Project Otto session 9

Otto Works!

Some people have asked about “Otto”, its a nod to the Autopilot (Auto / Otto) on Wall-E, as it drops down from the ceiling and has a camera in the middle. ¬†ūüôā

Other than running into a few minor issues with the camera power supply, everything has been going together quite well. Otto is about 98% complete and already fully functional for testing purposes.

I am still waiting on the heatsinks so I am limited to running the system about an hour at a time then shutting it off to cool down. Once the heatsinks get in that should clear that up. In the meantime I can just knock the power down a bit to the motors and that should keep them under 80c.

Here is my list of stuff left to do.

  1. Adjust the set screws on the geared motors
  2. Adjust for backlash with dragonframe
  3. Add heat sinks for the motors
  4. Replace the crappy motor on the 3d slider
  5. Run some electrical outlets along the top of the framework for lights and such.
  6. Attach the supports beneath the cable tracks
  7. Finish the limit switches
  8. Wire up the Emergency stop
  9. Fabricate the final brackets for the X axis.

I should be able to get most of this done tomorrow morning, except the heat sinks which I am still waiting for.  The new stepper should arrive today. So tomorrow all 8 degrees of movement should be functioning

Stuff I am considering…

  1. Add a second ballscrew and motor for the Y axis. I am not sure this is really needed yet though. It works fairly well as it is
  2. Getting that stupid spool machined out. The temp one seems to be working just fine though

So lets get past all this build talk nonsense and get into some testing!

This is the first test, and I am pretty excited about it.  The first couple seconds are what excite me the most. I moved in real close and nailed the focus dead on. Keep in mind, 60mm, F/16 that depth of field at close focus is less than a quarter of an inch. I absolutely LOVE how the footage looks too.

As the camera moves left up the leaf to the stalk then to the other leave it has a very gritty “Stop motion” feel to it. I need to play with the “shoot while move” capability of Dragonframe.

Towards the end of the video the last pitcher spends some time out of focus, I was going to try to correct this… Maybe i should explain a bit.

Dragonframe has some incredibly awesome features. Right now my rig is not moving too well with live speed. it CAN move at those speeds, but it starts making some bucking movements that reach the camera at some speeds. I have not had a chance to delve too deep into it, I assume it is due to the X axis brackets are still the temporary ones and I have not replaced those with thick 1/2 inch aluminum brackets. Also this may be the reason i add another ball screw on the Y axis.  At first I was a bit worried about this, because with live speeds you can preview the movement in real time without having to rap off 600 images off your camera.

For those who are not really that into this hobby who may for some reason be reading, shutter count on a camera is like the odometer off the car.  The ability to live preview the motion allows you to see the moves and focus targets without having to run it through the sequence and rap off a bunch of shutter actuations.  Without live view I was worried i would be putting 3-4x the number of shutter clicks as I proof moves before I start a 3 week timelapse.

Luckily Dragonframe also has the ability to take snapshots off the live view. So the shutter stays open, dragonframe will move each frame, pause for a moment then snag a image off the live view. Not only that, but you can scrub through the results and play it back instantly. The video above was gathered in about 15 minutes using this method. So only one shutter actuation was used to do the whole thing. This lets you preview the motion, then you can go in and move the camera to any spot in the timeline that concerns you and you can adjust the motion accordingly.  So while the live speeds dont work, I can have a full preview in about 10 minutes, and it looks fantastic! It is not full HD, but close to 720p I believe. Once the motion is exactly the way I want it, i can run the actual timelapse.

So getting back to the focus, after reviewing this footage I was going to correct the focus at the end, rerun the move, and throw this footage out. However, as I am still learning I ended up sending Otto direct back to the start position on accident and knocked the plant over, so that was that. It would have been very difficult to get the plant back in its original spot so I moved on.

I hate using this term, because I think it is thrown around way too much, but the fact is Dragonframe IS a GAME CHANGER for the way I do timelapse.  Combine it with a rig like this, and the possibilities are amazing. I feel completely recharged and inspired just off this first test.

When running this, i put my Panasonic GH4 on timelapse mode and filmed the move.

What I really like about this is the feel of ease and weightlessness the camera rig demonstrates. ¬†Considering there is 40lbs of gear being moved around, this is impressive. You can see the focus ring shifting back and forth quite a bit ūüôā

I wished i had managed to get some video of dragonframe itself and some of the features. There are so many more techniques to learn, so many more options and features. I played around with the DMX lighting a bit as well and it worked flawlessly. This will mean i can change and adjust light sources and color throughout a multi week timelapse.

I can also edit and change the move on the fly. If i am 1 week into filming and see something awesome about to happen, i can change the rest of the motion sequence on the fly to take the camera in a better direction to capture something of interest.

This stuff is amazing.

I am going to try to get as much stuff done as possible this weekend. Once the heat issue is taken care of it will be time to start filming non-stop.

This weekend I will do some more testing, I will try to put together a VLOG that shows more of this amazing software and its flexibility.



Project Ottor Session 8

Hello Mom, Dad, and the other person who reads this. ūüôā

Great progress this weekend. I got some cable tracks setup and re-cabled the entire rig so everything is nice and in its place.


It is working!!!!! Mostly.  It works yes, but im not totally out of the woods.

The cable saga continues. I managed to get some pre-cut pieces of aluminum for fairly cheap. I did my best to assemble a spool, knowing darn good and well that it would not be perfect but should be usable to make sure the Z axis is going to work the way I want.

Sure enough it did, however the spool has a ever so slight wobble. So I am back to trying to get one machined out, but in the meantime this one will work just fine. I do have some requests for quotes out, but if anyone knows somebody with a metal lathe that can work through 2 inch aluminum round stock I would love to know about them.

The speed is not super duper awesome. Right now i can only coax about 38,000 steps per second from the motor. In comparison, i have the X and Z axis cranking out 75,000 steps per second before they start getting to the stalling point.

I have a possible solution for this by using a Pullman Counterbalance.  The last time I weighed the elevator guts with the bearings and pan/tilt, it was sitting around 38lbs if i remember correctly. The Counterbalance i ordered should relieve between 23-25lbs, cutting the load nearly in half.  This should allow the motor to hit higher speeds before it stalls. I got one used on ebay for $30 shipped.

But everything DOES function on the elevator, It was a bit of a risk going with this design but so far it seems to work just fine.


That’s not all I did this weekend though. Also accomplished….

  1. Painted inner and outer box for the lift
  2. Painted the motor brackets for the Y axis.
  3. Re-ran all the wires through the cable carriers for a nice cable free enviornment
  4. Managed to get X, Y, Z, Pan, Roll, Tilt all working.

I think I put about 5 hours in on Saturday and 8 in on Sunday. A good amount of the time was disassembling/reassembling large parts and lots of soldering on cables.  I cant wait to get this thing working for me so I can have my weekends back. This has been an incredible amount of work.


  1. Need to add support strips under the cable carriers
  2. Need to sort out the camera triggering and get the splitter installed and powered.
  3. Need to wire up the Focus motor
  4. Take the small slider for the 3D work and integrate it. I had an epiphany on how I wanted to accomplish this last night, I am excited to see how it works out.
  5. Run electrical to the camera. I had made a few extensions with 3.5mm cables but the extension caused too much power loss from the box and the camera wouldn’t power on. So now i need to run electrical to the pan/tilt and mount the power box.
  6. Clean the studio
  7. Run some tests to determine how much backlash i have in the pan/tilt portion and make sureI get that compensated
  8. More motion tests to check and see how accurate it is frame by frame on multiple identical runs, both in real time and in timelapse mode.
  9. Lots of speed testing, adjusting, re-tightening, etc. I may end up having to add another motor and ball screw for the Y axis and have one on either side rather than straight down the middle.
  10. Have some Hot Wings and a cold craft beer.

Project Otto Session 7

Huge progress.

My apologies if anyone got this sent more than once. I ended up hitting publish instead of save draft but the website cranked it all out. Sorry about any confusion.

I just finished a 10 day “staycation” in which I managed to get a LOT of work done on the motion rig. ¬†I managed to get quite a bit done, its very exciting to see this come together and to see that it actually works! ¬†I’m not exactly surprised it works, I put a lot of time and thought into this, but there is always that fear that there are things I miscalculated or did not measure correctly, ¬†and sometimes these errors can be very expensive.

Please excuse the messy house, this happens when I get busy on projects. You should have seen it when we were running the kickstarter for the Lens Apparatus, I had a mountain of cardboard boxes. ¬†ūüėČ

Below is the X axis Gantry. This part sits on the bearings on top of the main support rails and provides a slide for the X axis. This entire thing will slide along the Y axis.  Pretty big, but it was not too much work. Luckily I measured every thing correctly the first time and it went together fairly well.

Ball screw and motor went on without much effort by using some basic 4 inch angle brackets. More about those brackets later.


Below: The gantry with the outer casing of the elevator, ball screw, and brackets.


Below, a good view of where the winch will attach on the elevator.



The winch is turning out to be a real pain in the ass. It is a Nema 23 stepper, 425 Oz Inch 4.2 amp motor. So pretty beefy to say the least. ¬†The box on the end is a 30:1 worm gear drive. ¬†Worm gears kick ass, they have virtually zero backlash when done correctly, and the 30:1 means the strength of the stepper increases by a factor of 30, while slowing down by a factor of 30. Slower is good. I don’t want to raise the elevator so fast it turns inside out.¬†It may be too slow. I figure with 425oz inch, that is about 25lbs of lifting if the weight is set 1 inch from the output shaft. ¬†With the 30:1 and lets be conservative¬†with a 50% loss of efficiency, ¬†that still ends up being 375lbs at once inch, and the reel will only be .75 inch radius not a full inch.

I have no confidence in my math or understanding about gears, but that is about what I came to by reading online.  I am hoping i can get speeds that lift the Pan/Tilt at 2 inches per second.  Depending on how well it does with load testing, I may opt to swap the gear box out with a 15:1 or even 10:1 ratio.


However, it would be good if I don’t cut my hand off trying to figure this out.

I have a friend who has a machine shop and i asked if i could pay him to help me out,  but my understanding is he usually does things like bifurcating large things like train engines that have seized, this is not really his specialty. He ended up referring me to another person but I never heard back from that guy. The origional intent was to get a piece of 2 inch aluminum round stock and machine it into a spool that I could attach to the gearbox.

I decided I could probably just cut a couple 1/2 inch segments off that stock, and then another 1.5 inches from another 1.5in diameter aluminum stock i have, drill and tap, then bolt together and make a spool that way. However believe it or not i really have no idea what I am doing and was trying to handhold that piece of aluminum while slicing through it with my miter saw and it got about half way done and the teeth grabbed in and got stuck in the aluminum, yanking it out of my hand and slamming it into the miter saw.


Nice bent blade.

I then decided that was a bad plan.

About 10 minutes of digging around online and for under 30 bucks shipped i found a shop that would cut the pieces for me. Once i get them in all i have to do is drill and tap them and i should have a spool. ūüôā

After completing the gantry I installed it on the Y axis bearings and slid everything around, and it works like a charm. One gentle finger push can slide it from end to end with ease ūüôā

The size of the gear box for the Z axis and the low height of the ceiling pose some challenges.  In order for this to work the ballscrew has to be ABOVE the winch gearbox, so I really had to sit the Y axis steppers to about an inch from the ceiling! You can see the temp bracket I mocked up for the stepper motor to test fitment in the image below.

(The room looks purple due to the grow lights for my carnivorous plants)20161010_161611
It is really up there, and looking at the image below you can see why. That screw on top is the Y axis. Just barely over the Z axis gearbox.


And another picture of the Y axis motor.



The couplings were in bad shape. They came with the ballscrew and were made for 5mm shaft and these motors have an 8mm shaft. I drilled them out by hand knowing they would wobble, but they would work for fitment and testing while I waited for the new couplings to arrive in a couple days.

Next I mounted the Pan tilt, ran the wires, and gave it a test and everything works as expected. Nice fluid motion, very stable, very rugged.

WHen moving the X and Y, that was a different story. Ok, so X worked pretty good, but the Y had a MAJOR shuddering problem.  The coupling was hand drilled and causing a wobble, and the weak flimsy brackets for the motor was exasperating the situation.  At this point I was pretty tired and took a day off. The next day the proper couplings arrived as did some more aluminum stock.

So I got back to it and built some proper brackets.


You can see what a ghetto rig I had at first.


These brackets were much much sturdier and easy to space everything out perfectly to align the ballscrew and motor.



Looking good!


The studder/shuddering problem was resolved! Now back to the Pan/Tilt.

It was too goddamn big. I underestimated the size of this behemoth, which is not a big deal but the main problem i have on this is the order of axis from far to close in relation to the camera SHOULD be

Pan —> Tilt —> Roll —> Camera


The problem with the way it is shown is that the TILT is affected by the roll. If the camera is angled up and you roll the camera, it will arc across the room, not spin the camera.  I figured i would fix both of these issues with a single solution by modifying it so the ROLL is now a Tilt, and change the TILT to a roll.

Here was the idea.  You can see the camera is sitting sideways from where it was, but now it rolls on the old pan assembly and the tilt is what used to be the roll. Now no matter where the camera has panned and tilted, the roll is ALWAYS inline with the sensor.


A few more cuts and modifications and I managed to move the camera much closer to the axis of the pan.  I may shorten things a bit more, but right now it is far more manageable.


And that is where I am currently at. Z axis is next. Cable management parts are en route so I can keep things nice and tidy,  i still have to wire up a few other motors, then when everything is built and working 100%, I get to rip it all apart and paint all the silver pieces black.  (well, except the bearings and drawer slides, but the brackets, aluminum square tubes, etc all get painted)
With any luck, This rig will be done by the end of october.

knock on wood….


Project Otto Session 6

I am getting frustrated.

So rather than get into the techie stuff immediately, here are some plants.p1800023

Green guy just chilling outside the tupperware bin they call home. 


Nice new pitcher saying “Hey, whassup” to one of my Droseras.¬†


This guy is pitching a new pitcher and hanging it off an extension cable. ūüôā


Look at that lil guy. That is one of my new Nepenthes.

Ok. Now for the geeky shit.

I feel there is a lack of progress, regardless to how much I have done.  Perhaps I am just being impatient. Or I have some underlying anxiety that some of my design choices will not work.  This is not really an indication of any failure, this is just my general anxiety. I have put a lot of thought in this system, purchased in stages, i think i should be good. I do have some parts that were purchased and will not be used, but that probably adds up to less than $300 of parts. considering the total price tag of this build, that is relatively acceptable considering those parts will more than likely be used in future projects.

I managed to make some progress last weekend, considering that I was on call for my day job, the amount of work done is not too shabby.

Lets revisit the power center.


The new addition are the two panels in the front with the switches.  These will be used to disable the stepper motor drivers so motors can be disconnected/reconnected/replaced without having to shut down the whole power center. They are directly tied into the ENABLE function of the stepper drivers. If enabled (which is default) disconnecting the motor can damage/destroy the driver.



I also replaced 6 of the Leadshine DM432C drivers (orange sticker) with CWD556 drivers (Pink stickers). The difference between them is pretty significant. The CDW’s can deliver more power, but even when set to the same power as the Leadshines they can get about 400% faster speeds, but the motors end up quite a bit louder. ¬†These will be used for the X, Y, and Z axis, as well as the PAN, while the Leadshines will control the tilt, roll, focus, and 3D mini slider.¬†That leaves two CWD556 drivers for AUX motors that can be used for various other tasks such as a turntable or whatnot.


Sorry for the lousy pics. I also printed out all 316 pages of the Dragonframe manual. While I do have soft copies its nice to have a hard copy on hand.  Thank goodness color laser printers are cheap these days. Would never have been able to do this on that Inkjet nonsense.


I also printed out another book which I have affectionately named “Appliance Standards and Configurations” which will have sheets listing the dip switch configuration of all the drivers, channel assignments, data sheets for all the parts, and other notes.

Moving along……




here is the frame for the rig. 8020 30 series extrusion anodized black.  This will give a 5ft x 5ft shooting envelope on the X and Y axis, with a horizontal range of about 7 feet of movement. The Z axis wuill give it a vertical movement of about 24  inches.  Not too shabby.

You can see the top part of the elevator which is the big silver box on the top. I suspect by the time its done the 5×5 will actually be 4.5 x 4.5 with about a 6 foot diagonal, but this will be more than enough for my type of work

Also i still have the overhead system i had been using for the lights. This will likely have to come down, but the studio lighting is being replaced so those LED’s will probably not be used much anymore.

here are some more images.




Bearings seen above. Right now they are just sort of stacked on there loosly. I need to drill out the holes in the base before i anchor them in the 8020.


Here is the top of the elevator system, right now it is just sitting up there for fitment purposes. The stepper motor and gearing will be used like a winch to pull the camera PT assembly up and down.


Another angle…..


Right now the elevator is dismantled while i work on it some more. I am waiting for some more aluminum stock to build the support for the winch. When finished it will be primed and painted a nice flat black with engine enamel.

p1770125the elevator with the bearings assembled…


DMX dimmer pack. This stuff is usually used for DJ and stage work. However Dragonframe has the ability to control this sort of stuff as well. I plan to fully utilize its capabilities.


A couple small DMX LED lights. RGB and brightness control all from Dragonframe.


And the mess of a control station. 3D monitor with 3d glasses, the rack up top is for the DMC-16 and power center. controlled by a laptop for built-in battery backup, using external mouse, keyboard and monitor.

So whats next….

I have to…

  1. Drill out mounting holes on bearing rails
  2. Cut the Y axis 8020 extrusion to correct size and attach to the bearing rails
  3. Fabricate the bracket for the winch
  4. Drill out the brackets on the elevator and fit them to the bearings
  5. Machine the spool for the winch and attach to the gearbox
  6. Finish the brackets that attach the PT to the lower part of the elevator
  7. Prime and Paint the elevator (not the bearings though)
  8. Re-assemble the entire elevator assembly
  9. Secure the elevator to the Y axis.
  10. Machine the brackets needed to mount the stepper and ballscrew to move the Y axis
  11. Secure the rear side of the 8020 frame to the wall
  12. Determine needed parts and brackets to be used to attach the ballscrews on the X axis
  13. Attach the micro slider to the cradle in the Pan/Tilt assembly
  14. Run the wiring to all the motors from the power box, solder the termination plugs and shit
  15. Run the cables for the camera control
  16. Test each axis out, get the dip switches setup for each axis and log that in the book
  17. start running motion control tests and adjust the frame as needed to prevent any binding.
  18. Do the rest of the junk I forgot about.

Luckily I have next week off. Ill try to get as much of this done as possible. I am ready to get this system up and running.

Project Otto Session 5

Hello Folks!


For the past week I have been shooting a flowering Drosera Capensis, and a new pitcher on a Nepenthes Alta. ¬†It is a simple setup, 2 plants, 2 cameras, no motion on these. Just selective camera angles to give them the appearance of being outdoors. The Drosera timelapse is going fantastic, I don’t know if I will bother finishing the pitcher plant though.


I have settled and committed on the telescoping design.  The Aluminum extrusion has arrived. The system will comprise of a 8x8x12 aluminum square tube with 4 sets of the heavy duty drawer bearings that are used to raise and lower a 4x4x12 square aluminum tube.  At the most compact it will be about 12.5 inches long, and when fully extended 37 inches long allowing for plenty of travel and a comfortable top height.

I spent some time last night getting the bearings attached together, and with any luck the remaining aluminum stock needed to fit should arrive tomorrow. ¬†I already picked up all the machined bolts, washers, and nuts, which ran a total of 27 bucks. Not cheap, but i want high quality parts ūüôā

I am considering having the 8 and 4 inch metal square tubes annodized. But i may just prime them and paint them with a good enamel. I cant paint the bearings, they will remain black. I might look into creating some sort off a shroud or something that will cover those when extended.

The Frame

IT HAS SHIPPED! I am so excited! It should show up tomorrow. It took about 24 days from the time to the order to time of shipping, but most of the parts were custom cut and anodized black to help keep any reflections down.

I already have the Pan/Tilt/Roll, the hardware for the telescoping Z axis, the linear bearings and ball-screws, the motors, cabling, just about everything to get this shit up and running ūüôā


There are several fairly critical design considerations that still need to be done. Right now I have a good idea how this will all go together, but the final method of attaching various things together is still undetermined. Sometimes these things are far easier to figure out when you have all the parts. You can line things up and see whatever leftover brackets are needed.  The most critical aspect is connecting the telescoping unit to the brackets, and figuring out where to run the Chronos rail, and when/where/size of pulley to use and how to mount it.  I also need to figure out where to mount the motors for the X and Y axis, and figure out how to attach everything.

These are all very critical connection points. But I am confidant that once I have the rest together that it will make sense and sort of work itself out.


Last weekend I had a visitor to the studio. He is a Canadian photographer by the name of¬†Scott Portingale.¬†¬†That was a very interesting visit, Scott is a pretty cool guy! ¬†It is fun to be able to talk to somebody about this sort of work without their eyes glazing over and brain shutting down. If you have not heard of him, be sure to check out his film Infinitude. It really is a brilliant bit of film making. I don’t know how to describe it, other than it really strikes its own path and¬†is fairly unique. ¬†He has some BTS videos that are certainly worth checking out.


How much to Blog?

This is a pretty tough question. There is a part of me that sort of wants to clamp up until Project Otto is complete. It would be fun to put out a neat BTS video and keep some of the design aspects, or at least images of the design sort of under wraps until it is finished.  I may just keep the imagery out until the system is complete. Of course that will be at least another month out at the earliest.

Things left to do

  1. Build the frame
  2. Finish the telescoping unit and mount it
  3. Setup the control center and power system
  4. Wire the connections and run all the cables to the motors
  5. Wire the enable switches on the front of the power system
  6. Tweak/ Optimize the drivers for the motors
  7. Install limit switches
  8. Possibly shorten the arms on the Roll assembly
  9. Run the camera connections
  10. Test all 8 degrees of movement.
    1. X
    2. Y
    3. X
    4. Pan
    5. Tilt
    6. Roll
    7. Focus
    8. 3D Stereoscopic slider
  11. Test runs
  12. Troubleshoot and debug any problems with the system

I really do have my hands full.

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