Making a Promotional Video

As you may have seen, I made a video that serves as a trailer for my dissertation (see below). In this post I offer some reflections on why and how I did it.


Similarly to Dancing your PhDDescribing your PhD in one sentence, or Rapping about it, people have been finding a creative outlet for their research through the making of videos. Finding alternative, creative ways to give expression to what you are working on is a healthy, fun activity. It stimulates you to think about your work in a different way and who knows, maybe this will have an effect on what you actually do and help you to break through a problem you have been dealing with for a while. It also helps you to relativize your research and make you aware that there is more to life than your work, in fact, that there is more to you than merely that hyper-specific research topic.

If the result turns out well, you can even find more use out of it, as you can make it part of your promotional material to bring your final dissertation under the attention of your peers and colleagues. It is probably wise to make some effort to let people know that you finished and also what your main results are. You should be proactive on this, do not expect others to reach out to you.


Making a video can seem to be a daunting task and in some ways it is. But with software like Windows Movie Maker or iMovie it is nowadays possible to make videos even with rudimentary skills. All that matters is that the end result looks somewhat professional. Some rules:

  • It has to be true to the format: videos are for watching, not reading, a poem is for reading/listening, not watching. Dancing is movement, rap is rhythm, etc. If you make a slideshow and think you made a movie, think again.
  • It has to be short and punchy. If it is non-static (i.e. involving time, like a dance, a rap, a video, but unlike a painting, a poem, a statue) do not use slow music (or worse, silence). My video is 2 minutes and this is actually on the long side. I bet a good number of people do not watch it until the end (to their own loss). It also needs to be short for another reason: this allows you to not work on it forever. Finding a one-sentence description for your research is the best example of this; in only minutes you have creatively engaged with your work. I, on the other hand, spend half a year building my video.
  • It cannot scream. Don’t use bright neon colors, no Word Art, and absolutely no comic sans.
  • It is better to copy it than to fail creating it on your own.

I used Adobe Flash to create the animation and virtually every movement you see is custom made. I did use some photos which I took from various sources. I used InDesign to create the cover, which I then turned into a faux 3d version in Photoshop. I exported it from Flash as a video and then used HandBrake to retouch the video. I simply used QuickTime to cut the audio-fragment from a larger audio-file.

The audio was what I started with. When I decided that this was the one, I then started to storyboard different segments of the audio-clip and imagine what kind of animations could go with it. I then worked on the different parts in no particular order. Some parts I later redid entirely, but the better part of the clip was realized as originally planned. As you may notice, working on the graphic art for the video also helped me to put together a cover.

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