Planet Earth II

Planet Earth II

I know a lot of people on the other side of the world have already seen all of these, but here in the US we are making our way through this series for the first time.  This series is spectacular. I watch it and see shot after shot wondering how the hell did they manage to film that?????

I am just amazed when I see their botanical work.  Timelapse itself is something that takes quite a bit of time, research, trail, and effort to learn.  Botanical timelapse is an entirely different beast than landscape work. You go from being at the mercy of the environment, to being required to fully control the environment.  I have been filming plants for about 3 years now.  During this time I have had a lot of failures, a lot of wasted footage. Quite a few successes, but the stuff that they have on Planet Earth just blows my work out of the water. No comparison.

To be fair, I am completely out of my element when it comes to botanical timelapse, which may sound strange coming from somebody who spends so much time trying to do it.

I am not a photographer. I picked up my first SLR about 7 years ago. I have never taken a class, never had a photography business, never studied under anybody, never had an apprenticeship.  I have done maybe a dozen shoots for friends and such, but never been hired for a shoot. I am just a self taught amateur at best.

I don’t know shit about plants.  I really don’t. I am excellent at killing houseplants. I am somewhat decent at keeping carnivorous plants alive, but that is about it. I am no good at looking at a plant and understanding what its problem is.  I have been learning, but I dont really have any access to botanists to know much about them. Is this something I cut? should that be at an angle? is this too much light? too little light? is this soil ok? how often should I give plants food? Most of those questions are a mystery to me.

I have always had an artistic streak in me, but I wouldn’t consider myself an artist at all. More like a xerox machine.  I have spent time painting, airbrushing, carving, sculpting, sketching, etc. Enough that I can build some rudimentary sets but they all look pretty fake to me. 🙂

I have a very strong technical background, but I am not an engineer. If you want somebody to discuss the finer points of VoIP with SIP protocol, I’m your guy. If you want an understanding on how telecommunications work from user to carrier to user, I know how it all works. 8xx, CNAM, CID, SS7, 5ess, DMS, EWSD, CAS, ground start, loopstart, q931, all of it.  However the mechanical engineering stuff, building robots, programming micro-controllers, etc. That is all pretty far outside my wheelhouse professionally, and there is really no carryover from that technical world to robotics. It may as well be comparing a  catfish to a doorknob.

I suspect that is not the case with the people working for the BBC gathering that sort of footage. I would imagine they have real photographers, set designers, mechanical engineers, motion control experts, time lapse experts, and the sort working together as a team. I could be wrong, if they have a one person Op doing that work I would love to be able to talk them up.

 

I suppose the one thing I really have going for me is I am too dumb to know when I am out of my league. When I find something of interest I tend to achieve a laser focus and manage to push through until I accomplish what I am looking to accomplish. On the same token, that can also be a hindrance, as sometimes I don’t know when it is time to pull in additional resources. Maybe I need some help with this project.

I have several Biolapse projects I am working on. The thing is they are very slow going because I am trying to build living sets now, and it can take quite a bit of time for those sets to establish (if they don’t just outright die).  I feel like I am lacking a clear direction though. Building the robots, setting up the studio, all those had clear end goals.

I suppose this is sounding like I am being pretty down on myself, that is not the case though. I have only been filming plants for 3 years, and I have had to undertake every challenge on my own, and i have accomplished quite a bit.  It may not be the quality you see on the BBC.

Yet….

 

 

Data organization

NERD WARNING. This is not a post with cool robotics, or botanical timelapse, or cats doing funny stuff. This is all about data.

One of the least discussed but real challenges with time-lapse photography is data management.

The fact is I am not very good at managing this stuff and I lose footage all the time(well, I don’t lose it, but I don’t know where it is). I need to get a grip on this, and this is how I am planning to do it.

My storage is as follows.

C drive = 500GB SSD (OS, apps, etc)
Z drive = 500GB SSD (primarily used as a scratch pad, temp place while working with files)
M drive = 7.8TB, Raid 0 configuration (my sandbox)
X drive = 3tb Raid 1.

Aside from having STEAM loaded on my PC so my son can play Gary’s Mod, this machine is only used for media work.  So there of course is the Adobe suite, LRTimelapse, and a few other programs for modeling in 3d and designing circuit boards, but all together with the OS that takes up roughly 200gb on the C:\

The Z:\ was added because I wanted a place to stack a lot of material on a drive other than the C. I primarily use this as a temp location to house footage while working on a project.  This is all short-term storage.

Those files eventually make it on the M drive which is my sandbox. I wanted a drive with a lot of elbow room where running out of space would not be a problem (ran into that issue with The Big Pacific). This is used for Mid to long term storage. As I finish a project (which with botanical time-lapse can take months to a year) I then move to an external drive for archiving.

And last, the X drive which consists of two 3tb drives that are mirrored. This is used to house personal stuff, photos, etc, and quite a bit of time-lapse.

That all sounds good right?  Except its not. Its a goddamn mess right now and I could spend weeks trying to get it all organized. I realized how bad it has become when I was trying to find source files for a clip that is being licensed, and it took me the better part of an hour to get it worked out.

The fact is I need a workflow, and I am trying to get one figured out before I start to re-organize all my files.

It could be worse

But I need to get a handle on it before it does.  Things are starting to hit a bit of a routine with Biolapse. I generally find myself shooting for a week, then pull the data, change subjects, angles, etc, then restart for another week.  I spent quite a bit of time shooting some very slow growing plants for The Big Pacific which has not been released yet which took 8-10 weeks. Other plants like daffodils can be shot in a day. But average about a week per shoot.

I generally have 5 cameras running when shooting, and average 480-600 frames per shoot per camera.

Canon 6D (Raw + Jpeg)
Two Sony A7 cameras, (Raw + Jpeg)
Fuji XT1 (Jpeg)
Fuji Xe-1 (Jpeg)

That is about 1800 Raw images, 3000 Jpegs per week.  Then I load all the full res images in Adobe and output full resolution master files in Quicktime format, all of which are over 4k resolution with the Sony’s close to 6k resolution.  Those master files average about 3 gigabytes per second of footage. I will also down-sample those to 1080p to make them player friendly.

When I say it could be worse, many time-lapse photographers will pull in that much footage in a single day of shooting.

I have absolutely no idea how many TB’s of footage I have. I have got stuff on all my drives floating around. I also have a couple smaller 1tb drives and a 2tb external drive floating around.

I am open to suggestions

I have been thinking of the best way to establish a workflow with the existing equipment I have.  And this is what I have come up with.
To be clear, I am sort of a control freak. I will never be OK with relying on another program to organize my stuff. I like to know where it is and how it is structured. I also do not like Lightroom. In fact, I think i would rather smell a strangers fart than use Lightroom. It feels very restricted and too controlling for me. So I only use it if I absolutely have to.  I am not interested in arguing why I SHOULD use lightroom, or any other program to track this stuff for me. I prefer a manual process.

Lets start with RAW images, the Jpegs will follow the same process but skip the RAW.  For this example lets assume I have all 5 cameras shooting.

Note: I have somewhat been doing it this way as a result of trial and error. the goal is to be able to outline a complete process for handling the data and to stick to it.  So this is what I have come up with.

  1. Shoot finishes. Load all the Jpegs/RAW to the M drive into a folder. The M Drive being striped reads pretty fast, and it has worked out great as a place to hold the source material while rendering.
    M:\Biolapse\SourceMaterial\Current\
    Each cameras output will be in its own folder, my naming conventions are as follows
    \Subject\end date\moco or static\Camera\
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 Otto Canon 6D\
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 5 Axis A7\
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 Static XE1\
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 Static XT1\
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 Static A7\
  2. Get rid of the Garbage. Sometimes I may have a need to run a test shot during the sequence which results in images illuminated by the grow lights. I find them and throw them out. Sometimes I will get a frame that is noticeably darker than the rest, this is a bug in the Biolapse Control Module and will happen after midnight. I never debugged it because it is not a big issue and only happens once in a while. I will throw those out.  I will also usually throw out the first 5-10 images as they are normally test images from when I was setting up.  I then open the folder with the thumbnails on the largest size and open the first image and hold the left arrow which provides a low resolution preview of the timelapse. I look for anything that needs to be adjusted, if the frame moves due to a camera bump, or any pink or dark frames.  They all go in the trash.
  3. For the cameras shooting RAW, I will then create a /JPEG/ subfolder in each of those folders listed above. I load all the RAW images in Adobe Camera Raw and will select all, and edit all RAW images at the same time, color/exposure adjustments only. No cropping. Then I will save them as Jpegs into the Jpeg folders.
  4. Next comes Adobe Premiere Pro. Launch Premiere Pro with a new project with the appropriate name. Subject and Date, similar to the folder names.
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017
    The project will be saved in
    M:\Biolapse\SourceMaterial\Current\
    I will create Bins for each camera and load all the Jpegs into their respective bins. The Bins will all carry the same name as the source folders listed in Step 1.
  5. Create new Native resolution Sequences. I will organize the files by name, select all, and drag into a new 30fps sequence of their native resolution. So the Sonys are 6000×4000, Canon is 5,472 × 3,648, and Fuji is 4896 x 3264.
  6. Scrub for adjustments. I will slowly scrub through each master file, generally looking for the points identified in step 2 where something was shifted. I have actually had very good success adjusting the cameras height if a plant is growing taller than expected and moving out of frame and re-aligning it up in post.
  7. Render the Master Files. Once I am satisfied that the master file is good, I will go ahead and export them, keeping the same name as the folders.  I keep the same maximum resolution in some custom Quicktime formats. All of these are exported into Z:\AUDIT which is a temp holding folder for new videos for review. However I have not found a player that will play them, these are the master soruce files used for any cropping, burns moves, or whatever else.
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 Otto Canon 6D MASTER.mov
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 5 Axis A7 MASTER.mov
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 Static XE1 MASTER.mov
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 Static XT1 MASTER.mov
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 Static A7 MASTER.mov
  8. Render the 1080p files. Next bring the master full res files into premiere Pro and put them in new 1080P 30fps sequences. Those are then rendered in H.264 30fps 1080p high bitrate.
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 Otto Canon 6D 1080P.mp4
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 5 Axis A7 1080P.mp4
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 Static XE1 1080P.mp4
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 Static XT1 1080P.mp4
    \Nepenthes 2 17 2017 Static A7 1080P.mp4
  9. Rescrub for any issues. This is a good time to view each of the 1080P files and see if there are any issues, dark frames, flicker (which I never find), pink frames, or shots in the beginning or end that should be clipped. I will then go through and redo Steps 6 through 9 for those timelapses until they are all perfect.
  10. Instagram and social media. This is a good spot to go ahead and re-render in a format suitable for instagram or any other social media sites. If there are any I feel like showcasing. I have a sequence preset I will use for this, when that is done I put them in a dropbox that is tied to my PC then pick them up on my android and export to instagram.
  11. Move 1080P files from the AUDIT folder to M:\Biolapse\SourceMaterial\Current\
    Move the MASTER files to
    M:\Biolapse\SourceMaterial\Current\MASTER
  12. Add to Inventory List. Using a format I developed for a shot inventory for The Big Pacific I will create an inventory spreadsheet to track the shots, duration, a ranking 1-5 in quality, description, and other information.
    M:\Biolapse\SourceMaterial\Inventory.xls
    This inventory will have multiple pages, each page represents a an external drive.  Once this folder gets about 1.75 terabytes these will all be offloaded to a hard drive and archived.
    Copies of the 1080P will be added in new subfolders
    M:\Biolapse\SourceMaterial\Drive1
    M:\Biolapse\SourceMaterial\Drive2
    M:\Biolapse\SourceMaterial\Drive3

Now everything should be nice and tidy.  Using a hot-swappable drive port I can pull the drive and store it. Each drive will contain a copy of the shot inventory, the source material, master files, etc, and all of this can be removed from the computer. Except of course the 1080p review files and the shot inventory.

I think this SHOULD help me keep track of footage. Anytime I need something I just look at the inventory list and it will tell me which drive it is archived on, and If i need anything higher res than the 1080p file stored in the Drive folders I can pull the corresponding drive and plug it in and retrieve the master file and source material if needed.

I would like to hear feedback.

Not sure how everyone else does it. As I mentioned earlier with Biolapse I gather footage at much a slower rate than many other time-lapse photographers and might have 6-7tb of footage tops, but it is really starting to become an issue. I have a lot of misplaced work. I know it is on my computer somewhere, I just have to spend the time to find it. But it does not make sense to go through that effort until I have a good workflow and archiving method.

 

Biolapse Virtual Studio Visit.

Hey everyone.

Normally while shooting I find myself with long periods where I cant do much but let the automation do its thing.  I thought it would be fun to grab footage for a virtual studio visit. This quickly became a LOT of footage, and I decided to break it down into a couple episodes.  This is Part 1, where I go over my Command Center.  I explain the setup, the various pieces of equipment I use, and spend some time going over the Dragonframe software.

Its pretty long at 19 minutes. If you are just looking for eye candy this would not be your video, but if you want to get a real view into what it is I have been putting together and how i control it, this is a good video. Next video will highlight the main stage and Otto’s hardware, and that will probably be followed by a shoot, start to finish.

Maybe building again?

Hi folks.

Wow its been over a month since my last post. I guess i just got caught up on things. A lot has happened. I turned 40, which was unexpected.  Been putting a lot of hours in at my day job, and filming some plants as well. I seem to have managed to get most of the bugs worked out on the System. I had two shoots where the Canon 6D shut off. Luckily it did not cause any real issues, but I’m not sure the best way to fix that issue just yet. It is not a timeout on the camera, something is happening. I had a cheap old Chinese ac power source which I had replaced with a genuine Canon power supply but the issue still happens. Everything is plugged into an UPS, shouldn’t see any power issues. I may have to build out some sort of a monitoring system.

Other than that, I’ve had several successful shoots but nothing that I can really show at this point.  I am thinking of picking up some flowers on my way home as the studio has been dark for a week now. I also have a live carnivorous plant set that is about ready for filming.

….another development..  we may actually have a new focusing system coming out. We are toying with a design that is intended to get rid of the elephant in the room that we all look past when discussing focusing systems for time-lapse photography, and that is lens tug.  I am fairly convinced this is why you almost never see focus pulls in timelapse. I have yet to find a camera lens mount that does not have some sort of play in it. That play translates out to a tug on the lens when shifting back and forth with lens motors. The design we are playing around with is extremely simple, lightweight, and would be a universal fit for (virtually) any lens, and actually mounts to the lens, not a 15mm rod, thereby eliminating lens tug.

I dont know how much effort I want to put into making/selling these things.  Between Chronos HD, Chronos Lite, and the Lens Apparatus we sold hundreds of systems through The Chronos Project. I love prototyping, I love inventing, but I’m not a fan of production and assembly, it eventually just turned into another job and became pretty tiring.  If we do bring them to market, they will not be sold with any control mechanism, so they would need to be used with control systems like emotimo or dynamic perception.  So Keep an eye on our social media on IG, Fb, and this website.  I dont think we will have an actual ordering system, but we will probably be happy to take email orders and paypal.

Thinking of building. A photographer has asked me the cost to build him something like Otto. Well, I have about 20k in equipment on this system, and hundreds of hours of labor. I don’t know a number i would feel good about putting out there, it would be a lot. Perhaps 60k, which is a LOT of money.  That has the gears in the head going about doing something new, something different.  You look at what the big names are doing… and it is all sort of the same stuff.  Here is the linear slide. Here is the Pan/Tilt or Here are a couple pieces that can be configured as a pan/tilt. Some of it is somewhat modular, but in a way of “these parts are designed to work in several orientations” but nothing that offers true freedom to design and build.  lets be honest, it always looks like the same thing right? The final result everyone looks towards is a linear slide, with pan/tilt and possible focus.  After playing around with Otto I have learned just how incredibly restrictive that template is.  With Otto I can literally float my camera in any direction, any orientation. While Otto is useless for remote locations and is not portable, when using it for the purposes in which it was designed it feels limitless in its capabilities.

I think I can capture that same freedom in something that is scale-able and affordable… and it probably wont look much like anything on the market.
As for the plants,  I hope to have some footage to display soon. I am also thinking about doing a series of dragonframe tutorials.

I have quite a bit of footage I have put together to do a virtual studio tour, but have not had the time to edit it together.

Well, back to the grind! Ill try to get some more footage up soon 🙂

 

Squashing Bugs!

Hello everyone!

First off.  Happy Holidays! I hope everyone had a good one. Pretty good on my side. I spoiled the crap out of my kid. Legos. 3DS. Go Kart. Clothes, more toys.  The real winner this Christmas in my view was me. My parents went through painstaking details to put together 7 photo albums that include history of my family over 400 years. Some of the photos are over 100 years old!

Mom, Dad, I love you!

I had 6 days off for the holidays. A large amount of that time was spent debugging Otto. This of course means a lot of stepping up a stepstool, dropping something, stepping down, picking up, stepping up, dropping, stepping down, stepping up. Repeat 100x. I have learned quite a bit about patience.

I think I have been working on Otto for close to 4 months now. It has been a major endeavour. A lot of money. A lot of time. But things are finally starting to pay off. I had run a timelapse of a venus fly trap which really did not turn out well for many reasons. One of them was the movement. “Close enough” is not good enough. This rig i have built has the potential to do it perfectly every time. I just need the patience to work through the issues. For those who do not know me personally, I am a fixer. If something is broken, I fix it. I spent over 20 years in telecommunications fixing things. Everything from voice stuff, to IP stuff. DMS, 5ess, Sonus, Cisco, Juniper, Broadsoft, Adtrans, washer, dryer, electrical, automotive, toys, You name it. (well except relationships, I have never quite figured out women)

Troubleshooting is something I have become pretty good at. I had an instructor, Mr. Khuns, he taught me about a Short, and a Known Open while in technical training in the USAF. Everything in troubleshooting boils down to the Short, and the Known Open. That applies for anything you will ever troubleshoot.

So that was my week. Fixing Otto.

The Venus Fly Trap timelapse was a failure in terms of content, but a huge success in helping me understand what Otto’s shortcomings are.  I made some huge steps this past week, and i have just a little bit more to do before Otto will be in top shape.

Bear in mind, I am asking a LOT of this system.  all of the test videos are stop motion. none of them are real time. This means that 12 second clip took at least 30 minutes to gather the footage. The Elevator and Pan/Tilt system weight about 40lbs and extend about 4 feet. Coaxing moves that are less than 0.15mm… well.. lets just say im pretty please with myself.

Here is a video that shows some of the test footage with some voiceover that explains/shows what I was running into and what I did to resolve it. Warning, if you are not into the BTS of the technical side, this may be a bit dry.

The good news is I finally feel confidant that it is time to stop tweaking Otto and to start building sets for filming.

I have been working on an outline for a virtual studio visit. I think it may be a fun project, I hope to start shooting that next week. Subscribe! Also check me out on facebook and instagram on the side bars.

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