Thursday 30 October 2008

Filming in Second Life 1

Last Sunday, I was lucky enough to make my debut as an educational chat show host on The Consultants-E's Edunation Island where I interviewed Gavin Dudeney. In an attempt to capture this moment in my personal history I decided to video record the event with the intention of editing it into a kind of 'highlights of' show.

Since I posted the first clip from this on my Quick Shout blog, I've had a number of people asking me how I recorded it and what I used, so I've decided to share what I've learned so far from creating movies in Second Life and have a think about how this could be put to use with our students. Anyway, in this article I'll start with the technology bit and how the clip above was created.

Hardware and Software

  • My initial worry was that grabbing an hour of video and running my avatar and being the host of the show all from one computer was asking for trouble, so I decided to use two computers (both MACs) and run my avatar on one and record the video on the other.
  • I used a MAC to record the video and some screen recording software called I-Show-U (it's not free, but it's not expensive either). The software uses a plugin called Sound Flower which enables me to record the audio coming into the computer. I've also had some success doing this on a PC with Camtasia Studio 5.
  • Another advantage of using a separate computer to do the recording on is that when I've tried to do it before with just one, my microphone comes out much louder than the speakers coming through the computer. Most good screen recording software should have an option to record the in-coming audio from the computer, so make sure you have this option selected.
Setting up the Second Life Interface
It's important to set up the interface on the computer that you are recording on so that you get the best quality sound and minimise distraction, so ...
  • On the sound controls I muted any of the unwanted sounds that i didn't want in the recording
  • I also edited my preferences to make sure that there were as few on screen distractions as possible. I turned off the avatar name tags and disabled popup messages etc.
  • As I was planning to go into mouse look to zoom in on the action from the back of the hall, I made sure that audio for voice chat was set to 'Hear Voice chat from camera position'.
  • I reduced the frame size of the Second Life viewer, to make it a bit closer to the final output size I wanted, as I thought this would reduce the final file size and save on quality loss when the video was edited.
Editing Software
Once the recording was over I was left with a 1 hour / 253Mb .MOV file. To edit the file I used the free I-Movie software that came with my MAC. This was the first time I'd used it and I found it pretty easy to learn.
  • One of the really great things about it is that when I save the movie I can load it directly up to my my YouTube channel in a single click.
  • For those of you not blessed with a MAC Camtasia Studio 5 (which I've used for most of the SL tutorials I've created) enables you to do all the editing from within the software, so PC users don't need a separate software, though Camtasia Studio 5 isn't free (I think Camtasia Studio 3 free is though)
Well you've seen the results above, though the .MOV file quality is much better (but slower and larger than the YouTube version).

So What Went Wrong
As with all best made plans, plenty of things went wrong:
  • The biggest problem was with avatars appearing in the centre of the coffee table during the interview! Kind of hard to know how to prevent this kind of thing.
  • Also of course if you leave a computer idle for long enough, even though it's recording it can start to hibernate, or a screen saver can appear! So worth changing those energy saving settings.
  • And of course how ever many of those popup messages you disable there's always one you miss!

Anyway, I hope after trying this I'm a bit wiser and next time it will go a lot smoother.
If you have any experience of creating film from Second Life, by all means leave a comment. Or if you think I've made any big mistakes omissions here, by all means try to put me right,

Look forward to your comments and in part two of this article I'll be looking at ways to exploit filming with students.

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Nik Peachey


Anonymous said...

I’ve done quite a lot of filming in Second Life and can add a few tips and comments for PC users.

Using a separate computer for doing the recording is really pretty essential. I have found that even with a fast PC with lots of memory etc. it doesn’t really deliver the goods.

Hardware and Software
There are quite a lot of screen recording software available, most of which allow you to record sound direct from the PC and convert to different file formats, etc.

Camtasia Studio produces very good results and has a lot of extras – you can combine videoclips together and export the result in a number of formats. A search on the internet should provide a link which allows you to download Camtasia Studio 3.0 for free. (I’m not sure if the half price upgrade offer is still available)

I have had good results with Fraps, which is extremely easy to use.

I have also been successful with CamStudio which is open source but it doesn’t have a lot of extras.

Setting up the Second Life Interface

Ctrl-Alt-F1 removes all the toolbars etc, from the window.

Avoid the use of toggle to full screen on the view menu – I’m not sure what this is for but it changes the screen resolution.

You can set the draw distance according to where / what you are filming – if you are doing close up work you don’t need this to be set very high. This will help free up memory.

Editing Software

Again, I find CamStudio does a good job, regardless of the software I used for screen capture.

A good alternative is VirtualDub which is open source.

Windows XP comes with Windows Movie Maker, but I’m not a big fan of this, especially as it produces .wmv files. I am not a fan of this format as I always seem to get a big loss of picture quality – it looses sharpness and there is a significant colour shift.

The thing that has caused me most headaches is finding the appropriate format and compression once you have put your movie together. Uncompressed .avi files get pretty large and are not that great for streaming or embedding in a powerpoint presentation.

I use Microsoft Video 1 (which comes as part of windows) for files that I want to distribute as it is widely compatible.

For my own use generally find XviD an open source codec gives excellent compression with minimal loss of picture quality.

Nik Peachey said...

Thanks for the tips Pete. That's really handy stuff.

Do you upload your videos to YouTube?
I wonder if you or anyone has experimented with YouTube to see which video types ( mov, avi, wmv) render best in YouTube???



Anonymous said...

Nik, I feel so honored to be the "face" of your your image tilted "So What Went Wrong?". Kip from SLEnglish turned me onto the snap .. what a hoot.

For me what when wrong, is that I TPed in based on an IM request to Gavin. He actually sent a message out that said let me know if you need a TP. Earlier announcements may not have included the actually TP .. so people went to where they thought Gavin would be. The place that I went to had the same name as the advertised location but apparently I was on the wrong floor or something. I wanted to see the interview and at the point, all I could do was take Gavin up on his TP request. So, I think making sure that the SLURL is always published with any advance notices helps .. I usually go early and set a Landmark, then return picture perfect ,, errrr rather NOT picture perfect ... and at the back of the room. I really enjoy your coffee chat .. keep doing these please!

I was heading to a Halloween contest right after with no time to change, hence my overly visually simulating arrival on the coffee table as a Mayan. Grabbed $1,000 just a few minutes later for most creative costume, thanks again DEN!

Salty Saenz (The Mayan Avatar)

Nik Peachey said...

Hi Frank,

Not exactly your face in the image! Certainly wasn't implying that you did anything wrong, rather something to think about for filming live events. Lesson is, make sure people are arriving away from the central action. Great costume.



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