Although I am not an accomplished model railroader as of yet, I have many thoughts on railroad videos on YouTube. I have some training in video production, editing, and filming, and from watching many YouTube videos, I have gained a sense of what makes a great YouTube layout showcase.
I suppose you could say this is a beginner’s guide.
Unless you have an ongoing “Video Newsletter” of sorts that documents the construction of the layout (As many people do: these can be quite informative) try not to include unfinished parts of the layout. Although it does give viewers an idea of what is coming next, viewers may decide to skip parts of the layout they have already seen. The idea is to keep your layout new and interesting.
Many videos on YouTube are people showing off their expensive locos on a track that goes in an oval around a painted piece of plywood. Again, this can be informative if you want to hear the way a certain loco sounds, or see the way it runs on track, but without any scenery, these expensive locomotives just look like expensive toys. If you mix wide and close up shots, you can often create a video that is interesting in a small area. This way, you may be able to get two videos out of a medium sized layout, and film one half before the completion of another.
Background music in a layout video can be a plus, or a minus. Use music without lyrics. I saw a video of an amazing layout, with scratchbuilt skyscrapers, top of the line locomotives, weathered rolling stock and passenger cars, and it was even hooked up by catenary system. However, the video’s effect was somewhat dampened by the rap music playing in the background. The creator of the video didn’t even add it in with video effects, but had the music playing from a boom box while filming, resulting in poor quality sound. Style of music can even affect the way that the video may be recieved, and music choice should be chosen with your target audience in mind. If you are making a video that you are targeting specifically at other modelers, use softer music, cut the music’s volume in half, and don’t scrap the original video’s sound. Modelers often like to hear the sound of the locomotives, but even that can be overdone. Too many horn blasts, and too much bell can create dissonance. Everything in the video should be in balance. If your audience is not mainly modelers, and you are going for a mass audience, the video’s music should be more upbeat, and you can choose to cut out the locomotive sound completely if you wish.
The speed that you run your trains in the video can have an effect on your audience. Again, you have to keep the target audience in mind. When I showcase my layout (when it is completed) I will likely make two videos, one for modelers, and one that is for a mass audience, that I would feel good about posting on Facebook, or Twitter. Keep in mind what is realistic. Running a train backwards through a snowy mountain pass at 70 mph will likely garner dissent from modelers on your video. On the opposite side of the spectrum, running a train too slow will lose most of your audience as well. Unless you are trying to show off the great weathering job you did on all of your rolling stock in the yard, try to keep the scale speed above 30-40 mph in mass appeal videos. When targeting modelers, you can run a bit slower, but I still have a hard time sitting through 5 minutes of a train running 10 mph.
This is possibly the most important part of a successful Layout Showcase. You must think of your target audience in every shot you take. If you are showcasing the entire layout, find something that rolls, and is high enough to get a good shot of your layout. Put wheels on a coat rack if need be. But unbearably shaky cameras dampen down the professional feel that many modelers are going for. A tripod that pans is also good. You can follow the train from above either panning, or rolling the camera along. This kind of approach works best for large layouts. If your layout is small or mid-size, a close-up approach is best. Bring out or purchase a tripod, and make sure your camera is fine with zooming. Take shots that have emphasis, and be sure not to reveal the entire layout in one shot. Shots that work well for this are:
- Coming out of tunnels
- Traversing a yard
- Pulling out of a station
- Going over a bridge
Show important parts of your layout in small sections. Lastly, unless the train is short, don’t film the entire train, unless you’ve done an amazing job weathering, or if it’s a mixed freight. Again, even I get bored watching a consist roll by, with the same three types of engine, and all coal, or all auto racks, or all stacks that’s 100, or 120 cars long.
–Enhancing Your Video–
Lastly, there are several things you can do to enhance your video. Correct signals are possibly the easiest, but if you really are going for realism, animate things. I have worked on several animations, and if you have a good program and camera, it’s a cinch. It could be as simple as using fishing line to pull your cars along the road, or as complex as using a program to animate your cars, people, animals, and more.
Now with all that you’ve learned, go out and make a compelling video!