How to Make a Tutorial Series
This article focuses on how to put together a tutorial series using what we’ve learnt over the years of making FlippedNormals Tutorials.
- Define the target audience
- Make the end-result appealing
- Find the core of the tutorial
- Be careful about time lapses
- Keep the videos on point
- Prepare scene files before starting
- Basics Vs Fundamentals
- Take and use notes
- Avoid custom hotkeys and UI
- Hand out exercises
Set the target audience
It’s incredibly important to set the skill level needed for your tutorial before starting. All your decisions are based on this - different skill levels require completely different approaches.
Beginner, 0 - 12 months experience: Don’t know the tool, and every step will have to be explained. Work slowly and be very clear with hotkeys, menu items, etc. It’s much more important that the topic is explained well than that the result is good. Simplify complex topics into easy-to-understand ideas - even if it’s technically not 100% correct.
Intermediate, 1-2 years experience: knows the software to an okay level and might have done a relevant project before, but is lacking structure in their workflow. You’re sacrificing some final quality in order to make the student understands the course.
Advanced, 3+ years experience: Is knowledgeable about the tool and has done many projects before. You don’t sacrifice any quality and focus on building the best end-product you can. All tools and techniques are shown the way you actually use them without simplification.
If you haven’t set the skill level, you’ll do a mix of everything which annoys everyone: The advanced artists are annoyed that you focus so much on hotkeys & interface and the beginner is frustrated that they can’t follow along with every step.
Make an appealing end-result
Do your best to make the end result as nice as possible. This makes it much more engaging for students, as they get to make something that looks nice - plus the tutorial will sell more. It often helps to already make the end-result before, so that you have a clear guide for what to make in the tutorial. Obviously, you need to adapt the end result to the skill level - don't spend 10 hours tweaking a shape for a beginner's tutorial to make it perfect.
Find the core
By having a clear focus in the tutorial, it’s much easier to both produce the series and it will be far stronger. This should be an overarching theme throughout which helps you make decisions. You use 10% of the tools 90% of the time. It's very important that when making tutorials, you don’t cover every single feature in crazy depth. If you're a modeler and there’s a modeling tool you’ve never used, chances are other artists wouldn't use it either so don't waste time on it. You also don't want to show every single feature of a single tool either. Keep in mind that information overload is a very real thing. If you’re doing a Marvelous Designer tutorial, it’s much more important that the student knows how to use a few tools well than every single one.
Examples: Making a character for 3D printing: The focus needs to be on how to optimise it for printing and it guides your decisions when making it. Instead of making 3 props that all have the same challenges, you should probably make 3 props that have very different challenges when it comes to 3d printing.
Be careful about time-lapses
It’s tempting to time-lapse certain parts of the tutorial, but it’s generally much better to avoid them. Time lapses are often used when the work becomes repetitive or when you want to reduce the total running time for the tutorial.
Instead of using time lapses, we recommend that you split the chapter into two parts: The first is showing them in real-time how the task is done, and the second part is just you doing it for as long as it takes, without narration. You’ll have all the footage anyway and it doesn't take more time to produce. It’s incredibly valuable for students to see work being done in real-time, and if it gets too slow for some, they can always speed it up on their end. This will make the tutorial far longer, but that’s not a problem.
Using time lapses also depends on the target audience you’re going for. Beginners will find time lapses infuriating, but more advanced users will find themselves bored out of their mind if something is all real time. A beginner might want to watch you place hair cards in real time, but an advanced student needs a time lapse.
Sometimes it’s impossible to work and speak at the same time and then we recommend that you do the work and narrate on top, but without time lapsing it.
Keep the videos to the point
Each video should have a clear purpose which the students should know when they play it. You can start by saying ‘We’ll now cover [topic]’ and then proceeding to show exactly that. Make sure you’ve gone through what you’ll cover before actually recording and never assume anything works without testing it. This will save you a lot of time as the recording is much smoother and you won’t run into nearly as many random issues.
Simplify until you’ve got to the core of the video, where all fluff has been removed. You can absolutely keep the videos funny and lively - this is more about having a clear idea what the student will get out of it.
Prepare Video Scene Files
There are two advantages to having prepared scene files:
- The student can follow along with what you’re doing
- You’re not wasting time making a scene in the video.
If you’re doing a video on how a specific shader works, set up the model, light, and scene before recording so that you can focus on only the shader. The video will now be 10 minutes compared to 25 minutes.
Basics Vs Fundamentals
When making a tutorial, it’s essential to know whether you’re teaching a basic or a fundamental skill. Teaching basics is knowing what buttons to press while teaching fundamentals is about a different way of thinking. Both are important - be deliberate about what you’re teaching.
‘How’ is basics
‘Why’ is fundamentals
How do I create a light? How do I bake these maps? How do I parent this to that?
Why is gesture important? Why should I make contrasting shapes? Why do I use reference?
To do anything in 3D, you need to have a good understanding of the software. Regardless of your understanding of figure sculpting or cinematography, you need to understand how the UI works, what each button does and how to work efficiently with the software. The reason this is basics is because there's a clear answer as to how everything works and you can google your way out problems.
It's incredibly hard to learn 3D for beginners, as you're learning basics and fundamentals at the same time - and early on, you won't necessarily see the difference. The better your software skills become, the better your art becomes! It's natural to assume that this keeps going forever - if you were to just learn everything about the 3D software, you'll be a fantastic 3D artist.
As you're progressing, however, you'll realize that your problems aren't related to your software skills. Instead, the problems you're getting feedback on is the composition, character design, and the color scheme. These are issues you can't google your way out of. Surprisingly enough, searching for 'how to make my anatomy better', won't fix your crappy anatomy.
This leads us to...
Fundamentals are timeless principles: figure sculpting, physics of light, color theory, character design - etc. Fundamentals are also significantly harder to learn, and it's impossible to google your way out of bad fundamentals. No matter how well you know ZBrush, you will never be able to sculpt an appealing character without a good understanding of figure sculpting.
It's sometimes helpful to include your mistakes. If you made a mistake, it's often a common error and it's very educational to show people how to fix them. That said, cut away any major errors, as nobody wants to see you fiddle around for 2 minutes trying to find a line of code.
Don't experiment during the video. Chances are that you'll mess something up and it requires more editing and it makes the video more confusing. Always do the experimentation before recording.
It’s not always about knowing a specific feature, but rather learning an approach so that you can learn everything you need to by yourself.
Take tons of notes for the different chapters. These can be from specific numbers you have to remember or general concepts. It’s a good idea to have people you trust to go through your notes as well to refine them. We also turn our notes into PDF docs which ship with the tutorial. Try to avoid writing complete sentences
- Use bullet points instead
- You’ll sound more natural
Custom UI and Hotkeys
Stick with the default version of the software if possible. Sometimes though, you need to customize the UI and hotkeys. If you do this, make sure to provide your custom setup. Also make a specific video on how to use your setup and why it’s better than vanilla.
It’s a good idea to include a series of exercises the student can do after having watched the tutorial. They can now continue educating themselves. Also, feel free to recommend other learning resources like additional tutorial series. If they enjoyed the series, chances are they want to continue their learning journey.
If you’re doing a sculpting tutorial, here’s a series of exercises you can include.
Sculpt a figure from reference. Do one sculpt for the different time frames
10 min You’ll only ever be able to get the gesture
3 h - You can get the volumes down, but rough.
15 h - All features should be here.
5 hour study of a 50-year-old woman from Central-Africa
10 min speed-sculpt of a 30-year-old caucasian from Ireland
3 hour sculpt of a 90-year-old Chinese woman
1 hour sculpt of a 5-year-old Hispanic girl
15 hour sculpt of a 50-year-old American biker