How long does it actually take us to make a video?

First of all, great question. We have been asked this a lot. Like, a lot a lot.

To answer this is to contextualize the scope & scale of a given project. For example our Frame Welding video showcases a project produced in an afternoon (with the final video length being 8:25), whereas the Popular Mechanics Propeller Bike video follows Jason’s journey from magazine, to the build, to testing the final prototype over the span of several days (and that video is 34:59 long).

So, answering the question “what exactly is the scale & scope of this project?” helps set the expectation of the time for delivery. To sum it up: the more complex a story is then the longer it takes to produce.

But that’s just filming it, what about the edit?

Well, this proclivity towards storytelling also transfers to the edit. And I actually have some examples for you!

Get ready for a deep dive.

I’m going to (somewhat) deconstruct the Sci Fi Office Build Episode I video. Sure that was filmed over the course of a couple years, but after capturing all of the footage, it became a fairly straightforward story for us to tell: Jason wants to build an office, so he conceptualizes it and builds it step by step with a few challenges including working alone with the many tools he has. Should be a fast and easy edit, right?

Keep in mind this video has a total run time of 20:32

Just the post-production of it (the editing, animation, sound, VFX, etc.) took about 364 people hours. That’s right on target for what we were predicting based on previous post-production trends for our video editing turnovers. Crafting this story wasn’t a particularly difficult challenge, but we wanted to also produce a love letter to science-fiction and make a video that expressed Jason’s appreciation of the genre, as well as reflect the effort he (and the team) have put in constructing the office space. These creative choices add a lot of time. Let me break it down even further:

The Edit


(50 layers of video & audio, though not all layers are consolidated)

This is what the edit timeline of the Sci Fi Office Build Episode I video looks like. It shows everything the team and I worked on in post: footage, animations, visual effects, music, sound effects, titles, and color correction/grading. Each of these processes take time going through their own respective pipelines.

Animations

The run time for all animations featured in the Sci Fi Office Build Episode I clocked in at 4:48 of total screen time (about 23% of the entire video). What is seen in the final video does not entail all the animations that were produced. Often, they are changed and iterated throughout production to accommodate missing (or newly added) story beats. Some are even scrapped entirely. Since each animation is carefully hand drawn, any requested changes come at the cost of time.

This video not only had a lot of animations in the final edit, it also introduced a new sci-fi design language that required mocking up and then creating new assets. This added a bit more time to the process.


(these are some of the assets stacks used in the video, as well as additional concept art)

As animations are very important for depicting conceptual ideas within our stories, they are highly valued in our process. Of course, when we assemble the first version of the story, we attempt to mitigate future animation changes by plotting & storyboarding these story beats pretty thoroughly. But with any large project, things change over time and it requires us to adapt.

All of that to say, there was 153.5 people hours clocked in it for the animation work in this video.

Sound Effects

Sound effects for any television-length episode of ours (between 15-30 minutes) typically takes a couple people one work day to complete within our pipeline. Well, we got it done within the first day, that is until we discovered one thing: an entire library of Lego Star Wars sound effects (the original complete saga game). This added extra time to incorporate them to be found in some obvious places while also hidden in some subtle places (we had to substantially change the context of these sound effects for copyright purposes, by the way, but we will get more into that shortly).

Sound effects are carefully chosen and constructed; we streamline when we can but ultimately do not want to fall into the entrapments of a cookie-cutter process. This attention-to-detail is designed to engage the audience, even if the result is subconscious. Our approach to this type of fast-yet-curated sound design permeates every large-scale video we produce. Actually, this kind of approach is in every aspect of production and post-production that we do, but a key element for the Sci Fi Office Build Episode I ended up being the music…

Music

(Cue the fanfare) In a world full of copyright infringement…with megacorporations monopolizing mass media…one tool company…made parody music to avoid certain mouse-associated lawyers.

Yeah, so with the genre driven storytelling of this episode, we had to have the appropriate music with it. But as we all know, a familiar space operatic sci fi franchise is owned by a company that you do not want to mess with. So creating parody music was necessary to avoid a nasty outcome. We made opening fanfare as well as a parody cantina-related song that had to do with a jib (seriously, at this point you should have seen the video to be keeping up with all of this, here is the link again just in case). These creative choices make the video more fun, but each song adds hours of work (not to mention some scrapped songs that may make their way into future episodes…).


(here is a timeline of a song-in-progress)

Recent Fireball videos have maybe one original piece of music per episode; we have heavily relied on getting licenses for the music we use because that saves us a lot of time, but when crafting a unique video identity, there is an importance to create something catered to and uniquely Fireball (a great example of this is the fixture table creation video). Not all projects afford the time to create it, but when there is time, it’s incredibly fun to make music.

Visual Effects

Every video of ours has different levels of VFX. There is the “simple” ~just cut that one thing out of the frame~ compared to the ~oh lets make this one object come alive~ type of effect, and that dictates how long it will take to plan, shoot, and edit. In the Sci Fi Office Build Episode I video, two sequences were filmed in July 2021 that incorporated green screen suits for two very silly scenes paying homage to the aforementioned space operatic sci fi franchise. While these scenes don’t play out long in the final video, there is more footage that was shot and edited that count toward the work done during the VFX portion of the pipeline. I think this process took about 20 people hours for this video.


(behind-the-scenes of two goofballs in greenscreen suits from a cut VFX shot ~ also it was mid July in an air condition-less workshop high off the ground and wow it was so hot omg)

Titles

This one is very straightforward: some video needs text on it. But if all the text looks the same, that gets really old really fast. Typing the text doesn’t take a long time on its own, what adds time is the byproduct of it. When titles get added to a video (usually later on in the edit process), it plays at a particular point in the timeline. If the edit gets changed or rearranged, the likelihood of titles becoming out-of-sync with the video or sound effects goes way up…and we’ve had to fix that on more than one occasion. However the biggest time-burner is the export. Adding titles to a project increases the export time substantially because it is considered an effect by the computer. And it’s not like we can disable titles when exporting video cuts for review, we need to verify content, spelling/grammar, and (most importantly) math. But this brings us to another aspect that takes time: the reviews.

Reviews

The unconventional approach we have toward storytelling (and the production thereof) also affects how we review our work. This Sci Fi Office Build Episode I video clocked in over 40 people hours of review time. Here is one way to think about this: if a video is 20 minutes, and 5 team members are watching it, that already accumulates over 1 1/2 people hours just to watch the video. Then factor in the resulting discussions surrounding it, rewatching and workshopping selected scenes, and then taking and distributing notes…the time adds up fast.

We have gotten considerably more efficient with how often we review an edit-in-progress along with who is participating in the review, but it is an unavoidable part of the process that will always be present. After all, the less we review a video, the more mistakes are missed, educational elements might not be presented as clearly for the audience, and the weaker the resulting story would be.

We are almost there, I promise.

Voiceover

Things get tricky here, and this has to do with the unconventional approach I mentioned above. We do not go into production with a script, instead we have an outline, akin to documentary or (some) reality programming. Instead, we “write” the story as it is being assembled in the edit. We give a (literal) voice to Jason who narrates all of the videos.

In mid-2022, we acquired a software that allows us to synthesize Jason’s voice so that we could type out dialogue which then we would edit to. Of course, this tech isn’t perfect so we don’t use it in our final published videos (or do we?) but it helps us save time from re-edits in this phase. Basically, we are constantly writing and re-writing dialogue (which is another reason we review) up until Jason gets into the audio-recording booth and goes to town with his narration. He writes, edits, and delivers all of his voiceover in a single session (sometimes stretched over a couple days). And then this gets added to the timeline, exported, and reviewed. Can you see why this filmmaking process takes awhile? To make it clear, we have tried scripting videos out on several occasions but the results were…not great. At least not for us right now.

Color

I’ll keep this short and sweet: color takes one person no more than a day for this length (~20 min) of video, regardless the amount of animations or VFX shots. Moving on.

Overall

Notice how I didn’t mention much about the regular edit: taking the footage, assembling the story, creating a rough cut, then a fine, then a final, all while all of the above is happening almost simultaneously. It takes a good amount of coordination and communication from a (comparatively) small team where we all end up wearing multiple hats. It’s not uncommon to play co-director, co-editor, be one of the sound engineers, one of the colorists, and then do some VFX. Oh, and just the “edit” process took 166 people hours for the Sci Fi Office Build Episode I.

Now for the answer to the posed question…yes I know that I used a very post-production focused video as a case study, but it showcases our filmmaking philosophy in action: treat each project as its own unique story to tell and approach it with fresh eyes. We avoid the “cookie-cutter” approach while continually iterating and streamlining our process. With that said, it results in a video turnaround of 4 to 8 weeks, even as long as a few months. And since everyone is not all focused on one project at a given time, we can stagger the releases so that a new video doesn’t take as long to come out (with a few exceptions). But in the end, there is only so much a small team can do at any given time.

This is how we run an unconventional production. It does take time, but we have all seen the results. And we find it’s worth it.

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wow-amazed
This is so cool! Not my world at all, love seeing how these videos come together. Keep them coming!

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Thanks for taking the time to describe more of the behind the scenes efforts required to produce your videos. I’ve enjoyed watching many of Jason’s videos but I had NO idea of just how much effort went into them! Well done, keep up the good work & I look forward to continuing to learn!!

–Larry

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Wow, I agree with the others, I had no idea how many people hours it takes to do a proper job of turning out a quality video. Impressive, keep up the good work team.

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As a long time subscriber to the youtube channel, I have watched the VFX grow, the voice overs change, the graphics appear, and the animations come to life.
Thank you for taking the time to write out a summary of the editing process the Fireball team undergoes for a single video. I have always been curious how many hours and how specific parts of a video were created. I can geek out over these details to no end. As someone who has spent considerable time making only a few youtube videos, I have the utmost respect for this team and the quality of videos produced.

Once question though. When did Jason bring on the first editor? At what point was it worth his time and funds to pay an editor for film making?

Again, Thank you!

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@NickJ When the company started 5 years ago, it was Jason and his brother filming & editing the videos. I was hired as a collaborative, professional filmmaker back at the beginning of 2020, just over a year and a half from when they first started making videos (the first video I collaborated with them on was the Portable Belt Grinder Build).

I have an idea for an interesting quick video… it would be neat to see how much force it would take to change the angle on the magic square once its locked down. I saw a video where jason said he could stand on it and thats impressive on its own. Just a thought is all. Either wyay you guys do an amazing job

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I started with Jason’s Ebay Endmill cutter video:

Besides the hand-drawn animation and song creation, I film and edit a majority of the videos we’ve made since July 2021. It’s a blast filming with the team and I feel very lucky that this is my job. Thank you all for enjoying what we enjoy making!

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