Building that Zoom Look

COVID-19 has altered our lives in many ways, but it has also changed our visual language. Video conference calls didn’t start with this pandemic, but by now Skype, Zoom, WebEx, Blue Jeans, and other services have become part of our daily lives – both as participants and as viewers. We use these for communicating with friends, distance learning, entertainment, and remote corporate meetings. Not only has video conferencing become an accepted production and broadcast method, but the “video conference look” is now a familiar entertainment style for all of us.

Many of these productions are actually live. Through elaborate and clever production techniques they can indeed achieve a quality level that’s better than the average Zoom call. However, in many cases, the video conference appearance with multiple participants on screen, was actually created own post, precisely because that aesthetic is now instantly recognizable to all of us. The actual interaction might have happened over Zoom, but full-frame video was simultaneously captured. This enables an editor to polish the overall production and rebuild the multi-screen images where appropriate without being tied to the highly-compressed, composite Zoom feed.

Building multi-screen composites in post can be time-consuming, which is where templates come in handy. Apple Final Cut Pro X offers a perfect solution for editing this style of project. There are a number of paid and/or free video conference-style Motion templates on the market. Enterprising editors can also build their own templates using Apple Motion. A nice free offering is idustrial revolution’s XEffects Video Conference – a toolkit of effects templates to easily build 4-up, 9-up, and 16-up displays.

If you need something more involved, then check out Video Walls 2 from developer Luca Visual FX, which can be purchased and installed through the FxFactory platform. This Motion template includes a series of 15 FCPX generators that cover a range of video wall and video conference styles.

The templates use image drop wells for videos and stills, which are arranged into a grid or row with adjustable borders and drop shadows. Some of the generators permit circles as well as rectangles with adjustable rounded corners. Positioning may be controlled to re-arrange the grid pattern and even overlap the panes. These generators include build-in animation effects along with keyframeable parameters.

If you want to mimic a video conference call, there’s also a dedicated generator for a Zoom-style menu bar that appears at the bottom of the screen. Border highlights around an image well may be changed as you edit to maintain the illusion that the highlight color syncs to whichever speaker in the group is talking at any given time..

Overall I found these temples easy to use and adjust. The one thing to be mindful of is that if you build up a video wall of 20+ video clips, this is like 20+ layers of video. Therefore, large video walls will require some horsepower. However, it was possible to do this on my mid-2014 MacBook Pro, albeit a bit more slowly. The good news is that all of this happens within the generator, so there’s only one clip on the timeline. You may also stack multiple instances of these templates if you need to have more images on-screen at once. Or if you want to add the menu bar template on top of a video conference template.

There’s no telling how long the pseudo-Zoom look will be in vogue. However, Video Walls 2 gives you enough variety that it should have legs beyond our current “work from home” mode.

©2020 Oliver Peters