You have to start somewhere, and with trailers it often means staring into the face of oblivion with little clue as to how to even get started. That was me. Why make a trailer? Well, after seeing how great the iPad was at displaying an author’s trailer, I decided that this was an excellent way to advertise my work while at conventions. So, the need was born. I had a fair experience with Photoshop, but that was about all the technical smarts I could bring to the project.
My first step was to familiarize myself with what makes a good trailer. With plenty of examples on You Tube, I found it relatively easy to break trailers down into a reasonable set of “rules”.
First rule – brevity. Few of my favorite trailers ran for much more than a minute. This makes sense. How long do you expect a person to look at your trailer, especially if they are on a convention floor? The trailers I preferred generally consisted of less than a dozen panels. Each panel, in turn, did not try and toss a lot of text on the screen. More important was that panels with a reasonable amount of text also provided the viewer with a reasonable amount of time to read them.
The second rule had to do with images. Go for the message, not necessarily the reality. Sure, you want to show your characters, but unless you plan on paying for an artist, you are stuck with what is out on the internet. No problem. The idea is to convey the idea, much like a book cover would. You don’t have to be accurate right down to the last detail.
So, I had my ground rules. From these basic tenants came other rules – mainly those concerned with copyright. As this would be a commercial venture, I was subject to copyright restrictions and could only use those images on the internet that were in the public domain or otherwise released by their authors. It was either that, or go to the expensive option of buying artwork. The latter choice was not within the range of my budget – which was essentially zero dollars and plenty of my own time.
So what images should I use? My next task was to sketch out a story board, even if only in my mind. I had to use scenes that were integral in selling the book – not necessarily telling the entire story. Essentially this would be the visual equivalent of a back cover blurb. I finally settled on a series of panels that would convey my hook, and began to search the internet for copyright-free images that could be coaxed via Photoshop into becoming what I was after.
Having targeted the iPad as my chosen media, I had to create Photoshop panels that were of a specific size – in this case 640x480. I wanted the video to fill the square screen, so all of my panels had to be of the same resolution. Coaxing images into my chosen format required some degree of transformation, but Photoshop and I were up to the task.
The next step was the most difficult – altering the images to show what I wanted portrayed. This meant cutting and snipping images together and using special effects when needed. Much of this work was beyond my limited knowledge, so I brought in a graphic artist who happened to be my son. In the online world of Second Life he is known as Andrek Lowell – creator of Bentham Forest and other widely popular environmental works. To say that he knows his way around Photoshop and other tools is an understatement. I watched, and most definitely learned a few things as he went to work on the more tricky aspects of bringing my alien world to life. I did not add text at this point as that task would be handled by the next phase of construction – making a video. As this was aimed for my iPad and was meant to be shown at a convention table, I opted out of any background music. Con goers were not going to be able to hear much of anything anyway.
I now had my panels, and it was time to sew them together. My austere budget demanded that I seek out free software, and Microsoft was there to help with Movie Maker. I approached this software with trepidation since I am not in the movie making business. Fortunately, the software proved to be very intuitive and friendly, allowing me to string out my panels and apply the text that would tell my story.
So, I had my trailer…on my desktop. In order to get it to the iPad, I had a real challenge ahead of me. The iPad does not have the ability to loop its videos – a tremendous oversight in my opinion. I hit forums and the iTunes store, and finally discovered a Japanese-made app called “Loop Video”. Purchasing the app was the easy part. The hard part was that it only accepted videos in two formats - MPEG-4 or H:264. The fun didn’t stop there. The file had to be of an exact size and frame speed. I went with MPEG-4 as my video was already set to generate the required 640x480 format required (lucky choice). Now I just had to convert the file from the Microsoft format (AVI) and get it to 30 frames per second in order for “LoopVideo” to digest it. Oh, and it had to be broadcast within a bandwidth of 2.5Mbps or less. Ack.
It was time to search for a video converter program – a free one that didn’t require me to become an overnight expert at video conversion. I settled on a product called “Clone2Go” – a hefty professional strength program with an easily understood interface. In the “demo mode” the software would allow me to convert up to three minutes of video. My file was just over a minute long, so no problem. Drop the file, select your output format, and press the key. Simple. I found the format listed under the iPod category instead of iPad, but wasn’t too particular since the same operating system existed on both devices. I selected my Movie Maker file and pressed the button. Bingo – a fresh MPEG-4 file.
Getting my video loaded into the iPad required iTunes, and more familiarity with the App portion of iTunes than I possessed. After some more hair-pulling, I finally discovered the “shared file” section of the App panel and sure enough, there was my Loop Video app listed as being able to use shared files. I put the MPEG-4 version of my video into the list, then hit “Synch” and prayed after quite a few false starts. Loop Video picked it up, listed it (finally), and wonder of wonders – played my trailer in a flawless loop!