I met with Brian Ma on a sunny afternoon at a cafe in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. He is the co-founder of the professional networking app called Weave. I had been using the app for several months and was really finding it useful. I replied to one of the emails he had sent to all users, and we set up a meeting.
Going into the meeting I knew I wanted to do something to help Brian and his new product Weave. I wanted to do something of higher value than just giving him some personal customer feedback. I was considering writing a blog post, acquiring some users for Weave, or even creating a product video.
Brian’s energy and excitement towards Weave and building products in general was clear within the first few minutes of the meeting. It was this enthusiasm towards creating products that made me want to add as much value as I could to his current project.
At the time I had already met up with 5-6 professionals on Weave. So Brian asked me a few customer development type questions, which I was happy answer. At the end of the meeting I asked him if I could make a product video for him. And of course he was fine with it. Little did I know what I had gotten myself into.
I figured it would not be terribly difficult to create a 30 second product video. I have a good friend who works on the creative team at Lyft and he would be happy to help me out at a cheap price or in exchange for some booze. The plan was for him to shoot the video and then I would do all the editing and post production work.
However, he has a pretty grueling schedule, between traveling around the country for Lyft and his freelance photography work. It became apparent that finding a time where he, myself, and another actor where available for a couple hours to shoot was damn near impossible. So I decided to shoot it myself.
However, I did not have a camera or have any experience working with a quality video camera. The last camera I used was an old Sony Handycam, which I’m pretty sure shot in about 240p. I ended up renting an awesome Cannon T5i from Costco. And no Costco doesn’t do rentals. But you can return any electronics you buy from Costco within 90 days of purchase, no questions asked. So that’s what I did.
Luckily, I was able to sit down with my photographer buddy to get a crash course on using the camera and setting up shots.
The concept for the video was pretty simple. Two professionals connect via the Weave app, then they meet up at a coffee shop. The tricky part was showing the functionality of the app on camera. Directly filming the phone screen really was not an option for a couple reasons. Filming any screen phone/computer etc. just doesn’t look that great. And if there was any delay in loading time in the app, it would really throw off the flow of the video. Secondly, using the footage directly from the screen really limits you in terms of what you can show in the video. For example if they decided to change the design or functionality of the app, you would be stuck with whatever version you filmed at that time. So I decided I would have to replace the filmed screen with my own animations/ re-creation of the app. I was confident I could make this happen with my Photoshop skills and my minimal experience with Adobe After Effects.
After watching a few product videos for apps, I realized there was a particular shot I wanted that made the apps look amazing. Like the one below:
As you can see the phone and hand are in focus and the dynamic background is all out of focus. However, this shot is not as easy to capture as you may think. Fortunately, I came across this post about how these guys did it, (How we made a $225.56 product video). It just so happened a few years earlier I had met the guy who wrote the post (Kyle Banuelos). In the post they reveal how they were able to get the shot using a custom built rig to stabilize the phone to the camera. I basically followed the model to the T and even emailed Kyle about how they built the custom attachment to hold the phone. I went to a camera shop that rented out rigs, and I showed them pictures of the rig Kyle had built. They said they could do it, and told me what I needed to attach my custom phone holder. After a couple trips to the hardware store I had my custom phone holder, which consisted of a couple suction cups, a bolt, a couple washers and a small mounting bracket.
Full rig setup:
Finally, the last piece of the puzzle for the shoot was finding some actors. I convinced two buddies of mine to act in the video in exchange for lunch and beers.
The shoot was only 3 scenes and it went pretty smoothly. The first scene was on the muni/metro. This was pretty easy. We just selected a train going a direction we felt would be pretty uncrowded and went for it. The second scene was at my buddies office. Again, no real moving parts, so this was an easy scene to shoot. The final scene took place at one of my favorite coffee shops (Flywheel Coffee Roasters). Of course, I set this up with the owner prior to the day of the shoot. This shot was a little more tricky just because we did not want to interrupt business too much. So we chose a low traffic spot of the shop and got in and out quickly.
Editing & Post Production
Editing and post production work was a bit of a process. The most time consuming part was the app animations used for the screen replacement. It took me about 2 hours to piece together all the basic clips and it took me bout 2 weeks to produce all the screen replacement shots. I knew it was gonna be a process, since I had really only used After Effects once before.
First step was to create all the static graphics in Photoshop. I was recreating the app’s graphics piece by piece, so that each element could move around for the animations. This took some time, but overall it was a straightforward process, as I am very familiar with Photoshop
The second step was creating the app animations. For this part I used After Effects. I had used the program once before, so I knew the basics of creating animations. However, there were a few effects I wanted to create that were completely new to me. For these techniques I watched a few “how to” Youtube videos and they did the trick. I opened the video footage of the phone in After Effects, and then imported my static graphics from Photoshop. Each shot of the app consisted of 3 layers: original phone shot, re-created app screen, and the cut out finger interacting with the phone. The most challenging part was cutting out the moving finger as it interacts with the phone. The roto brush tool worked really well for this part. However, to get a super clean cut I had to adjust the roto brush selections frame by frame. Of course this was time consuming and a tedious process.
And finally I edited the rest of the clips and combined those with my phone animations. I cut most of the clips in iMovie and then combined those with my animations in After Effects. I added some final touches and rendered the final product from After Effects.
Camera rig rental: $100
Lunch & Beer for my actors:$30
Coffee from the coffee shop scene: $9
Custom phone attachment: $7.55
Costco camera purchase: $1,000
Costco camera return: + $1,000
Total video cost: $146.55