10 Creative Budget DIY Production Effects, Tips & Tricks

More and more YouTubers are tossing their videocameras for HD-SLR cameras, and producing film-like quality. Here are free low-budget tips to create a film effects and other special-effects… without expensive equipment or professional experience.

How can we provide film-like effects and special effects using modestly priced gear? For instance:

    • What are the best ways to shoot video using a digital SLR camera, and make it look like cinema film?
    • What $2 item in your kitchen provides a perfect way to keep your camera still in a car?
    • How can a pet’s home let you shoot underwater, using your existing camera without an expensive add-on?
    • When can a painter’s tool get you a crane/jib shot?
    • How can you make a person vanish or defy gravity by crawling on a wall?
    • What’s the easiest way to clone yourself in a video?
Keep your hard-earned money, and try some of these free or low-budget hacks, tricks and effects

Today we’ll look at some of these do-it-yourself (DIY) poor-man techniques, and see example videos are provided (most links advance to the effect’s precise moment in the video to save you time). Tomorrow I’ll provide a collection of 10 free websites and tutorials about creating a film/cinematic look using a fairly inexpensive digital camera.

But first… a quick tip on selecting a killer $500-$1000 videocamera that will produce footage you could barely get from a $5,000 to $10,000 just years ago. The solution for film-like quality in your videos is a cost-effective ($500-$1000) HDSLR video camera. Click here to see three pro ~$1000 compared (Sony vs Panasonic vs Canon).

Your HD-SLR can give you near-film quality with some of these tips.

Many YouTubers and quasi-professional video creators are using traditional SLR cameras as their primary videocamera. Sxephil, for instance, was using a Canon 5D when he showed how he establishes his home studio. Now that the video quality rivals many high-end video cameras, we’re able to enjoy the beautiful effect that decent SLR lenses provide — like that depth-of-field look you see in WheezyWaiter and MysteryGuitarMan videos. Let’s call these HDSLRs.

With help from a variety of sources (Videomaker, Amazon, B&H, PCMag, Cnet and the cameras used by top YouTubers) I’ve compiled some of the winners on this Amazon videocamera store, and it’s an affiliate program that makes me almost nothing except when stalkerofnalts told me he was buying expensive new gear, and let me generate Amazon affiliate links for his products). At least I can provide people with this link when they ask for my advice.

Now back to the poor-man effects. There’s a lot more to professional-looking video than a decent camera, and some of the most important factors are lighting, camera movements, audio and a really good lense. That being said, the latest issue of Videomaker (Sept. 2011) has an article by Kyle Cassidy titled “Home Grown Video Gear.” The same author wrote a nice piece last year titled “Making Your Video Look More Like Film.” The top-three tips are thanks to Kyle.

Now the Top-10 Creative Budget DIY (do it yourself) Production Tips and Tricks to Create Film-Like Special Effects

A bag of rice makes a nice car tripod

1. Very Steady Car Tripod Using Bag of Rice: I do a lot of video vlogs, and I find a bunched-up shirt works as well as any fancy device. It keeps the camera from sliding and falling over, and it’s also easy to adjust (just scrunch more shirt under the front to tilt the camera up). Kyle’s technique is even better. A bag of rice! Isn’t that brilliant? It’s easy to adjust, can work well on the window to keep your camera steady on a zoom, and it might even buffer some of the shake from the car.

Brilliant. A fish tank as underwater camera case.

2. Underwater Housing With Partially-Immersed Fish Tank: Turn your existing camera into an underwater one without the fancy, cost-prohibitive custom-housings. Simply use a small fish tank that’s partially immersed in the water. Now you’ve got the ability to adjust the camera (focus, zoom, turn on and off) and it stays dry. Brilliant! Kyle suggests covering it with a towel to avoid flashes, and I’d recommend putting it on top of something like that rice bag below it. Then if a careless move causes the tank to go under, you’ve got the camera away before the tank fills.

3. Jib or Crane Shot Using Telescoping Painter’s Pole. I’ve used a pool net to produce a camera-in-sky and sweeping horizontal “crane” effect (see a 5-year-old flying Charlie in Super Baby). Brushing the camera above and through branches provides a breezy feel. I also mounted the video camera on a flag pole for Google Maps Butt crack (approaching 1 million views). I even attached a Flipcam to a bunch of helium balloons (see video, and behind-the-scenes). This would have been a lot easier once I purchased my super-light car-key hidden camera, but the quality is rather poor. But Kyle suggests a telescoping painter’s pole, which range from $5 to $90 for a telescoping one (see Home Depot). I just picked up this inexpensive telescoping pole from Amazon for $20 and change (free shipping since I’m on Prime). While on a motorcycle, we got some nice footage using a tripod as a crane.

The web is packed with homemade dolly devices. Smooth is key.

4. Hello, Do-It-Yourself Dolly: A gently moving horizontal-slide of a camera (slider, dolly) can create a powerful effect (see example), especially when there are objects near and far to show perspective. While drooling over the $800 Cinevate Atlas 10 FLT, I went about searching for homemade Dolly tracks. I once bought a steadicam that worked pretty well, and was constructed with weights and plumbing equipment. Courtesy of LifeHacker, I found a guy with a how-to video on Veoh where J.G. Pasterjack created a dolly with skateboard wheels, and it can run on a flat surface or along a 2-by-4 board. Knowing I’d burn too much time and probably screw it up, I asked to be on his waiting list. He’s since created MoveYourCameraCheap.com, and is having trouble keeping up with demand on eBay.

5. Disappear or Defy Gravity With Wall-Decorated Floor: Your floor makes a good wall, can give the effect that people, objects or pets are climbing on the wall. See “lovey” the kitten crawling up a door, which was laid on the ground. This 2006 “Gravity Wall” video with my kids is a bit more obvious. To disappear, a) mount a camera perfectly still on a tripod or surface, b) simply shoot the background/setting alone and be sure lighting doesn’t change noticeably, c) videotape yourself (or person/object you wish to vanish), then d) use a “dissolve” effect when editing between the two clips (which diminishes subtle changes in the video). For instance, I provided a shock ending that made it look like a garbage truck ran over me inside a garbage can — seen in this fairly popolar “Garbage Can Prank” video.  I used it in one of my first kid videos (Katie turned invisible in this video shot maybe 5 years ago and uploaded in April) and more recently in this Dr. Who sponsored video, with some added glow via Iggy35.

A poster or inexpensive table cloth works as a green screen

6. Poor-Man’s Green Screen: Green screen allows you to replace a plain green background with a video or photo of your choosing. There are two ways to create a cheap green screen. First, you can use green posters or a dollar-store plastic table cloth. Second, you can use a painted wall that’s close to green. Most video-editing software with “green screen” functionality can “knock out” a background even if it’s not pure green. You just want to: a) ensure that you’re not wearing any colors that are close, b) light the wall separately to avoid shadows, and c) avoid wrinkles or seams that will invariably catch shadows. I have a cloth green screen, but that’s because I use green-screen to make it appear that I fall down steps. Cloth is critical to that effect.

7. Clone Yourself With Matte Effect: The Matte effect, where you overlay a portion of one video over another, is somewhat painstaking. But it can give you the ability to hire the cheapest support cast you’ll find: yourself. Here I cloned myself by shooting two scenes of myself and overlaying the clean Nalts over a video of my clone surfacing from mud. It’s something that requires a higher-end editing tool like Final Cut Express… but worth it.

8. Get Nutty and Grosse: If you’re not inclined to use special-effect software, here are some how-to homemade special effects that require little knowledge or effort (MightyCouch). The knife-tossing how-to is especially good, and you can even simulate the knife landing precariously by tying it into a string and pulling it away… then playing that clip backwards. Here’s a how-to video that shows more gory special effect tricks, including a bloody explosion using a condom full of fake blood.

9. Sundry Techniques for Leveling Camera, Hiding Wires & Creating Soft Effect: Kipkay is a prolific video creator that shares many of his production tricks and hacks, and this rapid fire “volume one” video is loaded with clever Magiver-like techniques. KipKay’s second Howcast video provides some less sexy but handy tips — such as using bread clips to mark cables.

10. Set your HDSLR to Resemble Film: Lastly and most importantly, there are a load of ways to get your HDSLR to give you a film-like quality… there’s even a book devoted to the subject (DSLR Cinema), which is on my wishlist. I’ve embedded a fantastic instructional video by Drumat5280 who has other videos like “DSLR settings.” He jokes that he’s an expert because he and his wife watch videos weekly. The important items include avoiding zoom, setting your camera to highest resolution (1080i) or higher, mic carefully, and set camera to 24 frames per second (which creates the film look and smaller file size). He encourages you to use a “shallow depth of field” which encourages viewer to focus on that which your camera focuses.  VideoUniversity has a nice piece on little nuggets like avoiding auto-white balance and any setting that is called an “enhancement” (which is almost as bad as the cursed “digital zooms,” which pixelate the video by cropping only a portion of the screen). And Techwaffle has a how-to video that shows you how to auto-focus and use your computer to control your camera (at least with the Canon 5D).

What’d a miss? Any tips you’ve learned and are willing to share? Even little things help — like how to use a laptop as a tele-prompt (something discussed in the valuable Videomaker forum). Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention Film Riot, a Revision3 show that is loaded with amateur-ready tips that produce very cool and otherwise-costly effects. Check it out.

Cute Sheep Mutates Into Shapes… Like Acid Trip

Oh he’s a cute little sheep. But before you can finish that bowl of Captain Crunch and spores, it appears he’s shape shifting. Mutating into “ovine geometry.” By Cyriak. He’s the guy that gave us the delightful Teddy Bears, Pigeons at the beach (love it when Teddy lifts the walking man). And head-banging cows.

It’s Salvador Dali meets Einstein meets graphic design meets wonderful imagination. And he even does commercial work. 🙂

Knalts the Knife: Ouch

It never seizes to amaze me the “street cred” I get for being the knife in Annoying Orange. Grant, my parts are small with the exception of my debut (No More Mister Knife Guy). My “Mommy and Me” part was especially brief, but at least Wifeofnalts made her debut on the series.

Now let’s take a new angle on the Knife. As you perhaps know, I’ve met my demise before on YouTube. Paul Scott 1972 killed me with car batteries in a parking lot in a lovely video titled “Ignored, Part 5.” Then Davideo (maker of the Pepsi Girl who exploded) was good enough to have me fake killed for GooTube Conspiracy.

Now Iggy35 (check out his epic portfolio) has a new video where I get knifed. Watch, puke, watch again. Then be sure to check out my favorite “fan/hater” video titled NALTS: (**~!0v3**H@t3**s3x**N@!tS~**):

Tell me Garfield has a video like this to promote “Get Seen.”

Dumbest Lawyer in Healthcare Marketing

One day I'll work as a lawyer at Medimmune

Take a bold YouTube homepage-takeover advertisement like today’s “Flu Has Cooties” campaign then toss in this ridiculous disclaimer: “MedImmune has no control over the video content on the YouTube homepage.” What do you get? Shit. Without that insulting disclaimer, I might have sailed right onto the Flumist page, learned about a flu vaccine that comes in a handy nasal spray, and maybe even “asked my doctor about Flumist today.”  Alas, I had to clear the vomit from the back of my throat first.

The gratuitous disclaimer insults human intelligence, reveals the sorry state of pharmaceutical marketing, and sucks the mojo from this campaign like Dr. Evil to Austin Powers.

The stupidest disclaimer ever in health marketing

I can just hear the company’s medical/legal review meeting, as some poor bio marketer tries to explain: “Well, sir, a YouTube homepage advertisement doesn’t, in fact, make the advertiser responsible and liable for the videos that appear around it.” Then the thick-headed attorney, who recently stapled his tie to his wall accidentally, charges back with something like:

The FDA may think we’re responsible for those bosom films and cat viral movies. What? Well you call them videos, but I call them talkies. You know, we’d  better not advertise on YouTube. DDMAC hasn’t come out with its position on social media. YouTube is social media, right? (Insert wet fart sound). Well- I’ll approve it as long as you put a disclaimer on the masthead button. What? Okay on the banner. What if there’s a flu video near our banner? We might get a letter from the FDA. People might think our sponsorship implies editorial oversight of the entire YouTube library. I’ll have to consult outside council.

Seriously I’d like to meet this attorney and give him/her a wedgie. I hope this moron is requiring Flumist magazine ads to disclaim “Medimmune has no responsibility for the articles or letters to the editor in this magazine.” Better stay away from television, because it’ll take a good 15-seconds to explain that “adjacent shows are not the responsibility of Medimmune, AstraZeneca, its employees, or its shareholders.”

I think the ad would have been more effective if it just said “Flumist side effects (adverse reactions) include runny nose, headache, muscle aches, cough, tiredness, weakness, chills and muscle aches (no I didn’t make that up). I swear I’d rather get those side effects AND the flu than deal with this type of legal mindset.

Feeling sympathetic to the attorney? Good- go work there. They’re  hiring. By the way, I tried Flumist and it made me fart. Now if that attorney reads this he’s gotta report it. It’s a Flumist adverse event.

Make Your Videos Suck Less

Mkay I’ll provide some recently discovered, cool resources to make your videos suck less in a minute. First I’m going to rant, and you’ll either skip it or find it more insightful than the how-to-make video resources.

I once asked a voiceover professional how he got to where he was, and if he had any advice. “Well, you know Kevin,” he said, “it’s really an innate ability that can’t be learned.” I hadn’t heard something so ridiculous since my mom’s friend said, “Kevin I hear you want to make a career in radio or television. Don’t worry you’ll outgrow that.”

If you have nappy hair and zombie eyes you might want to consider an alternative passion than making videos. Otherwise, you're probably capable of improving.
If you have nappy hair and zombie eyes, find another hobby than making videos. Otherwise, you're probably capable of improving.

Yes I’m an unwitting optimist who believes a) people are inherently good, b) people can change for the better, and c) that most of us would be more successful if we focused on what we enjoy instead of “well rounding” ourselves. Schools would do well to help us figure out what we’re innately good at (and passionate about), and direct us that way. Likewise employers, instead of trying to “round everyone out” for the corporate ladder, ought to determine what gets a person excited, and hone that passion. We’ll all still have to perform some mundane tasks to accompany our thrills, but why turn a great engineer into a lousy manager of engineers? Go read Strengths Finder if you don’t understand what I’m talking about (you wouldn’t be the first or last). Last night I was reading Emotional Intelligence, and was reminded that IQ may correlate with life/career success, but is only about 20% predictable.

Don’t get me wrong- getting a well rounded education isn’t a mistake. I’m glad my dad talked me out of going to a school for video and film (I remember drooling over the Emerson brochure and loathing the idea of taking more biology, math and stats courses) instead of getting an undergraduate degree. He later urged me to pursue business school, when I discovered that my passion for writing wouldn’t likely cover rent much less a mortgage and kids. Two years of misery, but it certainly has since saved me from a lot of stupid mistakes.

Now where was I? Oh yeah- some video tips.

  1. If you haven’t read Steve Garfield’s book, “Get Seen,” check it out. Or visit SteveGarfield.com which looks like a suitcase from a well-travelled carpetbagger in the Great Depression… smacked full of widgets, stickers, callouts and labels.
  2. The Shirtless Apprentice remains a favorite collection that makes learning fun.
  3. Just discovered an ad for New York Video School via the web. Thinking about it, but that virtual commute might kill me.
  4. Nice website for royalty free sound effects is Fxhome. You gotta weed through some expensive software to find it because my bookmark vanished. Schwing.
  5. Watch any YouTube video not in the top 100 most popular. Tee hee.