How to make a YouTube video in 10,000 easy steps

I made a movie!

It is found at this link. It’s called Here Come the Figs and is a video invite for Figgtacular 08. Don’t click on it looking for plot, character development or artistic integrity. Or musical talent.

What, you don’t know what a Figgtacular is? Pfft, where have you been.

Anyway, did I have fun putting it together. Although it looks like a bit of fluff, it was no easy thing to make. I thought I’d write an overview of how it was assembled, for Mac users trying to rip things off the web like any regular person.

Non-geeks, look away now.

Here Come the Figs comprised a number of elements: soundtrack, still images, animation and ‘borrowed’ film clips from YouTube.

First of all I downloaded the classic New Orleans tune ‘Here Come the Girls’ by Ernie K. Doe, as an MP3 file. This I found on Limewire, a file sharing program you can download for free. I imported this track into Garage Band, another free bit of software you get on your Mac.

Did you hear my dulcet tones? If you said ‘don’t give up your day job’, you will be shot at the gates of The Galloping Skirt. I recorded my voice on a second track by putting on headphones (so the music wouldn’t be recorded too) and, no joke, shouting into the tiny microphone on my computer. I then recorded a third track, the chorus.

These tracks could be manipulated in Garage Band by adding bass, turning female voices into male and adding effects like echoes and so on. I found out that no effect on earth really makes a dent on my caterwauling, so kept the effects to a minimum.

I had to tweak the volume of each track, bumping up my vocals a tad, and turning down Ernie’s at the appropriate moments. I did this by clicking on ‘Track Volume’, which opened up a volume controller under each track, and set different points to tweak the volume and minimize the hiss.

I then exported the file to an MP3 format, by pressing File>Export to iTunes. This then appeared as a regular track in my iTunes, like a real recording artist!

I assembled all the stills by going to Google Images and searching for things like ‘figs’, ‘horn o plenty’ and ‘Caligula’. This brought up plenty of fodder, which I simply dragged and dropped onto my desktop. The higher the resolution the better. I then opened iPhoto (again with the Mac software, bless) and clicked on File>Import to Library. This put them in the right format for importing into the movie-making software.

The intertitles I knocked up on Illustrator (definitely not free, but a vector-based software I got off my sister), saved as a TIFF file (JPGs don’t work in iPhoto, I found) and opened up in iPhoto, as I did the stills above.

This brought me back. I both enjoyed myself enormously, and thanked all the gods I don’t have to do anything so tedious for a living anymore. I set up my digital camera on a tripod with masking tape on the floor to mark the position of the tripod. Then I positioned a lamp over the top and was ready to roll, although I would have chastised all my former students for such a shonky setup.

I did a few practice runs with my figs, and set the camera to a medium resolution, rather than the normal high one I use (trying to keep file sizes down in the finished product). With joy I discovered a remote control for the camera (which is better than actually touching your camera to take each shot, as you could move the tripod without realising it).

I figured I needed about 9 seconds of footage for the phrase of music I had in mind. I wanted to shoot on 4’s (that’s 4 frames per image on a standard 24 frames per second movie, although this changed, as we shall see later). Thus with 6 pictures per second I needed to get my figs onscreen, do a little dance, then off again in 54 pictures.

The figs did their thing, I transferred these stills into my computer as I normally do, and imported them into iPhoto as I did the images above. How easy was that? Whippersnappers today really have no idea how hard all this stuff once was.

I got some pals to do the spirit fingers above the figs, as you can see. I shot this on the movie function of my digital camera, which saves as an MP4 format. Perfect for importing into all sorts of stuff. Bada bing.

‘Borrowing’ film sequences off YouTube
This is quite a tricky part, for the Mac user. By Googling a variety of detailed blogs like this, I muddled my way through it.

First I identified a few sequences on YouTube from old movies I felt summed up the spirit of the Figgtacular: the feasting scene from Tom Jones; another feasting scene from La Traviata; the drinking scene from The Student Prince; and the Biggus Dickus scene from Life of Brian.

I brought these up individually on YouTube, and waited for the entire file to load (by the little red line across the bottom). I then clicked on Windows>Activity to see where the file was (usually the highest file size), and double-clicked it to download a copy. This came up as a file called Get_Video on my desktop. After much more stuffing around, I discovered some free software called VLC Media Player on a tremendous site called

Right. I opened VLC, which brings up a little player box, and dragged the Get_Video file onto it. This brought up a Quicktime-style movie, which could play the file but not save. I then went to File>Streaming and Exporting Wizard, which brought up some options for me to save the video (and audio, if I wanted it) to an MP4 format. There’s about a million ways to do this process, but this worked for me.

Cave! All the elements were in place. Still images in iPhoto. Sound as one MP3 file in iTunes. Movie clips as MP4s. Time to open up iMovie.

iMovie editing
This comprises only one video track and two audio tracks, which if you’ve ever been a film school wanker, is a pretty poor affair. But we make do.

I kept the Help Viewer open through all of this, as I had about a million questions – it was mostly helpful. You get a choice of different elements in iMovie to play with, such as ‘clips’, ‘photos’, ‘sound’ ‘titles’ and so on. The clips I just dragged from their place on my desktop into the clips section, the stills opened up in iPhotos etc etc.

I dragged the MP3 sound file into an audio track, and clicked Advanced>Set the Audio Clip at Playhead so the track stayed where it was.

I made some titles in the title function, and picked the least tacky/80s/Powerpointish effect. This you also dragged into the video track, where it took a few seconds to render. All the other elements were also a drag-and-drop affair.

Without having to do a track read (apart from inbetweening, the most boring job on earth), I wanted the images to correspond with beats in the music. The only way you could do this was by making markers in the timeline by clicking Markers>Add Bookmark. I also discovered that when you put a clip or an image into the track, this is by no means solid. If you shuffle something along a few seconds down the track, then something you thought you’d completed earlier on gets moved along too, and becomes out of sync with the music. The only thing I could do about that was putting in markers, and re-editing as I went along.

The clips could be trimmed minutely in the clip viewer (not the timeline). Clicking below the blue bar will bring up two little handles, which can be moved up and down and highlights in yellow the parts you want to cut. Then I pressed Apple-X to cut it.

For the animation, it was ridiculously easy to select all the photos and drag into the timeline. The default setting for each still was 5 seconds, which could be adjusted by double-clicking on each still in the timeline and setting the new time, which for me was 4 frames per image, and 10-12 frames for the keyframes (opening and closing shots in this case). I fiddled around with this, which was occasionally tricky as iMovie is not really set up for animation.

After watching it another thousand times, all the original excitement and amusement had been sucked out of the project. I had no idea if it was even funny any more, and wondered why I bothered. This is normal for making movies, particularly animation, and is why animators are so peculiar.

Once I was happy with everything I did a final fade out on the sound, which I did by clicking View>Show Clip Volume Levels. This was not as easy as in Garage Band, and I probably should have done it in there first.

This is always the biggest headache for editing movies. Basically you have to fluff around with a number of settings until you find the right balance between sound/picture quality and file size. As this film was only 2 minutes long, and I’d tried to keep all files relatively small, this wasn’t too bad to experiment with.

I went to File>Share>QuickTime, then compress movie for Expert Settings.
I saved the movie onto the desktop (as a .mov file) and made sure Export was set to ‘Movie to QuickTime movie. Before saving, I pressed Options.

In Options, video and sound settings have to be set. Under Settings, I made sure the file was set to an H.264 compression, and a frame rate of 29.97 per second. But I had filmed the animation thinking it would be 24 or 25 fps! A quick look back at the file in iMovie showed it was a 29.97fps file. Ah well. It still looks OK, but these things are best to know beforehand. Everything else was set to either ‘high’ or ‘automatic’.

Size also had to be adjusted. YouTube’s dimensions are 320 x 240 QVGA, another good thing to know in advance. I found if you’re not specific about this, then you could end up with a widescreen format or something which YouTube will stretch or compress. You’ll see most of the stills have a black box or stripe around them – not so profesh but hey ho.

Sound settings had to be AAC, I kept the Stereo sound, and put the bitrate down to 32 000 from the normal 44 000. All other settings at ‘normal’. I clicked ‘prepare for Internet Streaming’. Then OK all the way until the movie started to export.

Believe it or not, much of this long-forgotten information was stored in one of the many yellowing files in my brain. Sailing, fencing, hand-to-hand combat and horseriding? Very useful life skills, I reckon. Knowing what a bitrate is, not so much.

This exported to a .mov file on my desktop, which can be transferred easily into YouTube (I won’t go into it as it’s really simple and they talk you through it). The end product online looks a bit more grainy than the original, but what can you do.

Crystal clear? Good-o! E-mail me if you have any qus.


6 thoughts on “How to make a YouTube video in 10,000 easy steps

  1. Hilarious! Very detailed breakdown of how you set about making the dancing, marching, imploding, exploding figs do their stuff! I have not had a crack at the YouTubes, and to tell you the truth it sounds like a fair bit of messing around after reading about the process…Cheers,EdP.S. Figs are yummy…so did you eat them after their performance?

  2. i love figs, i love togas, i love la traviata. but why didn’t you use a clip from the inxs classic “the one thing” of a woman devouring a fig like a love-object?mk

  3. For some reason, this reminds me of the old joke, the one which the punchline ‘First you take two Indians.’Oh, forget, never mind.

  4. Ed – ta muchly! After I figured it all out, it was worth the effort. I think the next time it won’t take me half as long. MK – yes but my knowledge of the Inxs ouvre is not as formidable as yours…I looked it up and was excessively diverted.Chai- no worries Chair – lovely to see you there. I will keep you in the loop of more fig-related hilarity – try this You Tube vid here, of a fig festival in la France:

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