Monday August 2, 2010

Cinematic Flâneur

I've been a bit shell shocked all week and consequently this is a week behind, so I have some catching up to do.

Tuesday was the start of Studio 2, the paper that follows Studio 1. We started with a small into and exercise replicating the bullet time effect best known from the movie The Matrix:

It's made by placing a series of still cameras around the subject being filmed, so each one takes a frame and triggers the next one to take a frame, giving the effect of the camera dollying around the  subject at a speed that renders the subject almost motionless. The cameras are all pretty much green screened so they are easy to paint out in post production and the bullet effect is added. Use of this effect started a trend where everything from all the latest terrible MTV music videos to road safety commercials attempted to emulate it (using different and cheaper techniques I assume).

To do this exercise, we broke into four large groups of 12-15 and pooled out Macbook Pro webcams together. The lack of control of the webcams meant that results were not spectacular but we got the idea.

It was then on to our main brief.

To conceive, design and fabricate a piece of equipment that holds 2 (or more) video cameras and capture images in a way we otherwise couldn't and produce a unique image quality. The video is of an experimental quality and non-linear narrative, and based on observations of the city. We had to get into groups of 4 and decide on our roles: Fabricator, Fabricator Assistant, CAD operator and producer.

A friend of mine who I haven't worked with before found me and 2 other people and we formed a very promising group that I was quite pleased with. None of us have worked together before.

For the rest of the week we did research and brainstorming of possible ideas, reading supplied texts, and browsing suggested links.

We came up with a number of ideas, a few of my favs at the beginning were 3D capture, using the cross-eyed method. That is, capturing 3D using the usual 2 cameras, and then splitting the screen, with the left eye footage playing on the right side and the right eye footage playing on the left side. The viewer crosses their eyes and after a bit of adjustment can usually settle seeing the footage in 3D. Here are some examples. Other possible methods of 3D viewing would have been using the red/blue glasses or perhaps other methods that involve special displays, but that would be creating inconvenience for our audience. Another idea was to capture in HDR. This would require more than 2 cameras and possibly 2-way mirror glass or just clever mounting to minimise the difference in angle. We then would have a few options with the resulting footage. One is to layer it on a timeline in Adobe After Effects and be able to move between exposures depending on where the camera was pointing or to tone map it to a single and striking image. Some examples of HDR still photography are here. HDR is usually done with still photography with non-moving objects because it takes multiple exposures merged into one shot. Another option, purely because the brief mentioned that we could use existing skills was to run the HDR in a MaxMSP environment and give the viewer control over exposure. Another idea was to capture images in infra-red and/or UV as well as visible light and super impose in an elegant way. Yet another idea was what got dubbed drunk-cam, which was a variant of another group member's idea. Two cameras, one's movement controlled by the other, but the hinges would be loose so that the two images would be out of sync whenever the camera was moved. The idea was to capture film that cannot just be emulated in post production with one camera. We had quite a few more ideas, what was interesting was the different angles from which we approached the problem. As one can see, my ideas were all technical and about technique. Other group members, one in particular approached the problem from a conceptual point of view, which at first I had trouble understanding. This was actually quite brilliant because I felt that our group is composed of really bright people but with totally different skills and approaches, and we all have respect for each other's thoughts.

The project has a time table and the first week we were to basically research ideas. We also had a couple of interesting tutorials. On the Wednesday we were introduced to Solid Works which is 3D CAD software, I'd heard of it before and was looking forward to finally being acquainted with it. You can apply real world physics to your creations and do cutaway views and then sent the results to normal plans or even 3D printing. It seems like one could very rapidly produce working models although I stumbled a bit on some basics for a few different reasons, some out of my control so I'll be doing some self-directed learning at some point. I'm not the CAD operator in the group so I didn't feel too much pressure to get it right but I wanted to be available to help our group's CAD operator should she have an issues, it's quite an undertaking to build a model in software you've known for barely 2 weeks, which is how long we had to get that far.

The next day we had an introduction to After Effects, it turned out that this was meant to happen much later but it was interesting nonetheless. It turned our group off the 3D idea though as part of the tutorial was about compositing 3D footage together, which meant that now the idea was public domain. Also, a year ago doing something in 3D would have made for an exciting, novel and interesting project, now, with Avatar, 2D to 3D converted movies everywhere you turn and every TV manufacturer jumping on the 3D bandwagon, it's just not as mysterious. I was still mildly interested, but it definitely had lost it's "coolness" factor.

The next day we went to a re-induction to the 3D fabrication labs (not to be confused with the previous paragraph's 3D), this time in more detail. We were introduced to the cutting, bending, drilling and lath machines among other things.

I'd started to draw variations of what the camera rig should look like, taking into account the feedback I've had in the past of not being visual enough. Well not on paper anyway, I need to start drawing more what goes on in my head. This will also help me get my drawing ability back what I seem to have lost somewhat.

    Monday August 2, 2010

Week 2.

On Tuesday we were to have our concept ready but we hadn't really decided what exactly we were doing.  There was a bit of mild conflict (for lack of a better word as there wasn't really any conflict, we were working through our ideas in a thoughtful manner) about what we were trying to say with our film. One of our tutors talked through it with us and in the process I suddenly realised the huge difference between a concept and a technique. One of our group members in particular is very conceptually inclined and our other two members range between conceptual and technical. They are very thoughtful and often raise good points. I'm lean more toward the technical side. I really didn't quite understand the conceptual side until that point, aside from realising that upon presentation of say, HDR footage, saying "because it looked cool" when asked why we did it would not be all that acceptable.

Actually it's a bit disingenuous to say that I don't understand it. It's more that I tend to think that it's all too easy to present a concept and be all arty about it and have up in the air descriptions but in reality it means absolutely nothing. I'm of the opinion that one should if pushed, be able to turn a concept into something with concrete descriptions that anybody can understand if needed or, it's probably not that valid. This is what I found difficult about the Serious Fun project, we started talking about the "falsity" of the cat actually being code... There was something behind it but that language got on my nerves and I wasn't prepared to describe the concepts until I could describe them better. But there was not enough time to get to that point. I realise that I'm probably a bit too much of a solid thinker at times and I'm working on being more conceptual and and creative in a more "artistic" way, but I still cherish my solid foundations though, it keeps me grounded instead if flying into the wind with concepts that I think are art but really mean nothing. If I can join the 2 opposing approaches then I think I'll be... rather clever actually.

Anyway our conceptual thinker is also pretty intelligent and all her previous projects have turned out well so I have a lot of respect for the bits that I didn't quite get and while we discussed our thoughts with the tutor I had a bit of a eureka moment about the whole concept verses technique thing. At this point I started trying to brainstorm actual concepts, but also tried to marry them with some of the techniques so that we could get our project moving to the next step.

I think it was the next day that we decided we all liked the idea of exploring how people group together and also spread out on city streets, and we could depict that with footage that contained a thermal imaging overlay. At first we wanted to explore how people tend to clump together but then realised that was caused by traffic lights and people would spread out to their own personal space as soon as they could.

On Wednesday afternoon, exactly a week after our SolidWorks introduction, we had an advanced Solid Works class only for the CAD people. - But I sat in. I was still having issues with the basics, I had wanted to practice during the week to be ready for the class but had difficulty getting the student licensing to work at home, which it turns out was an IT issue. I picked up what was going on but just lacked knowledge in the small details that allowed me to actually execute the processes. But I'll teach myself in my own time. I want to know it because I have a small personal project that I'd like to complete. I have to build some custom door lock brackets for my car. Once I'd have just fabricated as I went, but I quite like the idea of planning it in detail in Solid Works first.

Our group planned the camera rig, me drawing and all of us working on details. I was really quite enjoying it, just the dynamics and how our group worked together. So THIS is how groups are supposed to work!

On Friday afternoon a few members of the class had enrolled in a 2-day course on Academic Writing. As it got closer a lot of us were wishing we hadn't bothered as it was interfering with our studio time but I really enjoyed the first day. There were a few small details I learnt that I didn't know, like do not use abbreviations (like "don't" for example) ever. Other things I sort of knew but they were mapped out systematically so that they clicked more. We also learnt how to read actively which is really handy as for this literature review in Maths & Art I'll have to read 20-50 different texts. That is a lot to read if I was to try to read the way that I'd normally read a novel.

The Academic Writing course went through to Saturday afternoon, and after that 3 of our group of four met up to draw the Solid Works drawing, however something else happened instead. Which I'll tell you about in the next instalment.

    Sunday August 15, 2010

Week 3.

So on the Saturday after the Academic writing course, 3 team members met up, the fourth had work. - I never thought I'd envy someone who had a weekend job, how things change.

The plan was to work in Solid Works and build different parts of the rig, though I wasn't sure how easy this would be. We discussed a couple of issues first though. One was whether we could in fact capture infra red footage. Examples that our team mate had found on the net of DIY Infra Red capture just didn't look that interesting. They really looked like pure Black and White rather than heat capture when inspecting the image closely. I hadn't been able to test the cameras yet and did not have the materials required. Also someone in our team had discussed the ideas with family members, and they found it difficult to relate our thermal imaging with the grouping of people and wondered what the point of it all was, which then lead her to not quite believe in the idea so much either.

Seeing as this was possibly our most conceptually aware person not really believing in the idea and the fact that we had no real way at that point in time of determining that what we wanted to do was technically possible without spending a lot of money to get decent results (our research into DIY thermal imaging was not inspiring), we decided to discuss other possible ideas again. It seemed a bit late to be doing this but if we could come up with something better and easier to execute then it was possibly worth it.

After some discussion we bought back the idea of reversing the brief and capturing slightly compromised footage and relying on the audio capture more. One camera pointing skyward and one to the ground. We drew up a little trolley that one could push along that had both camera's mounted to it.

Once we had done this our CAD operator insisted that this would be easy enough for her to draw on her own and we all went our separate ways. I lamented the loss of the original camera rig that I was looking forward to building but it wasn't such a big deal.

On Tuesday we had a printed copy of the plans, there were some details missing but this didn't bother me personally as I felt I was probably going to wind up altering things during production anyway. The idea that one can plan something entirely in Solid Works first is all well and good but it didn't strike me as practical for our group when we'd known the application for less than 2 weeks and our CAD operator has never studied engineering, but I've been building things all my life and had often not worked from detailed plans but from in my head. I like the proper workflow, but it just wasn't going to happen here. The plans were bounced back from the 3D lab with a few comments and so we had to address them. I got out my visual diary and re-drew the plans with added dimensions that would be needed. The second round, we also had the benefit of a Tricycle that we were taking the wheels from. Our CAD operator had found it on Trademe for $5 but had not been able to measure it when making the drawings because it had yet to be picked up.

We resubmitted the plans on Wednesday and there were still minor issues but we were given the go-ahead to work in the 3D lab. When we got there we discovered that one material specified in the plans did not exist as stock (20mm round tubing) so we went back and discussed the options. One option was to replace it with square tubing, but our conceptual group member (AKA CAD operator) had issues with that as over the past couple of days we'd built a  concept up and she didn't feel that square tubing fit with the whole theme. I wasn't sure it really mattered too much myself, mainly because I didn't want to go and pay for round tubing when we had perfectly good square tube for free. However our Assistant Fabricator had a solution, her mother worked in a steel mill and she was able to get about 4m of 20mm round tubing for nothing. We just had to wait a day.

On Thursday The Fabricator (me) and the Fab Assistant came in at 9am when the 3D lab opened, hoping to beat everyone else in the class as it could get rather packed. We also did this on Friday. It took 2 full days to do most of the fabrication. I found the process a bit painful. The Lab was full most of that time with the other BCT students and much of the time was spent waiting to use different machines. If the lab had been empty I think I could have churned out the trolley in half a day. And at much better quality. I'd told my team that I could build anything they threw at me and basically talked myself up a bit as that seems to be the modus operandi to get people to have confidence in you (which I find very painful to do as there is a huge gulf between those that say they can and those that actually can yet big talkers always seem to win). When in the lab this made me change my behaviour a little bit for the benefit of onlookers. It's difficult to explain but I guess my normal approach would be to build something (and get it right) in ways that onlookers might flip out over because it would look like I was too gung ho. Because I was in a controlled environment I was more methodical and second-guessing my normal approach. I don't feel that this made me any better but actually worse. There are a couple of parts in particular that don't look like the work of someone who knows how to build things. We reinvented the frame as we went mainly for extra strength and it might have been handy to have a large piece of paper to plan it on at 1:1 scale to use as a template, but we wound up doing it by eye so it's not perfectly square. That said, the result works. The front wheel is a bit wonky but I'm not sure it's noticeable to most casual observers. The wonky nature is a result of being interrupted 3 times while trying to wield it together. Well maybe I'd have messed it up anyway, but interruptions really didn't help much.

Oh yeah, special mention to my co-fabricator, she was both skilled and great to work with. A++ would trade again.

    Sunday August 15, 2010

Week 4.

On the Monday afternoon after the lecture and the Tutorial the fabricators in our group went to the 3D lab to finish the trolley. It only required the camera mounts to be added and there were also less people in the lab so it didn't take very long. I'd seam wielded everything partly because I wanted to make sure the rig was as strong as possible and partly because I just enjoyed wielding. We wheeled it back and on Tuesday afternoon we discussed painting it. Tuesday morning the whole class assembled for presentations of concept. While the Fabricators had been building the rigs last week, the CAD operator and Producer worked together to research and refine our concept and produce a presentation. It was a great separation of talent in our group too I felt, because our fabricators were quite practical people while our presenters are great conceptually. Obviously we are all capable of either and can produce examples of this but I felt our various strengths had been played to somewhat. There were a couple of excellent presentations in particular, one group really nailing the conceptual side very well and will probably also do the same with the practical results, I felt our group was also conceptually strong and I was fairly proud of their presentation - though visibly nervous which is understandable, it was nice for me to be able to sit back and watch all the presentations without worrying about going up myself.

So that afternoon we divided up again, 2 of us to cut a piece of tube that was going to house a lens fitting - a door peephole as a makeshift fisheye lens, while the other 2 bought some spray paint. That afternoon we were going to paint the rig bright red in the 3D lab until we discovered that it was closed for the afternoon.

On Wednesday morning I went to the lab and painted it myself. The paint was quick to dry (20mins) although it might have wanted a few hours to be properly hard. I had intended to bring masking tape and newspaper in with me but didn't (due to forgetting and also due to already having a lot to carry in on the bus...) however the 3D lab had some sort of plastic cling wrap for masking. It wasn't clingy enough though and I got a bit of paint on the tyre. Grr. The paint did a great job of sprucing up the look of the thing and making welding less obvious (we'd decided not to grind it afterwards).

We mounted the cameras and went for our test drive. The process was quite enjoyable even though we received a lot of odd looks and a few comments from passers by, which always mortifies the younger team members in particular. I was the first to push the rig along as we ventured down Queen Street, up to Albert Park, Down Lorn Street and towards Britomart. In Britomart as we descended to the Train terminal and not to anyone's surprise we were stopped by security. This of course gets my - like any resident Aucklander's - temper going, even more so as I felt a telling off coming by the security guard who thought we were all under 20 so could be easily terrorised. I was waiting my opportunity to pounce when a nice manager came along and explained that the Council has instructed them to keep camera's away without prior permission (even though it's a public area) because they want to charge people who do film there (scum). So with that we agreed to go elsewhere.

Outside, one of the cameras which was mini-dvd based had run out of space. Our team member mucked around with it trying to get the test footage off to make space as we hadn't even reached our ultimate destination yet (the wharf) and accidentally erased the whole disc.

After some despondency we got it together and continued to the wharf to film. We got a bit of that footage when the same camera ran out of battery power.

That night I transfered all footage to the computer.

Thursday morning we had an After Effects tutorial. It was mainly housekeeping which is important but possibly lost on some of the class, who were looking forward to knowing how to apply effects to footage - even though that part is relatively simple. In the afternoon we shot more footage and once again I transferred it that night.

Friday we shot even more footage. We'd had a few issues with cameras and we felt the sound wasn't particularly good either. It was an enjoyable day though, we walked around Albert park and various streets. We had the 2 cameras on the rig, plus another camera documenting us and I'd bought my still camera along to document the documenting.

That night I worked on syncing the footage up. It wasn't as simple as it should have been for a few reasons. One was that the mini DVD camera had a loose battery and  that had come off a few times. This caused write errors on the disc and also sync issues. Getting the files off the disc wasn't straightforward. Also, power had run out a couple of times and we wound up swapping cameras out meaning footage was spread on multiple cameras. Last of all, so simple and I can't believe I didn't think of it, I should have insisted we write numbers on card and put in front of the cameras at the beginning of shots to number scenes and also produce some sort of sharp sound in order to make sync via audio. Like a clap board. It wound up being quite painful and time-consuming determining what came from where and then getting files synced. I had waved my fingers a few times in front of the cameras at the beginning of shots and had I not done that it would have all been even worse. But there were times that we stopped a camera (it appears) and forgot to do that. Plus it wasn't really enough to sync perfectly, just to get footage roughly in the right place.

I set it all up in Premiere Pro but didn't finish. On Saturday we were to meet up and copy the footage for everyone to use, but I hadn't finished tidying it all up so the nightmare has been shared with the group. The files are also really big, totalling around 60gb. I could have compressed them down with out any noticeable drop in quality - this is after all a 1s year project not some commercial production but I didn't do that.

I also experienced once again the difference between working on my windows machine and on my MacBook Pro. I tend to favour my desktop PC because it sports 2 monitors and more hard drive space, but more and more I find windows pops up issues that you just do not get on a Mac. So I moved my work to my MBP (connected to one of my monitors) and ethernet connected to my PC's storage. I like the UI much better anyway, Expose is a killer app and always has been for me ever since it was first introduced in Panther. This time is was a codec issue, but I have some odd windows services that like to eat CPU time. Anything made by MS usually.

Right now as I write this I'm typing on the PC while the mac renders a complete timeline of one of the camera's footage. Once that is done I might start chopping that up in Premiere and then using the dynamic link feature to flip backwards and forwards to After Effects. I've had to pre-render the timeline as a whole because After Effects didn't like the format of footage produced by one of the cameras. It's a bit of a mish-mash and if I was to do this again I'd probably set up a process of conversion to one single format first.

    Monday August 23, 2010

Week 5.

After our Math class I hung around for a little while and copied my resulting 2x22gb files to one of my team mate's external drives to help save her the tedium of syncing up the files herself, as that's just pointless drudge work. My other two team mates didn't seem too fussed on getting copies, they had either synced everything up themselves already or had not yet realised what a tedious time waster that task is. I really kick myself for not using some form of dual clapboard, it's something I'd have just done automatically normally. I then went home to work on the files.

Being 22gb they slow down the system tremendously, and I haven't yet worked out a decent workflow. I did re-render lower quality proxy files @ 2gb each but I don't know how this would fit in an After Effects Dynamic Link workflow. Well, I have some ideas, but perhaps they aren't completely compatible with experimental post production, better for a predefined script where one knows what they are hoping to achieve.

Tuesday, I've stayed home to piece this thing together. My team was to do the same, although 2 members decided to work in class. I find class even more distracting than home personally.

What I'd also have done is thrown ALL files into Adobe Media Encoder first to make them all the same format. I didn't do this at first because I felt re-encoding meant dropping quality. I'm encoding to dv codec, but there are tons of variations of this codec and I'd have to research the whole subject further but it at the moment it seems probably more than good enough for this project.

As a one-time Mac operator, I'd have a workflow where I pre-flighted and normalised files and organised them before even thinking about starting actual work, but that was for print, I haven't fully worked out a good workflow for video editing, and I guess I've sort of approached this with a different mindset from someone working in a production environment.

[a few days have passed, so back to past tense]

Wednesday I had my film pieced together after a sleepless night. I dropped the Dynamic Link-as I go workflow because render times were just too painful. Instead I decided to put the film together then did all of my After Effects work. I also realised rendering out avi files in After Effects sped up the process rather than linking AE files in Premiere. I'd moved back to my windows machine because that has a true x64 version of Premiere installed so potentially ran faster. I discovered that our group was not presenting this morning but tomorrow which was handy because not only had we not made a DVD but I was the only person in the group who'd managed to finish the film.

That night I pieced together a DVD menu video, authored the DVD ready for the rest of the group to drop in their files in the morning, made a video of our concept and us using the equipment and wrote our concept as a small speech for presentation. My team worked on getting their videos finished, and stayed up all night.

Thursday when I got in in the morning, everyone else in my team had issues getting their film completed, 2 members managed to have files ready right at the last moment but I couldn't author them to DVD on time. Despite that our presentation was fairly solid, it was great to have notes to read from.

Once that was over we all went home to finish (start in some cases) our Literature Review and also final bits and pieces for this project, to hand in on Tuesday.

    Monday August 23, 2010

Wind up

There are a few bits and pieces that this project requires for it to be completed, there are 2 "experimental film" reviews, one of which had to be from the international film festival which is a bit difficult as the film festival films aren't all that experimental. Nevertheless I've watched one film festival film and one experimental film and they will be documented in this blog post.

I really wish I'd had time to alter my submission after the critique it had at the presentation (that it tried to fit too much in) but I'm happy enough with it that it was lower priority than other tasks I had to complete. Righty, first film review.

The Room

Some people get enjoyment out of awful things. I have a friend who liked to watch terrible movies for the humour. I'm not one of those people, watching terrible movies makes me think about the finite amount of time we have on earth and how it could be better spent elsewhere. The Room (2003), written, directed and featuring Tommy Wiseau is an awful film that has gained cult status because it is so terrible. I decided to watch this film because I'd read on a local forum about just how amusing it was. I' down with watching a comedy I thought. Well it turned out it was funny because it was awful. I persevered only for the sake of the film review. So what makes this film so terrible? The script, the acting, the direction the props the dialogue... And it appears that it was made is all seriousness, although Wiseau appears to market it these days as a black comedy, a genre that it doesn't really fit either.

It's about a love triangle between Johnny, Lisa and Johnny's best friend Mark. Johnny is a genuinely nice banker (I know...) who has set Lisa up with an apartment, car and lifestyle. Mark is Johnny's loyal friend who is eventually seduced by Lisa who has become very dissatisfied with her relationship. The film also features undeveloped sub plots and other characters such as the neighbour also set up and looked after by Johnny (and loved like a son) called Denny. Denny is something of a man-boy who likes to watch Lisa and Johnny kiss. Lisa's mother Claudette who visits every now and then for a chat and "went to the doctor and I definitely have breast cancer!" - This is never mentioned ever again in the film. Denny has a run-in with a drug dealer who wants his money on the roof of the building that they live in, we never hear of that again either. Michelle and Mike, a couple who like to use Lisa's couch to intimately eat chocolates off each other. It eventually ends with Mark and Lisa becoming hostile about their relationship at Johnny's birthday party and when everyone leaves Johnny trashes his place and commits suicide by shooting himself in the head. The last scene is Lisa and Denny crying and asking if he is really dead despite the large pool of fake blood behind Johnny's head.

The film is obviously meant to be a show case of Tommy's acting which is amusing because it's dreadful. The reactions to events taking place are flat, and when dialogue finally kicks in "Lisa, why are you doing this to me?" that is well... also flat.

I sat through this film and it was hard to watch, however in hindsight I can appreciate the cult following that it has, it's awful nature does make it amusing. Now Plan 9 from out of Space, that is a dreadful film!

[not finished]

    Tuesday September 28, 2010


We all presented on Wednesday. I was over my application by Sunday evening so I didn't develop it further. It was in a working state and I wasn't going to mess with it.

Despite not preparing much more than a quick mental list of what to say, I found it easy to present my project and my thoughts on it. There were a range of apps, some with very good ideas, some quite impressive. Overall I was happy with how my app faired in comparison.

Presentations are funny though, I'm relaxed and not nervous about facing my class but nevertheless my body isn't fully aware of that so I'm always glad to get it over and done with. It's the anticipation - once you are up there it's fine.

Since the presentation I've been looking at a book called Objective-C for Absolute Beginners: iPhone and Mac Programming Made Easy. It looked like a really good book and has fantastic reviews on Amazon. I'm not sure it deserves quite the amount of praise that it has received but I'll work my way through it. And the K&R. But both will have be low priority as the new Studio project is starting and so will an essay and practical for Math & Art.