While software is an ever evolving subject. As of March 2021 there are several key apps that we use daily to produce digital whiteboard video animation. Some of these apps are fancy, professional grade media software, but you may be surprised to find that we use one app in particular that you can get for 30 bucks a month and actually create your own whiteboard animation from start to finish (almost).
To date, I've not found a better cloud based business app suite than google. For a small business its the best in terms of price, but also in terms of thoroughness and simplicity to set up and use. Some of the features that matter most to me are the integration between the different apps, and the ability to have my clients collaborate with me on documents without needing them to sign up for google. I think I pay something like 10 bucks a month per seat, and somehow I managed to get an account with seemingly unlimited cloud storage. (I'll update this post if I ever hit the ceiling)
Other than the general business activities - the key apps within the suite that contribute directly to video production itself are google docs and google slides. We use these two apps to write the scripts for our videos and to quickly rough out storyboards.
I'm not a huge fan of Google's slow descent into global villainy, and I'd like to find another solution that's a little less plugged into our tech overlords, but for now, it's the best I've tried and I don't have all day to test alternatives, so here we are.
This is my favorite piece of software. My background is in traditional illustration and I've been using photoshop to create classically styled artwork and comics since I was a teen-ager. Thankfully now I actually pay for my subscription to the adobe suite, (back then I used a bootleg copy I got from my second cousin)
Photoshop does the heavy lifting for the visual design and execution of the final artwork in our videos. It's an organic drawing experience and although it has a learning curve, I feel that it's the easiest app in the adobe suite to learn. It replicates the experience of drawing or painting on paper increasingly well as time goes on and it makes me sad that as our company grows I get to spend less time in this software since creation of the artwork is one of the first tasks I'm forced to delegate due to the shear time requirements of creating great art. When I combine this app with a professional grade Wacom Monitor, I'm in digital artist heaven
We use illustrator less than you'd expect and for purposes that might surprise you. Early in the prototyping days of our company when I was experimenting with the best software to create the video art, I desperately wanted to create the art from start to finish in illustrator for one important reason... a critical step of our process required the art to be processed in Illustrator and if I could create the work completely in one app I could potentially eliminate two steps from our process and be that much faster.
Unfortunately illustrator is just not designed for creating "hand drawn" illustrations in a way that is... actually hand drawn. Yes it has some brush tools, but compared to the organic, fast and natural workflow of Photoshop, it just couldn't compete. I found myself fighting the software for sub-part artwork and in the end, the minor boost to our process efficiency wasn't worth the hassle.
So now we create the art in photoshop, then import it into Illustrator for that necessary step. I'll get into more in a future post, but we use illustrator to add a vector path to the artwork which instructs the animation software on how to reveal the drawing in a more convincing manner. We also use it to generate non-monospaced fonts for our Snazzy and higher video packages, because our animation software doesn't automatically adjust letter spacing.
Once the animation has been constructed and rendered from the animation software, we import it into premiere along with any audio files or additional elements that need to be integrated into the video. This is where we stitch everything together before sending it off to the client. I don't have much to say about premiere because, honestly, we spend the least amount of time in this software, which is not to say it isn't massively important. It's a testament to the power and streamlined functionality that we can get in and out quickly and don't get bogged down as we finish that last five percent of the project.
Adobe Audition is used to record high quality scratch tracks in-house for timing the animation and client previews before we lock down the script and send it off to be recorded by one of our professional voice over partners. While we don't have a sound-insulated recording studio on-site, our Rode microphones are very good at cutting out background noise. Audition is also very important because not all voice over partners provide the pacing we need and with this software we can go in and make adjustments to the track without a complete re-record saving time and money.
VideoScribe by Sparkol
And finally the software you've been waiting for, VideoScribe. If you know anything about animation you might be a bit surprised that we use this as our primary tool for animating whiteboard videos. You might have been expecting Adobe After Effects to be next on the list. We'll get to After Effects in just a minute, but let me first tell you why we use an off-the-shelf consumer-grade whiteboarding software to produce professional whiteboard animation.
One of my great skills is to adapt a tool to do work that it was never designed to do. I can squeeze so much performance out of a tool that you'd think that I'm using something much more expensive to get the job done, and that's exactly what we've done with video scribe.
VideoScribe was developed to be a plug and play solution for consumers who needed to create a quick whiteboard without requiring them to deal with the complexity of professional animation software like after effects. The learning curve is short. There's a bunch of built-in artwork, and you can get up and running in minutes.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the professional creative fields is that "the tools make the artist" if you will. Many people assume the difference between them and a professional photographer is that the pro has a ten thousand dollar camera, but what most people don't realize is that if you gave them a ten thousand dollar camera, they wouldn't know what to do with it, and if you gave a pro a cell-phone camera, they can do things the average consumer wouldn't think possible.
The way we use VideoScribe is exactly this type of scenario. It provides some amazing technological innovations that took a video format (whiteboard animation) from a place where you had to choose between painstakingly drawing in front of a real camera and huge amounts of processing power to crunch all that footage down into a two-minute explainer video, or you had to become a master at a complex animation software like after effects which would still be hours of painstaking work to individually animate every image and map a hand onto the draw path - to a few clicks and you have a very serviceable little whiteboard.
Most people don't have the skill to write a great script, get it professionally recorded, and then visually design the images in a way that's clear, pleasing to the eye, and times well to the audio. That's where we can take this consumer grade software and really make it shine through great design. But we also stretch it to it's limit by creating our own custom drawing hands, developing all the artwork custom, doing our own draw-path mapping and custom spacing the text for more complex fonts.
To put it simply, we make VideoScribe do things it was never meant to do. We're about to outgrow it and transition our entire process over to After Effects after the arrival of our new Puget Systems Workstation, which I'll be talking about in future posts, but VideoScribe has been the backbone of our business and we'll continue to use in in the years to come as they improve it.
While as of March 2021 I can't say we've done much more than run some tests and prototypical experiments, Adobe After Effects will feature much more heavily into our workflow in the future. VideoScribe is a severely limited piece of software, but After Effects is a very processing-heavy machine so we've been limited in our ability to develop products using that app. That's about to change because we have a five thousand dollar custom workstation arriving from Puget Systems in a few weeks that's going to be able to handle whatever we throw at it. We'll be getting hard to work adapting our process to After Effects so that we can leverage it's flexibility and open up a whole new array of visual capabilities in the videos we can offer our clients.
While not used directly in the production of the videos themselves, if we didn't have a reliable way of tracking our expenses and managing our invoices and payments, then we wouldn't be producing much video. QuickBooks online has been an easy entry point into accounting software and it seems like it's been able to grow with us pretty well so far. If I had to give some advice to an artistic or creative startup, it would be to subscribe to QuickBooks from the beginning so it can start automatically importing your expenses. Even if you don't touch it again until the end of the year, you're going to be so happy you have them all in one place come tax season.
It isn't the software that determines whether or not you can produce a great video product, or run a successful business. If you're a potential video buyer, you need to look for a service provider who you feel is trustworthy and has a great portfolio of client work with consistent quality from one project to the next.
If you're a creative business person and you're trying to figure out how to get off the ground without breaking the bank - know that you can get a lot of work done with humble tools if you're willing to problem solve and stretch the capability of those tools to the limit. Buying a bunch of fancy software won't make great videos or sell them for you - you've got to develop the skill to design great solutions for your clients and to showcase your work in a way that creates opportunities to serve more clients.