Thursday, April 9, 2009

My First Video Production

The ideas of making videos of the indescribably beautiful ocean species came to me just after my first glimpse of the exotic creatures of the deep sea with dashing bright colors and surprising shapes at the California Academy of Sciences. I was totally captivated by the natural wonders. While walking through the aquarium, I remembered hearing the multiple exclamation marks generated by each of the spontaneously exciting remarks uttered by many visitors, from toddlers to the elderly, who were marveling at the colorful ocean species. That was a productive day on January 2, 2008, when I took my tiny digital camera with me to the aquarium to try out its video function. I was filming the species through the glass panes to get enough footage that can be edited into a few short videos.

The 1st. video of the ocean series is “The Flamboyant Greek Soloist.” Duration: 0:02:29

The Flamboyant Greek Soloist from cora on Vimeo.

"The Flamboyant Greek Soloist" showcases the dances of an exotic fish named Zanclus, the genus name comes from the Greek word for "sickle."

I have also created an interactive comprehension check and basic vocabulary exercise for ESL learners at the beginning level. This exercise can be done after they watch this video:

The Flamboyant Greek Soloist from the Deep Sea (printable page)

The 2nd. video of the ocean series is "The Dancer in Fancy Costume." Duration: 0:02:21

The Dancer in Fancy Costume from cora on Vimeo.

Here is an interactive comprehension check and basic vocabulary exercise (on colors & prepositions) for ESL learners at the beginning level. This exercise can be done after they watch this video:

The Dancer in Fancy Costume (on colors & prepositions)

The 3rd. video of the ocean series is "The Dancer in Stripes." Duration: 0:01:36

The Dancer in Stripes from cora on Vimeo.

Here is an interactive comprehension check and basic vocabulary exercise (on colors & prepositions) for ESL learners at the beginning level. This exercise can be done after they watch this video:

The Dancer in Stripes (on colors & prepositions)

I have made a series of short videos about the wonders of the ocean and put them all in one blog:

This series of videos can raise the students’ awareness of environmental issues so that they can join the public to take actions to protect the marvelous, beautiful species, the ocean and nature.

The Equipment I used:

Toshiba notebook PC, Windows XP version 2002, 2.80 GHz, 192 MB of Ram, Local disk (C:)File system: NTFS, Total size: 55.8 GB
My Digital Camera: brand & model DXG-568
Image sensor: 1/1.8” CMOS
5.1 Megapixels
Lens: F/3.0/8.0 f=9.0mm
Focal length: 9-10 inches or 5 feet
LCD screen : 1.5” LTPS Color LCD (502x240 Pixels)
File format: Video: AVI (Motion JPEG), Audio: WAV (8KHZ, 16bit, mono)
The image resolution was 640x480 when I filmed the videos.
Windows Movie Maker 2

My Adventure:

The adventure of making my first video involved lots of trial and error, turning disappointment into excitement during this learning process.

When I first chose the “save movie for the web” option, I didn’t know that the Movie Maker selected 4:3 as the aspect ratio for my video by default with bit rate 45kbps, dimensions 160x120 pixels, file size 768kb. After it was uploaded to, it looked very blurry. I was very disappointed and I thought it was because of old my computer with little memory. Then, I referred to the “Help Topics” of the Movie Maker, and studied the glossary because I didn’t understand all the technical terms, while doing all this by guessing. I learned that I could select 16:9, the settings one can choose from when saving a movie include settings that have a width to height ratio of 16:9, which is the relation of the video display for the final saved movie. So, I followed the directions in the “Help” section, on the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the Advanced tab to customize and configure some settings including selecting 16:9 as the aspect ratio for my video, dimensions 216x120 pixels, file size 772kb. However, my video still looked blurry when I chose to “save movie for the web” by saving the wmv file first to my computer for being uploaded to the web later.

Then, I tried to “save file to a recordable CD,” and my video now has much better quality with the increased bit rate of 906kbps, dimension 720x576 pixels, file size 15.3 MB. Through this process, I have learned that a higher bit rate will result in higher-quality video with smoother motion; as the bit rate increases, so does the video file size. Because of the limitations of my old computer, saving the video files to a recordable CD was the best option for me at that moment. Finally, I uploaded the wmv file,“the Flamboyant Greek Soloist,” to from the CD, and I was very excited to see the final result of the video!

A few days later after referring to the tutorials provided by this session, I learned about another good option: I saved the videos posted on this page as "video for broadband" first to my computer, then uploaded them to

Bit rate: 512 kbps
Display size: 428 x 240 pixels
Aspect ratio: 16:9
Frames per second: 25

There are actually various good alternatives to compress video files before they are exported/uploaded to the video hosting sites/servers. It depends on different situations and different needs.

The Editing Process:

Since I have created interactive exercises to go with the videos, someone said to me, "I particularly enjoyed how you connected what seemed to be difficult to use in a language classroom video with actual exercises. Did you have the exercises in mind before recording the video or did you write them afterward?"

Usually, I came up with the questions for my interactive exercises during or after I edited my videos. Before filming, it's usually hard to predict what kind of footage I could obtain. For example, the fish in my second and third videos were swimming in the same gigantic tank with many other fish. Sometimes, the fish in my second or third video would swim near me for only a few seconds and then disappeared. I had to be very patient to wait for the same fish to swim back toward my direction a while later. That's why the same fish would appear in different video clips (e.g. clip #9, 15, 20, 28, etc.) It was during the editing process that I put the same fish from various clips together while alternating the directions of the fish swimming to the left and to the right, which created the illusions that the same fish was swimming back and forth continuously near me. At this point, I could usually come up with the general outlines of the interactive exercises and what kind of questions to ask. The next step was to shoot the suitable still pictures from my videos for the exercises.

Choosing the Suitable Colors for the Title/Credit Pages:

The color that I first chose for the title/credit pages of my third video looked great on my computer screen, but when I look at it on some computers at school the following day, it looked a little too strong, which might make some people feel nervous. Then, I realized that the same color might look different on various computer screens because of the various screen resolution settings. Some computers have the right screen resolutions, while others might need some adjusting—maybe the contrast is too high, or brightness too low. Because of this, I chose another more neutral, lighter color for the title/credit pages of my third video so that this color would look nice on various computers. It’s important to keep the visual effects of colors in mind while choosing colors to enhance the videos, because some colors might make viewers feel calm while others might make viewers feel nervous.

In order not to infringe the copyrights of music in the U.S., I looked for creative commons music on the Jamendo site where free legal music / royalty free music is available for the public to download. It took me a very long time to search for the suitable music for my videos, because music has a lot of power to enhance the visual effects of the videos. So, I make sure the rhythm of the music matches the movements of the fish and reflects the moods of the video. Making the videos both visually and aurally enjoyable or even therapeutic is my aim.

As a result, many of my colleagues and students find my videos and music enjoyable.

Please click on the following links to see other versions of my videos:

Cora's ESL page

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