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Making Videos with Code is Cool, but is it Productive?

There are more and more tools out there that let you build things (that aren’t websites) with code. Like Remotion for making videos with React. It’s super cool. But should you use it?

I recently went through the process of creating an explainer video for the beta release of Contentlayer. As we were planning the script for the video, I learned about Remotion, a tool for building videos with React. Video with code! That is seriously so cool!

I decided to try it. But as I was going through the process, I constantly asked myself if the time I was putting into learning this new way of working was worth the investment.

Had I not come across Remotion, I would have used Screenflow, which is familiar enough to me that I knew I could be productive. In looking back, here’s how I would distinguish between code-based video methods and more traditional video editing methods.

Use Code-Based Tools for Static/Graphic Content

In working with Remotion, I came to realize the two primary benefits of being able to use code-based tools to build videos: reuse and editing.

Some common situations where this becomes beneficial:

  • The same graphical structure is going to be used at multiple points throughout the video.
  • Multiple videos with shared graphical components.
  • Moving segments of a video around can be a matter of moving a line of code and being confident it’s going to fit together.

But this applies mainly to graphics-based videos. If it looks like a web page (or a slide deck), then you’ll be able to take advantage of the situations above. But when working with screen recordings or live-action footage, there’s not as much benefit to using code.

Use Traditional Tools for Speed

At least when it comes to editing videos, the more traditional tools are built for speed and flexibility. It often takes a bit of learning to get started, but once you know the controls and capabilities, you can really fly.

Using a code-based system is different. It’s like building a website. If you want to do it fast, you have to put a system in place to be able to do that. This takes a lot of time to invest up front.

In other words, if you don’t have the time to build a code-based system, or if you are making a solitary, standalone video, it’s probably better to stick with the traditional approach.

Combining the Power of Both

In my case, I followed the logic above and it led me to use the two tools in tandem (Remotion + Screenflow). The base of the video was graphical, and once I built my system and got the hang of Remotion, it was an absolute delight to work with. It made editing a breeze.

But I had a couple of screen recording demos in the middle of the video. It’s so fast to be able to splice these up with what’s familiar to me (Screenflow), that I edited them separately, and then brought the clips into Remotion to piece it all together. That worked really well.

Being Code Cautious

I’m a developer because I love writing code. These tools catch my attention because I can fit more code into more of my life. That’s exciting! But it’s also not always the best choice.

Play with things that are cool. But put into practice only those that serve you best.

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