgrade them to HTML5-compliant MP4. It strips any gremlins that were there in the raw file. There are other video file formats you could work with if you prefer something other than MP4, some with smaller size files when you’re done or more suitable for mobile for instance, and you don’t need AVC specifically, almost any video conversion software can do the same. You may not need to do this if your original video is short, but I find it helped a lot with the larger files.
B. Parse the video into segments
It doesn’t particularly matter whether I am keeping it together as one big file in the end (meeting videos) or parsing it into smaller videos (virtual astronomy day), I still go through the video to find natural “cut” points between segments and “cut” the video into shorter clips at those points. I find there is often some administrative time between segments, and it isn’t difficult to find them, even without a schedule. If you visually scan the audio segment, it often goes super quiet for an extended period of time as someone is waiting for questions that never came or to share their screen or even just to switch over between hosts.
I tried a bunch of different video editing programs and I liked the interface for VideoPad by NCH. It’s not the most powerful, but it is relatively intuitive without overwhelming me as a beginner user. It has a confusing “free” option which seems like a completely free option and instead is more “temporarily free” but I upgraded to the paid option after trying out five or six other video editing software packages recommended by sites like Tom’s Guides. But you can use just about any video editor, and I’ll keep my steps as generic as possible rather than saying “click here” or “choose this menu option”.
When you’re done inserting “cut” points, you will be left with a series of “clips” that help you create a working table of contents.
C. Prepare transition slides
Whether the video is short or long, I always add at least 4 types of transition slides in each file:
- An opening page for the video;
- A disclaimer on rights (i.e., no sharing without written permission, etc.);
- An intro slide for each segment; and,
- A thank you slide at the end.
Many of the apps including VideoPad come with the capability of creating fancy slides and transition pages. I confess that I have never really liked many of them…often they are glitzy without adding any real quality. To be honest, they seem cheesy. Instead, I do up simple slides in PowerPoint to create a consistent look and feel, and then just export from the PowerPoint file to a JPG or a PNG format image.
Almost all of the apps also give you an option to take a “screenshot” from the video and make it a transition slide. So, for example, some of the presenters have a very “different” looking first page to their segment. Funky graphics, cool layout, etc. In that case, I can take a screengrab of it and then insert it before the segment with a 4s duration. I also found that having copies of the actual presentations themselves was really helpful to steal from the original where necessary/desirable rather than relying on a screen-captured image.
When I add the transition slides, I use 3s duration for the opening page, 3s for the rights disclaimer, and 4s for segment openers as well as the thank you at the end. Anything longer starts to drag, in my view, but there is no hard and fast rule to how long they should be.
D. Assemble a master file with everything
There are two schools of thought to editing a large file, even if you’re going to break it into smaller segments. A lot of people find it easiest to load the transition slides, edit down the big file to a short segment, delete everything else, and save + export to a video file. Bam, one video is done. Video #2 follows the same process. Start fresh, add the transitions, insert the longer video, and delete what you don’t need. Bam, another video is done.
But three of my transitions are the same for EVERY segment that I export — the opener, the rights disclaimer, and the thank you page at the end. Plus, the video file that I’m trimming repeatedly starts off the same. I tried various workflows and the one that worked the fastest for me was to create a master file with EVERYTHING in it before I start exporting or trimming or any other form of editing. For example, for the virtual astronomy day videos, the goal was separate short videos for each segment with a common look and feel plus sorting order for everything. I initially parsed the evening session into 10 segments, and I then added the title page, plus the rights disclaimer, and then right after them, the intro pages for all 10 different segments in order. Then I had the 10 segments, and at the end of the file, I added the thank you page. This meant that the master file now had the format:
OPENING PAGE / RIGHTS DISCLAIMER / SEGMENT 1 SLIDE / SEGMENT 2 SLIDE / … / SEGMENT 10 SLIDE / SEGMENT 1 / SEGMENT 2 / … / SEGMENT 10 / THANK YOU PAGE
In terms of “work”, it seems like I’m doing the same work in different order, but actually I’m reducing a few front end steps doing it this way (while adding some on the end). When you insert images (i.e., the slides), you can insert them all at once. It’s only about 3-4 clicks to do it, but that’s 3-4 clicks one time instead of doing it 10x. On the back end, you’ll see there are a bunch of things to then delete from each file, but that is fairly easy (click, highlight, delete) and way faster than the eliminated menu clicks on the front end. Either way works though.
I saved the master and looked it over one last time to make sure it was “all there”. After temporarily saving it ten times, once for each segment, I opened the first duplicate, left the opening page and disclaimer, left the first segment title page, deleted the next 9 title pages, left the first segment, deleted the next 9 segments, and left the thank you page at the end. This ends up with a set structure for each segment:
OPENING PAGE / RIGHTS DISCLAIMER / SEGMENT / THANK YOU
Alternatively, for the meeting videos that will end up as one “single” video, I insert the title pages in front of each segment and save that as a master and edit a copy.
E. Trim and edit the file
A lot of people think trimming is complicated or is something only done to the beginning or end of a file. I find it very helpful to trim at the start and end of each segment too. I can get rid of all of the technical administrative bits but I can also often remove pleasantries that aren’t part of the formal presentation. It’s interesting at the time, but irrelevant to the future viewer.
I also found that in a few videos, right in the middle of a segment, someone had a technical glitch, not in the video file itself (the gremlins mentioned above) but during their presentation. So, suddenly, there were 2 minutes of dead/non-interesting problem-solving. Or there was a bio break in the middle of a meeting. For all of them, I parse the video before the glitch or break, and again afterwards, and then just delete the glitchy segment in between. As a small hint, I find that it is easiest to focus on the linked audio track during this type of editing to avoid cutting someone off mid-sentence before or after. It’s easy to see on the audio track where there is a quiet pause to splice. In one video I was editing for another purpose, the person had a small coughing fit in the middle which was easy to remove by looking at the audio track before and after.
F. Fancy it up
Once I have all the pieces in order in the video (i.e., opening, disclaimer, trimmed segment, thank you page at the minimum), I go back and add any effects to improve the overall video. Since none of the pieces were designed to flow into each other, it can seem a bit jumpy at times when the screen changes between one of the four elements. I like to add very simple fades so that the previous part goes dark, and the new one opens up, which I do as .5-1s fades. Like the transitions on TV from shows to commercials and back again. In some cases, I found I had to add an audio fade-in of about a second (it slowly ramps up to normal volume) where someone cleared their throat as they started to speak. Since there was no real “gap” between the throat-clearing and the talking, it was too jumpy to try and parse that out. Instead, by adding a fade-in, it was less noticeable in the final video.
Almost all video editors allow for the addition of video and audio fades. And just for fun, VideoPad provides a bunch of stock musical clips from classic to blues to liven up the file (which are often great over slow transition slides). I added them to the long meeting videos, 4s clips here and there, a very short interlude to show a formal transition to a new segment, and a longer clip for a simulated bio break. There was no benefit to adding them to the IAD videos, and if you were watching a bunch in a row, the effect would get cheesy pretty fast, so I left them off. I am not positive it adds much to the longer videos either, but it’s an option.
G. Exporting the video
Most people find it a bit “odd” that you have to “export the video”…they think that, instead, you should just “save” it. Technically, almost all video editors work the same way, and you are not actually editing the video file. What you are working in is a project workspace that adds in a whole bunch of pieces into an ordered tabled of contents, and when you save, you’re saving that workspace. It means later you can come back and edit a piece, adjust some elements, and you aren’t having to RE-EDIT the actual video multiple times.
This is incredibly handy because sometimes when you trim, you trim too much. In the middle of one of the longer files, someone was presenting on scopes, and at the end of the file, the host said thank you, the presenter said they were welcome, and I spliced the video in a quiet zone. What I didn’t notice was that about 3 seconds later, they decided they had a bit more time, so there were two questions from the chat window that were discussed. About another 3-4 minutes of Q&A video that I had “spliced” and deleted. Oops.
If I was editing the original video directly, I would have had to go back to my raw footage. Instead, I opened the project file (the workspace) for that video, went to the video segment, and just “dragged” the right margin about 4 minutes to the left. Those “segments” work usually like index markers. I might see a trimmed clip that is 30s long, but the computer is merely showing me a segment of the original working file from time index 00:10:22.357 to time index 00:10:52.821 (i.e. 30s from 10m22s to 10m52s).
Equally, the workspace knows you want to show an image called “opening slide” for the first 4 seconds. It doesn’t actually do that in the workspace, it just creates a pseudo-table of contents that says “show opening slide 3s, fade-out”.
When you get to actually being ready to finalize your video, you save the workspace BUT you export the video. At that point, the program starts assembling a new video with all the parameters you set (letterbox, normalized volume, size of the video file, resolution, etc.) and it takes that opening slide and inserts it for 3s with a fade-out after it is done. Then it looks at the table of contents, sees that the next thing is a rights disclaimer slide, and adds that to the video file for 3s (with an automatic fade-in since the previous one faded-out, and adds another fade-out to the end). Then the title slide for 4s with fades. And then it adds that 30s video clip from the working copy of the video file (note too that when you first imported that video into your workspace, the program frequently does some basic processing of it for syncing video and audio; if it didn’t do that before you worked on it, it will need to do it now before it exports, which can increase time).
For those who like to cook, the first part was assembling all the ingredients, now the program is mixing all of the ingredients together into the final product. Alternatively, if you’re into Legos, your program is now following the instructions to turn your pile of bricks into something resembling a small house with windows, doors, and maybe a little doggie door.
You also have a bunch of file formats to choose from…I use MP4 as it’s easy to upload to YouTube later and it’s relatively ubiquitous.
H. Testing the video
Once it is exported, I like to close everything else down and just double-click on the final video and let the default media player show me what the video looks like. I might not watch the whole thing (did I mention it was 11h worth of video I was editing?) as I’m mainly looking for the transition points to make sure everything segues nicely. The fades work, I didn’t cut someone off mid-sentence, and I put the right transition slides in the right place. Nothing looks more unprofessional than doing all that work and seeing that you put the title slide for segment 4 on segment 2. It’s easy to “fix”, I just reopen the project file for video 2, swap out the snapshot or slide for the opening, insert the right one, and re-save + re-export the video. Yep, each time you make a subsequent edit, you have to re-export the video file. It can’t just go in and edit that part out and stick in a new part without recompiling from start to finish.
Which is why you want to be pretty sure it’s “done” before you export AND that you check it afterwards. None of my video files are commercial products that can’t afford a glitch or two, but it’s still important enough to try and get it right after the presenters spent all their time preparing and you just spent a lot of time editing.
As a small caution, note that exporting a video is processor-heavy. If your computer was strong enough to handle the video editing, it will handle the crunch of exporting, but it takes time. Some more complex videos can take longer to compile than the file will actually be — so a 10m video with lots of special effects added could take 12m to compile. I tend to keep my files simple, but it was taking 10m to crunch a 30m video.
I. Uploading the file
Our astronomy group has its own YouTube channel, which is where it streamed the Zoom call in the first place, and I uploaded the International Astronomy Day videos to the channel directly. For the meeting videos, I would upload the files to a DropBox account for our webmaster and he would handle the uploading. Note that video files are huge so it doesn’t take long before they are way too large to email around.
For the IAD videos, I would go to the channel, and click on the account in the upper right corner to pull down the menu and choose YouTube Studio. This would give me a slightly different screen than the public sees, including a button near the top labelled “CREATE”. Clicking that gives you an option to upload a video, or a series of videos, and then you just click-and-drag your video file to the resulting pop-up window or manually use the SELECT VIDEOS button to use a standard FILE BROWSER / FOLDER OPEN window.
I’ll warn you in advance that there are a LOT of fields to fill in, if you’re using them all. For uploading the IAD files, I used a standard format to my form-filling:
- TITLE — I used a standard filenaming convention — Virtual IAD – (segment number) (segment name) with (segment presenter);
- DESCRIPTION — I used a longer description for the first video, but since I knew that the whole series would be in a playlist, I used a shorter standard description for all of the others;
- THUMBNAIL PREVIEW — YouTube’s internal algorithm will estimate what you want the image to be that a viewer will see before they press PLAY (often shown in light grey behind the play button) and you can choose 2-3 different images. In my case, I uploaded the segment slide file that I already had so they would be consistent.
- PLAYLIST — I added it to the International Astronomy Day playlist.
- AGE — YouTube asks if the material is designed for kids, and it is tempting to say “yes” when it is appropriate for kids. But that isn’t the real question — it’s asking if you are “targeting” the video to kids, because if you are, there are a whole bunch of other controls that are put in place on your file (no autoplay, no ads, search filters are altered, etc.). However, one thing that frequently messes you up is that it limits your ability to include the file in a playlist. Since all of these were intended to go in a playlist in the end, I chose NO. Note this doesn’t mean that kids can’t see it, it just means if someone has their YouTube interface locked down, some of the videos will show up differently in search results. For most users, it makes no difference.
- MORE OPTIONS — If you click on more options, there are lots of other fields to enter. I added the language of the video (ENGLISH) and the recording date (May 2, 2020), but I left most of the rest as is. The most challenging one is a “category” menu with lots of categories to assign to your video. None of them came even close to astronomy, and in the end, I settled for “TRAVEL AND EVENTS” to capture the special “event” nature of the day, but I wasn’t totally satisfied with it.
- ADDITIONAL SCREENS — The additional screens give you more options to tweak things, but I left them pretty much alone and just added one more click at the end to make it public.
The more detail you provide, and the more consistent you are in your choices, the better your search results will be later.
When you click the last screen, the video will continue uploading and processing. When it is eventually done, it will give you a pop-up with shareable links for your video to help you promote it. If you close that window, it will take you back to your YouTube Channel and show the list of videos.
You’re done! Your video is up and running!
J. Clean up your file structure
Most people end up with a lot of little files sitting here and there in the assembly and editing process. I like to clean it all up at the end, although to be honest, I like to keep them sorted from the beginning with the following file structure:
- 01 Raw videos
- 02 Clean videos
- 03 Additional inputs [i.e., copies of presentations, logos, etc.]
- 04 Project files [i.e., the saved workspaces of the project]
- 05 Transition slides [i.e., my PowerPoint deck and the exported slides to use as transitions]
- 06 Completed videos
- ZZ Drafts
The drafts folder is just a dumping ground for some files that I create…it might be early drafts of the slides, or copies of logos before I tweaked them, etc. I have found that I frequently have these “extra” files left that can confuse me when I’m in assembly mode, so I like to get them out of the way first. It is really annoying to be half-way through a project and realize that the previous six videos you created are using the draft logo, not the final logo, all because you clicked on the wrong file version. Graphic artists and layout designers know this all too well, and they recommend a dumping folder to get everything that is not “current” out of your active view. I’m not quite anal enough to have draft folders in each sub-folder but an overall drafts is helpful. I don’t need it for drafts of the project files, those are easy enough to distinguish apart, but everything else is fair game.
And oh, yeah, DON’T FORGET TO BACK EVERYTHING UP.
Sure, you uploaded the video files to YouTube but all of your project files are your real time investment, not just the final product. DropBox and other online storage areas are your friends and potential saviours.
A final note
As noted above, I’ve tried to avoid a technical walk-through of individual menu options in a specific program, preferring instead to keep it generic enough that you should be able to do the same in any video editor. But I also didn’t mention another option, which is to not edit anything at all.
For the IAD session, where there were so many presentations on different topics, I think it works better to parse them into the various individual segments. So I edited the three sessions (morning, afternoon, and evening) into 25 video segments and put them on one playlist (note that the first three videos are the full sessions, my segments don’t start until segment 4):
Alternatively, you could just trim the start and end of the video and create a table of contents for your raw video and give links to the individual time spots.
As I mentioned, I edited the meeting files for April and May and shared them. But that takes time. In the meantime, the webmaster had already created links to the raw footage. I personally don’t think they look as good/professional, but they’re fast, and if we’re not using the final edited version, that’s a lot less work for me. It’s functional enough, it works, and we decided the extra formatting wasn’t apparently worth the effort.
And, as I said, no delay. The meeting files are up there immediately, as soon as the meeting ends. Similarly with the IAD videos — the three sessions were up and available immediately, but it took me two weeks to find enough time to edit all of the 25 sub-segments. I confess that I prefer the edited versions as most viewers will not click on a 4-hour video to get to a 30-minute segment in the middle, a friction factor that is regularly discussed on YouTube fora and parsing them was a better way to promote them in the long-run. In the end, I created a long and detailed table of contents (I’ll paste below for info and in case anyone wants examples).
If you decide to edit your Zoom recordings into presentation videos, hopefully the above description of my workflow above can be helpful. Good luck!
1.0 Welcome and Intro – Jim Thompson – https://youtu.be/Zxs-qqdM7cY
1.1 Live Sun Observing – Jim Thompson – https://youtu.be/zekvullIw-Q
1.2 Safe Solar Observing – Bojan Scepanovic – https://youtu.be/K3jzy5Ili5k
1.3 Live Sun Observing – Simon Hanmer – https://youtu.be/T2EPMMrgi5w
1.4 Live Sun Observing – Jim Thompson – https://youtu.be/acvo4bXIMSY
1.5 Announcement – Pierre Martin – https://youtu.be/uhwsI_yK0Ms
2.0 Welcome and Intro – Dave Chisholm – https://youtu.be/ops6GQTkO5k
2.1 Live Sun Observing – Simon Hanmer, Bojan Scepanovic – https://youtu.be/WicldAwh2wM
2.2 Planets – Simon Hanmer – https://youtu.be/ip487HL8Qt0
2.3 Intro to Telescopes and Mounts – Jean-Sebastien Gaudet – https://youtu.be/GM0YijRlD4s
2.4 A Closer Look at Telescopes – Attilla Danko – https://youtu.be/dqaOGFUwtyA
2.5 Exploring the 1st Quarter Moon in Hi-Res – Jim Thompson – https://youtu.be/pMvi3IFvUx0
2.6 Portaball Telescope – Pierre Martin – https://youtu.be/UUoJQXqMlxI
2.7 Meteors, Meteor Showers & How to Observe – Pierre Martin – https://youtu.be/ULVwn5yzzx0
3.0 Welcome and Intro – Dave Chisholm – https://youtu.be/U3EbsULvG-A
3.1 Venus – Simon Hanmer – https://youtu.be/2OB9dGeEe-I
3.2 Solar System Observing for Dummies – Jim Thompson – https://youtu.be/ZM5F0QTrzls
3.3 Planispheres & How to Find Objects in the Night Sky – Rob Millard – https://youtu.be/U_HKzq3sL-c
3.4 The How & Why of Electronically-Assisted Astronomy – Jim Thompson – https://youtu.be/BK2FNSbXWRg
3.5 Introduction to Astrophotography – Paul Klauninger – https://youtu.be/-_TLHC-BijQ
3.6 Galaxies and Gobulars – Simon Hanmer – https://youtu.be/ywYYc0WrOzI
3.7 Deep Sky Images – Lance McIntosh – https://youtu.be/4pSJjlnvSgw
3.8 Deep Sky Images – Jim Sofia – https://youtu.be/1LzFUSrJNF8
3.9 Deep Sky Images – Jim Thompson – https://youtu.be/Ly27yM4mteg
4.0 Wrap-up – Chris Teron and Jim Thompson – https://youtu.be/W6rbWx8xFbA