Building the Studio. Part 1.

So yes. I am building a studio.

But first, here is a pic of Rocket. He is an awesome dog.

Now back to the post.

For the last 4 years I have been filming in a small 11×12 room, and really had to work to maximize the space. I have Otto, which takes up the middle of the room, quite a few shelves, and even room for a 2nd shooting station. However, I am limited in the size and shape that I can film.  There is a new project I have been contracted to film, and while I am not going to discuss any of the details of the project, it does require capability to shoot larger scale.

My tiny 11×12 foot studio. Way too small! I need more space!

 

So here I am scrambling my butt off trying to get all much ducks lined up to be shooting on time. 🙂

The Property

My house is located at the end of a cul-de-sac, and I have a rather large side yard. Large enough to accommodate a 20x30ft structure. I spoke with several contractors and found one I liked, and we are in the process of the build.  This size of building requires a monolithic foundation, and in preparation of that I have my work cut out for me, luckily I have friends who don’t mind lending me a hand with things.

Aerial drone shot of my property. Huge weird shaped yard. This was taken last October.

I had to get rid of a large boxelder tree, an old yet very large doghouse, lots of scraps and junk. I had quite a bit of railroad ties that used to frame out the tree and sandbox, and lots of rebar to dig out.  I don’t have a lot of photos of the “before” as it was always a bit of an eye sore but these photos looks especially bad. Fact is, I just don’t have enough time to deal with it.  Its pretty much just me, my son is just now getting old enough to help out.  I am a single dad with a full time job and not enough time. My property is about 1/3 acre, and the side has always looked like shit.  Obviously I don’t live in an HOA 😉

I have always sort of hated having such a large yard, but now I am really glad this area is here. Once the shed is in I plan to put down weed fabric all around the back and fence line and dump mulch on it, making this area a maintenance free area so when working on the yard I can focus on a much smaller area.

Here is my gross side yard before much of the work started. It looks especially bad in this image because of some shrubs I cut down. It never looked awesome, but this is particularly ugly.

After a lot of blood sweat and tears this weekend this is how it looks now.

Tree cut down, just finished grinding down the stump. Hard work but it will be well worth it.

It actually looks better than the photo, I spend some time cleaning up a lot of the junk back there too. Tree, doghouse, railroad ties, junk, all gone 🙂

New Robots. 

Yes! I am making new robots. Three of them actually.  This is a design I had been wanting to do for quite some time but I just don’t have the room in my basement studio to house them. I have them modeled out in 3D, and I am fairly confidant they will provide excellent performance.  I am not quite ready to share any images just yet. They are unlike anything on the market and designed for filming plants, nothing else. They will be somewhat portable, where as Otto was built into the room.

Otto was sort of modeled off a scaffold crane. I wanted something that would be able to drop the camera in anywhere within a shooting envelope and have full 360 degree motion capability. As I have used Otto over the last couple of years I have been kicking around a design that would provide about 90% the ability that Otto provides, but also allows a much more flexible shooting envelope.  Otto just cant handle tall plants. Much anything over 2 feet becomes very problematic.

The new robots will have the ability to put the camera about a foot from the ground to 7 feet in the air. They will be able to slide the camera left and right about 2.5 feet, and move forwards and backwards 15 feet on the long track. They will also have Pan/Tilt/Focus and probably 3D stereoscopic shooting, and even have a spare channel to control a rotary table or animate a prop if desired.

I know, that sort of weird right? Well they are being purpose built for plants. I have found that left and right is just not nearly as important as up and down.

They are not cranes.  I had started to build a crane and it posed a LOT of design challenges, and in the end my design will be much easier to build and be able to accomplish all the same work.

As for Otto, it will remain in my basement studio until 2019. Once Otto moves it will be in for some re-design work as well. The elevator/gantry system was build as a compromise in order to fit it in the room. I will have much higher ceilings in the studio, meaning I can go with another approach for the vertical axis.  I also plan to lengthen the travel on the X axis from 5 feet to 9 feet. 🙂

That’s about it for now. Ill keep the updates going for the progress as things develop.

Shooting in 3D

I believe to be on top of my game, I constantly need to be pushing boundaries and seeing how far I can take things.

When I first started developing Otto, I had become aware that Dragonframe supported stereoscopic 3D shooting with a single camera. All you need is a small horizontal slider underneath the camera that could be used to move it left or right. I picked up a Z-axis mini rail from ebay and mounted that beneath the camera and picked up a 3D ready monitor. Neither of which were used for 3D for about 18 months.

Seen here between the Canon 6D and the Roll axis is a tiny mini slider used to move the camera to each eye perspective for stereoscopic 3D

Otto came with a pretty wicked learning curve, and it demands quality parts. Cheap cables, cheap power supplies, caused me nothing but headaches for about the first 6 months. During this time I had so many variables I was attempting to control that adding 3D into the mix just sounded like a pain in the ass.

After replacing USB splitters, swapping basic USB extensions with active extensions, tossing the cheap camera power supplies with the OEM expensive versions everything finally started to come together. I spent the last year actually using Otto, learning Dragonframe, and developing my process flow to successfully work around whatever issues I may run into while making motion adjustments, etc, I finally got comfortable enough to start playing around.

I already had a 3d Monitor, an Acer GN246HL and a GTX GeForce 1080 Ti graphics card. No problem right?

Wrong.

 

First issue. I did not have the proper cable. The Acer monitor sported a DVI output, and HDMI, but the 3D needed to go over DVI. The expensive 1080ti card only has 3 displayport connections and one HDMI, but 3D wont work over the HDMI.

Whaaa? Really? No displayport? WTF?
Whaaa? No DVI? FFS!

 

So I drove to best buy and they had a DVI to Displayport adapter for like 30 bucks. Screw that. I hit up Walmart and found one for 10 bucks.

Got it setup. And did it work?…. No. Started looking into it, turns out I needed the $120 Nvidia 3D Vision 2 kit, and nobody had it in stock. I ordered it and it arrived while I was at NAB.

Yeah ok, this is not NAB, this was freemont street, but I love this woman. hahaha

When I got home from Vegas, I eagerly opened it up and charged the glasses, excited as I had let Otto film the Terracotta set in 3D while I was away.  I got the 3D Vision kit setup, and did it work? No.

After spending some time, it turns out that the adapter wouldnt work. I needed to either use a DVI-Dual Link cable, or, a Displayport, but I could not use the adapter, and couldnt get more than a 60hz refresh rate from the monitor.  Well that causes a problem. There is no DisplayPort on the monitor, and no DVI on the 1080 Ti card.

Only way around this was either replace the monitor, or downgrade to a lower end graphics card(yeah right).

New Monitor for 3D!

Turns out that 3D Gaming is virtually dead. As are 3D TV’s. It just gives people headaches. Most of the 3D compatible monitors are no longer being manufactured. There are plenty of 1ms response monitors, but those seem to have some level of compatibility issues with some hoops to jump through.

I managed to find one of those old monitors (new) on Amazon with Displayport 3d support, ordered it up and finally. FINALLY. I have it.

So, got that part working.

Next, how the hell do you render footage for 3d?

Turns out WMA 1080p is the only codec I found that seems to work with it. And that took about another 2 hours to figure out.

BUT… I Did get it working. I had loaded up the left, and right eye files in the 3d player, loaded it up, and it was AMAZING.  I was shooting pretty macro so I kept the distance between the two images offset by just 2cm. The footage is a simple right to left linear move across the set with the focus making a few moves from the further plants to the closer ones as they drifted by then back.

Something was up with the 3D slider though, and it stopped sliding for a few seconds of footage causing it to go from 3D to 2D and back, which turns out to be a pretty jarring effect on the brain. Gives a headache fast.  I think the issue is a set screw on the coupling from the stepper to the lead-screw on the 3D slider. It is sort of mashed and seems to not want to tighten very well. I will have to get some time to address that.

I tried again with an orchid, but this was not much of a timelapse, and it was finished within 8 hours. Aside from a couple frames where once again the 3d slider did not move, it is way better, but I think i should have knocked the offset down to 1cm, cause the camera gets REAL close to the flower in a couple parts and you can feel your eyes damn near crossing.

To be honest, this is a lot of work for very low chance there will be any payout. I think I may actually be the first person to film motion controlled botanical time lapse in 3D. If i am not the first It puts me as a part of a very small club.

So why do it?

IMAX.

Thats really about it. I figure if I have the capability to do so I should be learning to do it. The production companies who I want to work with do lots of documentary work and such. Maybe some day one of them will want to do a 3D IMAX presentation.

Now that I have the ability to work in 3D, it does not really cost me any extra to do so. Its more of a novelty than anything else. If anyone has the hardware and wants to see the footage hit me up I can dropbox it.

 

NAB & “Its all going so well”

Hey folks.

Feeling pretty good about things.

Well… not quite at the moment. I have a terrible stress headache from the first day back at work since I went to NAB.

Things are looking good for me right now. I will finally make it out of the 11×12 foot room in the basement, and into 600 square foot studio. Not huge, but at 450% more room, it is going to be amazing. Plus it will be mine, on my property, no rental, no fees, mine mine mine.

I may not be posting as much for the rest of the year due to a project I am working on. But I’ll try to keep a camera on my own projects during this time.

I spoke with quite a few people at NAB. Honestly it never occurred for me to go to attend. I can thank Michael Sutton from Kessler for pushing me over that edge. Over the last 5 years I have managed to become online aquaintences with many people who are true professionals in the field. I do not consider myslf a professional in this industry, I am very much a professional in telecommunications, but when it comes to film making, cinematography, timelapse, etc, I have no professional background, no formal education, no internships. I am just some dude who is good at figuring stuff out and doesn’t know when to quit. The people I spent time with /and talked to all seem to feel I already am in this industry. MI remain unconvinced for now.

NAB 2016 and 2017 both had over 100,000 attendees. I would expect the same from 2018. I was probably the only person there that specializes in botanical timelapse. A lot of that is thanks to my day job. Telecom has been very good to me. It provides me a comfortable life, pays my bills, provides insurance for my son, and has given me plenty of room for growth and development. It also afforded me the luxury of a small basement studio that I did not have to keep booked to pay my bills.  I have had years to learn how to do this, without making a sacrifice on my paycheck. However, my telecom life does not provide the creative outlet that I need.

The Chronos Project LLC is a company I own and the entire Biolapse thing is not a hobby(as much as I love it). I do work to sell footage and pick up work. I have already shot for a documentary and sold some footage here and there. It has always been a goal to be able to do this full time, and I was figuring if i really keep at it and keep pushing the boundaries, that maybe in the next 5-6 years I might be able to make that move.  But suddenly that timescale has changed, and it seems like it may be a very likely possibility in the next year. I don’t plan to rush in and resign from my current position anytime soon. But its pretty cool seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

So about NAB.
It was awesome!

I got to NAB on Monday and stopped by the convention center while my hotel room was being prepared. That place is huge!

I spent about an hour there before getting setup in the hotel, then made my way back for a while.  The place was jam packed with all sorts of cool equipment from hundreds/thousands of vendors. Everything from tiny mini cameras to broadcast vans. Robots to chroma-key systems. Everything you could imagine. I was really like a kid in a candy store.

I met Brian from eMotimo on the first day. Funny, I thought he would be taller(hahaha). Brian was doing a demo of the spectrum at the American Grip booth where they had some Spectrums setup on some Dana Dollys. It was great to get a chance to finally meet. I had talked to Brian plenty of times over the years, stretching back to The Chronos Project days when Kyle and I were still making Chronos Rails and Lens Apparatus’s.  About a month back he sent me a Spectrum demo unit to play with, they have been hard at work on integrating with Dragonframe which is a particular interest of mine.

I also had an opportunity to meed Dustin Farrell,  I have been a big fan of his work for some time now. we have spoken a few times on social media, but it was nice to put a face to the name.  He was hanging out with Pete Cole who was a pretty cool dude I have started following, and another fellow who I hate to say I cant remember his name. I have always been really shitty at names, but luckily nobody reads this blog so my secret is safe. It is always nice to meet professionals in the industry, especially that they are willing to give me some of their time.

Not long after the show was shutting down for the evening, and I headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up from the travel and headed out to the strip to check things out and find some dinner.  This is actually the first time being in Vegas. Well, as an adult that is. I am not much of a gambler but couldn’t miss the chance to check it all out.  The opulence is just mind blowing. The hotel I was at (I was being cheap) was near Circus Circus, maybe a half mile up from where things start to get interesting.

My hotel was pretty much right where this guy was pointing.
The view with my dinner. Watching these guys paddle people around in the water. lol. Great food, Black Tap in the Venetian

 

Day 2.

Up and on the way back to NAB by 9am. I stopped by Dennys…. wtf is with Dennys and Vegas? We have them out in colorado but holy crap, they have a Denny’s on virtually every corner.

After a solid breakfast I made it to NAB and got to check out BOLT.

They actually had quite a few of these beasts at NAB. They make Otto look like it is right out of the stone age. This one was setup with a button you could press and it would film you and move the camera around, same sort of setup as at the Emmys. Did I?… yes. But there will never be any evidence.

From there I struck out to check out all the vendors. Lots and lots and lots of vendors. 

They had some really sweet chroma-key setups going. Zero Density had an impressive setup that was a mic of chroma-key and augmented reality.

There were quite a few setups that were setup like full television sets, complete with actors and setup with camera systems you could use to film them. I have no idea how long it takes them to set these up, but the displays are fantastic.

I managed to connect with Adrien Oneiga and get lunch which was a real treat. He does some really amazing work. Its really cool to meet an artist that is so passionate about his work. Especially that he was willing to hang out and give me some of his time and some industry advice.  I don’t really consider myself in this industry yet, I feel like somewhat of an outsider, and it is very humbling to get a chance to talk to professionals that have spend decades dedicated to film making.
I don’t want to share his work without permission, but do yourself a favor and go check out his website. His work is phenomenal and I am hoping that someday we may be able to work on a project together. He has an excellent sense of vision and really manages to nail down the execution and bring it to life, which is not an easy task.
http://oneiga.com/

Lets rewind to 1997. I was in the USAF and living in Japan and working on telecommunications. We had a DMS-100 switch from Nortel, and I was working in the switch room with SSgt Mark Jacobs.  That was a great time, I learned a lot from him. When I got to Vegas I put up a message on Facebook about it, and Mark hit me up, turns out he lived in Las Vegas.

After the show ended we met up and he took me up to fremont street. Holy shit. That was a lot of fun. It was a great time catching up and people watching over some beers.  There were tons of people out there,  street performers, and several stages with live bands, and it was only tuesday. I could imagine what that place is like on a weekend.

This chick was awesome. She was hot, great singer, and did all sorts of cool things with hoola hoops. I could have watched her all night long.
Freemont!

Day 3

Next day I made some more rounds and found this.

Its the Laowa 24mm f/14. Since the first time seeing this lens years ago online I have been in love with the idea of this lens.  I had assumed it would never make it to production but they had it at the show, and looks like they will start taking orders in june for about 1,500usd. It has a waterproof slip on covering for the end with a USB powered ring light right at the tip.  This is now on top of my list of toys to buy.

 

 

The 3rd day my goal was to get out and meet as many people as I could.  First on that list was Michael Sutton from Kessler. I have spoke with him on many occasions online and it was a real treat to get to know him. It was actually his suggestion that prompted me to go to NAB in the first place.  I found him outside the Small HD booth during their monitor giveaway hanging out with Lenny Mordarski. It was a real pleasure to Meet Lenny as well. We stood outside during the raffle in the sun and baked at least 3 shades of sunburn together.

I also had a chance to meet David Katz and spend some time with him. He has a very extensive background in shooting documentaries and was more than happy to give me some advice over lunch.  He does some beautiful work, his work has allowed him to travel the world and is deeply entrenched within an area of photography I have always wanted to engage in.  David was a blast to hang out with and I hope to see him again. While having lunch with I also had the opportunity to meet Jeremy Caldwell and pick his brain a bit. Real nice guy! I hope our paths cross again sometime.

When it comes to this industry I have always felt like an outsider looking in. It was an awesome experience getting to meet so many people that have spent their lives in photography and film, and that they were willing to give me some of their time. Wish any luck one day I will be doing this work full time.

Mostly Vendors after that. I managed to meet quite a few more people, and by the time 5 pm came around I was beat.  Got back to the hotel to rest for a few then took an uber down to the strip for some taco’s and a few drinks. Managed to see the fountains at Bellagio and the rest of the stuff.

Ill add some more photos and stuff, but I think its about time to wrap this up. I am back at the real world now and have a lot of work ahead of me.

Probe Lenses! Similar to the Laowa, but with interchangeable tips. This style of lens is incredibly intriguing, I would live to take the macro capabilities to the bug-eye level for some really crazy biolapse work.
Lots of Chinese companies with some pretty sweet rigs. This one was sort of sketchy in its movements. Not sure, is this copied from something else? The hardware looks great but the control was sort of jerky
Bolt at the Nikon Booth. They had this one setup to do sort of a dance-off demo with Bolt Jr. It was sort of cheezy, but these rigs are seriously badass.
And the smaller Bolt. These things make Otto look like junk!

 

Time to move on

I’m done with carnivorous plants for a while. I have spent a LOT of time on them, and they really are an awesome subject, but it is time for a break. I have quite a few pitcher plants that I still want to film, but I really want them to get a bit bigger and that may take another year.

I have an idea in mind for the next project, I have already started some test footage, but I am going to keep it under wraps for now.
In the meantime, I have compiled my best footage of Venus fly traps, Pitcher plants, and most recently I just put out a new video of Drosera (Sundews) in the terracotta set. I hope you enjoy!

 

 

Brushing up on my social media game.

I am NOT an expert on social media and marketing, I don’t claim to have any real knowledge of what I am doing, and I welcome any comments, suggestions, etc.

Just wanted to throw that out there.

So I have been trying to work on my online presence, social media, etc, in order to try to get my work out there and seen by as many people as possible. I have made the decision that it is time to stop pissing around and to start putting in real efforts to see if I can make a career change. I don’t discuss my day job online, at least, I have not for quite some time.  I have about 20 years in telecommunications, which is a very corporate environment. It has treated me very well, I have met lots of wonderful people and my career has had solid progression. The fact is though I have realized I don’t want to do that forever. I want to start working on a career transformation. And until recently, I did not think that was possible.

One of the reasons I had backed off of The Chronos Project is that I could not see that ever developing to the point where it could replace my primary income. However, it was replacing all my free time.

I started doing biolapse because it was an excellent blend of my interests, I still got to play with motion rigs, build and invent new tools, code on arduino, play with plants, and it made a nice little side business selling footage and filming for projects.  I am not beholden to shipping deadlines, or troubleshooting over the phone, and it is something I can work on at my own pace.

I don’t like to brag much, but I am going to toss modesty out for a few minutes.

Over the last 5 years of filming plants (started in 2013) I have learned a lot. I have developed my techniques where I can film plants for months without stressing them out, and have learned how to work with the plants, rather than hoping they perform. I can track, follow, adjust, and adapt to the environment throughout the shoot which has never been done before. I am putting out some pretty high quality content, and most importantly, I love doing this. I want to see if there is a possibility to do this commercially full time.

My limited knowledge of marketing makes this tough. One avenue I am trying to pursue is through social media. For the last 7 to 8 years I held all my videos on Vimeo. I always felt Vimeo had a little more credibility than YouTube, but the fact is YouTube has far more reach. So I spent some time getting my yourtube channel in better shape, but so far my best reach has always been with facebook.

The Facebook analytics  are fairly interesting. I recently posted two 2k videos of carnivorous plants. I shared each of them across about 10 groups and they have both taken off. At least so it seems. Let’s look at a couple screen grabs

I am pretty fascinated by this, and a little bit disappointed as well. This is the first time really looking through this data. As I write this, there are about 12.5k reach ,  3000 views, and 305 reactions.

So 3000 views, but what good is that if the views average 6 seconds?

per the data above, the average person does not even make it through the Biolapse intro.  Looking deeper, I see there have only been 171 clicks on the video, meaning the other 2829 were auto loads, and a large amount of them never got to the time lapse.

This kind of tells me that the reach is meaningless.  Even the number of views is not very telling.

One thing is clear, the Drosera Collection 1 video I am currently working on will not be using the same Biolapse intro clip I have used in the past. I will be trimming that down to 2 seconds, less, or eliminating it altogether and relying on the back end of the video. It will be interesting to see if I have been shooting myself in the foot by having that Biolapse intro clip.

I will revisit this topic later and see what happens if i remove the intro and just dive right in. Attention spans seem short. Lol

 

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