Infographics: Alternative online tools
Although After Effects is the industry standard infographics software tool I have found over years of teaching it to multimedia journalists that about half find it too difficult or time consuming to use in a newsroom. I too often turn to other methods of creating animations when I am tight on time. These days there are many ways of creating engaging animations without having to delve into After Effects and In this section I will be introducing four alternatives that I like to turn to when on a short deadline:
Using Easelly & Premiere
Sourcing and Using Music
First I introduce what should be a familiar software package to you if you have been following this series: Premiere. Although Premiere is designed specifically as a non linear video editing package it is capable of producing simple animations. This is particularly useful if you are working on a video project in Premiere and need to insert a short simple animation in the middle somewhere.
In this video D J Clark takes the same exercise he completed in video three of After Effects in the last section and tries to complete it in Premiere instead.
However don’t get too dependent on the package if you plan on working on more complicated animations as the layers will soon start to pile up in your timeline and your computer will slow until it is unworkable. A colleague of mine at China Daily once decided to insert a quick animation of a bicycle into a video story he was working on. It was only a few seconds but he ended up with 72 layers on the timeline and a computer so slow that it made finishing the rest of the video a very long process.
When using Premiere try and work with as few elements as you can at one time. That will keep the layers down. Keep it simple and you should be fine.
In the example above I take you through the same exercise as in the third After Effects video training but this time in Premiere. If you have completed the After Effects exercise successfully, it’s worth also trying it in Premiere. You will find the process more sluggish and the package less responsive. Enough hopefully to persuade you to stick with After effects unless you are in a hurry and just have a few movements to do inside a video project.
Using Easelly & Premiere
This second example above demonstrates how you can adapt free online infographic creation software to make all the elements you need to create a more engaging moving infographic. If you do a search on infographic creation software you will see a number of great tools that are now available to help you quickly make static graphics. For this exercise I have used http://www.easel.ly, one of my favourites, but there are many more like it if you have a look around.
In this video D J Clark offers tips on how you can use free to use static graphic creation software to make a series of images that can then be animated in Premiere.
Start with a script and idea for how you want the story to evolve, then set about creating all the elements you want using the online software. The key here is to take a screen grab each time you add a new element and make sure you capture the whole screen and not just a part. That way you can then make an identical cut in photoshop which will give you the same background for each image, with just a new element added. Once you have made the cuts in photoshop and imported them to Premiere then it is simply a matter of adding the images in order on the timeline and making dissolves between them. This way your story builds as if the new elements are quietly appearing.
The third infographic shortcut is my favourite and one I turn to most often when under a very tight deadline. It is simply making a presentation using powerpoint, keynote or Prezi and running it through, recording the screen as you go. Have a look at the animation on the front page of Sangharsa – stories of women’s struggles for a good example. It is a three minute infographic and only took me about three hours to make.
This video explains how to use presentation software and screen capture to create simple and quick infographics. Perfect if you are in a hurry to meet a deadline.
When using presentation software, write your script first and then create slides for each of the movements you want to make. Each presentation software package has it’s own inbuilt transitions and movements, so try to get your head around them so you can make the story flow a little better. I like Prezi as it creates very smooth movements between the slides and you also have the opportunity to zoom in or out on a slide.
Presentation software works very well when you have some key points you want to make which you can emphasise as they are spoken through the voice over.
To turn the presentation into video I find the quickest method is to use screen capture software. Be careful to set the capture area to a 16:9 ratio or you will end up having to cut part of the slides or introduce borders. Also try and make sure there is a long pause in between each movement. That way when you are editing you can cut a little out to make sure it fits perfectly with the voice over.
In the fourth video in this section I introduce the very new world of interactive video. This allows the video itself to be interactive with clicks and information coming in from the web.
In this video D J Clark introduces Popcorn Maker as a way of making existing video interactive.
If you have a YouTube partner account you can do some simple interactions within the YouTube interface but for this example I use Mozilla’s free Popcorn Maker tool.
It’s designed to be simple and fun to use, allowing you to add content on top of an existing video. If your aim is to use this software for animation from the start you need to start by shooting a very simple video. Maybe one person talking against a plain background. Then you can introduce
he different interactive elements to the video in Popcorn Maker, like maps, speech bubbles, wikipedia articles or any other embeddable content. You set the time it appears and disappears while those watching can stop and explore at any point.
[headline]Sourcing and using music[/headline]
In the last video in this section I take a look at sourcing copyright free music. I have made a list of my favourite websites to search for music at multimediatrain.com/music.htm. In this video I search audiojungle.net to find a a music track I like and then bring it into a Premiere project.
Many infographics require music to make the audio track feel less empty and in this video D J Clark shows how to search, find and use copyright free music.
In the second part of the video I show how to use markers to set out where the beat of the music falls so it is easier when editing to quickly find the natural edit points.
So if you find After Effects too much for your technical skills there is no reason to avoid infographics all together. There are many ways to create engaging animations that will make your stories come alive on a digital page.