Hole in my bucket… part 2

After concluding that the footage from the HV20 just wasn’t going to be good enough, I decided to have a look at the footage my DSLR could produce. The poor mans HD (720p) spewed out by my D90 is awful so I was never considering using that, but I did take a look at the stills capability and that looked fantastic and provided a clean key. If I could rig something that would capture the camera move I was looking for using a combination of time-lapse and stop motion then that could be a great solution. The miniatures aren’t going to move so I would only need to animate the position of the camera.

First things first, I need to sort out the camera. I started out by testing the camera hooked up to Nikons Camera Control Pro 2. First thing I noticed is that a zoom lens just wouldn’t work because the lens components shuffle every time a shot is taken so I tried out a 35mm DX prime. The shuffle problem was solved but I started to get a flickering effect even with constant lighting. Thinking this might be due to the AC supply I then tried out long exposures of up to one second but this still resulted in an annoying and very obvious flicker. Investigation on the web revealed that DSLR cameras utilise automatic shutters in which the iris stops down with each shot, then opens back up again to allow for a clean preview through the viewfinder. This closing and opening of the aperture inevitably results in tiny inconsistencies that lead to variations in the exposure and cause the flicker. I tried partially unscrewing the lens to disconnect the contacts and override the stopping down but the lens would lose its aperture setting completely.

The next step, source an older Nikon lens on which I can set the aperture manually and test again…

There’s a hole in my bucket…part 1

I am currently working on a reasonably ambitious personal project that will involve shooting some miniatures for incorporation into 3D backgrounds. I am trying to work with what I have which at present consists of:

– Canon HV20
– Greenscreen cove
– Syntheyes
– After Effects

I started out by looking at my existing video camera coupled with a modified skateboard deck for a dolly. Immediately, I could see that this is going to shake like hell and not give any useable footage. In still situations, I can also see that no matter how well I light the greenscreen, the quality of the HDV footage coming out of the HV20 just isn’t good enough.

Time for a rethink…

3D Forests

As an artist, every now and then you need to pull your socks up and catch up not only with the competition, but also the tools you use each day. I had one of these mini-epiphanies late last year after winning a comission to prepare a set of images for a new development set in forested hills on the island of Grenada. Usually, when forests and planting are required I would prepare the buildings and terrain using 3D but then add the trees and planting in Photoshop using photomontage and digital paint…lots of it. On this project I wanted to achieve something new and so opted to gamble on an all CG landscape approach.

Despite having tried various CG solutions to landscaping in the past, I found that either render times became prohibitive or the solution I was hoping for just wouldn’t work for me as advertised – Vue XStream comes to mind. As far back as 2003, I bought the Onyx Tree/Storm plugins for Max – I’d been amazed by a Tree Storm animation of some palms blowing  in the wind rendered using Electric Image at Londons DMW in 1997 and could never quite let go of that imagery – but the hardware and rendering limitations of that time meant that, as sophisticated as its trees looked, they just weren’t viable for a project with a deadline and the software remained uninstalled and pretty much overlooked.

River View Detail

What’s changed? A few things. Apart from the availability of more powerful hardware and software, I would cite  Peter Guthrie’s work using Onyx Tree as a motivational spur. Around the same time, I had belatedly discovered the performance benefits of using Vray Proxy meshes. Finally, I was pointed in the direction of a fantastic Max plug-in from Itoo Software called Forest Pack Pro.

Forest Pack Pro allowed me to populate irregular terrain with Vray Proxy models of tree and plant meshes (or rocks in the case of the river bed) with relative ease and because it references these meshes rather duplicates them, it keeps memory usage incredibly low and render times fast and manageable. The whole scene (shown in the aerial shot above) amounted to just 1,650,843 polys.

Aerial View Detail

I could have painted all of those trees digitally in photoshop, but given the number and variety of images required on this project I don’t feel I could have done it as well or as efficiently. Besides, I quite enjoyed playing and scattering trees about the landscape without having to worry to much about Max keeling over.

Stereoscopic Tests

As the middle of 2010 began shaping up to be as quiet as the two previous summers I looked at ways to expand on the services I already offered my clients. One client in particular asked me to come up with some proposals for an animation for a mirror maze and this in turn set me off exploring the theory and processes behind stereoscopic 3D. After wrestling with convergence and inter-ocular distances I came up with two main pieces; the first was a new sequence within a mirror maze, the second a re-working of an old architectural walk through.

None of the jobs I pitched for came off but I did at least get to learn something new and hopefully useful for the future. The anaglyph version of the walk-through re-render is here:

Stereoscopic 3D Animation Test – Co-op Bank Walk-through from jm@lightwell.co.uk on Vimeo.

Best played in HD mode and red/blue anaglyph glasses are required to see the 3D.