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Technical journey for Wombok Forest

"Gordon" our first stop motion animation, we used a Sony 120e s-video output at maximum res into a Pinnacle dc10+ (this really looked good a no one could ever figure out how we had done it.) For our next film "Rocky"
we captured to an editing ide drive. No raid for dv. We thought this would give us a much better image, but using a higher res camera with a better colour (3ccd) we actually took a step backwards in picture quality.After seeing both these works projected up large in a cinema we thought we better find another way of having a better image that would not pixilate when projected. We started to experiment with a digital camera which we thought would increase the data rate and image size. Digital SLR's were just on the market at a horrendous cost so we opted for a Canon g2. We did a heap of experimentation on an animation called "Waiting" ( still waiting to be finished) using this camera, but we found that the canon (it shoots 2200 x 1704 lines so it looked great but the camera was slow and its capture software was unreliable. Stuff like manual focus was not supported. On top of that the camera flickered badly. Luma-flicker is what it is called sometimes but it can be the result of the lighting changing (aperture moving) between each frame. This kind of instamatic type digital camera uses the aperture as the shutter. This made every frame slightly lighter or darker….and extra flickery. Also the image was cold and flat and lacked any kind of depth or feeling. A great camera and we use it all the time for behind the scenes etc but not meant for stop frame animation which was probably unheard of in 2002-2003 anyway.

We had all intentions of shooting "Wombok Forest" on the G2 with a homemade adaptor that allowed us to attatch lenses in front of the camera (we had actually spent a couple of years on all of this experimentation) when the digital SLR started to drop in cost.

This hold the manual focus button on so that the camera doesn't power off after 15 minutes

We looked around and eventually settled on the Nikon d70 which was actually cheaper than the G2. We knew that the aperture was separate from the shutter. But the next problem was stopping the lens aperture from being controlled by the camera. This was solved by slightly unscrewing the lens (about 10mm). Now there was no aperture movement in between frames. Our next biggest problem was flicker.


The next test was to make sure the shutter was accurate enough that each frame was the correct exposure. What we noticed was that the faster the shutter the more unstable the exposures became. So the slower the shutter speed the more accurate and flicker free the exposures became. For Wombok we are shooting between 1 and 1/6th of a second and sometimes we go down to 3 seconds for really tricky lighting shots. This is fine for animation seeing none of the models are actually moving when the frame is taken. This slow shutter allows us to light our sets with household lights. Most of the time we shoot with 12 volt 20 watt desk lamps and 12 volt 50 watt halogen light bulbs. Another thing we discovered is if we use tungsten lights any power fluxuation seems more noticable. We had heard of animators using power conditioners to get clean power but we could'nt afford one of them. We had also read that you can get a variac to adjust the power to a multimeter….but we couldn’t afford one of them. We had to solve this problem the cheapest and most efficient way we could, so for the flicker of mains power fluctuations (we are in an industrial complex) we bought a $10 multimeter a $20 light dimmer, a light switch and some extention cords and have power running through the light dimmer and on the other side spliced into this cord running out is the probes of the multimeter(voltmeter), this tells us how much power the dimmer is outputting. Then we run all our lights from this dimmer. We then set the dimmer to 220 volts. If someone in the next shed turns on a power tool the voltage drops and we just compensate with the dimmer and take it back to 220volts. This is like a variac only way cheaper and our lights don’t care if they are running at 220v or 240v . ( we had to get this checked by a licensed electrician who we knew)

Looks bodge but so far so good and can be placed on the lap for convenience

The switch is for our loop light, it turns on a halogen work light during the animating so our video split camera can give a bright enough picture for the looping programe. Once the light is off for the shot, the Nikon would never know it was on. The other buttons are for stopmotion pro these take the frame - loop the frame –turn on a live image. Tghe keyboard is flor the Nikon capture we just hit the spacebar (taped red for our convenience)


The next thing we found with the d70 was that any internal processing that was done by the cameras internal software was making variations in between frames, so we went through the menus and turned off anything that could cause this automatic variation. We discovered that if we went into optimize image menu -then custom menu we could turn off stuff like automatic sharpening, auto tone adjustment, auto colour. After doing all of these things we think the image is flicker free.

We connect the camera via usb to a computer with Nikon capture software on it. This enables our camera to be controlled remotely. We have a hand held wireless remote which works shooting when we are shooting to a cf card, but we ended up shooting to the computers hard drive which turned ojut to be a much better way. Thisway we are able to name each frame individually, in a time” wombok frame 086345” It takes a lot of double checking etc but doing it this way we hope never to have two frames with the same name.

We shoot 3008 x 2000 line 5.5mb’s raw nef files. We then back up every frame 4 times on 4 separate hard drives before we render our footage. The nef’s load directly into aftereffects7 for rendering out video for the offline (with burnt in timecode).

We started editing in dv resolution on our canopus raptor rt cards to a TV. We had to build another computer which we would eventually do the online on ourselves and have just recently after much research got hold of a blackmagic hd editing card. The multibridge extreme is really cool because we can view hd footage on a 24inch dell lcd screen. It works with premiere pro2, aftereffects 7, combusion4 and Photoshop. All these programs can access the dell monitor or a tv via the multibridge. It also can handle any video format. So we are editing with it at the moment. Blackmagic have this cool hd motion jpeg format that looks great but only chews 11mb per sec. as opposed to uncompressed hd which is 240mb/per sec

We are dumping the 3k files into aftereffects hd (1920x1080) timeline then rendering out the mjpeg video files. We do this each day after shooting at the shed. Then dump the mjpeg video files into premiere for editing. It’s cool cause we are off lining in hd. And it looks amazing.


We had to start thinking about sound, sound recordings etc so as with the vilsion we started to research and finally came up with a cool little sound recorder called a (microtrack) made by m-audio and it can record 24bit 96khz recordings. We are recording wave files at 24bit 48khz as this is the resolution that we need for a film. This recorder comes with this cool little t-microphone that is great for just holding close to what you want to record and it records to a cf card. We have a 4gig microdrive in the recorder which can actually record 7 hours of 24bit 48khz on the one card but the battery would die way before that which is probably it's only fault.
The best thing is that the recorder just plugs straight into the computer and we just drag and drop our recordings into protools or premiere.

We also got protools le (m box 2)and are in the middle of trying to learn this program and at times we think this was overkill as we probably could have done it all in premiere. We are excited about the sound but that is really something we won’t get stuck into until way down the track. Our project should open up in a big protools system if we have to get it mixed professionally later on.