Studies in Flash Video: Best Practices from Real-World Producers
I presented a workshop at Streaming Media East on Producing Top-Quality Flash Content. As part of my research, I wanted to hear how real-world video production houses were producing and using Flash Video. Here are three of the companies that I spoke with.
When you spend just under $1 billion building the world’s largest cruise ship, your first priority is getting fannies in the seats, so to speak. To accomplish this for their new boat Freedom of the Seas, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines relied heavily upon a Flash-based website designed by Atlanta’s IQ Interactive in collaboration with Arnold Worldwide. If results are any indication—the inaugural cruise is completely sold out—Royal Carribean made a very smart choice, and IQ proved that a properly constructed, Flash-based web experience can be a powerful selling tool.
Founded in 1995, IQ Interactive is a full-service interactive agency specializing in rich media marketing for the broadband Internet, with clients like IBM and the National Geographic Channel in addition to Royal Caribbean.
According to partner and creative director Adam Boozer, every IQ project starts with a detailed identification of the target customer, complete with a description of their computing capabilities and connection speed. Also discussed is whether the customer will wait for large file downloads if rewarded by a high-quality experience, or whether delivery speed is paramount.
For the Freedom of the Seas campaign, Royal Caribbean initially targeted cruise enthusiasts who largely connect via broadband and prioritize quality over delivery speed. Still, IQ recommended and designed two alternative experiences, both delivered at 1024x768 screen resolution, but with a low-bit rate experience comprised of slides and audio, and a high-bit rate experience with Flash Video encoded at a maximum of 768Kbps.
Since the boat was under construction, IQ worked mostly with architectural drawings and greenscreen shoots, building several structures like a climbing wall to match those that would be on the ship. During the shoot, they used a realtime chromakey switcher to help perfect the positioning, but performed all actual chromakeys in Adobe After Effects. According to Boozer, IQ didn’t use the new alpha keying capability available in Flash 8 because it wasn’t available when they started, but also because of concerns that the CPU load on the playback end would be too high.
If you visit the Freedom of the Seas site, you’ll notice that most screens have a fixed 1024x768 background, often with multiple small Flash Videos playing simultaneously over the bitmap. Viewers click a small gold bubble in each animation to zoom into a larger video, with a maximum resolution of 400x300 for any specific FLV file. The entire presentation is guided by a cruise director, with the soft sounds of waves and seagulls serenading the viewer between scenes.
IQ shot all video with a Sony CineAlta HD camcorder in 24p progressive mode to provide a film-like look. After compositing in After Effects, IQ encoded to Flash FLV files in Sorenson Squeeze, using Sorenson's Spark codec with VBR encoding to reduce file size and maximize quality.
As a full-service interactive agency, IQ doesn’t just post the site and forget it; it monitors traffic with an Omniture-based tracking system customized for rich media sites. IQ analyzes visitor metrics with session and cookie-based functionality, and can determine a viewer’s profile and customize content accordingly. In addition to basics like page views, click-throughs, unique visitors, and registration information, IQ also tracks pass-along rates and time spent on a page. Using this data, IQ can determine which pages are most effective and direct viewers accordingly.
"It’s not about making pretty Flash movies," Boozer commented. "Our goal is to provide a compelling immersive experience which we track and adjust to make sure it meets the client’s unique marketing goals. The web analytics side is one of our unique value-adds."
Below: Scenes from the rock wall of Freedom of the Seas.