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3 Ways to Work Smarter > Plan Your Workflow

Plan Your Workflow

Planning your workflow almost always saves a lot of time. Most people learn this only with hindsight. Start with ideas and content. If you don’t have all your content, plan how you’ll get it. You’ll likely be putting together visuals, music, voice-overs, and artwork, and you’ll be working on the visual layout, timing, and pacing of the overall show.

Know the Process

Know what your purpose is, how much time you have, and what kind of look and feel you want. What kinds of emotion do you want to convey? Do you already know how to accomplish these things? Perhaps you need some practice and mockups to prove that you can accomplish the visual style you want.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with ProShow. Sit down and play with it. Think of ideas and try them. Some things will work and some things won’t, but you’ll quickly gain confidence and skills that will enable you to make better shows.

Once you prove your style and quality level, you have a better grasp on how long a show will take. You may already have artwork as a result of your experimentation. At the very least, you have a much better idea of how to estimate the time it will take to create the artwork you need for different parts of your show.

To estimate how much time you need to put together the whole show, play with ProShow and do a segment of the show—perhaps four or five slides. If you are synchronizing events in the show to music, play with the timing to prove to yourself that the audio is synchronized to your liking and that it looks good. Once you get these first slides to look and feel good, you can better estimate how long the overall show will take, whether you need more or less content, and how much time you need to complete the show.

If you’re making a show for your own enjoyment, take as much time as you like. Some hobbyists get much more joy out of sharing their work than they do out of making it perfect quality. Others experiment with trying to get different emotional reactions. And some are motivated by political or societal advocacy messages. Be yourself, and do what makes you feel good. If you create shows for enjoyment, then feeding your enjoyment is all that really matters, and you can happily ignore those who might criticize quality.

The process of making a show boils down to putting audio and visual elements together, setting the visual elements in place, specifying how they move, adjusting timing and transitions between slides, setting up captions, and adjusting the whole show for consistent pacing and emotional flow. The time you spend on this whole process is up to you.

I tend to be a perfectionist. Once a show gets to a certain level, I have to constantly ask myself whether the changes I make from that point are worth the time. If I didn’t do this, I would go on editing and making it better for months. Sure, the show would be a little better, but how much? It is most likely that nobody would notice the quality improvement enough to justify my time spent tweaking. Finishing a creative project never feels comfortable, so don’t expect it to. Just expect to get better at it as you gain experience.

The rest of this section focuses on tips that help your workflow by reducing the amount of work you do. Some of these tips are inspired by common misconceptions and myths that have circulated in ProShow’s user community. Be aware that you may need to change your understanding if you find that you’ve been believing a myth!


Caution

Be careful of what you hear! It’s easy for others to jump to incorrect technical conclusions when they don’t know the details. The computer industry is full of elusive gotchas. In other words, it’s easy to guess and look like you’re right, even when you’re completely wrong. I’ve seen a lot of technically incorrect ProShow information posted online by people who claim to be experts. If you have a question about ProShow, call Photodex and ask for a straight answer.


Edit

Editing can turn a so-so slide show into a great slide show. I won’t go into much detail here because I cover this in better detail in Chapter 4, “Space and Simplicity.” As part of your workflow, plan on spending a lot of time going over and over your show to work out the kinks. The major categories are removing poor content so the good content shines, refining pacing and timing, and playing with musical transitions. Editing takes time, so plan for it if at all possible.

Don’t Resize Your Photos

Users often ask what size their photos should be when they’re brought into ProShow. With few exceptions, the best answer is whatever you have. Some users like to scale their photos down before they bring them into their software because they are afraid the software won’t be able to handle the high-resolution files. This is a historical problem that was created years ago before software was good at dealing with large photos. Some software today may have trouble with high-resolution photos, but ProShow doesn’t.


Tip

The one caveat to this rule is when you’re working with ridiculously large photographs that were taken with super-high-resolution slit cameras or stitched together from a lot of photos. These files can be tens of thousands of pixels in each dimension. If you’re using enormous files like this, you may need to do a little bit of math, or rendering may get very slow. A good rule of thumb is to avoid reducing images below a resolution that is 2.5 times the pixel dimensions they’ll be rendered at for any output resolution. So, for example, if you are outputting to a high-definition device like a Blu-ray disc, don’t reduce your images to a resolution lower than 4800×2700.


If you know you’re working with super-huge images, feel free to downscale them if it makes you happier. A high-resolution display benchmark is 2560×1600, which is the resolution of the monitors I have in my office. If you use the rule of allowing for 2.5 times the size of the largest possible display, this means you should resize images so that they are no more than 6400×4000. A photo that completely filled that frame would occupy about 102MB of RAM, which is still plenty small enough to work with in ProShow. Note that the preview in ProShow will be using a version that has been scaled down to 1600×1000, because this is the reduced size of the image that will fit within a 1600×1200 frame. This may produce a little fuzziness if you’re extremely picky about the preview in ProShow, but the final output will be as clear as the original images can produce.

ProShow’s imaging engine can handle images up to 65,528 pixels in each dimension. If you had a JPEG image this large, the amount of memory it would take up is about 16GB of RAM, which is more than the 2GB of available memory Windows can give to a 32-bit process. In short, you’re not going to have an image that large. Even if you did, few products would work with it. Even the products that do work with it would not be presentation products. Resolutions that large are simply ridiculous to present at that resolution.

As of the writing of this book, modern pro SLR cameras typically have imaging sensors that are around 18 megapixels and take pictures occupying about 64MB of RAM in memory. (Note that the size of a JPEG file has almost nothing to do with the processing requirements of the machine that is presenting it.) This is fine for ProShow to handle, even with multiple pictures in each slide.


How ProShow Handles Preview Resolutions

For those who want to know exactly what ProShow does with images internally, there are two cases: the first case is for working with the photos in ProShow, when you’re constructing your show. In this case, ProShow uses the original images if they are JPEG format and if they are below 1600 pixels wide and 1200 pixels tall. This means that while you’re working with ProShow, no image can occupy more than 8MB of RAM, and that makes the program run a lot faster. All other formats are automatically scaled down and converted into a 1600×1200 frame. All video is imported into an internal format so it is quicker to use in ProShow. Note that scaling images down like this is only for the preview in ProShow. For output, ProShow always goes directly from the original files to the output format to attain the highest quality possible.



Caution

The numbers in this section are stated as of the writing of this book. At Photodex, we’re working on all sorts of technology internally, and it is quite likely that in the future these numbers will increase. Computers are getting very powerful.


Understand All Possible Delivery Mediums

When you finally complete your show, how will you need to distribute it? Will it be available on the Internet through a website? Will you burn DVDs or Blu-ray discs? Will you pay to have hundreds of discs manufactured using a professional service? What about artwork for the discs and perhaps covers for them? Will you be delivering a video file to a company? What kind of video do you need? What is the maximum resolution of the video? Will the show ever need to be played on a computer in a live venue? What will the maximum resolution of the display be? If you’re going to be using a projector, what will the capabilities of the projector be? Would an executable real-time show be better than a video file? What kind of computer will be available to play it?

These questions sound obvious but can save you time. (I’ll cover show output in detail in Chapter 12, “Delivering Your Show.”) For example, if you need to be able to burn a Blu-ray disc, the maximum resolution will most likely be 1920×1080. If you intend to do anything in a show that zooms in to about double the size of the image, you’ll need source images that are at least twice the dimensions of the screen (3840×2160.) If you do not have images with this resolution, you’ll end up with some blurriness. If you need to use a live display, you may have similar issues.

If you’re using high-resolution images, ProShow will use the original images in the preview unless they’re larger than 1600×1200 pixels, in which case, they will be scaled down in the preview. In final output, ProShow will use your original images—you don’t risk losing anything. This is a best-of-all-worlds design because you never have to worry about how to second-guess the software. It’ll just work fast based on the requirements. But be aware that if you’re doing extremely high-resolution work, the preview may be using the 1600×1200 versions, and any blur-riness you see on the screen may not be there in the final output.

Some things can be done in output mediums and some things can’t. This usually isn’t a ProShow limitation, but a limitation of the output formats. For example, the VCD specification makes it impossible to include more than 99 shows on one VCD.


Why DPI Doesn’t Matter

I’d like to dispel a long-standing myth about resolution. DPI and PPI have nothing to do with resolution unless the output medium is a fixed size in inches rather than pixels. Digital presentation has no fixed size in inches—it depends on how many pixels the display has. Adobe highly publicized the DPI myth in the 1990s, I believe as a convenient way for Adobe to sell Photoshop to the users of Adobe Illustrator. When Photoshop was released, it was the only tool around that could set the DPI value in a TIFF file. And it cost a bundle! Illustrator couldn’t change this value. To set the size of a photograph in Illustrator, the user had to buy Photoshop just to set the DPI value. Adobe could have easily allowed the user to specify this number in Illustrator, but that wouldn’t have been nearly as profitable as forcing a user to use Photoshop.

The result of this DPI myth has been a couple of decades of DPI confusion. The bottom line for digital presentation: DPI doesn’t matter. Instead, think of the number of pixels in each dimension and compare them to the pixel dimensions they’ll need to be displayed at. Need proof? Ask yourself why Photoshop imports Kodak PhotoCD images as 72 DPI when they were scanned with a Kodak film scanner with a resolution of more than 1800 DPI. The answer is that the PhotoCD file format specification has no DPI value. Photoshop defaults to the old legacy screen resolution of 72 DPI. Even funnier is that almost no digital displays ever actually had an exact resolution of 72 DPI. The computer industry is fun, in a painful sort of way!


Another example is that DVD output resolution is required to be 720×480 at 29.97fps (frames per second) for NTSC and 720×576 at 25fps. No matter how hard you try, you’re not going to get a DVD with a higher resolution or better frame rate. If you did increase the resolution or the frame rate, you wouldn’t have a DVD anymore.

If your shows may be output in a different way in the future, think about resolutions beyond your current needs. You may only have a requirement for DVD this year, but what about next year or two years from now? Blu-ray is now the worldwide standard for high-definition video on a disc. Its pixel resolution can be 6 times that of DVD. Make sure you are using imagery that will look good when you output to Blu-ray later.

For web output, you have to deal with many trade-offs. The best quality and the smallest download burden is had from the Photodex Presenter. This is a free plug-in that anyone can install. It doesn’t have spyware or other harmful elements. It’s merely a way to display the output from ProShow in a web browser. However, the fact that it is a plug-in means that many users either will not or cannot install it. Some companies, for example, forbid the installation of plug-ins that are not already approved by the IT department. This is unfortunate, because the alternatives are often dismal in comparison.


Tip

How do you make the most compatible DVD? The best way is to get professionally replicated (pressed) discs because they will be compatible with nearly all players on the market. This is because professionally produced DVDs are pressed, rather than being optically burned with a laser. For lower-volume production, use DVD+R media with a drive that can do bitsetting. Not all drives can do bitsetting, but both ProShow Gold and ProShow Producer support bitsetting, and it will work if ProShow detects the drive. Bitsetting writes to the inner portion of the DVD that specifies the disc’s media type and overwrites it with the signature of pressed disc instead of DVD+R disc. The signature literally means DVD-ROM (Read-Only Memory) instead of DVD+R. Few DVD players can distinguish between a DVD+R that has been bitset and a professionally pressed disc. From our tests at Photodex (of well over 100 different players across all major manufacturers), bitset discs are about 10 times as compatible as the next best non-bitset discs. Many people recommend DVD-R over DVD+R, and there is a lot of hot air flying around about what works best. I don’t believe anyone recommending DVD-R has actually run thorough tests to prove it as we have. DVD+R with bitsetting is definitely the way to go if you cannot get professionally pressed discs.


The alternatives to the Photodex Presenter are almost all video options. Video is a way of encoding visual data using some tricky compression schemes. They’re all basically the same idea. The problem with delivering video over the Internet is the size of the data versus the quality. As the quality increases, so does the size of the data. If you want small data, you’re going to have poor quality. Depending on your show, video can be about 10–20 times the size of a Photodex Presenter .px file and is guaranteed to be lower quality. The higher the resolution, the more the data size difference will be.

Sharing on the Internet is one of the best and easiest ways to showcase your work. Free services like YouTube and Facebook are fun, easy, and effective. If possible, stick with highly standardized forms of sharing like YouTube and Facebook. ProShow offers various ways to put your shows online. Some take no experience and technical know-how, and others require much more knowledge of web development.

If you’re going to be playing back a show using a projector, you need to focus on a few special points to prevent an otherwise embarrassing experience. In these situations, using video can be better in some ways than depending on nonvideo playback. However, video comes with compromises—the biggest, perhaps, being quality. The advantage of video is that it usually requires less CPU power to play.


Note

Photodex often receives support calls describing problems with Internet access and how some people have problems viewing shows online—both with Presenter and video formats. Most people don’t realize that the Internet is not a direct connection to Photodex or any other server. There are usually 5–20 connections (hops) between the user and a server on the Internet. If there’s a problem with any of those connections, there will be a problem with what the user sees. Another huge source of Internet connection problems is the software configuration of the user’s machine. Usually, connection problems happen outside of the control of the company running the site.


This is not necessarily true if you have high-resolution video, by the way. Real-time playback is technically perfect in visual quality but can suffer from speed limitations of the machine and software configuration.

The best rule for those giving live presentations is to rehearse whenever possible. Use the same computer and projector you’ll be using in the same environment. If you don’t, something is bound to fail. Don’t just assume that if you show up with a laptop, the right cable will be available for you to hook it up to the projector. Don’t assume you’ll be able to get the audio to work. Even something as simple as not having the right audio adapter can destroy your day. Get as much information as you can in advance, and if possible just before the event, test everything by hooking it up and rehearsing your show.

Resolve Resolution

I’m going to step out on a limb here and say some things that may raise a few eyebrows. Brace yourself, because this does make sense.

Resolution just doesn’t matter very much to most people.

There. I said it.

If you author a DVD in the United States, it is limited to 720×480. You can worry about megapixels, quality, and focus for a super-huge image if you really want to, but it just won’t matter unless you can see a problem in the resulting DVD. Most people won’t.

Most people are driven by emotion, friends, family, and events. They are not driven by megapixels or the ability to print wide-format posters with breathtaking clarity and sharpness.


Playback Jerkiness

Users sometimes describe problems with frame rate and jerkiness. There are two major sources of problems; one is intuitive and the other is not. The intuitive one is the frame rate, and it boils down to the computer not being powerful enough to play back a given show at full speed. This causes the frame rate of the show to slow down. It may speed up and slow down at different parts of the show, because the speed is directly related to the complexity of the show. More layers, for example, take more time to render and lead to slower playback. This is the lesser of the two major problems.

The greater problem is jerkiness, which happens for completely different reasons. ProShow is a Windows application that depends entirely on the timing of the operating system to play back each frame of the slide show. Unfortunately, Microsoft has never claimed that Windows is a real-time operating system. This is a clever way of saying, “You have no guarantee anything will happen at any given time.” In reality, this is not a huge problem because most modern machines do have the performance required to get perfect or near-perfect playback. The bigger source of the problem is other software that slows things down or makes things break completely. The worst offenders are poorly written device drivers, anti-virus products, and anti-spyware products. These products get in between the operating system and ProShow, creating delays that make it impossible to play back slide shows without occasionally jerky playback. If you have trouble, please contact Photodex. Sometimes these problems are difficult to diagnose, but there’s often an easy work-around.


There is much talk in the industry about resolution, quality, and similar technicalities. This has historical roots among professionals because they are paid based on the quality of their output. They have highly trained perception for such things, and they cannot be competitive in their jobs without paying attention to these details. Sometimes professionals become so focused on technical details that they overstate their importance.

Professional standards are often quite different than those of the average person. Most people are more interested in the substance of what they see rather than the technicalities.

To illustrate the relative importance of image resolution, consider the change from black-and-white television to color compared to the change from color television to HDTV. These two changes show clearly that as resolution increases, people care less about it. When color television hit, people loved it. It had a huge impact, and the advantage was obvious to everyone. Nobody questioned that color televisions were much better, and everyone knew they wanted them. HDTV is a little bit different. Many people don’t immediately see the benefits compared to the costs, and the overall value of HDTV is much less of an improvement on color television. All you get with HDTV is a clearer picture.

The interesting thing here is that HDTV is a much larger technical leap than the shift to color television. Color television didn’t change the amount of data in a video nearly as much as HDTV. The difference in size between an NTSC television and an HDTV is shown in Figure 3.1. Besides the surface area, NTSC video uses interlacing, which cuts the video data in half. HDTV generally does not. So the difference in data rates isn’t just the difference in surface area in Figure 3.1, but double. Shouldn’t HDTV be even more valuable than color televisions were?

Figure 3.1
A comparison between the amount of video information in an HDTV compared to the older NTSC standard.

Image

The reason the shift from color television to HDTV is less valuable has to do with what the viewer sees. The value of an HDTV image just isn’t that much more compelling because viewers aren’t focused on the resolution—they’re focused instead on the message. The message is the same. As long as you can see what’s going on, most of the value is there.

Keep this in mind when you consider the value of resolution. When accepting advice from others, consider whether they’re overestimating the importance of quality for your purposes.

If you think what you’re doing looks okay, it most likely is.

Use Styles

The concept of slide styles, shown in Figure 3.2, was added to ProShow Gold and Producer early in 2009. Three years later, I am still amazed when I see how much power these little widgets have added to ProShow. They save enormous amounts of time and make exchanging the construction of show elements effortless. Since Photodex first introduced style packs, many third-party publishers have also developed their own style packs for ProShow. As of this writing, there are already thousands available for sale—many even for free, and the market continues to grow every day.

Figure 3.2
The ProShow Slide Style tab of the Slide Options dialog.

Image

One huge advantage of these style packs is that they can make your shows consistent. If you like the way a certain slide turns out, it is incredibly easy to save that slide as a style. At any time in the future, repeat the exact style with a couple of clicks. Be careful to vary your slides, though, because using the same style on each slide can quickly become boring.

Another thing I’d like to mention that most people may not immediately be aware of is that you don’t have to use styles exactly as they look. If you find a style that is almost what you want, you may be able to adjust it. Go ahead and choose the style, and then fiddle with the layers after you’ve selected the style. Perhaps a photo won’t end up exactly where you want it, but that’s okay! You can change where it moves using ProShow’s usual interface. You can modify all the attributes of all the layers even after a style has been selected. If you screw up, you can easily undo your adjustment or even just reselect the style and start over. Think of a style as a starting point instead of an ending point, and it will become even more powerful than you may have realized.

Caption styles are another handy tool. Although they are available only in Producer, I’ll tell you how to cheat on this. But first, let me describe Producer’s caption styles and why you should use them.

Consistency is important, especially with captions. If you use caption styles, you get two things for free. First, you never again have to remember what the exact settings are for your captions; second, you can change your mind for the whole show later. Imagine completing an entire show and then deciding that you want to change the font in all the captions. Having to go back and change the text attributes for each caption would be a nightmare. This is why we introduced caption styles into Producer, and it has saved us a lot of time. I’m sure this will save you time as well.

If you’re using ProShow Gold, you don’t have caption styles. However, there is one thing you can do to get some of the functionality of caption styles. This doesn’t solve the problem of changing your mind, but it will make it easier if you have to switch back and forth between a couple of different caption styles.

ProShow is designed to make best guesses about what you intend to do based on what you did last. You can see this when you add a new slide to a show by dragging a photograph. ProShow always uses the slide time and transition time from the slide that is centered closest to the exact point you drop the new photo. It has done this ever since version 1.0.

One of the best guesses ProShow makes has to do with font attributes for new captions. All new captions are created with the default font attributes of the last caption that was edited. What this means is that if you go to a slide containing a caption that has the attributes you want, go to the Caption tab and make any change to the text in a caption, the default caption attributes will be set to the attributes of the caption you’ve just changed. So, all you need to do is make a change in a caption that won’t hurt anything in the caption. Click on the bold button, and then click on it again. You’ve just bolded and unbolded the caption, which leaves it in the same state it started out in. Voilà! You’ve made a nonchange to the caption, and the next caption you add will have the same text size, color, and so on.

This little trick saved me a lot of time when I was making shows before ProShow Producer was introduced with caption styles.

Another trick uses styles as a way to save ideas. After you’ve created a slide you really like, save it as a style. Give it a category name like “ideas.” It only takes a few moments, and you’ll be able to replicate that style in the future very quickly without thinking much about it. This category of “ideas” ends up being a little library of yours that you can refer to later. You can even use a presaved style as a starting point for a new slide later. If you get a lot of ideas going, you can filter the style list so it only shows you your ideas.

I’d like to say one last thing about styles: share them. ProShow allows you to import and export styles, and each style file that is exported is a single file that contains all the necessary information and media to fully implement that style on another machine. This makes it easier to move all your styles to another machine or give them to others. They’re powerful, so share them!

Use Copy+Paste for Consistency

A handy trick to keep a consistent feel for slides is to copy an existing slide and replace the important content. Let’s say you spend an hour setting up the visuals and captions for a complex slide. It turns out great, and you’re happy with it. After three or four simpler slides, you want to make a slide that is somewhat similar but perhaps a little different. Perhaps the captions need to be basically the same, or there are only two photos in the new slide instead of three, but the basic theme should look and feel the same. Click on the first slide you made, press Ctrl+C (or right-click and choose Copy), click on the next slide, and press Ctrl+V (or right-click and choose Paste).


Hot Keys Are Your Friends!

I’d like to point out here some valuable experience I learned in the late 1970s that has been almost lost today in the computer industry: hot keys save you a lot of time! Using Ctrl+C for copy and Ctrl+V for paste at first may seem complicated if you are a novice user. This is only because it is new to you. Within a few uses, you’ll get used to it. Hot keys are faster than using the mouse. One huge reason is that you can leave your left hand on the left side of the keyboard while using your mouse with your right hand. You can press Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V without moving either of your hands away from the standard typing home position. This means your mouse is used primarily for navigation of the user interface and not for performing the action. If you ever want to see just how much faster a seasoned professional is because of hot keys, watch a professional artist work with Photoshop. It is dizzying how fast this person can make the software jump without using the mouse. He appears to just magically be telling the software what to do. He uses his left hand for every conceivable action and his right hand for user interface navigation and positional control of objects. With hot keys, a user of ProShow or Photoshop can easily work several times faster.


Once you copy your original slide, you can more easily replace the important content and adjust it to suit the new slide’s requirements. You may need to replace every caption or change the number of layers. You may need to adjust the position or movement of certain pieces. The key benefit of this technique is that the overall look and feel of the slide will not change unless you change it. Most of the structure stays the same.

Another variation of this same technique is useful when you know you have several slides that will need to look and feel the same. For example, in a business presentation, you may need 15–20 slides that each use captions to form bullet lists.

Make sure these are consistent so the audience doesn’t focus on look-and-feel changes. To do this, create a fake slide that has the maximum number of bullet points you expect to use. You can make captions for each of these that say simply “Bullet point 1,” “Bullet point 2,” and so on. The idea is to put everything in this slide that can appear on any of the slides you’ll use it to create. Figure 3.3 shows how this might look.

Figure 3.3
To keep bullet lists consistent in a business presentation, start by creating a template slide for all of the bullet list slides. Copy the slide for each new slide, and then edit the captions to fill them in with the real bullet points.

Image

I think of this as a template slide, but I want to make sure not to confuse anyone. This doesn’t have to do with the template feature in ProShow Producer. I think of it as a template slide simply because I’m using it as a template to create other slides.

Spend enough time making this template slide look exactly the way you want it to, because it will take more work to change everywhere you’ve used it afterward.

As you make your show, copy this slide, select where you need a new bullet point slide, and paste it. Then change the captions to say what your bullet points need to say. Remove bullet point captions that aren’t used. Set the timing for the appearance of each bullet point to the voice-over of that slide. In general, modify the slide as necessary, but retain the original look and feel. Voilà! Instant consistency!

Once you’re done with your show, delete the template slide. In the final show, nobody will know that the fake template slide existed in the first place.


Note

With ProShow Producer, you can more easily create this template slide in a separate show file using Projects. This is functionally equivalent to using a template slide in ProShow Gold as I’ve described here, although it is a little more organized. I should add that Projects in ProShow Producer have far more uses than just this little trick, and this trick isn’t the intent of ProShow Producer’s Projects feature.


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