Creating learning content during COVID

COVD-19 has presented unique challenges for videography.

Of course video is the obvious “safe-distance” method of reaching people, as ZOOM and Teams have shown – and never was there a greater need for video training material now so many people are home based

The problem is keeping everyone involved in the filming safe and apart during this pandemic. If you don’t believe me – check out the impact COVID has made on the film industry.

Howdens needed to re-open offices and depots in a limited capacity, and also needed colleagues to understand ahead of time how this would look and feel, and also what the expectation was from them. They also had a need to train key colleagues in setting up a safe environment.

Sitting down over a Teams cup of coffee with the Management and the H&S team, we decided to create a virtual office, and a virtual depot which we could animate and fit out to suit every scenario. This gets round filming, and means we can create the narrative and shape of the film in complete isolation. Short phone clips, or images could be used too to bring real life to the CGI construct.

Now I have a problem with pure CGI in that I feel it lacks a human touch (unless of course you have Avatar budgets), and so I wanted to be able to place an actor within the CGI quickly and easily.

The process I developed was to:

  • Create storyboard and script
  • Load script on autocue
  • Green screen the talent, edit and process as a separate .MOV file with transparency
  • Put the .MOV file on a 3D plane
  • Insert 3D plane into the virtual depot, and virtual office

Once this was done, the main actor timeline could be updated easily – and because they were an integral 3D object within the scene – no cutting out (rotoscoping) or other time consuming edits needed to take place. Everything worked seamlessly and with very little fuss.

As it turned out I ended up presenting in the film, as this was at the height of lockdown.

I am a technical trainer of many years experience, so whilst I didn’t enjoy the process of watching myself within the videos, it is something I am used to doing, and it did at least remove every risk of COVID contraction by a 3rd party.

If filming an actor, then the whole process could be filmed well over 2 metres away, and with screens and face masks in place – so would be completely achievable. It would also be relatively easy to film multiple presenters to combine on a single stage, so they wouldn’t come into contact with each other during the filming.

Everything was designed on a human scale, so the actor could interact perfectly with anything they wanted to.

Using this technique we were able to:

  • Prepare people psychologically on their return to work
  • Train people on how to safely get to work
  • Train colleagues on how to behave safely and minimise risk in this “new normal”
  • Train key colleagues on where to place signs, and how to zone up the office space to avoid hot spots.

The entire project was turned round in record time, ready for the depot and office re-opening and has been very well received by both management and the colleagues in both areas.