Okay! How to Create LG EZSign Templates!

Make a Custom Template for your LG EZSign system.

Make a Custom Template for your LG EZSign system.

Well, there have certainly been a lot of Google searches for this subject! For all of you sign designers who really want more control over the look (background) image of your LG EZSign 2.0 Software template selections, read on!

YES, you CAN create templates yourself. It is easy if you follow the tutorial outlined below, and start with one of the default templates in your LG EZSign Editor 2.0! As a sign designer, you already have all of the tools needed to execute this plan 🙂 And yes, if you want to make new templates to ADD to your collection for free, you can do that!

Here’s the process, and feel free to send an email if you need any clarifications. But I think this is pretty straightforward. As to why it works, it is simply because a .cts file is “calling out” the images. Don’t worry about programming language, just follow these steps:
LG EZSign Editor Screen 1
1) Open up your LG EZSign Program, and begin by selecting Make Content.

2) From the default templates that populate the next window, select a template based on the LAYOUT that you want. For my purposes, I am selecting a layout which does not include a large TV /Video zone. This one was for a dress shop, perhaps. Select a default LG EZSign  template for its layoutI am going to modify it to make it a travel theme for a photography safari.

Once you select a template that has the zones you desire, click “Next”.

This will show you the template and of course the text and images you can edit later. For now, we just want a project file we can safely change.

So, on the next screen, click the “Save LG_EZSign_Editor_save_your_template As” button. This will allow you to rename this file automatically, and save in the default folder assigned by the LG EZSign software.

LG_EZSign_Save_Your_Template

Make a note of this path- you will need it! Tip: Click any of the images in this blog to see a larger version.

Next step: Browse to this “saved content” folder and open up the current background images (there are two) to view and note their size. You should see dimensions of 1366px wide by 768px high. Also note the placement of any “boxes” or color blocks that became the background for a portion of text. Some templates also have a transparent block or zone for the TV display feed or video.

browse_to_LG_Content_FolderNote LG EZSign Template BackgroundsNote: There are always TWO background images for each template. This is because the screen will display the alternate background periodically to prevent “burn in” of the display. This is best practices! It also means you will likely want to modify TWO background images. I will show you one here.

Create or select a new image you want to use for the template background. Here’s my image with the elephants, courtesy of Pixabay.com, and to the left is the original background. old_template_new_custom_backgroundSave your new background with the same name as the old image, in the same folder. Basically, you have copied over the original, but don’t worry. The default template is still available in the library, as this folder is just your saved templates (duplicates with your edits).

LG Saved TemplatesOpen up your LG EZSign program again (it can be helpful to close when you have edited your content folder, to force the software to populate with the new images.) Click on “Recent Content” to find your new template. Click “Open” and select the template you named and saved at the start of this tutorial.

Don’t worry when you see the original thumbnail there with the old default background. Tutorial for Creating Custom LG EZSign Template backgrounds The file will automatically update with a new thumbnail after you preview the file. In many of these themes, there are two or more images that scroll or rotate through the playback of the sign. In my example, there are two image blocks, each of which features two images, for a total of four. Take a look and even replace the smaller jpg images that are part of the template. Those are simple to replace via the editor – just delete, click “+” plus sign to add a new image, browse to its location and insert.

Here’s what my work in progress looks like:

New Custom BackgroundNow I want to add something of a “header” where the grey bar was in the original background. See the image above. This is so that when the software editor places text in that location, there is a background that adds a little bit of definition.  I selected (again from Pixabay.com) a film strip image that I cropped to size, and nested into the top left corner of my elephant image. Again, I saved my new background with the same name, and opened in the EZSign editor. Voila! My new template is live! With just a few edits of text and color, I now have a custom Photographer’s Safari template for my LG EZSign system! (Of course, you will likely want to follow the same steps to make the second, alternate, background custom as well.) Here is the final result:

LG-EZSign_Custom_Template

You Ought To Be In Pictures! The Process of Making A Company Video – Part 3

Let’s take another step in our continuing series, looking at the process of making a high-quality company video that can be used to educate and entertain your audience through social media.  In the previous segments, we’ve talked about the importance of effective social media video marketing for your business, as well as the need for quality production by an experienced media company.  In this third part, we’re going to briefly discuss your essential preparation list … those things you need to know and do before seeking out and meeting with potential video production companies.

You’ve Passed the Audition … and Your Role Is …

If budget was not a consideration, the ideal scenario would be to hire an expert marketing company with loads of advertising experience to script a perfect video campaign for your business.  They would then hire a video producer to handle turning that script into an award-winning and effective viral video from which you would reap the rewards of fame and fortune beyond the fortune you already had that allowed you to hire the expert marketing and video production companies.

However, if that was all true, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article.  For the rest of us, budget IS a factor … an extremely important one … and most of us don’t have a budget for a marketing expert AND a video production company.  And let’s be clear about something … they are, in fact, two very different services.  Marketing/Advertising experts are not video production companies … and video production companies are not marketing/advertising experts.  They may overlap to a degree, but they do not perform the same role.

A marketing/advertising expert DESIGNS a campaign, which may be intended to take the finished form of a video.  The video production company turns that design into a finished product, or FABRICATES a video product from a given design.

As a business owner, you already have the skills to design marketing campaigns.  (You do create marketing campaigns for your business, right?)  So … for your business video, you will be the DESIGNER.  Yay!

“Storyboard” … not “Story-Bored”

Okay, so you’re now a marketing video designer … and you’ll hire a production company to fabricate your design.  Sounds simple, right?  Well, before you start writing your Oscar acceptance speech, it’s important to keep something in mind:  If you want the production company to properly fabricate your design, you have to be able to communicate that design very clearly.  I like to tell clients that, as a multimedia engineer, I’m a magician, not a psychic.  In other words, I can make amazing video, but I can’t read your mind to know what you want, especially if YOU don’t know what you want.

So how do you put together a plan to communicate your vision?  (We’re assuming that you do have a vision … otherwise, you’re not ready for this whole thing, right?)  The very best asset you can bring to a meeting with a potential video production company is a Storyboard.  What’s a Storyboard?  Simply stated, it’s a rough sketch, or outline, of every scene of your video.

A storyboard generally takes the form of a video frame (or multiple frames) for each scene, which contains a sketch of the visual content (all necessary visible elements).  Below the frame are notes that detail the scene activity, including object/actor placement and movement, dialog, scene duration, etc.  The quality of your drawing isn’t the important thing, but rather the ability of your sketch to communicate what should be taking place on the screen in your video.  Stick figures are fine, as are handwritten notes, as long as they’re legible and sensible.  Here’s an example:

Storyboard Sample 1 Storyboard Sample 2

Storyboard frames are, by nature, fairly generic.  If you want something very specific, however, make sure you include very specific details in the notes.  For such an event, you must detail the “what”, “where”, “how”, “when”, and “how long” specifics. For example:

What:  “Before” image moves off screen as the “After” image appears.

Where:  “Before” image slides off screen from lower left to upper right.  “After” image slides on screen from upper left to lower left.

How:  Both images move simultaneously so the “After” replaces the “Before”.

When:  During the voice-over line “We can replace your weathered old sign with a new vibrant work of art …”

How Long:  Images begin moving with the word “weathered” and finish moving at the word “art”.

This kind of detail eliminates questions/guesswork and makes the editor’s job much faster.

Make as many of these frames as necessary to accurately portray each section of your video.  This will act as the visual guide for your production company, so it needs to be thorough.  Give your storyboard to a friend, family member, or colleague and ask them to tell you honestly if it makes sense … and perhaps have them describe the scenes back to you in their own words.

In addition, write out a full script of what you want to be produced, including written dialog for every section that will require spoken word (voice-over recording).  You should also be prepared to provide graphic files or other artwork for any company logos, photos, or images needed during production.  If images or video of your employees or clients are to be used, make sure you get proper release forms signed.

When you’ve done all of this, start meeting with prospective video production companies.  Make appointments and be on time.  Go through your storyboard and script with them and make sure they understand it, and have a feel for your vision.  They should be willing to spend the time to do that.  If you feel rushed, move on to the next meeting.  ‘Nuff said.

Leave nothing un-discussed, nothing left to interpretation, unless you want surprises when you see the finished product.  This doesn’t mean the producer/editor/engineer shouldn’t enhance your vision when/where it makes sense, since they may have a keen eye for certain details.  After all, that’s what you’re hiring them for.  But they should not be responsible for designing the content of your message, nor should they be given a free hand to alter it without your approval.

What tends to happen with this amount of preparation and planning is that you’ll quickly get a feel for the “right” company or person to hire.  They’ll appreciate your work, and will be impressed that they don’t have to ask you for it.  They’ll “get” your vision and feel inspired with ways to bring it to life.  You’ll not just hear them tell you they understand … you’ll know it.  They won’t have that tell-tale blank look in their eyes that says “Wait … what?”, even though they nod and say they’re “with you.”

Congratulations!  If you’ve done all of this, you’re in the elite class of video production clients.  The vast majority of clients seeking video production have done very little to plan, script, and storyboard their project.  Their projects will take far longer to complete.  Their projects will likely have the same look and feel as every other “house-produced” video from the company that makes them.  Their video will not be fresh and unique, and will not represent their business as only the owner of said business could represent it.  YOUR video, in contrast, will be the opposite.  Your video will be easy to produce, as the planning and scripting has all been done.  Your video will have the unique quality of expression that comes from the experience of living and breathing your business for many years, and knowing what makes your business better than your competition.

Next time … turning your business experience into dynamic visual expression that draws your audience in!  Then later … file formats!!  WooHoo!!

You Ought to Be In Pictures! The Process of Making a Company Video – Part 2

video-business-man-2Know Your Limitations!!

In this series, we’re looking at the process of making a high-quality company video that can be used to educate and entertain your audience through social media.  For Part 2, we’re going to briefly discuss personal limitations as they pertain to the production time requirements.  To poorly paraphrase the great Clint Eastwood, “A business owner has GOT to know his/her limitations.”

It’s almost the year 2013.  Everyone has a video camera, even in their smart phone.  Virtually every computer being made today comes preloaded with software to edit and produce video.  The same software the pros use is readily available for purchase, too.  HD cameras are dirt cheap now, as well.  So why hire a professional company?  Can’t everyone just make their own videos these days?

Ummmm … yes.  Everyone CAN make their own videos, but not everyone SHOULD.

I’m reminded of the story of the famous photographer who goes to a dinner party with friends.  The host greets the photographer and says, “Your photos are AMAZING … you must have an incredible camera.”  The photographer smiles and says nothing until after dinner is done, at which point he looks to the host and says, “That dinner was AMAZING … you must have an incredible stove.”

Great videos are not made by equipment or software or computers.  They’re made by people who know how to make great video.  These people might have great gear … but they’d make great video even if their gear wasn’t great.  It’s what they do.  They have a particular talent for the process, along with a whole bunch of experience in doing it, often combining to make a product that’s way beyond what the average person of above-average intelligence could imagine.

That doesn’t mean YOU shouldn’t make your own video … just that you should really take some time to evaluate your own ability, understanding, and talent.

Time in a Bottleneck

In addition, you should take a look at how much of your valuable time you’re willing to spend making video … because it does take time, and lots of it … at least if you want it to look and sound good.  We’ll talk more about the element of “time” later in this series. For now, use this rule of thumb:  It takes a minimum of an hour of video shooting to yield one minute of final video, and from pre-production (to plan and prepare storyboard, set up interviews etc.) for a video shoot, through the shoot itself, to post-production (editing, rendering, authoring), taking the average figures for each of these activities, a time estimate of 4 hours of production for a minute of final video content is the norm!

video-post-productionThe greatest amount of time is devoted to the editing process. You can expect, for quality video results, that beginning video producers can take upwards of 8 hours or longer to edit a two- or three-minute piece. Advanced shooters (>1 year experience) can edit in one to four hours for a two or three-minute segment.

If you can take that kind of time away from your business and/or family, and feel you have the talent and ability to make a truly great company video, then by all means go for it.  Be honest with yourself, though, and remember that your business deserves the very best you can give it, if you want it to be as successful as possible.  Know your own limitations. It is very easy to distinguish between a professional studio product, and a “made it myself” project. From voice-over recording for clear dialog during the render, and custom graphics and text overlays to enhance and clarify the message, to a custom music bed with sound envelopes that adjust to the voice-over, these fine brush strokes can make a masterpiece.

If you don’t have the talent, knowledge, or time to invest in making your own video … which I’d guess describes most business owners in America … then make it a priority to find a professional video production company that will offer what you need, and with whom you can develop a working relationship.  The right company will provide exactly what you need within an agreed time period, while leaving you the time to focus on running your own business.  For the purpose of this series, we will assume that you will be hiring a media company to produce your video, as it is usually the best choice for a busy business owner.

R-4-cropWe’ll stop here for now, but when we return, we’ll look at what you’ll need to know before you start looking for your video production company. Here’s a hint: Content, i.e., your storyboard, gets built to achieve a specific goal or set of goals: Response, Recall, Reliance and/or Recreation(The concept of “R to the 4th” was developed here, first.)

Intrigued? Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series!

You Ought to Be In Pictures! The Process of Making a Company Video – Part 1

Why Make A Company Video?

Bank Video OptionsWith social media becoming more and more important for small businesses, company videos streaming from the web are often a very effective way to communicate with your existing and/or potential clients.  No longer are you limited to DVD or other physical media for your product marketing, events, or promotions.  The quality of online streaming video today can be absolutely stunning, light years beyond the low-resolution grainy short clips with poor sound quality that were commonplace only a few years ago.  In addition, research shows that more and more people in the workplace are turning to the Internet as their primary source for media, including news, entertainment, and general information.  Take a look at this infographic, prepared by Accredited Online Colleges, that illustrates the current trend away from traditional television and toward the Internet for media needs.

The Death of TV

Courtesy of Accredited Online Colleges

So it seems the savvy business owner of 2012 is taking advantage of this trend and creating video presentations to educate and entertain the infinite audience of the Internet.  Be careful, though!  The best intentions will be completely ignored if your video is poorly planned and produced, creating a less-than-desirable first impression of your company for the viewer … who may not give you a second chance to impress them.  And, as you may already know, once your video has entered the social media world, it can be difficult to undo it.  As much as your competition may love to have something that makes you look bad, I’m guessing that’s not something YOU want.

So how do you make a video that looks great, properly represents your company, effectively communicates with your audience, and is formatted correctly to play well on everything from a fast computer to a smart phone?  Well … that’s why I’m here, my friends … to bring clarity to a confusing process through a series of articles that I hope will help inspire you to start planning your own video projects.

In this series, we’re going to walk through the process of making a company video, from the perspective of YOU, the business owner.  We’ll look at the preliminary work you’ll need to do, how to locate and select a video production company, how to effectively communicate your plan to ensure a clear understanding of the work to be done, and some tips for keeping your video vendor on track.  Stay tuned … it’ll be fun, I promise!

Next up in the series:  Know Your Limitations!

Making the Move to Dynamic Signage

Are you still wondering if dynamic signage is the arena for you? Here we’ve been writing about how and why the digital print / traditional sign company is the best built enterprise for the job. In case you have missed the posts, start with the October, 2006 post and read each chapter as though it’s an important book!  Really. Go ahead. We’ll wait 😉

You may now be asking, How do I make this move? What do I need to know, and where do I go to get that information? Whew! Thank you for asking an easy question!

By entering the world of digital signage, sign designers and sign company professionals maintain complete control of their client base, and signage portfolio.

Sign makers who have worked for their entire career with static signage can find all of this new territory difficult to navigate. There are many new manufacturers of digital signage products, and it is unfortunate that many of these manufacturers do not have a sign-making background, and therefore do not always speak our language. And, while it may be easy to find companies who offer digital signage software (more than 350 exist today!) and/or hardware, it is much more difficult to learn how to implement the technology for the end-user – our clients.

Training Course for Digital Sign CertificationEnter the Digital Signage Certified Expert (DSCE) program, offered by the Digital Signage Experts Group, the best and most widely recognized certification program for dynamic sign experts. The DSCE course is a widely recognized certification course which covers all of the essential ingredients for anyone who wants to offer digital signage. Who has taken the course already? About 4700 individuals, most from the AV industry. We, however, believe YOU are even better equipped to deliver sign messaging through dynamic systems!

At the School of Sign Arts website, www.schoolofsignarts.com (SOSA) you can not only register for the course, but also they give you a free book, hot off the press for 2012: Making the Move to Dynamic Signage, which sells separately for $75. PLUS, when you register at SOSA, WE at LobbyPOP will donate $5 to the American Sign Museum!

You purchase a program access key code at SOSA for only $195, then go to the DSEG.org website and log in. Upon doing so, you can begin your training course, which is a series of instructional videos, accompanied by a 68-question certification test. Once you’ve filled in all of your answers, you submit your test for review. It is instantly graded, and, provided you receive a passing score, you then instantly receive your Digital Signage Certified Expert certificate via email, and are added to the Digital Signage Experts Group list of … well, Experts!

Making the Move to Dynamic Signage bookWhen you purchase your DSCE course access code through SOSA, you’ll also receive the PDF book: Making the Move to Dynamic Signage …. Did we mention, it’s free! This 48-page guide for the sign professional is approved by founder of DSEG.org, Alan Brawn, CTS, DSCE, DSDE, ISF, ISF-C, this year’s Chairman of the Digital Signage Federation. A great companion to the DSCE course, it includes additional insight, statistics, and information on the current and future digital signage market.

What is the certification course like? There is a complete review at the School of Sign Arts site: Certification is Priceless. How many “traditional” sign companies have taken the course? That, my friend, is a good question. More every day enroll in the course…

On a quiet Saturday afternoon, February 11, 2012 in Lubbock, Texas, Toby Stephens, owner of Elite Sign & Design, clicked “submit” and became a member of a rare breed: The digital print sign professional who crossed over to the bright side and embraced dynamic digital signage as a part of his future. He became a dynamic sign expert.

If you recognize this opportunity and want to get started on a great course, visit SOSA’s sign-up page here.  Get your free book and client assessment surveys. And make your move! Any questions? Call us! 1-888-LOBBYPOP [1-888-562-2976]  or email: amazing@lobbypop.com.

DSCE Course Review

Becoming a Digital Media House

Dynamic Signage QuestionOne of the questions that seems to come up more often lately – not surprisingly – is, What does it take to become a content provider for dynamic signage? Well, first and foremost, in our opinion, you need to upgrade your mindset. We recommend you think of yourself not as simply a content provider, but rather as a media house. LobbyPOP is most definitely a media house, not simply a content provider.

Not to offend anyone at all – that’s not our style! – but there are differences between content providers, content distributors, encoding houses, and media houses. Each serves a purpose! Here are the main degrees of separation:

  1. Content providers come in every shape and size. CNN is a content provider. Netflix is a  content distributor. (It seems hard to believe now that Netflix streaming video is available on nearly any Internet-connected home video product, but back in the spring of 2008, the only Netflix-compatible device was a tiny streaming media box called the Roku Player.) HBO is a content provider and a content distributor.
  2. Content DISTRIBUTORS are entities like Hulu. As content providers, NBCUniversal, News Corporation and The Walt Disney Company bring shows, movies and clips to the Hulu video library. Although Comcast recently acquired NBCUniversal, Hulu users will continue to enjoy the same NBCUniversal TV shows that they have come to expect from the Hulu distribution service, when, where and how they want them.
  3. If you want to convert existing media (video or audio) into other formats for mobile, streaming, or dynamic signage, an ENCODING HOUSE can format and deliver your content.
  4. A Traditional MEDIA HOUSE typically includes a relatively fixed in-flow from professional partners, as well as from reporters and other content providers. This will include writers, photographers, ad agency creative, and artists.
  5. In a DIGITAL Media House, content provided can include RSS feeds, stock tickers, motion artist products, animations, audio content, music, raw video, and more.
  6. In a Media House, the SOURCES can have a complex role, as in the the case of the LobbyPOP Media House, where Sources are Digital Signage Certified Experts or LobbyPOP Pros, who are in essence collaborators, certified to submit information straight into the ordering system, in fact not requiring additional modification.
  7. In a Media House, creation of brand new elements (Content Creation) is accomplished with the use of software, hardware, audio equipment, musical instruments, artists and more. This can lead to use of the term “Production House” in some circles. The Media House team will minimally include camera operators, sound recordists, editors, graphic designers, presenters, writers, technology architects, and video producers.
  8. In the LobbyPOP Media House, the information flow consists of information submitted, with great variation, by a network of 280 collaborators. The collaborators are connected directly to end-user organizations, such as municipalities, small businesses, and different entities in the fields of advertising and marketing.
  9. Collaborators have been trained, and have a detailed manual, in how to submit information into the media house system and they are allowed to do so without much additional guidance. The majority of information is, submitted by a web form on the School of Sign Arts website, or to some extent by phone to the editors.

Digital Content Production FlowchartWith this very broad brush stroke review, we can see that Media Houses must be able to work with a vast array of content types, and be able to format for any type of output, with the services that an encoding house would perform. But what a Media House must also be able to achieve is an artistic expression and blending of content, from music beds and voice-over, to the actual architecture and design of the engaging final digital sign product.  Not simply a transformer making ice cubes from water, but an alchemist, changing mineral elements into gold, creating intuitive, inspired audio-visual communications.

This leads to the next question: What sort of equipment, hardware, software, microphones, etc, should a media house employ?

Well, that is for the next blog. How perfect is that?

Those Special Codec Moments…

The following is not gibberish: A portmanteau is a blend of two or more morphemes. The word codec is a portmanteau of “compressor- decompressor” or, more commonly, “coder-decoder”.   Wikipedia explains: A codec encodes a data stream or signal for transmission, storage or encryption, or decodes it for playback or editing.

If you have been involved in dynamic sign content, you know those moments when the screen gives you a blank stare, and you fear that your beautiful video has fatal flaws? Well, isn’t it almost always the case that this is simply due to a missing “codec?” Then you go on the hunt to fix this embarrassing situation before the client sees the project. It’s pretty funny to hear audio and see nothing on the screen, and run to check the cables. Admit it, we all do that. A good hunch, but not relevant.

Codec for VideoLet’s talk about codecs, because making the move from digital print to dynamic signage requires that you know how to avoid those precious codec moments.  Although it has many other definitions, the term “codec” has become synonymous with digital video playback and encoding.

If you are in the business of graphics, digital print, advertising, or the sign industry, you are very familiar with lossy file formats, such as jpgs. The compression achieves a manageable file size, but there is data loss in the process. Images can look pretty pixelated after some edits and “saves.”  Well, the same holds true for codecs.Some popular codecs are “lossy” – losing some quality to achieve compression –  and some are “lossless — typically used for archiving data in a compressed form and keeping every byte of information present in the original stream.

What does this mean to you? Well, if you are rendering content for high-quality display (the good stuff all of your clients want), then like our media engineers at LobbyPOP, you want to use a lossless codec. All of those edits, text changes, music tweaks, video insertions, and saves, saves, saves, will create a pretty unpretty mess if you use a lossy codec in the process.

Of course, your final files will have to be decoded with the proper codec. We are familiar with one big name, popular content management system that doesn’t have the codec to decode MP4 files! The notion of AVI being a codec is incorrect as AVI is a container type, which many codecs might use (although not to ISO standard). There are also other well-known containers such as QuickTime, RealMedia, Matroska, DivX Media Format and containers defined as ISO standards, such as MPEG transport stream, MPEG program stream, MP4 and ISO base media file format.

Determining Codecs (thanks to Cisco for this information below)

Many tools are available to analyze a video file to determine what codec was used during encoding. One is AVIcodec, which you can download from http://avicodec.duby.info. The program recognizes most video file formats and delivers additional details in an easily viewable interface. Figure 3 shows a sample of the download output.

Figure 3. AVIcodecAnother program that is simpler is GSpot, which you can download from http://www.free-codecs.com/download/GSpot.htm. Figure 4 shows the output of the same file when viewed with GSpot.

Figure 4. GSpot 

Well, this blog was a bit more technical, but remember, we gave you risqué news in the last post!