Beyond Prezi

Today I presented some preliminary results of a five-year winter wildlife tracking project my town’s conservation commission has just completed. I was part of a workshop on wildlife connectivity at the Vermont Statewide Conservation Conference in Rutland.

We had some spatial analysis and mapping of the tracking done by Kevin Behm at our county’s regional planning commission, and I wanted to display the mapped results in a compelling way. Google Earth was an obvious candidate for display, but driving Google Earth for a live audience is asking for trouble unless the show is simple. So I used the Movie Maker tool in Google Earth Pro to record three minutes of video highlighting the non-simple results and their context.

Kevin sent me the results I wanted — Jenk’s classes of animal track density per 300 foot section of road. These results covered about 20 miles of road and showed how track density varied throughout the town. I put the results in a Google Docs spreadsheet and used Google Fusion Tables to map them and export them as kml files. Four kml files, each with one of the four Jenk’s classes, were imported separately as “placemarks” into Google Earth and colored appropriately. Eight jpeg or png images were imported into Google Earth as “image overlays” and either “clamped to ground” or placed at an “absolute” altitude. Thirty-eight “polygons” and “paths” were drawn in Google Earth. All elements were arranged in folders so they could be turned on or off in groups. Fourteen placemarks with “snapshot views” and no “icon” were created. While recording the video, I directed Google Earth to fly between snapshot views as I manually increased or decreased the transparency of image overlays, placemarks, or polygons in real time. It took me about five tries to make an acceptable video. Movie Maker will also make a video file while a prerecorded “tour” is being played. These tours can include changes in transparency of polygons, paths, or image overlays, but these changes do not show up in the created video. So all of the action has to be produced in real time as the video is being recorded.

At the conference today, the video, displayed by a projector, was played full screen in Windows Media Player and paused 27 times while I discoursed on each “slide.” I used a wireless mouse to place the cursor on the “play button,” and held the mouse like a remote as I clicked to pause and play the video. Fortunately, the cursor never wandered from the button. The three minute video was stretched into a 20 minute presentation.

The silent video is below. It is not self-explanatory. That’s why I was there.

The video is not very crisp. Movie Maker will create higher resolution WMV videos (up to 1920×1080), but these were unacceptably jerky. So the 720×486 WMV video above was a compromise. In addition to creating WMV files, Movie Maker will also make avi files (on a Mac it only makes Quicktime). The avi files are very high quality and very smoothly animated, but truncate after about a minute when the file size reaches 2GB. I originally planned to used a series of these videos which were smooth and crisp on my desktop, but they require more graphics pass-through than my laptop could deliver, and played poorly. Theoretically one could put these into a video editing program like Premiere and join the short clips together and output an mpeg4 file at whatever quality settings one desired. But once the avi files are imported into Premiere, they get really blurry. There is something about Google Earth’s avi output that interacts badly with Premiere. I have tried without success for a few years to figure out how to overcome this limitation. There must be something simple I am overlooking.

So this remains a bit of a kludge as a presentation tool. But it woke up my audience at 3:00 PM after many hours of the dreaded PowerPoint (“Hey, his slides are moving. Cool.”).

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