Dragonframe DMC-16

SEE UPDATE 12/5/2016 at the end

That is the DMC-16.

What is it? well…  I guess the best way to sum it up is “Lights, Camera, Action!”
Lights – It provides the interface for DMX Lighting.
Camera – It provides a shutter release for the camera.
Action – It works as a signal generator for the motors on Motion Control Rigs, inputs for limit switches, emergency stop, and Input/output triggers.

Essentially it is the hardware hub to interface the studio to the software.

It provides quite a few functions.

  • Motion control

    • Signal Generator
      The moves are all scripted out in the Dragonframe software on the PC(or mac), but Dragonframe software has no way to interface with the rest of the Motion Control hardware. The DMC provides the required connections to provide Step and Direction commands to the motors.  Stepper motors don’t just spin like DC motors when current is applied. Instead, you tell it what position you want the shaft to be in. There are a usually a total of 200 positions for a stepper motor shaft. That means it can move 1.8 degrees with each step.  For these motions to work, there is something called a Stepper Driver which provides power to the motor and gets it to those positions, but something has to tell the Driver what to do. This is where the DMC-16 comes into play. Tell it to move the PAN motor 100 steps clockwise, and the motor will rotate the shaft 180 degrees. Tell it to move the same distance counterclockwise, and it will return the shaft of the motor to the position it started. This sort of logic allows these stepper motors to conduct highly coordinated and very precise moves. In essence this portion of Dragonframe is just a fancy CNC machine. Not much different from the lathes, routers, plasma cutters, used by machinists to cut out very precise shapes.
    • Keyframes
      With Dragonframe you create Keyframes. You can think of these as camera position targets. Lets say you want to film a flower. For Keyframe A you want the camera pointed at the stem. Keyframe B you program to be one of the leaves, Keyframe C you set to be the flower. Dragonframe software then calculates out the best way to move the camera from A to B to C, and will smooth out the motion to give everything a nice smooth look.
      In order to properly film, you need to have various points between A, B and C where you are taking images. If you want 600 frames total for those moves, it will break that motion down into 600 individual positions and take an image from each one. The amount of motion between each image determines the perceived speed of the camera. If you have Keyframe A and B, and break that into 200 frames, it will seem to move twice as fast as if you broke that into 400 frames. It will gradually increase and decrease the amount moved from point to point in order to create an effect of varying speeds of camera movement.
    • Therefore, you don’t have to tell the camera where to aim on every single image it takes, rather give it the general directions of what you want and Dragonframe will figure out all the stuff in between.
      You can even run test moves and snap screenshots from the live view to assemble low res videos to preview the motion before committing to that final move.
  • Camera Control

    • Well of course you need to control the camera too. Dragonframe is not a CNC machine for cutting out parts, it is a CNC machine for making movies! It has the ability to integrate with various DSLR’s and MILC’s to provide camera controls from the computer via tethering, it also provides a live view of the set to help you compose your scenes and takes. When running the routine it will even take the images straight off the camera and store on the PC rather than the internal memory card. So no worries of moving the camera on accident when retrieving the memory card. Most of this happens between the Camera and computer via USB connection, however for perfectly time camera shutter actuation the DMC-16 has a camera shutter connection that can be used in lieu of the USB.
  • DMX Lighting controls

    • This is something that I am super excited about. Many people in film, music, or other entertainment fields know all about DMX. This is basically a lighting program. Think of your favorite concerts, all the lighting that happens, or the lights at a club when the DJ is spinning. These are all likely to be DMX lights. You have the ability to turn lights on or off on a pre-recorded program. Some are on off, some can be dimmed to various levels, and some of them (like the ones I use) are RGB LED lights where you can shift to any color, red to blue, green to yellow, day to night, simulate sunrise and sunset. I have not had much time to play with these yet, however I have recently moved all my lights to DMX control and away from the Biolapse Control Module(more on that later)

  • Integration with other equipment.

    • The DMC 16 also has a whole host of connections that provide inputs, outputs, triggers. Everything you need to get the hardware to all integrate together.
    • Laptop to DMC-16 connects via USB
      DMC sends the step/direction signals to the stepper Drivers via RJ-11 interfaces.
    • Input trigger from external source that can be programmed to trigger a camera or other various things.
    • External trigger that can connect to an external system for motion control or trigger work lights, or whatever
    • Camera trigger to control the focus and shutter of a camera
    • Limit switches which prevent the hardware you spend all this time working on from accidentally moving too far or wigging out and damaging itself or you.
    • Emergency Stop connection to shut the motion hardware down in case shit hits the fan.

IT AINT CHEAP

It has a huge amount of capability, but it is also very expensive. about $1800 with shipping. Add in the $300 software and you have a sizable price tag on this system. That does NOT get you any of the hardware, motors, drivers, gears, cameras, cables, laptop, lights, dimmer packs, or anything else that goes along with it.

ITS WORTH IT

However when you look at the amount of capability, nothing even comes close. This software and the DMC-16 have been used on some very impressive stop-motion animations that killed it in the Box Office including Boxtrolls, Kubo and the Two Strings, Shaun of the Sheep…. When considering how much you CAN do with it, and the huge amount of incredibly well though out features, even $2100 for this control system is an absolute bargain. This is the standard in Hollywood for stop motion animation.

It Aint Perfect.

See the Dragonframe > Troubleshooting page for more information.