Project Otto Session 2

The new equipment has started to arrive 🙂

And it has become clear that this will be a lot of work on my end, as there are no good off the shelf systems capable of what I am doing.  Dammit. 😉

Canon 6D arrived. Honestly I’m not too excited about it.  I have used so many cameras at this point, that a pretty generic DSLR has a hard time exciting me. The build quality is solid, no articulating screen which is incredibly handy for this type of work.  The image quality will no doubt be fantastic as all Canons have wonderful IQ. However, it just feels and looks boring. Luckily I got an open box special from Adorama. I almost shit myself when it arrived and I opened the box and it was nearly empty! Turns out it was part of a bundled package with a f/4 kit lens and the camera body was sold as a refurb. Snapped a shot and used a program to determine the shutter count. 1. Nice! Brand new never used 6D for 1200!

Latop arrived. I picked up an ASUS Aspire laptop which came surprisingly devoid of bloatware. I think it had solitaire on it, but that is about it. As expected with an inexpensive laptop the track pad sucks, the screen is not phenomenal, but it does have a decent i5 processor, 8 gig ram, and 256 SSD with the ability to upgrade in a second hard drive and extra ram with very little effort.  Im not going to bother with the ram, but I did just order a 500gb HDD for $35 bucks. With the OS and dragonframe it only has about 200gb left over. That just seems a little bit cramped to me.  I am fairly happy with the laptop, it will make an excellent brain for the Otto.


Dragonframe DMC-16 arrive and I am super excited about that. It allows 200khz pulsing, which is 10 times faster than the arduino based DF setup will allow. It is a solid built piece of hardware. The only complaint is the USB connection on the front. I imagine this will always be tied to the computer, I wish that was in the back but no big deal. It allows for 16 channels of motion control, but I’m starting out with just 10 for now. I dont know if I will need the extra 6 or not. But i like the fact I can scale things up a bit more if needed. Right now I am aiming for X,Y,Z,P,T,R,F which leaves 3 extra steppers I can control.

I spent some time playing around with Dragonframe on the new laptop. I am still waiting on parts before I can finish power supply and driver setup(more on that later). So for now the best I can do is play with DF and the eMotimo which integrated up pretty nicely.  What i had not realized, is that Dragonframe can interface up to quite a few systems at once! Not only can it connect to the DMC-16, it can connect to the eMotimo at the same time. In fact, it can connect to quite a few devices simultaneously.

This means not only will i have the ability to control 7 axis on Otto, but also 3 spare motors for turntables and such. And on top of that, I can wire the emotimo’s aux port onto a chronos rail and be able to control all 3 axis there as well. Not shabby at all! an unexpected suprise!

Dragonframe also gives some pretty sweet capability for lighting control. I suspect that the BCM (my Biolapse Control Module) will still control the day/night sequences for the grow lights, and possibly the LED fill lights, but the DMX controlled lights will all be via Dragonframe.  Not sure what DMX stands for, in fact, until a month ago I just thought he was a rapper.  I picked up 4 cheap DMX LED lights and I can assign each of them a set of channels to control the color and brightness. I can setup the routine in dragonframe to adjust color and brightness as the scene progresses. So not only motion control, but full lighting control with multiple lights. I am super excited to play around with that! 🙂 I do have concerns about their performance on very dim levels, but I will address that another time.

Dragonframe Testing

So I spent some time testing out Dragonframe today since I am stuck at the house. Honestly I have to say I really enjoy it. There is a bit of a learning curve, but in the end it is a CNC controller with some awesome lighting and camera controlling capabilities.

I rigged it up with the eMotimo, and managed to tie in a Lens apparatus in the eMotimo’s AUX port. It really works like a champ! I am fairly impressed. There was a bit of fussing on the Lens apparatus to get it on there nice and secure. One of the problems is I am using a Nikon lens on a Canon body. That can create a bit of play on the lens in the mounts and adapter.  The 15mm rigs work pretty good for mating the lens apparatus to the camera, but I want to eliminate any play in the lens that may be caused by the back and forth motion of the lens apparatus.  A while back Kyle printed out a few lens collars for me so I can mount the 15mm rod system directly to the lens, and not under the camera body. This does a pretty good job of getting rid of any “lens tug” that one may encounter.


So the lens collar kyle printed was great, but the entire purpose was to get rid of any lens play. However, the lens collar itself has a point where it flexes. So to get rid of that flex I use used some wire to tie everything together. Works, but looks sort of stupid. I am going to see if he can send me the design for the collars and if he will print a new one out if i make some modifications.  But this works in a pinch.


Side view. You can see the Grey band around the lens, that is the 3d printed lens collar, which has a 1/4-20 thread beneath it.  I have a low profile 15mm rod system attached to it, so the camera is mounted to the eMotimo, the lens system is completely on the lens. Wight is not bad either. its just plastic and aluminum. 

Once that was setup I put out a couple targets to test focus with. Dragon frames. A Star wars metal droid sculpture, a lego guy, and a metal venus fly trap.

The keyframing system is fairly straight forward. A Keyframe is basically a target. In this case I setup about half a dozen keyframes. To accomplish this you basically use the arrows next to PAN TILT and FOCUS to adjust the placement and angle of the camera and adjust the focus where you want it. You don’t need to put keyframes on all 3 axis every time or else the end result is the camera moving, stopping, moving stopping. its best to use only use a keyframe on an axis that is stopping or shifting direction.


I started by moving the camera to the droids head, then down just left of the lego dude, then on the lego dude, next on the base of the metal plant, then on the plants mouth, then the tounge, shifting the focus each time.

Dragonframe makes focus checking SUPER easy with the focus check function. You can do a “focus check” which zooms in on a small point and you can make very fine tuned adjustments. Seen below I’m zoomed in on the face of the robot.

focus check

To get a better idea, the face of the robot above is a zoomed in view of the image seen below. That sort of functionality makes focus a breeze!

moco page

The robot is the starting point. You can see the waving lines below, each one represents a different axis. The little dots are the points on the timeline where the keyframe is placed.

Once I was happy with how things looked I ran the routine. Right off the bat I ran into some issues. You can see on this crappy footage below

This is NOT video, this is a collection of still images. The system moves, takes a picture, moves, takes a picture. SO on so forth. I collect these into Adobe Premiere Pro and render them into a video sequence.

What IS good about it, is it NAILED the focus targets!!! The 15mm rig mounted direct on the lens with the wire supporting it worked very well. I don’t want to get into the mechanics of backlash (which Dragonframe does have the ability to compensate for, but your results may vary depending on the system. Focus is hard to compensate for) but I am EXTREMELY happy with how well this worked all things considering this was my very first attempt.  THis actually put the first 360 clicks on the new Canon 6D.

What is NOT good, is it is jumpy as hell.  I double checked the number of frames to make sure none of them were dropped. I was pretty perplexed, and the best I could determine is there was too much movement and not enough frames. This could be done easily with a video camera because it shoots while moving and you get a bit of motion blur that bridges the frames giving it a smooth output.

I upped the number of frames to 700, and dragged the keyframes to drag things out a bit thinking this might smooth things out a bit.

It certainly slowed it down but I still see the motion jumping around. I rendered it with about a dozen different formats trying to see what the problem was.

I even tried applying a subspace warp (good god I love the name of that) which made a drastic improvement, but I dont like Bandaids i want an actual fix.

Subspace warp can be a life saver, but the problem is it shifts the frame around a bit so you need to have some croppable areas or you get black artifacts where it moves the edge of the frame in view. You can see this on the bottom of the frame just as it moves down from the metal droid.

Finally I managed to pull my head out of my ass and saw the following in premiere pro.

Rookie mistake.



I literally spend like 2 hours trying to figure out why it was so jumpy.
So in this case, the sequence was built at 25 frames per second, but I am trying to turn it into a 29 frame per sequence output. This means it has to figure out where to get the 4 extra frames, and where to fit them in. This causes that jumping phenomenon.

I adjusted the sequence to 29fps, deleted the frames and re-loaded them back in, then rendered in 29fps again.

FAR BETTER!!!! Some of the motion is still too fast for 29fps. I am wondering if a program like twixter may help? Or just be more aware of how I set things up to prevent those really fast moves.

WHY is the focus so damn important?

Most of the shit I shoot is pretty small. Which means there is a lot of macro photography going on here. When you do that sort of work. the DOF (Depth of Field) gets very slim. For those non-photographers, the DOF is the area that is in focus. When working with small objects and focusing very close to the lens, the Depth of field can get very tiny, there may only be about a centimeter to work with, everything in front and behind that sweet spot is out of focus.  Some of the work i have done in the past the area in focus is no more than a millimeter deep. So the videos you have seen where the focus is nailed may not seem a big deal. But below is a sample where i shot it with NO focus adjustment. And you will see why focus control is so critical.

It looks like shit doesn’t it?

Focus control can be an extremely fickle mistress. Most timelapse photographers find it too difficult to deal with and don’t bother. When shooting tortured trees in front of star fields, or breathtaking vistas of a mountain or something you don’t need to worry about it. For my line of work, focus is critical to learn how to work with.

There are some methods you can use depending on the camera where focus ramping may be plausible within the camera. But your results may very and sometimes it can be hard to predict the outcome. A couple years ago Kyle and I funded a kickstarter for the Lens Apparatus. Aside from one produced by a friend James at StepoutMoco all the other options are stupid expensive. $1000+ just for a damn motor.

Ours works pretty darn well but we are no longer making them.  The demand just dropped as nobody else does this sort of work. So if you want one, get with James. I wish he had a better online presence. I had to dig for about 10 minutes to find his product. His newest version looks fantastic he is really getting awesome at his designs. I honestly think it looks better than our Lens Apparatus did, and it uses a stepper motor that makes it perfect for Dragonframe.

It was funny. Last night I was wanting to integrate focus with this rig and couldn’t find a Lens apparatus. I don’t even have enough parts to build one. Finally found one today when i was cleaning out an old drawer. Its an older version, but it works. 🙂


A quick shout-out to the guys at eMotimo! This device never stops impressing me. Kyle and I tried to build a good Pan/Tilt system, and it is NOT easy. Brian Burling knocked it out of the park with his system.

It works very well with dragonframe. The only reason I do not plan to integrate it with Otto is it is important to me to have a camera moco rig where the camera sensor is dead center of the pan and tilt axis, and I really want a “roll” axis as well.

I would be interested in their new Spectrum, but I am sinking a lot of money into some high quality stepper drivers and want to control everything through the DMC-16. This means i would be spending a couple grand basically to gut all the electronics out and hack it into my rig. That seems silly to me. I dont know how i could integrate a Roll axis either, so I plan to stick with a PT-2100 from Servocity if they ever get them back in stock.

All said though, the TB3 is just a bad-ass piece of gear.














One thought on “Project Otto Session 2”

  1. Dang man. Stuff is getting real serious at the project chronos HQ. You’re going to be making the best bio lapse that’s ever been made before long. Keep at it. You’re doing really amazing stuff man.

Leave a Reply