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How we made Trouble at the Old Mill V. Part 1: Pre-production and production

Every year, we have a tradition of creating a spooky Halloween video. It’s just a bit of fun, but something that shows off our company ethos and gives a glimpse behind the brand. This year, the guys from marketing were reviewing a spooky Ouija board app created by the app dev team (well, knocked up in After Effects...) one evening to try to contact the spirit realm, with some seriously creepy consequences.

Shariff Ibrahim

Here, we look behind the scenes at how they planned and produced the video (which you can check out below), and the tools you can use to bring your own video in-house easily and on budget. In our next behind the scenes article, we’ll be looking at the post-production process, using Adobe Creative Cloud apps.

Paranormal planning

First off, for any video, you need a storyboard. Even more important than the script, a storyboard shows in a visual form the direction the video is going to go, detailing each shot. For this, our in-house videographer and general video expert Simon used Adobe InDesign, sketching out scenes and collating them in the app. We asked the team who would be willing to volunteer some time to star in the video and planned out locations, kit list and times when we would shoot.

“We decided that a Ouija board video would be a good subject this time,” Simon said. “Because it was easy to prominently feature an Apple device, it was a different enough topic to the ones we’d covered in previous years, and because it could easily be filmed in one location.”

Spooky scripting

Next, we needed a script for the two stars, Tori and Mike, to follow. Written by Simon, the script was kept fairly loose to allow room to ad lib. Tori would be acting as ‘presenter’, with Mike as her glamorous assistant.

“I wrote the script in Adobe InDesign, because I’m more used to formatting text there than in other word processing apps,” Simon said. “It was quick and simple to style it to look like a professional screenplay, which I hope made it fun and easy for the project stakeholders and the cast to follow.

“The main focus of the script is an iPad running a Ouija board app. We searched the App Store for Ouija apps that would look good on camera and act the way we wanted, but ultimately decided the best solution was to mock up our own. I used Adobe Illustrator to design the board using just a few basic shapes, the pen tool and a light roughen effect. Our brand font didn’t quite fit the look, so I went to Adobe Fonts and found Mr Darcy, an interesting display serif font, which I synced with my CC apps with a single click.”

Co-star Mike said: “The script was solid from the first draft, so from a dialogue perspective it was just a case of ad libbing slightly and making minor adjustments on the fly to avoid any tongue twisters. I also suggested a couple of extra jokes that we could drop in easily enough without making the video any longer – hopefully they land well enough!”

Shocking shoot

When it came to the day of the shoot, Simon made sure we were kitted out with all the equipment we’d need to give the video an (almost) professional look, as well as securing the company boardroom for the day. Simon shot the video using our trusty Canon C100, a great compact camera that we use for all our company video content. We also shot B roll footage using iPhone XR, which sports a 12MP video camera, so we could splice together some behind the scenes shots for a spooky found-footage effect.

We wanted to keep the video nice and snappy, so aimed to stay at around the one minute mark. For the Ouija board, Simon used Adobe After Effects to create a nice, fluid animation sequence. Other kit included a green screen backdrop for swapping out the video background, giving a spooky effect, some professional lights and an angle-poise iPhone rig for shooting the Ouija board animation from above.

Simon explained: “Most of the video was shot on Canon C100 with a 28-170mm f2.8 lens. This setup is pretty simple to work with, the camera is quick and easy to operate and the lens allows a lot of flexibility for how each shot looks without even moving the camera around a great deal. I generally tried to keep a shallow depth of field and made sure most shots had some out of focus foreground elements to give the scene depth.

“To give the effect of Tori’s character using the Ouija app, we created animations of the planchette moving around the screen that she could follow with her fingers. To do this, I imported the background layer and the planchette layer from Illustrator into After Effects separately. I animated the planchette by adding position and rotation keyframes along the timeline with it highlighting the required letters, then worked on smoothing the motion using the graph editor and the actual motion path on the artboard. Before export, I slowed the videos down to 1/4 speed, so we could speed them up later to create a shaky, haunted effect and so that it was easier for Tori to follow the movement with her hands.

Gruesome greenscreen

“The opening and closing scenes involve Tori in front of a greenscreen with a Halloween-themed background. I used two large soft boxes to make sure the background was evenly lit for chroma keying in After Effects later. We shot these parts on iPhone in keeping with the style of the online review video that the characters are filming themselves. Dialogue was captured on two lavalier mics, each recorded on its own channel on the C100 to make sound mixing easy later on.

“Lighting wise, I wanted the main scene with the characters sat around the table to be quite dark overall, like you’d imagine for a séance, so I used a small soft box and a couple of desk lamps to light the scene from the side. The videos of Tori using the Ouija app were filmed on iPhone on a balanced-arm stand, again in keeping with the style of video the characters are producing. The last things to be filmed were a few scene-setting cutaways, including dangling pumpkins on fishing wire, giving quite a comic Thunderbirds-y look.”

“Simon put a lot of effort into getting our scene set up and all the filming equipment in place,” Mike explained. “We were aiming for a slightly naff, cliche Halloween feel, and he did a great job of dressing the room with pumpkins and ‘cobwebs’ in a way that looked seasonal but appropriately amateurish.

“The shoot was really good fun! This will surprise nobody, but it’s the first time I’ve acted on screen before – my ‘talent’ is normally kept behind the camera, so as not to scare the children – and I was more nervous than I expected. I found it especially difficult to judge my facial expressions and know just how much I was hamming things up!”

Doing it yourself

As you can see from the results, our Halloween video isn’t quite up there with Carrie or The Omen – we wanted to retain a fairly low budget aesthetic. But hopefully it shows that whipping up quick video content is easy to do, and using fairly simple kit like we did, you can bring video in-house yourself. The kit we use is perfect for this kind of creative video content, as well as more interview-style shoots and case studies.

 

In Part 2 of our 'Making of', Simon shows us how he edited the video footage together in Adobe Premiere Pro, so watch out for that. If you do want to know more about bringing video in-house for your own creative team, get in touch for details on the best cameras and kit for your budget and needs.

 

Want to know more about bringing video production in-house, and the kit you might need? Get in touch with the team on 03332 409 204 or email DandP@Jigsaw24.com. For the latest news, follow us on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter.

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