Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stereoscopic Anamorphic?

So Star Trek 2 (or whatever it will be called) is supposedly shooting in 3D. Given JJ Abrams love of the anamorphic format I have to wonder if perhaps he's aiming to be the first (that I know of) to shoot anamorphic 3D. I would certainly be interested to see how that would work.

It would seem a technical nightmare to pull off and would require entirely new camera rigs to be developed. For one thing I imagine matching lens distortions would create some serious hurdles, especially given the "flawed" nature of anamorphic optics. I suppose it's worth pointing out that I loved the anamorphic flares in the 2009 Star Trek film, despite many of my colleagues' distaste for it.

I seriously doubt anamorphic 3D will happen on Star Trek 2 but I'd love to see someone try.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Space Exploration

Last year I spent a week visiting my mother in Flagstaff, Arizona. My 7D was still quite new to me at the time and I shot video constantly, resulting in this. This time I dedicated myself to the part of that film which fascinated and disappointed me the most. Night sky time-lapses.

Having not so much as turned on my Neewer exposure timer in over a year, I had to pretty much re-learn everything I'd muddled through the last time. This time, it being November, not September, the nightly temperature averaged around 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Every night I'd spend a few minutes finding a decent composition, do a few test exposures and once I was happy, I'd create a new folder on the CF card, set the timer, and go to bed. When I awoke in the morning I'd usually find the camera, now frosted over, it's battery dead and the timer still going.

Below is a compilation of all my time-lapses, start to finish, from the entire trip. By no means a finished product. I'm still working out just what to do with them but I though it important to share.

While it's still fresh in my memory I'd like to list a few things I learned along the way.

  • Open up the iris on your lens all the way. You might think that infinite focus requires a stopped-down lens but there is so little light in that night sky and you need to gather all that you can with your photon collector. In my case that meant opening my Tokina 11-16mm to f2.8 and focusing to just a tiny bit back from the lens's infinity mark.
  • Set your ISO as high as is acceptable. I found that 3200 iso was about as high a noise level as I was willing to accept. I was generally shooting JPEGs at first so the noise was not easily removed. On the later time-lapses I began to experiment with RAW sequences, thus improving the noise situation.
  • White balance at 3800 K. When shooting JPEGs, 3800 K white balance gave me the most accurate results. Again, shooting RAW negates this concern. Your results may vary.
  • Be patient and do the math. If you're doing 1 minute exposures as I was, then you're getting 1 frame every minute. That means that if you leave your camera 'lapsing away for one hour you'll only have  a 2.5 second video (if you're aiming for 24 fps. and you're only a real man or woman if you are).
  • Don't be afraid to go out of your way. The last night of our trip, my friend Sam and I decided to return to a spot we'd seen earlier in the week on our way back from an awesome cave exploring adventure. It was a 30 minute drive which we set out on at 12:30am to coincide with the moon setting. The images were great (though I only 'lapsed for an hour so the final shot wasn't terribly long) but more than that the experience of standing in a completely isolated field in the dead of night under a brilliant celestial display was one I wouldn't trade for all the sleep in the world (I'd make up for it on the flight back the next morning).
See what you miss when you're busy sleeping?
One of the absolute highlights of this trip was visiting the Lowell Observatory. There I was able to peer through the high-powered telescopes at Jupiter, The Moon and the M3 Star Cluster. I also had the privilege of asking the astrophysicists on hand every question I could think of. One such physicist, and experienced astrophotographer gave me insights which vastly improved my exposures thereafter.

The entire experience has left me with a deep passion for photographing the night sky and for learning about the universe itself. I'm currently looking into elaborating on Goldpaint Photography's "delineated" time-lapse methodologies. Specifically it's implementation with musical movements. I'm also planning several more outings to dark-sky locations. I'll be posting my results along the way.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

ILM, The Optical Printer and a Lifelong Obsession

In 1999 I became obsessed with figuring out how bluescreen compositing works. I was 15 years old when I saw Star Wars Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace. When I walked out of the theater I was determined to know how such a thing was done. Enough has been said about the film itself so I won't get into that here.

For years I searched the internet, emailed professionals and read books on the subject. None of which I felt I fully understood. Finally, I happened upon a book called Photoshop Channel CHOPS that revealed how to perform a bluescreen comp in Photoshop using techniques similar to an optical printer. My results were disappointing. I didn't understand what I was doing.

Two years after The Phantom Menace and armed with an MiniDV camcorder, iMac, iMovie & Photoshop I made my first film. A (very short) short starring my brother and featuring one greenscreen shot. The poorly lit screen didn't key well at all so I set about rotoscoping the entire 316 frame shot. One TIFF image at a time in Photoshop 4.0. The rotoscope was taking forever so I opted to reshoot the shot with a better-lit screen.

11:37pm from Samuel Hall on Vimeo.

By then I'd started using Commotion. A once-great compositing application that's since been abandoned. With modern keying tools I no longer had to know the ins-and-outs of bluescreen compositing.

I moved on with my life.

Every so often I revisit this obsession. Trying to wrap my mind around optical, photochemical processes that gave way to this one visual trick that made possible so many of the spectacular images that have inspired me for as long as I can remember. This obsession with bluescreen shots led to an interest in visual effects of all kinds and to my current career in the moving images business.

Now, because of this video demonstration by FX Guide & Stu Maschwitz I finally understand how it worked then (the optical, pre-digital era) and now. I can't tell you what this means to me. Thank you FX Guide. Thank you Stu.

July11 Background Fundamentals Class 01 from fxguide on Vimeo.

fxguide: ILM and the Optical Printer

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Help A Brother Out

You've got just 24 hours left to help Koo of NoFilmSchool make his first feature film. NoFilmSchool is a site I get a lot out of and if you read this blog you will to. This is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to really put our collective money where our mouth is and support the kind of creative endeavors we all want to be a part of.

Come on. Help a brother out.

Man-child on Kickstarter