The problem with laptops — making of my YouTube video

750 Words — Day #14

I thought I’d go over what was involved in this video’s creation.

The script

First I wrote a script. I didn’t know how to write a script yet, although I did have a copy of Final Draft 9 bought a couple of years in a moment of optimism. I had to watch a few YouTube and Lynda videos to get the hang of the format.

I wrote five drafts before I started shooting anything. The first draft would have required a cast of several people and multiple venues to shoot, so I’m glad I managed to simplify it!

Scene checklist

I wanted a list of scenes in check list format so I could shoot each scene in sequence.

Final Draft wouldn’t give me quite the format I needed so I wrote a little Mac app to help with this. Final Draft produces fairly straightforward XML files so it wasn’t too hard to parse these and output the content in a useful format.


The script called for demos of a couple of bits of gear I didn’t have. I managed to borrow an Ableton Push, and I decided to buy a Launchpad from Amazon, film with it, and then return it.


The most involved bit of filming was going to be the five different “band members”. I had to source wardrobe — I don’t own a cap, a trilby, or any sleeveless shirts. I borrowed jewellery and clothes from my girlfriend (thanks!) and bought some more things from H&M. I knew it would be in black and white so I didn’t have to colour-coordinate too precisely. I decided to pull the same “shoot with and then return” trick on the clothes. Just had to make keep the labels hidden when filming!

Motion tracking

I wanted to track my motion when I was filming so I put together a quick iPhone app to have in my pocket while I was moving about. It recorded all accelerometer readings along with an audio file to make it easier to match up later. I wrote a script to convert the JSON and audio files from this app into a Motion project.

Keyframes imported from the app

Unfortunately it turned out to be easier to keyframe the movements by hand in the end — it was less accurate but made better sense narratively.


I did most of the shooting on one day — it was all in my little studio at home against a white wall.

Me trying to look like a rock star

I kinda wish I’d put up a green screen as the white background became a bit of a limiting factor later on.

I did some stuff to camera for one scene.

Talking to camera and drawing diagrams on a board

This was my first time trying to deliver lines as-written, so I soon discovered that my writing wasn’t particularly up to scratch. I wrote and rewrote while shooting until I got this sequence to work.

I created a makeshift boom mic which worked okay.

It was tricky to nail the delivery — I’ve never really done it before. I felt good about the recording, even if it didn’t end up making it into the final edit.

Here’s how things looked after I’d finished. Not too bad really.

Scene checklist with my annotations and ticks when they were finished


I didn’t have a visual style for my videos yet. I had to come up with this before I started on any graphics.

I bought this font “Core Circus” last year so that formed the basis of everything else.

I created a colour scheme using I settled on a dark background for a live music feel. I thought I’d want to see flashing red lights coming out of this, so this formed the basis, and I cycled through some random combinations before settling on the dark blue, red, light purple, off-white and green.

Blueprint diagrams

I set myself up for a lot of work with my “diagrams”. I spent a lot of time in Apple Motion trying to get it to work. I settled on a “blueprint” style for the angle diagrams.

Some of the layering within Motion to create this graphic.

It was challenging to find something that looked good with the on-white footage. At one point I was using an outlined style using edge-detection but I ended up coming back to what you see above.

Previous iteration of the blueprint (greenprint?) design

Isometric diagrams

The isometric diagrams were a little tricker than expected. I wanted to model an actual 3D space to make simplify the animations and ended up having to redo half a day’s work when I realised the camera was sort of “backwards” so further away layers were obscuring nearer layers. Got it fixed though.

Some of the layers were drawn already in perspective. I wrote a script to skew these layers so that when viewed at an angle they looked correct.


I wanted everything to flow musically, particularly through the diagram sections, so this took some work in Ableton Live — it’s a remix using the audio from the video footage.

In the isometric diagram I ended up throwing in some low strings and stuff make it feel more moody.

Title graphics

My title graphics went through a couple of iterations. I went with a flashing light sequence motif as a simple way to show the spirit of a post-laptop performance — you’re gonna be seeing a lot of lights flashing in this way!

“Leaving the” was written in a sort of dot-matrix display style, and the laptop evokes a laptop in its movement.

I decided to give the episode numbers and LCD feel as you may have seen.

All of these were done in a way that they show up in Final Cut Pro’s library and I can change things like the episode number easily.

Voice over

Makeshift vocal booth

To do the final voice over, I rewrote the script a few times alongside the final images to try to make it fit as perfectly as possible.

A couple of blankets — one in front and one behind — did the trick, and this was far enough away that the laptop fan didn’t interfere too much.

I matched-EQ to an episode of Melvin Bragg’s In Our Time to try to keep the tone nice and soothing.

The “buy now” animation

I did this by writing a script to download images from Deadmau5 has the most gear on there so I downloaded pics of all his modular synths (using a script) and outboard gear into a folder. I batch renamed them using OS X to make an image sequence

Script to download gear

I put in some lighting and drop shadows in Motion to get the 3D effect.

Video wall effect

The video wall was pretty simple really.

I keyframed the camera angle in Final Cut.

Misc graphics

I created some more graphics as I went along — not least of which were the end cards where I had to check dimensions and safe zones against what YouTube requires.

Final release

I like to export renders and watch them on my TV as I go along. Draft 6 ended up being the final render. I shared it with a couple of like-minded(ish) musicians to get their reaction and they seemed positive.

I wish I’d shown it to a couple of pro-laptop musicians before I released it though! There are a couple of tweaks I’d make in the light of the discussion.

Here’s the video again. Let me know if you have any questions!