Artist or Engineer?

I love the challenges of shooting time lapse photography. I love building motion control rigs, building sets, working with all the equipment, and I love getting and reviewing the footage, but to be honest, I really do not enjoy editing together showcases or reels.  I am sitting on top of a bunch of footage of flowers, and I have put together a short 2 minute film, but it feels awfully generic to me.  I have learned enough about Adobe to cut together videos, add sound effects, transitions, smooth footage, etc, but I am only scratching the surface of what it is capable of doing. I find myself getting frustrated because I just don’t have the know-how when it comes to editing to get the “look” that I am going after, and to be honest most of the time I do not even know what that “Look” is.

Ever since I was a kid I was always drawing stuff. All through my schooling years and beyond.  I always focused on details, trying to make things look real. I was never good enough to create those photo-real pictures, but good enough to get a reputation as an artist while in school. Over the years I have sketched, painted, airbrushed, carved, and sculpted.  There is something about the action of doing these things that always drew me.  For me, the act of creation is more important than the creation itself.  I remember looking at the work from other kids in art class, while mine looked more accurate, I always felt theirs was far more artistic. There was something about my final output that I always felt was lacking, even if from a technical standpoint it might have been considered better.

The fact is I am more of an Engineer than an Artist. There can certainly be an artistic nature about engineering. Building Otto was one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done.  I have hundreds of hours into the design and creation of it. I took several weeks off of work and would spend 10-14 hours a day cutting, building, tapping, routing, re-working, etc. I find it very easy to lose myself in that sort of work, my mind just drifts and wanders and I sort of hit a zone. It feels a lot like coding to me.

I enjoy every last bit of the timelapse process, until I start working to put together a short film. I find this entire part to be frustrating and time consuming.  I am not exactly sure how I want it to look, or how to get it there. I am terrible at presentation. I would like to learn more about Adobe, but there is the issue of finding time to learn how to use it properly. I admit, there is a bit of a lack of desire as well.  So now I have to figure out what to do with this footage.  I never had any vision with any of this footage. Most of it was experimental. Trying different ways of creating sets, making notes, seeing what works and what does not. I spend some time working through some Otto/Dragonframe issues while gathering this footage. Flowers are great for shooting while debugging and experimenting because they are minimal on the time commitments. Most flowers bloom within a few days. But with a lack of actual vision in the beginning, what I find is that my footage is a bit of a mess. There is nothing cohesive about it, which makes cutting together a final short film even more difficult. But some of it is pretty good and I would like for it to be seen. I suppose I will just release it and put it out there. Not sure what else to do with it, but I am not excited about it.

I have quite a few strengths when it comes to this sort of work. I’m good at overcoming technical challenges. I’m able to design and create my own tools and systems.  I can follow my vision when it comes to creating the systems, but I find it very difficult to follow my vision when it comes to content. Maybe I need to team up with an artist who sees merit in the Biolapse project and can help with the direction.

I am currently filming some new plants,. Gone are the set pieces, no more mix of live and fake plants for the background. No more flowers. This project is going to focus more on growth and motion. 10-14 days per clip will be about the average capture rather than 3-5.   I still find myself struggling with the idea of storyboards and such. We will see how it goes. Looking at what I have already captured in the last 5 days, I am pretty excited about what I am filming.

On a side note. Big Pacific Episode 3 airs July 5th. I spent nearly a year filming carnivorous plants for this episode. Some of the most difficult carnivorous plants to find, and cultivate.  I have seen several previews of this episode, and it looks almost like it is all under water. Maybe my footage got tossed on the editing room floor. There were some reference shots they were supposed to provide when they were on-location, however My understanding is they never found what they were looking for.  I had reached out to them multiple times after I submitted the footage asking if they had a chance to review it and wanted me to shoot any additional footage but they never replied.  I hope it made it on the documentary.  Either way, it paid very well and that is what funded my build of Otto.

Progress, Frustrations, DF4, eMotimo, stuff.

I am getting bored by flowers.

And I am feeling pretty uninspired at the moment. I have been shooting flowers exclusively for months, and I have some pretty good footage racked up but nothing to do with it. I need to get myself more focused on specific projects. I had been running into issues with Dragonframe and Otto a while back and started filming flowers because they are pretty easy to do. Flowers generally can be shot from bud to full bloom in under a week, and even if it does not go buttery smooth I usually get fairly good footage. I did have an issue with Dragonframe freezing a little while ago. To compound the problem I had the BCM trigger Dragonframe, which triggered the rest of the cameras via splitter.  So when Dragonframe ran into an issue, all the cameras stopped, even the static cameras.

I had rewired the system so the BCM connected to the splitter, and then to Dragonframe (DF4). That way if DF4 froze the other cameras would continue to shoot. After spending some time troubleshooting and working with the guys at Dragonframe, I just removed/re-installed the software completely and the issue cleared up.

Once that was fixed I started running into problems with the eMotimo.

If everything was setup and nothing was shooting the connection would be nice and solid. Once I started shooting, about a day into the shoot I would lose connection between the eMotimo and DF.  Then things started to get a little bit weird. I found I would have to reset the eMotimo, then reconnect to it. Then the next time DF tried to shoot it would announce the motors are not at the starting point. I am not sure why this happens. I suspect when the eMotimo reboots it establishes the current position as the zero mark, so DF assumes it is out of position. If you allow it to reposition it ends up in the wrong spot and you have to reprogram the move.  I found the best practice is to pull the 12v power from the eMotimo, the system is still powered over USB, but at least the motors don’t move as it tries to reposition itself, then you can plug the 12v and resume. Until it loses connection in a day.

I replaced the USB connection between the TB3 and DF4 with an active usb extension, and a day later it lost connection again. I checked all the USB ports on the PC and found the power management was set to off, which I read can cause issues. However, a day later it lost connection again.

Luckily this time the only footage that was wrecked was the stuff being captured by the emotimo. Otto and the 3 static cams continued to capture. I finally powered off the eMotimo rendering it as another static cam until I was done shooting.

I get frustrated with using the eMotimo TB3. Not that the eMotimo is doing anything wrong, it is a very well made device with an excellent software package. I think my expectations are the problem.  I can’t use the eMotimo to be the brain for the motion. It has very limited keyframe engine with only 3 on pan, 3 on tilt, and 2 max on the Aux. That is fine for many purposes, but when doing macro work that DOF (Depth of Field, area that is in focus) is so small that even if I only use 2-3 keyframes on the pan, tilt, or linear movement I still end up with 8-10 keyframes on the focus just to make sure it does not drift between other keyframes.  2 keyframes does not cut it, therefore I have to integrate it with the Dragonframe software on the PC to be able to setup a routine.  Pan, Tilt, and Linear are all run off the drivers in the TB3, while the focus is controlled by a spare driver on the MPS that houses the drivers which Otto runs off of.

The end result works fantastic, if I can keep that damn connection up.

I had started to design a new PCB to replace the one within the eMotimo. This would give me 6 more motor drivers to play with, and it would remove the eMotimo’s software and just interface directly with the Dragonframe Arduino script.

Doug Urquhart ended up being a huge help, he had run into a similar issue in the past. Brian from eMotimo had sent him a modified version of the DFmoco sketch which worked with the pinouts in the eMotimo and could be loaded on, this basically bypassed all the eMotimo software and turned it into a dedicated Dragonframe controller Doug had pretty good results and he was kind enough to send that to me.  I plan to test it this week.

Just a disclaimer, I really do like the eMotimo, and I would recommend it without hesitation for anything other than what I happen to be doing with it. 😉

So enough of the techie geeky stuff, back to the filming.

I am bored of shooting flowers. I did not design Otto to get basic flower shots, I wanted to get some very unique motion captures. I have most of the issues pretty much worked through and I think I am ready to start some more advanced things. Flowers make excellent test subjects because if something goes wrong it is not a huge deal. Ruining a 3 day timelapse on a flower is one thing, ruining 4 weeks on nepenthes sprouting pitchers and having something fail 3 weeks in and missing the end is something else entirely.

I have decided I am ready to start moving back to carnivorous plants. Hopefully the issues with the eMotimo are resolved, I feel pretty good about DF4 and Otto at this point. I need a project other than flowers, and I have something in mind and hope to start shooting this weekend.

Other stuff.

I got some Black 2.0

It is the flattest blackest mattest paint that can be bought. I got some here.