Dragonframe Troubleshooting

I felt it was needed to have this page to log some of the issues I have run into, as well as the fixes when using Dragonframe as the main software component for my work.

But let me be clear, I am a big fan of Dragonframe. I am finding that most of the issues are a result of running an open system like this. Meaning, Dragonframe does not only work with their own moco equipment, and it can easily be integrated into some home built rigs like my own.  This is similar with what you run to when using a windows machine vs apple. Apple works extremely well because they control what hardware is used, whereas Windows sometimes feels more problematic as until recently windows relied on third parties building all the PCs. The issues are more likely junk hardware more than the Windows software. Thats when people say “Apple is so much better because my $2000 macbook pro never has the problems that plagued my $399 laptop”.  I would expect if using something from a brand like Kessler or Ditogear with their enclosed ecosystems that they are fairly stable and reliable. This means there are a lot of variables being introduced. The guys at Dragonframe have been very helpful and I recommend this product wholeheartedly.

One of the biggest things I have learned with Dragonframe is it does not tolerate Junk very well. You need good cables, solid connections, and quality peripherals. Using a laptop for this (free UPS) sort of work it does not have an abundance of USB 3.0 ports. if buying a hub, spend the money for a slid powered one from a company like Anker rather than a $9.99 cheapo off amazon.  Use good ethernet cables, good shutter cables, good everything, and use some quality steppers.  Even beyond Dragonframe. I have long since felt it better to spend a little extra for a quality product so you dont just have end up spending more to replace it down the road. With this sort of work that is very important to remember. I have a crazy amount of time, money, and energy wrapped up in this, and it will only perform as well as the weakest link.

Over all this has been an extremely positive and rewarding experience. The only place where I feel Dragonframe is severely lacking is in the absence of community support. At one point there was a Dragonframe subforum on timescapes.org, but that is gone for some reason and a online forum would huge for this product as people could discuss various tips and tricks. I have certainly learned quite a lot about integrating with Dragonframe through a lot of blood sweat and tears, and would love to share that information or have discussions with other people.  I am considering adding a forum to this website. But I am not sure how much traffic it would ever see. If anyone thinks this is a good idea let me know. I have checked other stopmotion animation forums and never seen anything dedicated to this software, which is nuts, because even as much as i use dragonframe, it is designed for stop motion and the capabilities for that go so far beyond what I will probably ever use.

Anyway, here is a list of some of the issues I have dealt with, and things I have done to resolve them and t

If you are a Dragonframe user and encountered any issues and would like me to add them, email me.

List of issues encountered and status. Ill keep adding and updating.

  1. External Trigger (Resolved)
  2. Limit switches (Resolved)
  3. Dragonframe Lockup (Partially Resolved)
  4. eMotimo connectivity issues (Resolved)
  5. Camera connectivity issues (Resolved)
  6. Camera Failed to take an image (Resolved)
  7. Camera Shutting off (Resolved)
  8. Erratic movement behavior (Resolved)
  9. Backlash compensation does not work (Resolved)

 

1) External Trigger.   (Resolved)

Mine stopped working. There is a 3 prong DMX output used to trigger the camera. Why they used this I have NO idea. There are NO camera cables I have ever found that terminate to this connection, so I had to make my own. Luckily I have built a ton of camera trigger cables in the past 5 years. It is not terribly difficult, but a 2.5 or 3.5 TRS connector would make more sense to me.

I had it setup, and everything was working just fine until Thanksgiving 2016, the splitter was triggered by the shutter control from the DMC-16.

My setup:

Dragonframe software was the timing source. When it was time to take an image it would signal the DMC-16 which had the external shutter port connected to a smart splitter that I had developed.  I have been using the splitter for years, it has always worked flawlessly. It is a custom PCB on an arduino with 10 optoisolators.  One input, 10 outputs. Easy Breezy.
That splitter would then trigger the Canon 6D on Otto, as well as the rest of the static cameras set up. Everything worked like a charm for a couple months, then, on thanksgiving 2016 it stopped triggering.

The splitter tests good, it works with other trigger sources, it only fails when using the external shutter from the DMC-16. When shorting the pins on the cable I built to connect from the DMC to the splitter, it would trigger the cameras with no problems.

I have been fairly exhaustive in looking through the manual for anything I can find that would cause it not to work. I followed the instructions for making sure it was enabled, yet nothing I do can get it to work. I would suspect the DMC-16 has a faulty optoisolator on it, but if I reset the DMC-16 it causes all the cameras to trigger.  Also, I had tried reloading the firmware and that caused it to trigger all the cameras quite a few times. This tells me hardware = ok. Something in the software is preventing it from working.  I have spent quite a bit of time designing/building camera control systems, building camera cables, building smart splitters. I know exactly how these systems work, but i cant for the life of me get the DMC-16 to trigger.

To work around the issue, I rewired all my triggers.  Now the Canon 6D is triggered by the USB connection.  The BCM is the timing source, it plugs into the splitter. One of the splitters outputs goes into the DMC-16 as an external trigger, while the rest of the cameras are plugged in the splitter.

UPDATE 8/1/2017
I have upgraded to Dragonframe 4.0. Since then I have not had a chance to try the camera shutter trigger again, mainly because I misplaced the cable I had to build. If I locate this and try again I will be sure to let people know the results.

Update 8/8/2017 
Per the guys at Dragonframe, in order for this external shutter to work the Blur Motion needs to be set at 180, and also needs to be enabled on at least ONE axis.  I tested it out and managed to get intermittent shutter releases.  It seems that Dragonframe will set the camera to be ready to take an image,  then the DMC triggers the camera.  My results were spotty at best, but this may fall on the back burner because I may have some progress on the issue where the camera is not taking an image. (#6)

2) Limit Switches (RESOLVED with DF 4 update and DMC update)

-The following was my original rant back with DF3-

They don’t work for shit to be honest.  The system has i think 8 sets of limit switches. You don’t need them for the most part, but I had planned on limit switches on the X Y and Z axis. Here is what I am running into

Y axis, one the far end when the limit switch is triggered (just a whisker switch at the end, when the gantry gets too close to the back it tuns into the whisker and triggers the switch) it stops the rig as expect, albeit not fast enough, it just slows to a stop. In my view it should just stop immediately like my chronos rails would. So this means you have to have extra long switch and make sure it will still stop before reaching the end. this is a design flaw in my view.
Once that switch is hit, it slows to a stop and will not move in that direction anymore. However, I CAN back it out the opposite direction. Makes sense right? That is how it SHOULD work.

When the Y axis nears the closer end, it hits the switch and slows to a stop. I can no longer move it in that direction. Makes sense. However I cant move it in the other direction either! So i have to shut off the goddamn motor (thank god I had the brains to add disable switches on the power box) and twist the ball screw by hand to back it out enough in order to disengage that limit switch. WTF?

I had wired in a single limit switch for the Z axis to prevent the system from raising too high, there is a serious possibility of something being damaged if it starts elevating the Z axis and does not stop.  After all it uses a 425oz in stepper with a 30:1 gear ratio. I cant get that limit switch to work at all.

I spent so much time working on the Y switch that i never got around to wiring the X switches. And the Z does not work period. And yes, I did read the instructions, all non used switches are pinned into the common for each set. All switches are NC. This is not rocket science.

3) Dragonframe lockup (Resolved)

Scenario 1 (Resolved early 2016)
Intermittently when working in the Arc Motion page everything would lock up and become 100% unresponsive, unable to shut down Dragonframe, and had to shut down laptop to end the process. Later found that when this happened, if I reset the DMC-16 it would become responsive again.

Issue was with one of the axis in the Arc Motion control page, having a stepper speed limit of 1

After adjusting this to 10000 the issue clears. It appears that you CAN go too low on speed for Dragonframe.

Scenario 2 (Possibly Resolved)
Intermittently Dragonframe would freeze and become unresponsive, however I can forcefully shut down the program.  I would occasionally check on Otto and find it in this condition with a circling cursor indicating it is thinking. Resetting the DMC-16 does clear this issue.
This did not happen the last few weeks of shooting, but the system is down right now for some studio work. I am not 100% but I believe this was resolved once I moved away from the eMotimo firmware which was dropping connection. As of now it seems ok, I will update this if I encounter the issue further.

Update 8/8/2017
It locked up on me again. Oddly enough it has not locked up on me in a while if the system is running, but if it is left to idle too long it seems to happen. This latest time, I was working on the camera shutter release on the DMC, and DF locked up on me. I have a feeling it is because I was working too fast and sort of hosed it up.  Ill chalk that one up to me. I wanted to log this though.

Scenario 3 (Resolved)
I did run into another time where Dragonframe was locking up on me. Same sort of situations it would just become completely non-responsive but I could shut it down and restart it without rebooting, resetting the DMC-16 did not help.
The resolution summary is I wiped Dragonframe off my laptop and re-installed it, and the stability had drastically improved.

Right now of August 2017 It appears to be stable and I have successfully had it run a 10 day timelapse without a hiccup.

4) eMotimo connectivity issues (Resolved June 2016)

Emotimo TB3 would occasionally drop connection to dragonframe.  I tried upgrading to the latest software and the issue continued. I checked the power settings on the USB ports and found it was set on power save mode, however disabling it made no difference. I replaced the 10 foot USB with a powered active extender, no difference.
In the end the issue was the firmware with the eMotimo. I managed to get a DFmoco firmware which was modified to work with the eMotimo pin-outs, and this resolved the issue. I did have a small email exchange with Brian from eMotimo and he was not sure what was causing it but the firmware replacement does seem to be the fix.  (Note, this only locked up after at least 24 hours, if you are doing stop motion animation you are probably not going to see this issue)

5)  Camera connectivity issues (Resolved)

Ok this was a dumb one. I had run USB extentions through Otto frame from the Canon 6D to the laptop.  I was having issues with losing connection to the camera early on. I finally read that USB standard is only rated for like 12 feet or something. I had three 12 foot cables for a whopping 36 feet of cable. I purchased a 30ft Active USB extension and re-ran that through Otto’s frame and it has done a fantastic job ever since.
Bonus: The active usb uses a small power source and the result was a tiny deep blue LED on the tilt arm and it kinda looks cool.

6) Camera Failed to take an image (Resolved)

Not exactly sure what to make of this one. I think it may have been the result of using a cheap USB hub. I recently replaced it with a quality powered one.  The interesting thing is every single time I do a test shot with the BCM the camera works. Every time I do a test shot through Dragonframe, it works. Every time I perform a camera test in Dragonframe it passes with flying colors.  But sometimes when I am not there, it stops taking an image. I see no errors or anything about it losing connection to the camera, it just states it failed to take an image. I sent some info and a camera test to the guys at DF. They said they would look into it and I never heard back, I assume they did not see anything that explained what was happening.
It has not had the problem since I replaced the USB hub, but it has not really had a good chance to prove itself. If anyone else has this issue let me know, I am shooting a Canon 6D.
If this happens again I am going to make a new cable for the shutter release on the DMC 16 and see if DF4 fixed the external shutter issue and try that way.  Honestly it has not been a huge problem yet. It may drop a few dozen frames over the course of 500-600. Usually not all in a row. That’s the weird thing, it will run then miss one, a while later miss 2 in a row, then another one hours later. There is no pattern I can distinguish. Generally you cant even tell in the resulting video, but I don’t want to take the chance it gets worse.

Update 8/8/2017
The guys at Dragonframe hit me up on this a couple days ago. They had advised that per the data I had submitted that the The capture failed when it went to get the live view image. It’s possible the camera is overheating and turning off the live view.  The camera is a 6D, and does not have a reputation for overheating. I had also kept the Live View timeout to 2-3 minutes, and had the intervals setup at 45 minutes.
So, just a side mention, I have experienced issues with the 6D shutting off. Generally this seems to happen with intervals larger than 30 minutes. After replacing the 3rd party dummy battery on the AC adapter with the OEM version this seems to have cleared up, at least it has not shut off on me since the change but i am hesitant to declare it fixed quite yet.  I am now shooting at 45 minute intervals and would like to extend this to 1 hour intervals.
When shooting at faster intervals, 15-20 minutes I would get maybe 4-5 failed image captures. However, when extending to 45 minutes (36 frames a day) i quickly noticed the failures ran up to 10-12 failures per day. The extension of the interval seems to have a direct impact on the number of failed captures.
Dyami’s recommendation: “We have a recommendation in our manual about time-lapse. We suggest that you do not use live view, but instead choose “Canon 6D (Stills)”. It will be more reliable without live view. You can program your move and everything with live view, and then switch it over to the “stills” mode before starting the time-lapse.”

I went ahead and made the change and sure enough, 3 days later I have not had a single failed image. This seems to have cleared the situation. I am not sure why this would be an issue as I have it set to kill live view after 2 minutes.  If this is the fix, whatever it takes to get it to work properly is fine, but Ill have to make sure to have a mental note that it needs to be swapped after I set everything up.

Update 8/14/2017
I am calling this one good now. I have been filming for a week without a single issue. Swapping to STILLS for the video source when i start the shoot has made a drastic and obvious improvement.

7) Camera Shutting Off (Resolved)

I am pretty sure this has nothing to do with dragonframe, but when I first got the 6D I had a third party AC adapter. I remember having issues with the camera shutting off, so I replaced it with the expensive Canon one and the problem remained. It does not seem to be a settings issue as it may run for days or even weeks without shutting off.  I think the culprit was not the Canon power supply, but with the dummy battery part.  Canon puts a stupid L shaped connector on it that cant fit through the knuckles on the PT-2100 Pan/Tilt/Roll. I had to cut the cable in order to route it, then I added a connection so I could re-attach it. It was a good connection too. Last time I was shooting about halfway through I swapped out the dummy battery with the Canon version and did not route the cable so its intact. So far the camera has not shut off, but this has not been long enough to declare it resolved.

Update 8/14/2017
I am calling this resolved, if this happens again I will update this.

8) Erratic movement behavior (Resolved for now)

Ill keep this one short and sweet. I recently started getting strange shuddering on the X axis.  it was almost like somebody put a weight on the side of the ball screw. it was skipping like crazy. It felt like a bad connection to the stepper but everything checked out. I was really stumped, then finally tried resetting the DMC-16 and it immediately cleared up. This only happened once, a few weeks ago.

9) Backlash compensation does not work(Resolved)

8/17/2017
I tried using the backlash compensation today and it did not work.

Backlash Rollback: Set your rig to roll back before
moving in the direction of your move, so you
always enter a position with any slack removed.
Make the rollback amount equal to or greater than
the backlash in your rig.
Backlash Compensation: Enter the compensation
amount. Dragonframe will factor it out.

My focus controller has a little bit of a backlash issue. This can be corrected several ways, either mechanically or via software. It seems my stepper motor has slit down its channel slightly causing this. I don’t want to take the system apart to fix it mid-routine so I tried to fix this via Dragonframe software

The idea behind backlash compensation is that when a motor is moving in a particular direction, if it reverses direction it should add X amount of steps on that first move in the opposite direction, and this would reel in the slack.

However it does not move those initial steps, the result is the slack is not reeled in, and you will notice the top number in White (playhead) and the Bottom number in Blue (motor position) start to drift (these are the position counters). If using 100 as the compensation, and before it moves the stepper is at position 850, when it reverses directions both numbers should change at the same time, instead the motor position will not change until it has moved the 100 steps, resulting in showing either 850/950 or 850/750 depending if you are moving up or down.

As I am writing this Dyami emailed me and said to have dragonframe update itself and it should be fixed. I will confirm later this evening.

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