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.


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.

    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.


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.


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.


Another option for those who are technically savvy, add the following DNS entries to your router and have it blackhole them to 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)

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.

Computer Problems. Any advice?

Everything is squared away. I managed to get the drives restored. Thank you everyone!

Ok, so I am taking a break from working on the PC and gonna give it some time to see if anybody has any advice.

I7-7700k Processor
ASRock extreme 4 Z270 Mobo
SSD Sandisk Ultra II  = C: (os)
SSD Sandisk Ultra II = Z: (ssd for material i am working on)
HDD x2, 4tb in Raid 0 = 7.5tb Raid (about 4tb used, this is my large sandbox where I store footage I am working on or waiting to work on)
External HDD bay used to swap HDD to store data when I am done working on them
3TB NAS for family photos and such

The other day I went to use my computer and it had a message “Reboot or Select proper Boot device or Insert Boot Media in selected Boot Device”

WTF right?

My computer is normally ON. I don’t know if there was a windows update that forced a reboot, but generally I catch the notifications. I rebooted the PC, and it loaded into the windows login page. I entered my credentials and it just sat there with the spinning cursor.

Oddly enough, I was able to see all my drives from my laptop. Even the C: drive which is a Sandisk ultra II 480gb drive. I know SSD have a shorter lifespan, and this one was about 3 years old. My assumption is the drive was bad.

I shut it down, and popped the C: SSD into my hotswap bay and managed to recover all the files that were on my desktop. However copying ProgramFiles directory would result in it freezing up and stopping. I ran a check on the drive, it found errors as expected and it corrected them and found no more errors.  Plugged C: back in the PC and started it up, same issue.  Wouldnt go past login page.

I Put Z in and after a LOT of bullshit finally got Windows reloaded. At first it was complaining about the drive type being “Windows Cannot Be Installed to This Disk. The Selected Disk Is of the GPT Partition Style.”

I converted it to MBR, and it still failed. Stating to check the logs as to why (not sure where the logs are). So i tried formatting it in DISKPART and it went back to being GPT.

I kept messing with BIOS, and in ASRock bios it is somewhat confusing. But i did manage to get it.  There was at one point I changed the boot settings (CSM) to Legacy Only for Launch Video OpROM Policy.

After that I could not get the display working. I had to reset the CMOS to get it working again.

I finally found the magic combination though, as I was trying to use USB UEFI instead of USB. Cant remember all the settings, I wish i took better notes.

Win 8 was finally installed. Then win 10.1 over the night

This morning everything looks good, but my Mobo no longer sees the 7.5tb raid array.

When I first built this PC, it was using another ASRock Mobo, and that is when i built the array. Last spring I upgraded the CPU and Mobo, and the Raid continued to work through it. No problems, It just worked with no effort on my side.

Now however, no raid. I checked the Bios and found the following.

SATA Mode Selection
AHCI: Supports new features that improve performance.
RAID: Combine multiple disk drives into a logical unit.

When in AHCI, bios sees the SSD and both HDD, but only SSD shows in windows.
WHen in RAID it wants to consider the SSD a raid and ignores the HDD. In windows SSD is fine but no RAID shows up.

I moved back to Boot Options and under CSM (Compatibility Support Module) and set the following to Do Not Launch for all three. (Select Do not launch to not execute both legacy and UEFI option ROM)

Launch PXE OpROM Policy
Launch Storage OpROM Policy
Launch Video OpROM Policy

I Reset, and nothing comes up on the screen. (This happened that first time and i reset the CMOS and it fixed it, so i did this again)

Reset CMOS

Still no video at all. Through either the 1080Ti card, OR through the HDMI out the back of the motherboard. I have a small mini monitor with HDMI that i used to try the HDMI to help rule out the monitor.

I have tried resetting CMOS again a few more times and I don’t get jack.

I did not have enough time to fetch another spare monitor that accepts DVI, but that is what I plan when I get home.

At this point I am starting to suspect a bad motherboard for the following reasons.

  1. I rebooted about 20-25 times while tweaking the bios in troubleshooting and trying to resolve the SSD type issue. Several times there would be no video, but rebooting it again normally got it working.
  2. Unable to see the RAID Array. The RAID was already established on the prior motherboard (I no longer have this) and when moving to this new motherboard the RAID continued to work with no setting adjustments whatsoever. It immediatly recognized the Raid array. That should STILL be the case when reloading the OS i would assume?

If anyone has any ideas for me I would love to hear them. I have about 6 months of footage on the RAID array that i would like to NOT lose. However, if i lose it, its not the end of the world, but that would really sort of suck.

if anyone has any ideas or tips, hit me up at

End of 2017 updates

Yeah it has been a while.

October, November and December have been super busy. Holidays have taken quite a bit of my time and focus.  I had a pretty severe plumbing issue in my basement that required a bunch of it to be torn up with a jackhammer and have a pipe replaced.  For that I had to cram a ton of stuff into the studio to make room, that slowed me down for a few weeks.

I also had been spending some time working on other projects, just some general home improvement stuff, which has been taking my time and energy away from filming plants, I only have a couple cameras running at the moment. I have not been completely sitting on my laurels however.

Ill start out with Plants, then Robots, then Studio/shoots.


This has been a bit of a hit or miss for me. I have a couple dozen carnivorous plants that I have been trying to grow. Some have been doing awesome, some have been limping along, and my filming was not producing the results I wanted, so I picked up a 75 gallon aquarium and turned it into a terrarium to see if I could get better results. So far that move has paid off. I have a Nepenthes bicalcarata that has been struggling, once I moved it into the Terrarium it finally started throwing a pitcher. Cant wait to see the fangs!

75 gallon aquarium. The glass is great, but the stand was absolute garbage. I might build my own and see if i can stack another 75 gallon aquarium in there with it and double it up.


Here it is after i first got everything set up. Only a couple of the plants were doing very well. most of them were at least green and not dying, but few of them had ever flowered. I am glad i did not go with a smaller terrarium, this one filled up awfully quick.


I am using some older Humidity and Temperature controls I had built a while back. They have relays that will turn on and off cooling/heating and humidifying/demudifying systems if they get outside the range. For now all they really do is monitor the temp and humidity though, and don’t do any active adjustments.


upper left, in the pot with the brown substrate, that is my nepenthes bicalcarata. It was looking weak, and almost dead. I think I set this all up early November, and already there has been substantial results.
Same plant mentioned above, but now with big thick full leaves and pitchers starting to form 🙂
A closer picture of the nepenthes bicalcarata pitcher. You have no idea how happy this makes me. These are the FANGED pitcher plants. I dont want to link/post a picture in here that does not belong to me, but if you enter nepenthes bicalcarata in the google search bar you will see how friggin awesome these look when they get bigger.
This is my zombie nepenthes ampullaria. I got this about 7 or 8 months ago, and it got a case of root-rot and nearly died. Several experts in these plants told me to chuck it as there was no way it would survive. 4 months later, this lil bastard has survived and is tossing out these cute lil pitchers. I’m super excited this guy did not die on me.
My Cephalotus. I got this guy about 9-10 months ago. It was the size off a dime, and it did not do much of anything the first 6 months. About a month before putting it in the terrarium it grew like crazy. The larger pitchers on it now could have swallowed the plant in its entirety for the first 6 months. Really happy with this one now.


This little dick was totally unexpected. I had a drosera filiformis (another type of sundew) that I had ordered which died, but in its death this lil dude showed up. It is about the diameter of a quarter. He must have hitchhiked in from the nursery.
I have had this plant since 2015!!!! and this is the FIRST time it has ever flowered! This is a Sarracenia purpurea. It grew pretty large, and this was one cluster. I re-potted it and put it in the terrarium and within a few weeks it sprouted a flower! I totally missed filming it, but took notes so next time Ill know how to film it correctly.
Another shot inside. On the bottom center-left is a Butterwort that just flowered which I captured. Have not rendered the footage yet, but I think it will have turned out nice.
nepenthes densiflora x robcantleyi, which has had some boring ugly pitchers really digs the new digs. This is its first new pitcher in quite some time with some great coloring. Cant wait to see how this one develops.




Finn issues

I have been somewhat busy on the Robot front. I had encountered some problems with Finn. This may get a bit hairy to explain, but I will try my best.
I had one copy of Dragonframe. With this, I was able to control multiple robots with no problem. I think I can connect up to 4 motion control devices to a single license of Dragonframe. Only one camera though, so Otto’s camera would record direct to the laptop, and the others would record to memory cards. I would build all of the axis controls in Dragonframe, and one by one set each robot and motion routine up.  I started running into some problems though. When using Otto and Lil Wayne, everything worked smoothly, but once Finn was connected the Dragonframe software would freeze after a few days, and cost me several weeks worth of footage and effort.

In order to figure out what the heck was wrong I picked up another copy of Dragonframe and another laptop and started running into the same problems. I don’t want to get too nitty gritty here, but I did eventually solve the issue. The power supply I was using was just not up to the task. The “brains” of Finn is all powered by the laptop via USB, the power supply was just there to provide the power to the drivers/motors. I’m not exactly sure how that caused the issue, but once I upgraded the power supply the issue cleared up and Finn is running nice and stable.

2nd shooting stage, Finn with its own laptop and Dragonframe license shooting a Butterwort that is flowering.


Just to be on the safe side, I have decided to try to keep all my motion rigs on their own copy of Dragonframe, so if one of them runs into an issue it wont jack up all the other robots as well.   I picked up a pair of the DDMX-512’s from Dragonframe so I can tie them in with the Biolapse Studio Controller.  I am keeping Lil Wayne piggybacking off Otto for the time being, and I have one more laptop with Dragonframe that I will be using to test out a new crane I am building.

The Crane. Project Hector.

Yes. I am building a Crane. I am super excited about this. Honestly, after using Otto the 4 axis Finn and 5 axis Lil Wayne setups feel awfully limiting.  I feel that a mini crane can achieve most of the same shots that Otto is capable of. The big bonus is the XYZ motion instead of just linear.

Raw parts for the Crane.


This is sort of how it will look when complete. The larger aluminum boxes provide the base which will attach to some linear bearings for the slide motion. That bottom part will have a large bearing and steel tube used to swing the whole rig left and right. The short part of the crane will have weights for counter balance, and the structure of the crane will keep the head level even when moving it up and down.
This is the backside of the crane. The extrusion sits a bit low on the back end to allow room for the counterweight.
This is pretty much how it looks as I write this. I still have a lot of work to do, but the form is coming along nicely.

I am using a lot of the same materials from Finn. 1x2inch aluminum extrusion, 1/2 inch ID bearings, Actobotics hubs, mounts, and clamps. The pan/tilt is going to be the same used on Finn, but added on a crane instead of a slider.

Right now the entire structure is rickety as hell. Lots of sloppy slopp. I don’t have a CNC mill. So all the holes for the bearings were cut using a standard hole saw of the right size.  The bearings are slightly smaller than the holes, giving them a little bit of a jiggle in their spot. I have an idea on how to reduce this slop and make everything nice and tight using some beer cans. I am hoping to try it out this weekend.  if I can get the slip removed and make sure the bearings stay put with a night tight friction fit, this should result in a very nice and accurate motion system.

here you can see the two columns coming up and the bearings that hold the arm in place.

Dragonframe is awesome. It has what is called Virtual Axis. To unpack this a bit, the crane setup has an arm that swings left and right, up and down. This covers the X and Y directions, however the arm swings in an arc, so it is unable to move the camera perfectly up and down, or left and right without that arc. This is where the track underneath comes into play, it will allow the entire rig to move forwards and backwards. Dragonframe uses the Virtual Axis to compensate for this arc by moving the entire rig in and out while it swings the arm left and right, or up and down. This will allow it to be controlled in a very similar was as Otto, but smaller, easier to move around, and far cheaper.

Studio and Shooting

I am currently shooting again. I have 3 cameras up and filming. I am really please with the footage I am starting to get. These systems require a LOT of babysitting, a lot of monitoring.

Two shooting stages running. Lil Wayne and Otto running off one laptop, with Finn running off another copy of Dragonframe on another laptop. Keeping them separate gives some redundancy, so if one laptop freeze, or one camera stops responding it will not affect the others.

I will check everything every morning, and every evening. I also use a 3rd party remote desktop application that allows me to log in via my mobile device and check each computer whenever I want and I will check several times a day while I am away.

Otto shooting some Nepenthes Pitchers. This can be a 4-5 week capture.

At one point I had the foolish idea that I could just get everything up and running and leave it, come back in a month and presto, new footage. The fact is it just does not work that way, there are so many factors that have to be taken into consideration.


  1. First, build out the sets, and figure out my shots
  2. Check for updates on the laptop and let it reboot and update. 
  3. Shut off windows update service to prevent forced updates
  4. Once everything is up, start programming in the moves based off my experience with the plant growth.
  5. Turn all cameras off, and turn them all back on.
  6. Verify hard drive space on computers, and ensure memory cards are fresh.
  7. Shut off live view on cameras (can cause issues over time)
  8. Start Filming!

Over the next few days I will check on the plants and progress twice a day in person, and 3-4 times via remote access.

Plant has moved in a way that is pulling it away from the focus point.  I do this every few days, so far with my current shoot which is a few weeks in, I have done this at least 7-8 times.

  1. Pause shooting. ( the new BSC has a switch which I can flip that will pause everything, shut off the grow lights and turn on the fill lights)
  2. Disengage motion control for editing
  3. Turn on Live View
  4. Lock in current position on all motors with new Keyframes on the current location.
  5. Move Otto about 8-10 frames ahead of current position.
  6. Adjust focus and set a new keyframe.
  7. Move Otto out about 50-60 frames and judge if another correction is needed at this point. if so, make adjustment and correct.
  8. Move Otto back to 6-7 frames BEFORE current position to ensure any backlash is reeled in before starting shoot.
  9. Move Otto to the current frame waiting to be taken.
  10. Disable Live view
  11. Re-engage motion control for shooting.
  12. Flip the switch on the BSC to re-engage the timing and lighting. 
  13. Check in an hour to ensure it is working as expected.

So that’s a lot of steps. I have a checklist I follow, but occasionally I find I forgot the disable Live View. Not a huge issue, but sometimes it gets funny and fails to capture an image.

Screenshot of the current shoot



Other things I have run into with the current shoot.  I was tracking the pitcher on the Nepenthes and planned to follow it until it made contact to the ground then start to develop. After about 14 days of shooting, and multiple focus adjustments, the Canon 6D shut off on me. I did not realize that, I just noticed that from about 10pm to 8am 0 images were taken, so it missed about 10 shots which was enough to cause a big enough of a jump that I made the decision to scrap the current and start over.

Along with daily checkups, and remote monitoring, I also have a very nice output from the Biolapse Studio controller so I can tell what it is doing, and how it is performing, and it even helps me debug when things go awry, which I will get into in a minute. The BSC already has some built in troubleshooting skills to make sure the grow lights shut off. In my past blogs I was whining about pink frames, these are images where the grow lights would not shut off when the picture was taken and the pink color they produce was contaminating the images. The new BSC has built in skills to verify and monitor the lights to ensure they are in the correct state, and backup relays that will kill power to grow lights if the primary relays fail. It works like a charm, and I have not had a single “Pink frame” since I replaced the old Biolapse Control Module (BCM) with the Biolapse Studio Controller (BSC).

To help further, I can connect via hyperterm into the BSC and get a feed on what it is doing, time stamps, and get indications of when relays are engaged/disengaged, humitity, temp, and see exactly what happens every time it takes an image.

This is what the output of the BSC looks like. I am hoping to give it the ability to accept commands via the serial connection, as well as the ability to monitor cameras and send me an email if it encounters a problem.

I am exploring the options of giving the BSC capability to send me emails in case it runs into relay problems, and possibly having it monitor the hot shoes on the cameras to ensure it does see the shutter release. That was if a camera shuts off on me, it will see the camera never triggered and notify my via email to my mobile device.

On the new shoot, I have already made 5-6 focus adjustments, a few adjustments to the pan and tilt, and also found a bug in the Biolapse Studio Controller. If the Humidifier was OFF when it started a routine, it would not engage the fill lights. it caused 2 frames to be taken with a pitch black image.

Seen here, two frames highlighted in yellow where the fill lights did not illuminate the subject. This was due to the bug where an image would not be taken if the Humidifier was already off before it took the image. The plant in this image is a cephalotus follicularis

This put me in a bit of a situation. I needed to increase the humidity of the room. I had built a small vent system that would direct the humidifier (this is listed in equipment, it is a home build humidifier that can turn my whole house into a swamp) output directly to some live sets I was growing, but it was not getting the whole room nice and muggy. So I unhooked it from that vent and have it just dumping out into the room. It would hit the high humidity level and shut off, then the images would come out black. So in order to fix this I had to modify the code on the BSC (Biolapse studio controller) and update the software on it.  It was not terribly difficult, but 2 weeks worth of footage was on the line at this point, one mess up and everything would be ruined.  I opted NOT to set everything back and re-shoot those images. It was only 2 ruined, and they were not both in a row. Losing 2 frames like this is very minor and you would not even be able to see that it happened in the final result, however, moving everything back and re-shooting could cause a slight jump in the plant growth which CAN be seen.

This is the Butterwort I just finished filming before setting up the cephalotus follicularis

While Otto was shooting the Nepenthes, I did get Finn setup to shoot a flowering Butterwort. I should have the footage rendered sometime soon. I hit it from 3 angles, and hope it turned out ok. It was sort of a last minute rush as I saw the Butterwort was flowering and scrambled to get the 2nd set setup.

Generally I don’t like filming plants without observing them, but flowers seem so rare with carnivorous plants I did not want to risk missing the chance.

Screen grab from the Butterwort flowering. These are some fairly unusual plans, almost oddly semi translucent. I filmed 3 angles, I hope it turned out ok, but have not had a chance to really dig through the footage.

Filming the Butterwort was interesting, I had no idea how far the stalk would go up, and it ended up facing the wrong direction. I have about 700 frames on this and 3 different angles.

The new Biolapse Studio controller came in and worked like a champ. The Nepenthes pitchers are normally filmed about one frame about every hour to hour and a half. They are just slow growing. The flowering Butterwort was growing much faster, and needed quicker intervals, every 15-20 minutes. The BSC was made to handle this sort of thing. It has 8 camera trigger outputs, and each one of those camera triggers can be setup to skip frames. Trigger 1 was connected to Otto, and Trigger 2 was set to Finn. I set Trigger 1 to only trigger every 4th interval, and trigger 2 was set to trigger every interval. I set the BSC’s intervals at 20 minutes, so this resulted in Finn taking an image and moving every 20 minutes, where Otto only did it once every 80 minutes. And it worked like a charm! This means I can film multiple plants that have different growth rates at the same time 🙂

After the flower finished blooming I decided to try filming the Cephalotus Follicularis, which is also called the Australian Pitcher plant and is one of the craziest looking plants I have ever seen. It is currently filming right now, and I hope it turns out well.  I am keeping it simple and just put it on a turntable.

Otto and Lil Wayne shooting the Live Set. This set continues to do well, and has 3 types of Nepenthes (pitcher plants) on it, as well as a couple Venus Fly Traps.


This work just requires a lot of work. I miss the days of setting up a rail on a mountain and setting it to go, then relaxing until it is finished. Carnivorous plants are very challenging because most of these timelapses need anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks to film, and the longer the shoot the more problems I will have to work around. There are guaranteed to be modifications, troubleshooting, and reworking that is done on the fly while shooting, and the trick is to overcome all these obstacles without ruining the footage. I am starting to get pretty good at it, but with my current small studio I am limited on how much output I can do with these plants. I don’t want to keep shooting the same plants over and over, and need to give some of the other plants some time in the terrarium in peak health before I film them. So I might be moving to some other plants for a while.

I will try to give more updates on this blog. I am not a very good writer, so hopefully this makes sense and is not too boring or painful to read. I do have some developments happening that I am super excited about. Hope to be able to talk about these soon!



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