This blog post will be lengthy, I write lengthy things… sorry.
It’s also about the general thought process I have when making anything for Hat Films.
Simply put, this will detail the reason for my decisions, focusing on “Quality”
“Quality’ is always a word Hat Films use when making anything. Our aim is not only to be somewhat entertaining, but also maintain a high level of quality too.
What does quality mean though? Quality to me is partially technical, and partially creative.
To note: This is my personal blog, my opinions. I don’t speak for Ross or Alex, I’m sure they have their own opinions about everything below too, and they may well be different.
The technical side appeals to mine and Ross’ natural desire to make everything perfect in the editing side of things. We both have 1st class degrees for TV and Films Production, so it would be a waste of three years to not use it on the thing we do as a “job” now.
When we record, we choose to record with big condenser mics; we have bulky Blue Yeti’s in favour of gaming headsets. You’d think that gaming headsets would be much more suited to playing games, right? A giant Microphone on your desk is extremely intrusive and blocks a lot of the view of your keyboard and the screen (particularly when it has a giant pop filter attached too), and plays havoc with your spine.
Well, not for us. Condenser mics give the best clarity to our audio, and we’d choose that over ergonomics any day. Until I find a good headset that matches the quality of a Blue Yeti, we will continue to shape our spines like a C-shape to talk into them, all in the name of quality.
All of our audio is recorded separately and locally. We all end up with a lengthy 48khz file that is sent to whoever is editing. We don’t record Skype, we don’t record from Teamspeak. They both degrade quality, and that’s simply not good enough for us.
When we record the video, we use Bandicam. Granted Fraps offers slightly better quality, and we’d prefer to use it over Bandicam, but we’d never be able to afford the harddrive space to accommodate all of the uncompressed footage.
Regardless, Bandicam is a fantastic piece of software that performs real-time compression, and still provides a high quality image. We conform everything to 720p, this is to ensure that we always have an HD option on Youtube, and strikes the best balance to our very restricted upload speeds.
If we began recording in 1080p, we’d have to upgrade a lot of things; Our internet, Our computers to handle 1080p gaming, double the harddrive space for double the video resolution, amongst other things. Essentially we strike the balance here between quality, and the “Youtube” standard format.
We have also ditched recording on OSX. We originally had Screenflow, which did work fine for Minecraft, but often gave sub-optimal performance and image clarity. Every time we record Minecraft now, we always boot into Windows and use Bandicam, the frame-rate and image quality is vastly improved.
So, say I’m editing an episode. We all recorded our audio, and uploaded it to dropbox. We also each recorded our video too, and that gets uploaded. This is the process that takes the longest, the transferral.
Our internet is abysmal, it is the main thing holding back our productivity. Every time we have to make a new series or new video, we have to transfer at least the audio to each other, this is just the way it is. Sometimes we have to sacrifice quality or creativity for it. You may see some series using one camera perspective, and you may see lots of comments asking for “Smiffys perspective” or “Put all three of your cams on screen at once”, which of course we’d love to experiment with.
It’s not that we choose to not bother, it’s that we know recording every angle, compressing every video, uploading every perspective would take an astronomical amount of time, and we’d never get a series out quickly enough for you to enjoy.
So, transferring is the number 1 time-sink. Number two would definitely be awarded to compression/rendering/exporting, all those things you have to do to prepare something to edit, or to upload. The moments where you are left watching a loading bar crawl across the screen.
Each audio file goes through a variety of enhancements and fixes. They each get noise removal processing to ensure there’s no buzzing or background humming, they also get dynamic range compression to ensure that the volumes of each voice are “stable” and the quiet moments are brought up, and the very loud moments are brought down. This is standard for every edit.
The video is also compressed into something Final Cut Pro likes to edit with. Bandicam always records to an .avi, Final Cut doesn’t like .avi so much, so we always compress to a suitable format so that we aren’t needlessly rendering every time we make a small change on the timeline.
Once everything is prepped, I’d then have to import all three audio tracks, the video, and the video audio as well and sync it all up. We do a variety of things to make sure we’re all in sync, and I won’t get into that. Sometimes things go out of sync over time, this is again due to our limited internet; Audio lags, the game lags, throwing everything off, so it’s a constant maintenance to ensure it’s all in time throughout an episode.
Then the edit takes place, and that’s the creative side. But skipping that for a moment to when the edit is complete, the last technical hurdle is to compress with very specific export setting that we’ve found to be optimal for both Youtube and our upload speeds. We’ve got a constant bitrate at a level we believe is good enough and also small enough to upload efficiently. When we get better internet, that bit-rate may well go up.
I told you this would be lengthy, well done for sticking in there. Also, if you just skipped to this heading, you suck.
The creative aspect is not just editing decisions, its everything else too. I personally have this “thing” about lets plays, in that our voices carelessly flopped onto gameplay simply isn’t good enough. Granted you can definitely get away with doing that with extreme success on Youtube, and not everyone is on Youtube for quality, but I don’t care, that’s not good enough.
At the very basic level, we ensure there is a consistent format to every episode. We need a good, striking logo to take place right at the start, and not be too lengthy in relation to the episode length. People on Youtube want quick, digestible entertainment, not a huge 3 minute CGI animation with lightning, and your logo doing some very odd anthropomorphic dance. We aren’t here to watch that, we want the episode.
Another absolute given is editing. You could just talk over a game for a couple of hours, chop it up into rough 15 minute chunks, slap a logo on it and upload. But to me, that’s missing the creative aspect of editing, you miss out on crafting the good bits together to form something much more than the raw footage.
You wouldn’t film 3 weeks worth of bird footage for a documentary and display that as a final piece. The real creativity is pulling a narrative from the footage, weaving a tapestry of information and visuals to enhance and condense something into a manageable and entertaining format. In that sense, almost all documentaries have a desire to be like any other form of storytelling. You are along for the ride, and documentaries are no different, despite how “truthful” they try and make themselves out to be. Every image and edit is manipulated to cut out the rubbish and display the best parts to you. But enough about that…
Each logo is designed and constructed in Photoshop, most of the time conforming to “Hatventures In” and then the logo of the game beneath it, taking centre stage. You may well watch our content for us, but most watch our content for what game it is we’re playing, and that takes precedence over our name. The game comes with a budget and lots of marketing, therefore that logo would be much more popular than “Hatventures”, that goes without saying.
We also end with an “End Plate”, which is simply a good way to round off an episode, to primarily tell the audience “It’s over” but also assist you to the next episode, encourage you to subscribe so you don’t miss another episode if you’re enjoying the series, and also to look at other series if you’re interested. I could talk for hours about the design of the end plate itself, but that could be another blog post.
With editing, as I’ve mentioned before. Depending on the game, we always have interesting ideas on how to display the game that is slightly different to the contentional “hit record and talk” format. This is entertainment, we want graphical overlays counting how many times we died, because it’s interesting. We want to switch to what that person is seeing, because he’s doing something far more interesting than the current camera. I want then to rewind that bit because it was funny, I’d like for this moment to randomly turn into a song with some strange effects.
That’s what we like, and that’s what we try and do when we can. Why does it always have to be conventional, when it can be so much more? Why not put that extra bit of … madness, into the edit if you’re capable?
Music is another side to our “creativity”, we’re lucky enough to all have some sort of musical talent, so we each strive to make all our own songs and themes for our series, it’s another way to tailor the music entirely to our needs.
We need a 20 second, jungle-cinematic-orchestral-extra cowbell-intro-theme? Sure, where’s my MIDI keyboard. We’re not wasting time scouring the internet in search of awful royalty-free music, instead we’re making it ourselves. I think I’m also a little addicted to doing absolutely everything myself too…
Bringing this to a close
There’s a a lot more I could say about every step we take, I also sort of rushed the end bit, because I could see myself rambling for pages on the very specifics of things like choosing where to cut content, or how I designed the overlays. I think i’ll leave those future things to you to decide.
All in all, I hope we’re achieving our goal to provide something a little bit more than a conventional narration over a game. We hope our effort to maintaining quality doesn’t go unnoticed, but even if it did, we’re not the people to stop doing it just because its not being recognised. It’s inherent in me to make something perfect, every episode that goes out always has a flaw that grates on me, and I then try and improve next episode. When I see a comment from someone noticing that little tweak I did in an edit, or that graphic, or that piece of music, that’s when I get that “it was all worth it” feeling. It only takes one, so thank you if you are one of them.
So! Long blog post over, There’s an “Ask” button right at the top of this page (if you are on Tumblr, if you’re on hatventures.net, just comment below).
Ask me something, what would you like to know more about? It could be anything I mentioned above, it could be something else entirely, not even to do with Hat Films.
I would however state, that this is my personal blog, with my personal opinions. I’d rather not get questions we can answer as a whole, that’s what our website is for. I don’t want to speak for Ross or Alex, it wouldn’t be fair.
I hope you enjoyed this! It was fun to write.