All posts by Biolapse

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

Damn you Windows Update!!!!

Hey everyone

Despite my last post, which had nothing to do with windows but involved a SSD failure and some Bios issues with the ASRock motherboard, all of these issues are resolved. I actually really like win 10. It is by far my favorite version of windows to date. It is intuitive, snappy and so far has proven to be very solid.

I dont want to get into the MAC vs PC debate. I find it is a bad comparison, as windows often gets the blame for shitty 3rd rate electronics crammed into $300 laptops. If you buy garbage components, expect garbage results. Buy solid parts, expect solid results. Everything else is just ergonomics, no different than Canon vs Nikon.

Apple makes excellent equipment, no doubt. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool. However that name carries a cost which I am unwilling to pay, as right now I have 3 laptops running dragonframe (virtual desktops is not a good alternative for this work), a workstation, and my own personal laptop.  Thats 5 computers(not including my work laptop). I’m not spending 18-20k to replace them, especially when I am getting excellent hassle free performance.

I have had my work station for about 3 years now. It has seen a couple large upgrades and has worked flawlessly the entire time. The only time it has crashed is when I was being a bit heavy on the overclock. I am running 4.2ghz right now and it is as solid as an anvil.

But not everything is peachy in the Windows world…..

Automatic reboots can be a death sentence for my work. My time lapse captures do not run for hours, or days, but for weeks. Right now I am about 3.5 weeks into a shoot and have at least another 2 weeks to go. When you have this much time and money tied up into a system, anything that goes wrong can be catastrophic and completely destroy weeks of effort, and I have learned this the hard way.

I figured I would take some time to discuss how I handle this, the tricks I have learned to mitigate the chance of this happening.

You can’t really completely shut off the updates, and trust me you do NOT want to do this unless you are staying off the internet. But what you CAN do is mitigate any possible impact of it restarting.

I have managed to get to the point where the updates are not a big deal, and I have them built into my workflow. It’s not difficult, it just requires some awareness.

  1. NEVER UPDATE AGAIN!
    Easy. Disconnect from the internet, never have an issue again.

Yeah right. My sort of work is 20% filming, and 80% catastrophe management. I check on my system remotely every morning, throughout the day, and before I go to bed at night. I have to have the internet access. Shutting wifi off could mask a minor problem and turn it into a real issue.

Take charge of your updates.
Windows gives quite a few options on this.

I use Windows 10 pro, and this is how I keep it setup.

WINDOWS UPDATE SETTINGS

First off, lets go over the windows update settings.  Use the bottom left search bar and enter Windows Update

You have the following. Generally I ignore the Active Hours as I shoot 24x7x365. There is no acceptable time except the time I chose

If this works for you, you can make sure it will never reset during the time you work with your computer. So you do have THAT.. yay..

Next you have the Restart Options. I highly recommend you turn ON the notifications. If you get a notification that there is an update, you can designate a time to reboot, or reboot Immediately. you can NOT put it off indefinitely. If you tell it to do it 6 weeks out it won’t change anything. Generally you get about 4-5 days max that you can delay the reboot. Maybe a week tops.  The last page is far more helpful if you have Windows 10 Pro like me. You can use the PAUSE UPDATES and it will not update for 35 days. Perfect for people like me.  Another option is the “Metered Connection”. What this does is tells the computer you are on a metered connection, meaning you pay for your data  usage.  Make sure you do NOT have this checked. Then if you set your wifi as a metered connection, it should suspend them.

SERVICES SETTINGS

In the services, you can also always just shut the windows update processes off. Some people complain it does not work, but in my experience it does work. I have a laptop engaged in a shoot right now that has not tried to update for 3 weeks. It is critical from time to time to turn it back up and get the updates. If you don’t, expect to have security vulnerabilities and eventually performance issues, and if that happens you cant blame windows. It needs to be updated.

In the search bar bottom left, type in Services. Open it up, and scroll to the bottom. You will see

To shut this off, double click and hit the STOP button and then change STARTUP Type to DISABLED.

So far this has worked for me. I think others have found this not to work because they forget to turn start-up type to disabled, and when they reboot the services turn the updates back on.

This should stop the updates. So far as long as I am careful to do this I have not had a forced update. I am getting good enough with my workflow that an update is not that huge of a deal, as long as I can reboot the computer and monitor the progress then get the system back up and running. Dragonframe does an excellent job of remembering exactly what it was doing before the reboot and usually picks up right where it left off. However, if rebooting at 2am, if nobody restarts dragonframe, well, then you are shit out of luck and lose a bunch of footage.

BLACKHOLE THE UPDATE SERVERS

Another option for those who are technically savvy, add the following DNS entries to your router and have it blackhole them to 0.0.0.0. This way if the computer tries an update, that update request gets sent to oblivion and the updates stop.

This is a bad idea. But here ya go. Add these entries and it will stop all updates (while you are on your own network, if you take your laptop to a coffee shop, it will update)

http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com
http://*.windowsupdate.microsoft.com
https://*.windowsupdate.microsoft.com
http://*.update.microsoft.com
https://*.update.microsoft.com
http://*.windowsupdate.com
http://download.windowsupdate.com
http://download.microsoft.com
http://*.download.windowsupdate.com
http://wustat.windows.com
http://ntservicepack.microsoft.com
http://stats.microsoft.comhttps://stats.microsoft.com

There ya go

As mentioned earlier, when filming I have to run 24x7x365. A pc shutting down in the middle of the night to reboot is unacceptable to me. Fighting it is not an option either, so the best thing to do is take time to understand the update process and manage it. Windows comes with enough tools for this that if you get stuck in the middle of an unexpected update, well, you were not paying attention. Turn on the notifications, delay the update and when you have time to run it, run it.  Even with my requirement for shooting 24×7 I have been able to work with this and it is not a big deal. I have far more on the table to lose than most others with this stuff. I know a lot of people will complain about it, but it is what it is.