Show, don’t tell? Recording captivating demos

A few weeks ago, I had reason to record one of my sort of standard demos of OpenType features, for internal use. Today’s post is about why and how I did it, using Captivate.


The problem with educational material on OpenType is that it’s all very well to explain in words, but you really want to show people, and it’s best if you can do that live or with video/animation so they can see how things change. So ideally you want video and sound, and preferably you want to record stuff right off your application (in my case, InDesign) as if you were projecting the presentation for an audience and speaking about it as you went along.

One of my colleagues who was involved in requesting this told me, “It’s easy, just record it in Captivate.” To which I replied, “Okay, sure, will do. Ummm… what’s Captivate?”

Of course, it would be one of our own products. It’s kind of embarrassing, even though it is a fairly new 1.0 version, but since the Macromedia merger/acquisition, we now just have Too Many Products For One Person to Know Them All. Still, given what it does, I can’t believe I haven’t heard more about Captivate already. There’s even a brand new Adobe blog about it right here.

I hope you’ll pardon me for borrowing two sentences of explanation from the Adobe.com site as to what Captivate is and what it does: Macromedia Captivate (formerly RoboDemo) automatically records all onscreen actions and instantly creates an interactive Flash simulation. Point and click to add text captions, narration, and e-learning interactions without any programming knowledge.

So, how was it? I just stuck on a borrowed head-set with a microphone built-in, got my InDesign demo files all ready, told Captivate to start recording my screen, and away I went. I did the entire thing in one evening, including learning the software and taking three runs at my 40-minute demo. Captivate did a blissfully easy job of recording stuff, creating storyboards based on when I actually scrolled pages as opposed to doing stuff on them, and laying my voice track over top. After the fact it was easy to edit out entire sections and clean up audio (including shortening certain bits and eliminating pauses). You can even edit mouse pointer movement paths if you want.

At the end, I exported the SWF (Flash) file. I was impressed that my talk came out at only 80 MB. Sure, that’s big, but this was a 40-minute presentation recorded at 1024×768 screen resolution – I was expecting something like 150-200 MB.

Anyway, I really think Captivate is the cat’s meow for recording computer-based demos, including typographic training of the sort I was up to. it does some really powerful stuff and makes its features easy and accessible to somebody who’s just picked it up. Now I just need to finish cleaning up the presentation some more, and maybe I can post it to this blog.

(Of course, to do that, I’ll need to be able to boot my laptop again, but that’s another story. Oh well, in a worst case scenario I’ll be restoring my backup to a new drive.)

10 Responses

  1. Amit Agarwal says:

    Thomas,How about sharing your screencast with us ?

  2. Caleb Clauset says:

    Would be nice if Captivate were cross-platform…

  3. Don McCahill says:

    Cool Thomas. I’m a bit disappointed in the 80megs though. I have plans to download the trial version as soon as I can find the time to play with it for 30 days. But I was hoping it somehow was able to compress better, the way Flash can with Vectors.I guess screen displays have to be bit maps though, and the amount of compression is better than none. I would think that 800×600 would reduce the size by about half? I wonder if the sound can be trimmed as well?Thanks for sharing.

  4. John Davies says:

    For $499 Captivate should come with James Earl Jones to do the voiceover.

  5. Amit: Yes, I am still in the process of cleaning it up, but at some point I will post the screencast. (Another thing waiting on getting my laptop back, as that’s where I have everything.)Caleb: Ouch! I hadn’t realized there was no Mac version. With our applications I tend to assume they’re Mac and Windows both, unless I know otherwise. Sorry about that.Don: When you consider that the screen capture is a bitmap, I think captivate is doing well. Mouse paths are stored as bezier curves, which you can edit. I would have loved to have gone lower than 1024×768, but that’s the minimum resolution for InDesign. I already cranked down the sound quality a bit, though. It would be nice if one could get some clues as to the relative size impact of different things without simply making an edit and exporting – I guess that’s what “experience” is for!Regards,T

  6. Silke Fleischer says:

    Wow – I guess I have some more evangelizing to do within the company :)Can’t wait to see your demo!

  7. Thomas Phinney says:

    To be fair, *after* I started working with Captivate, I started hearing lots about it internally. I just hadn’t heard about it before then.Cheers,T

  8. Josh Scruggs says:

    Hey Thomas,any progress on this? I can’t wait to see it!thanks,J

  9. jlt says:

    Do you have this up yet, perhaps on google video or youtube?JLT

  10. colin says:

    Hi Thomas,Can I use Captivate to record mpeg media display on my screen?Thanks,Colin[I don't think Captivate is optimized for that sort of usage. - TP]

Comments are closed.

author-photo-thomas-phinney

Thomas Phinney

Adobe type alumnus (1997–2008), now VP at FontLab, also helped create WebINK at Extensis. Lives in Portland (OR), enjoys board games, movies, and loves spicy food.

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