Multimedia components. Sometimes more is more.

Combining media forms is nothing new. Silent films, for example, interspersed still type frames throughout the movie to deliver dialogue and establish context, as theater organists provided dramatic musical accompaniments.

Today’s multimedia may combine type, image, audio, video and infographics, not to mention interactivity. Think searchable databases and archives, user-generated content and social networking. All this must be available to active ” users” on their desktop PCs, laptops, smartphones, tablets and TVs.

But don’t drop out because you fear the technical. Even simple digital multimedia adds a lot of capability to the visual communicator’s toolbox. Here we begin with basics for novice visual communicators.

First, multimedia design is implemented in degrees. A simple digital slideshow may enhance an otherwise static website, while elsewhere gamers enter online virtual worlds to participate in massively multiuser online role playing games (MMORPG).

Second, whether deployed a little or a lot, digital multimedia means multisensory. It allows for communication via sound and touch in addition to sight. (No such thing as smell-o-vision yet, but anything is possible…)

Third, multimedia makes interactivity possible. Users participate in providing input and feedback. Multimedia also gives users control as far as when to access content, quantity of in formation, direction of exploration and pacing of the digital experience.

Enabling user-control, however, reminds us that not all users have the same abilities. From the outset, you should design not only multiple ways for your users to interact with your content but also alternative ways your users are able to access content. How will you accommodate, for example, the deaf community? Or folks with limited hand dexterity or the visually impaired? These are from-end planning issues.

It’s true that some kinds of multimedia components remain better off in the hands of professionals. However, there are simple multimedia production tools available for the nonprofessional. Many are available for free online or come preinstalled on your computer. Just be aware that not all mobile and tablet devices support all Web-based applications and proceed accordingly.


Thumbnails, storyboards, and site maps.

Hold up. Before you log on, remember to step away from the computer for planning. By definition, multimedia is complex, whether it’s a clickable interactive commercial or a big investigative story with text, photos, footage and interactive infographics. So brainstorm concept, design and organization with paper and pencil. Or perhaps tablet and stylus.

Rough sketch some thumbnail layouts that imagine how all your content might go together. For slideshows, video and animation, use storyboarding techniques to nail beginnings, middles and ends, along with transitions, pacing and timing. And for multi-page Web projects, site map content relationships along with user flow via intuitive links and navigation.

Better yet, to maximize creative synergy, do the preliminary noodling with the whole team sitting in the same room-in which case you’ll need the big whiteboard and some colored markers.


Working with images.

In the attention-grabbing department, images win hands-down. But still images are—you know—still. Turned into slideshows or placed in interactive image galleries, however, even still images become engaging multimedia components. Newsrooms tend to prefer interactive image galleries over automated slideshows because they seem to generate more viewing traffic. Yet an image gallery may offer viewing options that include a slideshow format.

Sorting, cropping and editing photos needs to happen before you begin assembling your slideshow or image gallery. We already covered the rules for dealing with photos in “Chapter 9: Adding Visual Appeal.” Those best practices apply here. Plus, always work on a copy of the original photo; save and protect the original to be available for another day. Don’t forget to optimize resolution; 72 dpi remains the standard for photos destined for screen viewing.



When creating slideshows from multiple images, consider image content, transitions and user controls. For a simple set of images intended to add interest to a Web banner or content area, choose quality images united by a theme (color, subject, etc.) with similar orientation.

If your slideshow is intended to tell a story, apply a video-like approach to selecting images. A storyboard of sequential sketches helps organize the storyline and assist with image selection. A storyboard also helps if the slideshow includes a narrative. Select photos with tight, medium and wide angles for variety. Use the best quality images you can, but keep in mind that an image that conveys narrative continuity may be a better choice than a technically superior one.

Slideshow transitions. Slide programs offer many transition styles. Avoid the kid- in- a- candy-store impulse to use one of each . Simple tends to be best so choose one transition style and stay with it. Traditional cuts always Vo rk. In the end, you want your slideshow to be about the images or the story, not the funky transitions you used.

Pacing. Whether slow and measured or fast and frenetic, the duration of your images and the speed of transitions set an overall tone for your slideshow. If you expect viewers to absorb and appreciate your slideshow content, give them enough tin1e to do so.

The “Ken Burns Effect.” The Ken Burns effect is a gradual simultaneous zoom in or out and panning across still images in a slideshow. Burns used the technique when featuring historical photographs, letters and maps in his documentaries. The effect is readily available on consumer-grade video software, but apply it with caution. Use it if the technique will enhance the slideshow’s communication function, not because you think it looks cool.

Captions/cutlines. Nor all slideshows require captioning . But news contexts probably do. In addition to having a narrative beginning, middle and end, three rules apply here: One, make the caption/cutline “go with” the image. Oh, yes, we have seen it go the other way. Two, don’t state the obvious. A photo of a black dog doesn’t need a cutline that reads, “This is a black dog.” Instead, supplement the obvious, such as ” Duke, a 6-year-old rescue lab/shepherd mix with exemplary manners, loves children.” Three, do cover what’s not obvious but relevant, such as a photo’s W’s. Clearly identify who, what, when and where. And don’t forget to fact-check and proof. Also be kind and credit the photographers.

To loop or not to loop. You can set a slideshow to loop continuously or a particular number of rimes before stopping. Your choice here depends on where your slideshow will be displayed. If it is to be the backdrop of a Web banner, then a subtle continuous loop might be appropriate. If your slideshow is intended to tell a story, letting it play through once is sufficient. As a rule, it’s a good idea to provide user controls on video clips such as story slideshows. Viewers appreciate access to buttons that start, stop, rewind, pause and adjust volume.

Interactive image galleries. Interactive image galleries do provide your audience with a more controlled method of viewing your images. Some photo-editing programs have the ability to generate Web-ready image galleries from your selected images. All you have to do is upload the files to your Web server.

Photo-sharing websites offer similar options. Sign-up is typically free, and once you have an account you upload your images. You can organize your images into galleries for viewing and provide a link to your shared gallery from your main website. If you prefer to display those images within your own website, some photo-sharing sites offer plug-ins or widgets you can incorporate into your Web page. Plug-ins and widgets allow photos stored on the photo-sharing site to display how and where you want them.


Slideshows with Audio.

Now think about combining everything you’ve learned about photo slideshows with our tips for working with audio. Hey, you’re ready to produce audio slideshows. Don’t be intimidated. The software is cheap (or free) and user-friendly, so much so that it’s mostly the same software pros use. As they say, producing audio slideshows has become “ridiculously simple.”Try it. It’s fun.

Begin by assessing whether you have a story that supports audio and visuals. Audio and photos should supplement and complement each other, the same as captions/ cutlines. Time audio and visuals to “go with” each other. Remember storyboarding and maintaining narrative continuity.

Before putting the audio slideshow together, finish editing and saving your photos in one folder. Likewise, edit and save your audio track. Convention suggests you’ll need a couple dozen photos for every minute of audio-more or less-depending on the subject matter’s tone and pacing. After the audio and photos files are completed, open your audio slideshow software, import your photos and audio, and finally tweak as needed. Remember that a 2-minute audio slideshow begins to stretch the limit of user tolerance.

Audio slideshows offer a simple and easy tool for disciplining ourselves to tell effective stories in a short period of time with audio and visuals. Sound and pictures working together in time segues handily to video.


Video Clips

Video runs the gamut from careful1y orchestrated multiple-camera commercials to homegrown cell-phone-recorded clips posted on video-sharing websites. In between the complex and the amateur, there are video interviews and monologues, short clips of events and activities, and how-to tutorials, among others.

Simple video-editing software is as commonplace as slideshow-making tools, and nonprofessionals can create good quality clips.Video isn’t designed so much as it is composed, shot and edited, although in some cases it may be art directed. Like shooting photography, if the stakes are high, shooting video and film is best left to professionals. Nevertheless, if it’s you or nada, follow these shooting and editing tips for beginners:

General shooting tips:

  • Steady your camera with a tripod or other solid surface. Camera shake: gets very old very quickly.
  • Shoot in a location with bright, even lighting. Avoid harsh, high-contrast and backlighting, along the what you may believe are special lighting effects.
  • When possible, shoot some rest footage to check blocking, sound and light.
  • Shoot more video than you think you’ll need, at least I 0-15 seconds for each shot you want to capture. You can always cut extra material, but you can’t magically insert file footage no one ever shot. (B roll is file, secondary or archival footage used as visual fill or for creating transitions between clips.)
  • Capture a variety of angles for each scene: tight close-up, medium, full, wide and long.
    Think about establishing shots versus detail/beauty shots.
  • Avoid zooming and panning. Cutting from scene to scene is actually more natural.
  • Compose your shots. Use the rule of thirds as your guide and place your focal point accordingly.
  • Don’t talk while shooting. The microphone may pick up your voice. Heavy breathers off-screen can be a problem, too.


When shooting interviews & monologues (talking heads):

  • Shoot in a quiet location.
  • Select your talking head wisely. Not everyone appears interesting and engaging (or articulate) on-camera.
  • Test footage… Better safe than sorry.


When editing video:

  • Begin with the best quality video possible, i. e. uncompressed raw footage.
  • Make sure you have good usable audio, too. “Audio is half the picture,” as they say.
  • Select simple transition—cuts and fades. Pick one transition style and stick to it.
  • Attention should be on the video, not on the transitions.
  • Try to keep overall video duration short. In multimedia contexts, viewers can drop out in seconds, and most casual online video viewers only hang around for 2-3 minutes.


Working with Audio.

Audio may seem off-topic in a discussion about visual communication. But audio plays a role in multimedia. Audio is the narration or natural (nat) or ambient (ambi) sound on captured video. It’s the background track or bed in Web and DVD projects. Short audio clips as sound effects or SFX signal action, such as the sound of a button being pressed or email being sent. Audio can highlight what’s important. It also reinforces tone and mood.

Back in the heyday of radio, great audio was “theater of the mind.” That continues to be the way you should think about audio production. But if you find yourself unable to enlist an audio pro, stick to the basics. In general:

  • Use ambient audio sparingly, especially for trigger sounds like button clicks. A little goes a long way.
  • Background music should enhance the overall tone and message of the project. Ir should not be expected co set the tone by itself.
  • Give your user controls, preferably start, stop, pause and volume. We’ve all been blown out of our desk chairs by a Web soundtrack that was a big surprise, too loud or both.
  • When the audio is narration, an interview or some other situation where clarity is crucial, capture the highest quality audio possible. Use the best microphone you can-which may not be the one on your digital recorder or video camera. Your audience is more likely to forgive a poor quality image than an inaudible soundtrack.

Where to get audio. Ambient sounds and music as well as trigger sounds like button clicks arc available for purchase from digital stock sites. There are also websites that offer free sounds and music. Be aware, however, that free downloads may come with restrictions or attribution requirements. Make sure you respect both.


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