Coursera: behind the scenes filming

Posted: December 15, 2012 at 1:42 pm

By Ben Loveridge (Learning Environments)

Last updated  3rd December 2013.

In 2013 the MOOC’s team at Learning Environments released seven Coursera ’courses’ (referred to as ‘subjects’ in Australia) for the University of Melbourne. The preparation was highlighted in the Visions Episode – Preparing for Coursera.

Here are detailed aspects of production for those who may already be, or planning to go down this path.

Lecture pre-record set-up

Photo: Coursera filming set-up showing lighting positions (Credit: Ben Loveridge)

 

Location

One of the first decisions we needed to make was whether to film in a dedicated space or at the lecturers own office. After factoring in set-up times, distractions, sound issues and variable lighting conditions, it became apparent that to achieve a consistent quality in the most efficient manner, we needed to maintain a single location for the bulk of the filming. Fortunately, we were able to commandeer an underused room in which we could leave equipment setup and have a secure, relatively quiet controlled environment.

The promotional videos tended to be filmed on location to allow for a greater scope and enticement into the subject. Here is the promo video for ‘Animal Behaviour’ which was shot in a lecture theatre but made to look like a cinema with the addition of edible props.

Background

We discussed extensively about what type of background to film in front of and whether to attempt a green screen, print a solid backdrop, bring in a large LED screen or build a custom set. We initially opted for a pure white wall since there was one already in the location, but after a few months installed a green screen backdrop to accomodate the Discrete Optimization subject. Pascal preferred to stand up and present while incorporating real-time interaction with the presentations.

Lighting

The presentation area is lit by two LED panels on a 45 degree angle in front, and a smaller Dedo as a backlight to separate the presenter from the background. The background is is lit separately by two halogen lights which have black wrap attached to prevent any spill going back into the camera.

Equipment Set-up

Having enjoyed completing Kevin Werbach’s Gamification course a few months ago and impressed by his style of presentation, we were keen to use that as a starting point for the set-up. His arrangement involved him looking into a webcam above his computer screen while using a Wacom tablet to draw annotations. Taking this idea a step further, we decided to install an autocue which would not only hide the camera from the lecturer but show the presentation on the screen and encourage their their gaze to remain directed through the lens. The autocue can also be fed by prompting software run from a Mac laptop to allow a scripted presentation to take place.

A Wacom Cintiq 24HD Touch was purchased to allow the presenter to annotate slides at close proximity.

Having a strong eyeline toward the camera helps preserve a sense of intimacy that is important when the lecturer and student are separated by time and place. 

Coursera set-up

Photo: Coursera filming set-up showing autocue and Wacom Cintiq 24HD Touch  (Credit: Ben Loveridge)

The camera being used is the Canon C300 with a 24-70mm lens and the SDI output running into a Blackmagic Decklink card in a MacPro. The camera resolution is set to 1280×720 running at 50fps. Most of the equipment except for the Wacom tablet and the autocue was gathered together from existing video gear within our department. (Hopefully they don’t notice it’s missing).

Coursera set-up

Photo: Coursera filming set-up showing autocue and Wacom Cintiq 24HD Touch  (Credit: Ben Loveridge)

Audio

Audio is captured from a wired lapel mic running into a Presonus Mic Pre and the dual mono output from that into the Canon’s XLR inputs. The audio is then sent out of the camera along with the video into the computer. A second lapel mic is occasionally required when two presenters need to be on screen at once.

Screen capture and displays arrangement

In order to allow the presenter to draw live annotations while viewing their screen, the free OmniDazzle application is being used along with a Wacom Cintiq HD24 Touch. Although it’s the most expensive part of the set-up, it’s one of the most useful items to help make the lecturers more comfortable in making the transition from live lecture to onscreen presentation. Different pen colours are mapped to the Wacom’s left hand side shortcut buttons and slide forward/back on the right hand side. Once we spend some more time with the functionality, we’ll work on bringing some of the touch functionality into the shortcut commands.

Both the Wacom and the autocue screens are connected to the MacPro’s DVI outputs. The main presentation being output to the Wacom Cintiq, while the notes page going to the autocue screen to allow the presenter to see next slide or any other notes. (Note: Keynote is much better than Powerpoint for custimising the second screen display).

Screenflow is being used to capture the main annotated presentation while at the same time recording the image from the camera. The flexibility of this arrangement allows the position of the video image to be decided later in post-production based on the layout of the presentation elements.

Coursera screenshot

Screenshot: Test recording of a Macroeconomics presentation, annotations and video insert (Credit: University of Melbourne)

We recently tested the same set-up using a MacMini and the BlackMagic UltraStudio Express. Unfortunately OmniDazzle did not work properly with the USB to DVI adapter in place which meant that we couldn’t run two separate video outputs (one for the Wacom and the other for the autocue second screen). Until we can work out another way around this we’ll be sticking with the MacPro and Decklink card.

We have since upgraded the audio path by adding a mic preamp into the chain to improve the audio quality and level before going to the camera.

Filming lectures for online delivery certainly comes at a cost of time and equipment but it is possible to get a cleaner and more engaging experience compared to the traditional ‘fly-on-the-wall’ style employed by most standard lecture capture systems. On average for each subject it took about ten hours filming, editing, reviewing and uploading to produce one hour of content. That equates to about 1000hrs of video production time to produce the 100hrs of content for 2013. Add to that,the time taken by the copyright officers, lecturers and teaching assistants and that figure sits probably sits at around 3000hrs for 7 subjects.

General Preparation Notes for Filming Presentations


Content creation

Copyright
  • Use creative commons on flickr within your course to avoid expensive ongoing licensing
  • If you can’t find or create anything appropriate yourself, make sure any copyright in images or video has been cleared well in advance
  • Check out Astrid Bovell’s blog post on MOOC’s and the Copyright office.
Programs for presenting content
  • Keynote / Powerpoint / PDF
  • Video now lives in a 16:9 world so make sure your presentations are set to 16:9 mode. In PowerPoint this is listed under the ‘page setup’ option. If your existing content is in 4:3 format then this extra room will give you space to stand beside you presentation on screen if using the green screen set up. In Keynote it is listed in the ‘inspector mode’ so something like 1920×1080 is a good start.
What to wear
  • Avoid wearing green (clashes with the green screen) or fine striped or patterned outfits (can cause strange visual effects).
  • Black and white clothing is not ideal
  • Solid muted tones and colours are ok – not too dazzling or bright
  • Avoid rattling jewellry
  • Wear clothing that a lapel mic can easily attach

Style of delivery

  • Sitting or standing?
  • Are they presenting together or separately?
  • If standing then green screen or white background? (This affects if we use Screenflow vs recording to hard drive where picture is merged with background)
  • If sitting will you annotate slides with the Wacom?
  • Scripted with an auto cue, presenting from ‘notes view’ or off the top of the head?
  • Creating slides on Mac or PC (affects if we use Keynote vs Powerpoint)

Other considerations

  • Editing and post production – Green screen easier to edit as it’s all in one whereas Screenflow needs more editing. Final video is exported as h.264 at 1280×720 at 2Mbps.
  • Approval process – who does the final sign-off?
  • Video Hosting – For non-Coursera productions, where will the videos be delivered from? – Vimeo and the LMS can work well in combination. Check out the video hosting blog for more info.
  • Scheduling recording sessions – make sure enough time is booked in the session to get the required content recorded.
  • It’s a good idea to arrnage a practice session prior so the presenter can get familiar with the set-up and work out the most comfortable way to present the session.

Comments

  1. Hans Schaefer says:

    Good stuff, Ben
    - thanks for sharing
    it shows, amongst other:
    Knowledge of professional video and its setup is not a thing of the past;
    it is not something that can be pushed into a corner of the IT Department
    (hopefully to be forgotten)
    Do I also notice a move away from h.323?
    greetings, etc.

    • Hi Hans, yes the focus is now back on ‘television production’ in a way but with the added aspect of online interactive learning tasks. H.323 is still very much used for certain videoconference needs though, more like Skype and desktop tools being used instead for synchronous communication.

  2. John Fitzgerald says:

    Thanks Ben, – great detail – very helpful – will follow this closely as i prepare my materials.

  3. Meredith Hinze says:

    thanks Ben, this is really useful information!

  4. Martin Wilson says:

    Excellent post Ben,

    Just one point of curiosity. I find that audio quality in many cases trumps all other issues (depending on the type of course). What is your audio chain at the moment? You mentioned a lav mic, would you mind telling me which one you are using? Also, you mentioned you record straight to the camera. Are you still using that setup or do you record to a separate recorder now?

    Regards,
    Martin

    • Hi Martin,

      We are using an AKG lav mic which now runs into a Presonus Mic Pre which then goes into the camera. Those choices of equipment were mainly as they were being under-utilised but there’s plenty others that would have done the same job well.

      We have a compressor on order so once that is added to the chain will give us a bit of extra control before the signal is recorded. For our Discrete Optimisation subject we are recording to a separate Samurai recorder as we use a green-screen set-up and the slides are incorporated in real-time. For all others, we still record to the computer directly.

  5. Jayachandran says:

    can i use is while i teach. as i write on this can this be projected using projectors.

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