Ever since the release of Josh Waitzkin's annotated games in Chessmaster, I've wondered how easy it would be to create chess videos. So I decided to investigate how it would be done, and write an instructional article for Chess Assistant users on the process.
Chess Assistant has several capabilities that are useful for making chess movies, including the ability to add objects to the chessboard, along with audio and video. When games are played back, the objects become visible on the board, and multimedia is played back in a small window. If only there was a way to record the board as the game was played back (with audio and video), it would then be fairly easy to create a movie. It turns out that there is a program for doing this, and the entire process is not that hard (simply time consuming). It can be done with Chess Assistant and some freely downloadable software.
It might be helpful at this point to give you an example of what can be accomplished using this technique. So I made some quick audio comments to the game Alekhine vs. Kmoch San Remo, 1930. The final movie is in the form of a video that can be downloaded from this link.
The hardest part of this whole procedure was not figuring out how to make Chess Assistant store multimedia in the game; that was extremely easy. Instead, it took a little effort to figure out how to make the resulting game into a video that could be viewed over the web. It turns out that you need a couple of free tools for doing this. The first is a screen recorder, and the second is a transcoder to convert the resulting AVI file to something small enough to be downloaded over a dial-up line. I'll cover that procedure in the second part of this article.
Adding graphical and audio annotations to a game
To access the graphical annotation function, open a game in CA, and click on the icon in the comments tab that looks like a number of overlayed colored squares (leftmost, outlined in red on the screen shot). You'll then see a dialog box with a number of tabs, and the board position.
Above you see an example of what can be done with this tool. This dialog is pretty self explanatory - all you need to do is click on the appropriate tab for the object you want to draw. Then select one of the radio buttons. Then you simply click at the beginning and endpoints of arrows, or simply click on a square for marker-based annotations. In this case, I've chosen to draw red arrows showing the lines of attack for the rooks. I'm afraid that there are no set guidelines for which colors to use, so feel free to use whatever scheme you find most intuitive.
You'll also notice that I've got some audio in the movie I put together. It turns out that audio is extremely easy to add to a game, and Chess Assistant even has a built in recorder for this purpose. Obviously, you first need to make sure that you've got a microphone, and that it works with your system. Then, when you're ready to record, simply click on the small carat to the right of the icon that looks like a small video camera (also outlined in red on the previous graphic). Then select "Media comments" from the drop-down dialog. You should see something like the dialog below.
Then click on the button labeled "Add from microphone". You'll then see a little dialog that is very self explanatory. Essentially, you can record, and re-record a passage as many times as you'd like. When you're done, just hit ok. You should just accept the default file name that CA gives the audio file (note that there is a bug in many builds that prevents you from renaming the files).
Recording the Video
After I annotated the game by adding audio and graphics, I then played it back using the "Animate game" button on the "View" tab. You can't miss this button, it looks like a little movie. Every time the audio window popped up, I would click on the "Ok" button after the audio for that move was finished playing. Simultaneously, I was also recording the screen and the sound with a tool called CamStudio. After I finished recording, I then transcoded the resulting video to make it smaller (just over 1M for three minutes of video). Here's a more detailed description of the recording process:
Download and install a copy of CamStudio here. That link takes you to version 2.1, but I used version 1.8 for this article. I did have some problems with version 2.1, so if you have the same experience, I would urge you to get a different version, or use something else.
In Chess Assistant, bring up the game you are interested in recording. Then setup CamStudio with the following menu options, seen on the screen shots below. These options disable recording of the cursor, let you record on the board in CA, and record the sound that is played back as you go over the game. Note that the cursor options screen is accessible through the "Options" menu.
Start recording in CamStudio (press the red button). The select the board area in Chess Assistant. Start playback of the game in Chess Assistant, using the previously mentioned button. Make sure you hit the "OK" button every time audio or video is done playing.
When done, hit the stop button on CamStudio. CamStudio will then save an AVI file of the result. BTW, you'll notice that the AVI file is huge. For the example video I made, it was over 70M in size. Thus some better compression of the video is desirable, which can be accomplished with the procedure and program discussed below.
The following steps are only necessary if you are interested in web delivery. Go to the Windows Media 9 site at Microsoft and download the Windows Media 9 encoder (about 10M). You may also want to get the codec pack while you are there as well. Install the encoder.
Using the Windows Media encoder, convert the AVI file to a WMV format file. Note: you could use whatever encoder you wanted here, in case you object to the windows format. With the options I show selected in the screen shots below, the final size of the video ended up being about 1.1M, which isn't bad considering that I started with a 70+ M AVI file.
To convert the file, first select "Convert a file" in the Wizard. Hit the "Ok" button.
Then select source and destination files:
Click the "Next button". Now select destination options as shown below: Hit the "Next" button.
Now select encoding options as shown below: Hit the "Next" button.
You'll then see a verification screen, and a graphical progress display. At the end of the encoding process, you should have a video that is greatly reduced in size, and is suitable for web delivery.
In this article, I took a look at using Chess Assistant (and some other free software) to make chess movies suitable for the web. The process is not difficult, but does require some time and effort. The example video that I created for this article is really only meant to give a taste of what can be produced with this method. If you should make a movie with this procedure, I'd appreciate you e-mailing the link to me, so that I can link back.