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Friday
Sep022011

How to make an iOS game trailer with iMovie, ScreenFlow and the Simulator

Something of a sneak peak in this how-to post for 36peas and the #idevblogaday site... we just finished work on the trailer for our upcoming iPad title Hyperion: d7. It took us about 4 hours (the trailer, that is -- the game took about 4 months), was a lot of fun and actually works pretty well. In this post I'm going to explain how we did it.

I've included technical stuff (how to capture source video, how to get correct compression and import/export settings along the way etc) and direction/design stuff (how to pace the video, how to make it look good).

First off -- you better check out the Hyperion: d7 trailer itself:

This took us 4 hours -- including the time taken to capture the source video in the Simulator (not easy -- the iPad game itself really does need two fingers for effective gameplay) and the time taken to move video around between ScreenFlow and iMovie.

If you're not interested in the video how-to, but do want to know more about Hyperion: d7, skip to the bottom for more details.

What works -- what makes a good-looking video game trailer?

This process pretty much involved watching a lot of other trailers. Primary observations were:

  • +/- 60 seconds seems to be an optimal length
  • lingering gameplay shots don't work
  • menus are dull
  • teasing works better than describing
  • tempo is critical
  • everything hangs on the music

What we decided upon -- our video production rulebook

The details of specifically what we did are in the next section -- these are just the headline paramters for how we guided the process.

  • Pacing should be consistent (all cuts the same length)
  • We'd make the most out of the game's natural aesthetic (and concentrate on using clips that looked good -- not necessarily ones that we thought "played" good)
  • Use the same effects/transitions in similar places
  • Break up the action shots (doing so consistently -- again to aid pacing)
  • Present some basic information about the game -- but don't worry about detail
  • Do not re-invent the wheel

What we did -- step-by-step how-to for making our iPad game trailer

Technical pointers and specifics are in the next section -- skip ahead if you're not interested in the video production bits. If you are interested in the video production stuff, I'd encourage to read both -- there are useful (but non-specific) production pointers in the technical section.

  1. Selected the background music we wanted to use -- we had an awesome original score to choose from. Two tracks stood out as obvious candidates.
  2. Looked for appropriate 60-second-ish sections from the above tracks and selected one -- it was 63 seconds and had an appropriate open, close and riffy bits. From this point on everything was played back and tested against this music.
  3. Decided on how many non-video (text stills) there would be -- we are using these as breaks in the action. We decided on two (plus the closing stills).
  4. Picked our transitions (we did this by testing them against some sample captured video -- when using built-in fixed transitions they can look very different on different source material).
  5. Decided where the transitions would be used (i.e. video>video; video>text).
  6. Picked the text effects (same as the transitions -- try them out).
  7. Worked out a good single cut length -- we did this by testing clips between two transitions over the top of the already selected background music. This got us to 4.5s per cut for video and 3s for text stills
  8. We then broke down our 63-second timeline into the three sections demarked by text stills and populated the gaps with video cuts, getting us something like the following:

     
  9. We wrote a list of bullets about the game but didn't dwell on the detail.
  10. We wrote a list of things we thought might look interesting (not based on the list from the previous point).
  11. We stated recording source video using ScreenFlow (more details below) and the iPad Simulator -- we weren't too worried about capturing the right stuff at this stage, we just follow the list from above.
  12. Bringing that video into iMovie, we started to select and trim clips. For most clips we also applied either a single crop or a panning/zooming "Ken Burns" crop (see technical stuff below).
  13. Added text from previous bullet list to correlate with what we'd captured (and to some extent what we wanted to say first / in what order).
  14. We then repeated this whole process for the second section of clips -- we still weren't stuggling for what to record here (and this was with our tired-after-almost-2-straight-days-of-pre-submission-gameplay-testing eyes).

    At this point our source video window is starting to look like we have secret plans for a secret base in a secret spy world where nothing on the secret spy computer screens looks like what you'd see on a real computer screen:

  15. Once we'd got sections 1 and 2 in order, we looked at the list of things we wanted to say and worked out what we'd not yet said -- giving us a requirements list for the last lot of captures.
  16. We chose gameplay to match those points (this was the upgrades bit in section 3) -- and spent a little more time than we had on previous captures making sure we got what we wanted.
  17. We created a closing title card (we should have done this sooner -- it's the only bit we weren't 100% happy with).
  18. Added the final stills (the closing title card and the 36peas logo). At this point, the timeline looked suspiciously familiar:

  19. Watched it end-to-end.
  20. Made some text tweaks (nothing significant -- just some modifiers and joining/flow bits)
  21. Exported and watched again. And again. And again.

Seriously -- that was the process we went through. We didn't have to go back on ourselves, or figure out why it didn't feel right -- it just did. This is entirely down to the consistent, snappy pacing. The video flows and feels interesting because the tempo is good and there's lots of pretty colours moving about. The details presented in the video aren't what make that so. If you happen to be interested in those as well, even better.

Technical stuff -- gotchas, hints and techniques for the iPad/iPhone Simulator, ScreenFlow and iMovie

In no particular order (but all particularly important in their own way): 

  • Before you even start check that you can record from the Simulator. We had to do some code massage to get it to run in the Simulator (you never test in the Sim, right?) and we had to hone our using-a-mouse-like-an-iPad-screen skills.
  • Get your (lack of) compression settings right -- and then check them every time you do something. The only place you want your video compressing is at the very last stage in the workflow (i.e. when YouTube compresses it). Key stuff:
    • ScreenFlow -- Preferences > Advanced > Screen Recording Compression > Lossless
    • iMovie -- Preferences > Video > Import HD video as: "Full - Original Size"
    • (on export) iMovie -- Share > Export Movie
  • ScreenFlow only records one display -- do a few test recordings before you spend 10 minutes getting frustrated with the Simulator only to find you recorded the output of the wrong monitor.
  • You need to crop the captured video from ScreenFlow after the recording. If your game starts with a black background (ours did) you want to start with something else open -- like Safari -- so that you can line up the the crop window with actual screen (and not overlap the black bezel of the Sim).
  • ScreenFlow can capture all sorts of stuff -- make sure you only capture what you need (screen and computer audio)
  • Disable the in-game music for your game (you likely want to keep SFX). This way you can have the game's soundtrack (or some other piece of music) play throughout your cuts but keep the in-game SFX if you want them.
  • Edit the audio properties (for volume/gain) for each inserted clip independently. For some clips (in-game footage) you probably want to keep the SFX high, for others (menu taps) you'll want it low. Pick consistent changes throughout (we ended up with all "high" SFX at 50%, all low at 20% and a couple of fade outs).
  • Be aware of how iMovie handles clip length -- transitions by default play over and consume part of the adjacent clips, so what starts off as a 4.5s clip ends up looking like 2.2s on the timeline with transitions surrounding it.
  • Adjust crop and position for every clip -- for example, the iPad screen ratio is 4:3, not 16:9 (which you want to be exporting in most likely), so you'll need to crop and scan each clip.
  • Work out how to use the "Ken Burns" crop in iMovie (click a clip, click crop, crop start then hit "Ken Burns", then select red end rectangle and move/crop accordingly) -- it allows you to pan and scan on the fly, set scale transitions and track action. We used these extensively to add or enhance motion.
  • ScreenFlow lets you add mouse pointer types -- obviously the default arrow pointer makes no sense, but the optional "circle" pointer works pretty well for finger simulation (we dropped the size and opacity for a subtler effect).
  • Pay attention to what you're actually recording -- especially if you're using in-development or imediately-post-production code. For example, we had to fudge the "global high score" and "global average" parts of our fancy skills analysis charts so it didn't look so sparse.
  • When creating stills to be used in the video (like the closing shot of the Hyperion trailer), create them at the resolution at which you intend to export the video (for example we were targeting 720p, so we created them at 1280x720).

Concluding thoughts -- would we use different tools? FCP? FCP X? Premiere?

We're pretty pleased with the results -- there are a few bits we'd like to do slightly different given different tools (iMovie's UI sucks -- and it crashed my MBP twice in the process) -- and will certainly be sticking with this formula for future Hyperion (and likely other) videos, but we will look at other edit suites. The restrictions (fixed transitions and single video playback being the primary ones) actually helped us make quick what-can-we-do-with-what-we've-got decisions -- but with more varied source material and evolving requirements we might benfit from taking that self-imposed ruleset to a more sophisticated tool chain.

Er, so what's Hyperion: d7 then?

You'll be hearing a good bit about the Hyperion game itself in the coming days and weeks -- we literally just submitted v1 for approval and finished up on the trailer this morning. We're starting launch activities next week -- but we were eager to get this post out there to the #idevblogaday audience as soon as possible -- we'd have found this very useful 12 hours ago ;)

Should you find yourself needing to make further reference -- or just for the sake preparing for those hexes, here it is again, Hyperion: d7...

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Reader Comments (2)

I've recently began looking into ways to record video from an iPad game and your post is very useful, thanks! One question tough, doesn't your game run very slowly on the simulator? My game runs near a solid 60 fps on the device, but on the simulator it goes downwards of 20... I'm now looking into ways to slow down the game while keeping all the frames, so I can record it that way and then speed it up during processing.

September 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFabio

@Fabio -- yea, it does. But by careful selection of perf-light sections of gameplay we were able to get away with it. It's not obvious in the trailer -- in fact it's only noticeable if you know what to look for -- but there are a few spots with lagging. Quick cuts and transition effects helped with this a lot though.


One of the other things that worked in our favour was the underlying component architecture of the game -- it's easy for us to disable components we don't need. We didn't need to do this for recording gameplay, but, for example, if we switch on the AI debug renderer we need to disable other components to get it to run in the Sim.

G.

September 5, 2011 | Registered Commenter36peas

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