All posts by Biolapse

Shooting Carnivores!

Biolapse news update!

1) FINALLY shooting the carniverous plants! Im very excited to be shooting these. Its amazing how fast time can go by, and these plants require a dormancy period, so i had to get on it and fast.

2) Two cameras! I managed to get a killer deal on a used Fuji XM-1, and it arrived yesterday.  I have to build a cable, apparently the XM-1 uses micro USB for a shutter release instead of the TRS 2.5

3) New hardware arrived, this is the secret gear I mentioned in my last update. It is pretty slick, it will take a bit of time to get it all implemented together.

4) I am going to start putting together a short film for my Sedum Tile set. I probably have 5-6,000 images.  I cant wait to get that done, but i have bigger fish to fry right now.

5) We are working on a pan/tilt. I have an eMotimo Tb3 that i can use, but my general nature is to assume i can do a better job than anyone else.  The Tb3 is a slick system indeed, however it does not do everything I need, so we are making our own system. But how to control it? I already have a good idea of the interface I want to use, but the brains are my primary concern. The Arduino Uno R3 was great for the first ChronoController. I could go the route of the Atmega 2560 as seen on the Arduino Mega, but I am still stuck with a single threading 16mhz processor.  eMotimo shows how you can control three motors at the same time with some slick coding tricks, but i would prefer not to have that limitation from the get go. Also, with emotimo if you are moving PT and then tilt the controller to move the third axis, you notice it slows down. This is because the arduino can only do one thing at a time, it may seem you can do two things at once, but that is just a trick with timers to eliminate blocking from delays. The slowdown is the ports trying to turn on and off at nearly the same time, resulting in port manipulation waiting for the prior to finish. For the eMotimo this not really a big deal at all, but for what I want to put together, I need more.

Enter the Rasperri Pi. This is nothing really new, and there are newer better versions already from other manufacturers, but it has become a standard already for micro computing.  It is a small linux computer a little bit bigger than an arduino with multi threading capability as well as a 700mhz processor, about 32x faster than the arduino. It should be able to handle 3-4 stepper motors, while simultaneously updating a display in real time without suffering any slowdown in performance.  Also, rather than a limit of about 256k of memory with 2k of ram, you can have 8 gigs (depends on SD card size) of space with 512k of ram. The numbers may be off slightly as I don’t have the tech specs in front of me and I’m too lazy to pop open a Google browser and search (however I’m not to lazy to write a long disclaimer that takes more time than to fact check) but you get the drift.

This opens the possibility for a far far more robust system. The Pi is not perfect for this work, and there will be technical challenges, but once you get that first LED to blink, and that first button to work, and that first motor to turn, the doors open up. The Raspberri Pi has been around long enough that you can dig around online and find the answers to most technical problems pretty quickly.  I could probably finish Epoch with a Arduino Mega in a quarter of the time it will take with the Raspberri Pi as I learn Python, but i think the extra effort will result in a system with far more potential and capability than anything else that has been dreamed up.

And of course, I will document the process to build your very own Epoch controller with off the shelf parts in case you do not wish to buy one pre-made.

In the meantime I have noticed that  our orders have dropped off a bit, where we normally had 3-4 orders in the hopper on any given day, it has really dropped down. I suspect such companies as Dynamic Perception, Axis 360, and are kicking our asses in sales due to the very well done kickstarter campaigns. But this is actually very little concern to us, we only build what people order, and as long as people order, we will build.

This gives me a chance to sort of explain Project Chronos a little bit. Neither Kyle or I ever sat out to build up a company.  We never intended to try to compete with anybody. The whole thing started out as an online DIY recipe for anyone who wanted to build their own system. Then one day somebody asked us to build them a system. Then another, then another. We eventually had to create a legitimate business because we were getting enough build requests that it would cause us some tax problems so we went legit.  By in large we ignore what everyone else is doing and just focus on doing what we enjoy. We are not trying to compete with anyone.  This is not a required source of income for either of us, so if we get one more order, and never another order, well, cool. I have more free time then, aside from maybe the occasional repair for a damaged system.  So I will move forward with Epoch which i intend to control pan, tilt, linear, and focus/zoom.  However, if we get 50 orders tomorrow, we will start working to fullfill those as well. But no matter what, I personally guarantee lifetime performance from anything we build. None of this 1 year warranty crap. If somebody has once of our systems and uses it for 6 years and it dies out, ill fix that for free. The only time where there may be a service repair charge is if there was some sort of intentional act at modifying it that damaged it.  But we would rather you just contact us if you want something modified so we can work it out for you. 😉

Kyle and I just really enjoy building and designing things.  The Chronos Project helps fun that passion for us. Without the company we would still be doing what we do, just without any external funding. 😉

BIG THINGS COMING!

You know what sucks? Having a killer idea and not being willing to talk about it

I have a new camera coming, a used Fuji XM-1. I think this will be an ideal camera as it keeps it in the same family as I am using and it is a live view only camera with a tilting screen which is seriously nice when doing any sort of timelapse as far as i am concerned. Ill be able to get twice the output. I am also going to be taking ownership of a Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 macro lens. I am really excited about this, it will bring my total manual lens collection to 3, with 2 dedicated Biolapse cameras.

I am honestly sick of filming the Sedum Tile set. It went wonderful,  but i am done. I am collecting a few more frames from this last angle, then i am going to shut it down and see about moving the plants outside. That LED light did a wonderful job getting those plants to flower like crazy.  I think i got some great footage but there is so much going on its hard to focus on anything. I would be aiming over here, when something cool happened over there.  I am starting to learn how to read these plants though. I have about 3000-4000 frames, with the 16mp most of these can be zoomed in in post to get 3-4 sequences per clip.  I have no idea what to do with them. I am extremely satisfied when it comes to the motion, exposures, color, and complete flicker free results and other technical aspects. I have some stationary shots, some motion shots, some focus pulls, etc, its gonna be a lot of work to make things coherent. I do need to get this worked into a video that i can showcase to try to drum up some more attention.

I really want to get filming the carnivorous plant set. I spent some more time getting coconut fiber pressed into the set, that part is nearly done, then all i have to do is add some twigs, leaves, fake moss, and hen i am ready to shoot. I m running out of time, some of the plants require dormancy so i need to get to shooting them first. The extra camera will be great to double the output of the filming.

As for this big thing? Well i ordered a new piece of hardware that will tie into a spare laptop, and i am confidant the results are going to be pretty mindblowing.  I don’t want to spill the beans yet, but this will really take things to the next level in many ways.  I cat wait to use it with the Carniverous set, it should arrive in the next week or so.

I want to take a second and thank the wonderful folks over at Terraforums.com, they have been invaluable in helping me replace ignorance with knowledge when it comes to growing these fascinating plants.

 

40 Days of shooting. Updates, Lessons learned.

So I am about 40 days into shooting the Sedum Tile set.  I have thousands of frames captured, things are moving right along. I decided to go over some of the lessons learned.

 

1)      Grow Lights
For timelapse LED grow lights are the clear winner. I moved from Hydrofarm T5 fluorescent lights, to iPower 600w HPS/MH, to Dirt Genius grow lights.

  1. Hyrdrofarm T5 4 foot Light Fixture.  This was the first light I experimented around with.  It works fairly well for various plants, mainly those which do not require full sun. It works very nicely for grasses and various kinds of small ground cover. It was a total hit and miss when it comes to flowering.
  2.  iPower 600w HPS/MH kit. This thing is killer. When I moved from the T5 lights to the iPower I immediately saw a difference in vegetation and growth. It puts out quite a bit of heat, and kept my studio about 85-90  degrees. The difference in growth was like night and day. The only problem is it is terrible for timelapse. The color output of the light is extremely unnatural with the HPS bulb, and the MH was better but not ideal.  The big problem is these systems are NOT intended to be turned on and off repeatedly. I managed to kill my bulbs within a few weeks. If you do not mind constantly replacing bulbs every few weeks this would be a great system. However the bulbs are 20-30  bucks, if shooting for several months this is not a very viable option
  3. Dirt Genius LED Grow Lights. This was a gamble. I had looked online for LED lighting as I needed something that could be turned on and off at least a thousand times a week, and I wanted something affordable. The Chronos Project does sponsor some of this, but a majority of this project is funded by myself.  I had looked online and people were calling these Chinese knockoffs of Blackstars. I did some looking into the company and it claimed to be California based and did have a California phone number. I suppose it could be a ruse, however It was a lot easier to afford a $180 Dirt Genius than a $500 Blackstar.  Sometimes we just have to work with what we have.  So far I could not be happier, I am hoping I can get them to sponsor me with another light, I asked once and got no reply. I will finish this shoot, get some footage for them to view, and try again.  I would really like to have a second one. I Don’t know if they perform as well as Blackstars or other higher end grow lights, I keep mine about 18 inches to 2 feet off the garden and everything is flowering like crazy.

2)      Dealing with Flicker
Flicker is a pain in the ass. Nothing is worse than rubbing 1000 frames out of your shutter and spending a week and a half just to have flicker filled time-lapse. I have finally managed to eliminate ALL flicker.

  1. Lock the aperture. If you have canon use the lens twist method. I do not, I have Fuji. And Fuji rocks, you can even do the same with Fuji lenses! However, when you do this and the power is decoupled even the slightest bump will knock the focus out of place. I finally ended up getting a lens adapter for Nikon G lenses which gives me aperture control.  Generally I have been shooting at f/8 to f/11 on a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens. I am usually right around the close focus distance, so a smaller aperture really gives a much better DOF.
  2. Use solid consistent lighting. I am using a small LED panel light, it is efficient, and provides very consistent lighting.  I was origionally using the BMC to tie the operation of the light to the shooting sequence, but now I just have it plugged in and ON constantly. Be careful with some lights, they may exhibit some changes in color temperature as they warm up. By using a LED panel that is constantly on you get very consistent color.
  3. Long exposures. This here is clutch. I will tighten the aperture, use ND filters, and reduce the brightness of the LED panel to ensure my shutter speed can be at least 1 second at the minimum. I prefer to keep it at 2 seconds or longer. The need to have longer shutter speeds is also a benefit as you do not need extremely bright video lights. Using a smaller one with an umbrella will give nice soft diffused light.

 

3)      Composition

  1. This is right now my biggest problem. I don’t really know landscaping, I am no good at floral arrangements. And my composition skills at this sort of work need some improvement. Right now the set I am working with was setup on a whim. It was mothers day, I was with my parents and they told me of this thing called “Garden tile” or “Sedum Tile”. They are these wonderful groundcover plants done in sort of a sod-type setup. You can cut them into shapes and cut them on some dirt and they start growing like crazy, making out at about 3-4 inches in height. I picked some of those up, and about a dozen other plants and some dirt.       There was not a lot of through that went into this, I just put the shorter ones up front and taller ones in the back. The results in my view started pretty good, but everything quickly hit its max height, plants were no longer moving much, and it was difficult to find new good angles to film.
  2. The set is just too busy. This was an important thing to learn before I start on the carnivorous shoot, sometimes less is more. It is nice to have a clear target to film rather than a big mess of flowers and plants. I am glad I learned this now.
  3. Another important thing is to be able to change things up, after about 4 weeks of shooting the same set I got pretty bored. About a week ago I went to my backyard and grabbed some remains of a tree that had been cut down and a few more pieces of wood and a few larger rocks and added them to the set, and it really adds to the entire scene, nearly changing it completely. Building a dynamic set where you can take multiple angles is a must, and being able to make small changes for big effects will pay out in the end. All things to keep in mind.
  4. Get ideas from nature. I am a big fan of hiking, and luckily I live in Colorado. We have a huge amount of trails within 15-20 minutes of the house. I have spent more time looking at the ground than I normally do, taking pictures of smaller low lying areas with various mosses and ground cover looking for inspiration on future sets.

4)      Leave It the hell alone!
I had a lot of problems with this as well. It is too tempting to scroll through the images on the card to get a sneak preview of the resulting sequence. Best thing to do is learn to ignore it.

5)      Water between sequences.
I have learned the best bet is to water the hell out of this stuff before you start shooting, you should be able to get 4-5 days before you have to water again. If you DO have to water again, use a long stemmed plant watering pitcher and be careful not to touch anything while getting the water in there. Another option is to use a stray bottle on the jet setting and you can target water directly to the base of the plant. If you dump water all over the soil the plants will shift and move and it could ruin your sequence.

Current Updates, and I need money.

So i pulled my memory card today, and i am pretty stoked on what i have so far. It is some pretty solid footage.  I am not 100% sold on this LED light yet.

Here are a couple pics of the setup.

DSCF3262

My DIY Light modifiers. A simple cardboard box on the LED panel make for a very simple set of barn doors.

Sitting on the table i have a loop of galvanized steel with pieces of tape and rubber gloves tied all over it.

I was out hiking this morning and noticed that a lot of flowers and plant life are in sort of mottled light from larger plant and trees casting shadows.  I had noticed something seemed to be a bit off on my prior lapses, the lighting was so even and flat it looked a bit artificial.

I whipped this up and instantly i love the effect, i plan to shoot this scene for about three days

The image below shows a frame it had just captured, looking good.

DSCF3264

 

AND THAT brings me to my next point. I need money. I need at least 2 more of these grow lights and another Fuji Xe-1 body. Luckily all of them are somewhat inexpencive, however I just went through a gauntlet of bills. Birthdays, mother/fathers day, new roof on the house, my sons birthday extravaganza, daycare, child support, mortgage, and a few other things.  It has drained me pretty dry.

The Chronos Project has sponsored some money to offset the cost, but by in large this has all been out of pocket.

I am thinking of doing an Indiegogo fund raiser to see if i can drum up some interest for people to sponsor me.  I would really like to get sponsored by some grow light manufacturers and i can do some A-B comparisons for them to show their customers on plant growth.  The only thing that sucks about that route is the amount of work involved. We have run a successful kickstarter campaign, and while it was fun it was a lot of work to get all the material together.

So let me put up a shopping list in case any rich philanthropist wants to help me out.

Light House Hydro Blackstar 240w LED light

Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 (used)

Fuji XE-1 (used)

I have a couple other ideas that i think will really blow everyones mind, but that would be at least another 800-900 bucks. I think ill wait until i get some overtime from work.