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 expect to be under contract shortly for a huge project. How big?.. well … Big enough to fund my studio build. 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 have my work cut out for me though. I have to build 3 moco robots that will accommodate the request from the production company.  These robots are build upon my years of experience filming plants and playing with robotics. I have them all designed out in 3D, parts priced out, materials selected, I’m just waiting on the check to get to work. They will each have 7 degrees of motion with a spare motor for a turntable or to move/pull props etc.  The design is solid, not overly complex, and they are not quite like anything out there. I have to build 2 within the next 2 months and number 3 will be due a month later.

This project will likely keep me busy throughout 2018, but the good news is that Otto is only going to be helping on a part of that project, and should be free again for my use pretty quickly, as it is just not a good fit for a majority of what I will be shooting.

And then after that…..  well…  its something big.  that is one of those career defining moments that has the ability to put my life on an entire new trajectory.

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

 

PyroPet shoot

Hey folks

After that 43 day time lapse, I really wanted to do something that was a bit quicker.  That timelapse was 43 days but what I dont count is the 10 days of filming that got scrapped, so it was nearly 2 months of nonstop filming which is a pretty long time to occupy my studio.

I wanted to expand out a bit and take a short break from plants and go with something where I could crank out some footage in a relatively short time.  I picked up a few candles from the craft store and stuck them to a skull I have and filmed it. The footage did not really turn out awesome, and I may release it some day, but it was fun to experiment with.  I started looking online for some unusual candles and ran across the PyroPets. They are animal shaped candles with metal skeletons in them that are revealed as they burn.  I picked a couple up, and spent the time to film a BTS video, which ended up being pretty long, but it gives a good glimpse into what goes on in the Biolapse studio.

The first Pyropet was a reindeer, and I almost missed all the cool action.  I was not sure what to expect, I had heard they were 20 hour candles, and I was not sure exactly how to plan it.  The prior candles I had shot seemed to do their best at 30 second intervals.

If the candle lasted 20 hours, well that is 72,000 seconds. So at 30 second intervals that would be 2,400 frames. Which is very excessive, and I have no desire to process that much. I started out with 30 second intervals and ended up bumping that to about a minute. 5 hours later the wick burned past the head and a rift allowed the wax to flow out and within 45 minutes the whole body dumped off. I really did not expect that! I had assumed the head would be the fastest part, and the body would take forever.

The Pyropet Kitty went much better as i used what I learned from the Deer.

And of course the epic long BTS video.

 

 

 

43 Days

Hey peeps.

I hope this does not become a word salad. I have so many things to write about that are all inter-related, but it is such a “thought-mess” that I don’t even know where to begin, so I am just going to start tugging at strings.

This has been a bit of a marathon shoot. This is about the longest I have filmed a single subject by about 2 weeks. I am done shooting this particular plant, and really looking forward to moving onto something that grows a bit faster.

I am going to start with the eye  candy, then move into the BTS videos and wrap up with discussion about equipement.

The Nepenthes. 43 day timelapse

When most people think of carnivorous plants the Venus Fly Trap comes to mind. However Nepenthes are the true kings of the carnivorous plant world and produce the greatest variety of species.  They can grow to enormous sizes and are incredibly varied in color, shape, and size.  This one is a “Nepenthes x ‘Louise”, and it has been in my care for a number of years. It actually made its first film debut as a juvenile back in 2015 on my Carnivora Gardinium short film at the 50 second mark. It has grown quite a bit in the past 3 years and is developing pitchers that are about 6 to 7 inches in height.

Nepenthes are pretty slow growers, but when you look at what they do its sort of makes sense. They start by producing a leaf with a little nub of a tip, the leaf stretches way and eventually lowers down. Once that tip makes landfall, it starts to grow and develop into a pitcher shape. The lid will eventually open up and secretes a sticky fluid that attracts the prey. Bugs and small mammals will crawl up the pitcher to get to the nectar and fall into the trap which is filled with a digestive fluid and down. The plant will absorb nutrients as the prey is broken down. The fluid itself is pretty much safe, and does not digest quite the way a human stomach does, at best it seems to encourage the prey to break down a little bit faster.

I have been using this plant as a test for learning how to control Otto for interactive filming. The first 14 days (it would have been 57 days total) were trashed due to the camera shutting off while filming and I did not catch it for about a day, and at that phase the growth is pretty quick and the resulting skip was too noticeable. Here is the original beginning of the footage.

I scrapped that shoot, and changed the opening to start out looking at a fully developed pitcher then down to the growing nub. The intervals started at 10 seconds and increased as the camera moved closer to the tip where I extended them to 1 min, 5 min, 10 min, 30 min, then out to an hour.  Generally i fins with these plants the intervals between frames works best when set between 45 -90 minutes. Starting at one hour, and I can adjust the intervals throughout the shoot to help match the growth of the plant.

With this sort of work the depth of field (area that is in focus) is so shallow that keeping it in focus requires daily checks to verify it is in focus and growing as expected. When it does not, I shut the system down, lock in the current position, move ahead about 20 frames and verify the focus is still going to be in the right spot, and maybe another 30-40 frames out for another check, then I will move it back to its current position and resume. The results are pretty seamless, as I had to make 8-10 adjustments to the program in this clip to accomplish the shoot.

There was one part around 34 seconds where for some reason dragonframe stopped responding to the signal from the BSC, and I lost about 8 hours of capture. This is seen as a small jump in growth on the plant, and I have a plan to prevent that from happening again, more on that later.

Butterwort Flowering, 14 day capture

Two days after I started on the nepenthes I saw that one of my Butterworts was flowering. it was a Sunday night at 10pm. This plant was a new one that I have had for less than 2 months and I did not want to lose the chance to film it.  I scrambled to put together a set, it was very hasty and not one of my best, but for all I know this plant only blooms once a year so I had to film it!

The set was super basic, using a foam set piece I made years ago, a few fake plants, and a poster for the background. Due to the rush and lack of time to get proper motion setup, I opted to go with a static camera and a Ken Burns approach to motion by panning and tilting via moving the 1080p frame within the 6K 24 megapixel frame capture.

Flowering plants grow much faster than regular plant growth, and I was already filming the Nepenthes at 45 minute intervals which is WAY too long between images for a flowering plant. Luckily I had anticipated this with the new Biolapse Studio Controller (BSC) which has 8 camera trigger ports and the ability to skip frames. So with Otto on port 1, and Finn on port 2, I set the interval to 15 minutes and set Port 1 to only trigger the camera every 3 intervals. This allowed me to capture 2 plants at different intervals at the same time. Worked like a champ! The end result was not perfect, but I am pretty happy with the result.  This one filmed for 2 weeks.

Cephalotus

After I felt I had finished enough of the Butterwort I moved on again to a Cephalotus, Australian Pitcher Plant. I love this plant, the pitchers are so crazy looking with big ribbed mouths and short fat hairy bodies.  I have had this one for about 10 months or so and for the first 6-7 months It was the size of a quarter and hardly grew. Then one sat it just started taking off, It just took a while for me to figure out the right conditions.

I skipped the backdrop and went with a minimalist approach with this one, and put it on a rotary table for basic movement. This one was filmed for 33 days at intervals between 2 and 3 hours. I used the same trick with the BSC, but this time set Port 1 (otto) to trigger every interval and port 2(finn) to trigger every 3rd or 4th.
I nearly got a full pitcher growth and opening, but before the pitcher opened it was drifting out of focus.

I am looking forward to getting back to this one again in the future, but hopefully in a proper set.

BTS Videos

I always try to film the process of filming. I have always wanted to use some go-pro cameras for this stuff, but honestly hacking the bluetooth wifi triggers that gopro uses just beyond my ability. So in the past I had been using my old Fuji XE-1 and XM-1 (rest in piece)

I recently found some cheap knockoff gopro cameras on amazon that run about 40 bucks, and the best part is they have a remote trigger that runs off radio and it has a button! Super easy to hack, i just open the remote and solder a couple wires on the button and connect them to a 3.5mm headphone jack. I can plug that jack directly into the studio controller, and every time it takes an image it will short out the connection under the button on the remote, and all the Gopro knockoffs take an image.

The image quality is nothing to scream about, the video has flicker as there are no manual settings, but the output is good enough that if something strange happens during the shoot I have footage of it happening to hopefully debug the problem and fix it. The cool BTS videos are just an extra bonus.

The video above was filmed by my XE1, and the output is a lot better. The exposure is pretty even, but there is some flickering/pulsing of the light levels off the LED panel in the back. I don’t think I am having light output consistency problems though, i think the flicker is extra glare coming from the atomized water coming from my humidifier. This would be harder to confirm with the action cams, but the Fuji XE-1 generally gets good output. Also there does not seem to be any flickering on the subject itself, and the humidifier is located a little bit behind the LED panel and aimed towards the set. The movement seen is from me bumping into the Fuji’s tripod i believe, as none of that movement was seen from Otto. You can see as i add new set elements as Otto continues to move around near the end.

 

This one is from above over the rear backdrop on ActionCam1, note the quality is pretty crappy, but the footage would still be useful for learning what went wrong if encountering a problem.

 

Actioncam 2 had rear sourced lighting, as before you can see as i expand the set. I prefer not to do this, but the pitcher developed growing the wrong direction and some effort was needed to continue the camera on the desired path.  It worked out pretty well!

 

The BSC (Biolapse Studio Controller)

The new BSC  has worked out wonderfully! I packed a lot of capability into it, and so far it has performed flawlessly. This recent nepenthes ended up being a total of about 1,200 images, and not a single pink frame caused by a grow light failing to shut off.

As mentioned earlier, the BSC has 8 camera triggers, which provided the flexibility to shoot multiple plants at independent intervals, and also allowed me to adjust any interval/parameter on the fly.  There are some limitations to this. I built the system knowing it would be triggering multiple cameras and gave each trigger the ability to skip. So whatever the set interval is, it can trigger other systems on multiples of that number. So if it is set for 15 minutes, I can trigger other systems at 30, 45, or 60 minutes.

Taddlebox (getting nerdy here)

This is something I am excited to get started on. I picked up a YUN shield for arduino. Along with temboo this promises to give me the ability to sent emails from the Arduino.

Why is this important?

There has been a few times where Dragonframe does not seem to see the shutter signal from the studio controller. It is sort of an all-or-none scenario where the only way to fix is to reset dragonframe. this has not happened more than a handful of times. It would do the same with the older retired studio controller as well. This may happen once every few months,  but it does happen.

Another scenario is if the camera shuts off. I do run AC power for the cameras using OEM battery adapters.  3rd party brands always seem to cause problems, while the OEM ones are fairly stable, however they are not 100% reliable either. My Canon 6D has shut off quite a few times over the last year and a half, and this is an easy way to kill perfectly good footage.

The taddlebox, as I envision it will have 8 camera trigger inputs, 8 camera trigger outputs, and 8 hot shoe monitors.  When it receives a shutter signal from the studio controller it will trigger the camera, and it will also monitor the camera’s hot shoe to make sure the camera did in fact take a picture. If the camera fails to take an image, it will send me an email alerting me that my attention is needed.  Often when this does happen I will be home, but I don’t sit in my studio all day watching this stuff. So if it fails to trigger the camera it will let me know.  Generally speaking if i lose 2-3 frames its not a big deal. So depending on what I am filming, i have anywhere from half an hour to several hours to get home to my studio and check to make sure the cameras are all working and figure out which one is not working, and hopefully resolve it before it becomes noticeable on the footage.

hope you enjoyed, thats all for now

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