Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Love Dance of the Parodyciums

Our latest video on Youtube - Love Dance of the Parodyciums - is presented there as a wildlife mockumentary. It is really another test of the CVSEJ-A4402 low-budget hybrid camera. A common teaching need is the stop-motion exercise where students animate objects like modelling clay puppets by taking a series of still digital photos. We wanted to do that kind of test. On Dec 23 2009 I was at the beach and I saw 2 photogenic scraps of seaweed both about 2.5 cm long. No tripod available so I made a steady mount for the A4402 with a piece of wood I found placed on a ramp of sand that I made to get it to the right angle to point down at the hand-sized interesting collection of seaweed that made up my set. I then began the classic process of move the seaweed actors a few mm then take a photo repeated many times. My quick test turned into 405 photos taken over nearly 2 hours and I admit that I got sunburned which I am always careful to avoid and has not happened to me for many years. NZ is in the southern hemisphere so Dec is summer.

Distance from camera to work was about 20cm. Focus switched to "macro".
Colour balance manually set to Sunlight. Still image resolution set to the default native 5 Megapixels.

How does the A4402 perform in this situation? I do not get a clear answer from this movie because (con) I can see focus "hunting" variations but (pro) I also feel that this setup is a difficult one for a simple autofocus system to handle. It was only later that I realised that my "dressing the set" with interesting background seaweed was a bad idea because it gave a wide zone of objects to focus on in a closeup situation where the depth of field (zone) is small. The "star" seaweeds - er "Parodyciums" were on the near edge of this zone and they were mostly slightly out of focus. I hit them with the video editor "unsharp mask" filter to make them seem to look clearer. I also added contrast-lowering overlays to give the background areas less contrast and move viewer attention more on to the Parodyciums.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Re-ink re-visit good results

Good results this week with re-inking of the colour cartridges of my Canon iP5200 printer. I have been using this printer for black-and-white work and I let the colour run out months ago. I expected that the old ink would have blocked the heads forever so it was a pleasant surprise to get colour printing working again. After the refill I needed to run cleaning 5 times before getting a reasonable test result. It has since got better with repeated use until now it is doing a useful job of printing photos. The "JET TEC" kit I bought had good instructions and a syringe. I have since discovered bulk ink suppliers online and I am trying some of that ink. This printer has 3rd party imitation cartridges and I discovered they had refilling holes with plastic plugs so refilling was remarkably easy. Important to cover the exit hole with tape and work on newspaper and wear latex gloves because these CLI-8 cartridges do leak a little on removing the exit hole tape after filling and replacing the plug.

I have also tried refilling another printer, Brother DC-110 with LC47 cartridges. That worked and is my easiest refill so far because the cartridge has a valve that closes on removal so preventing leaks.

I am also successful with 1 trial with an HP 56 black cartridge.

My earlier unsuccessful adventures many years ago were very messy with most of the ink going everywhere except inside the cartridge. This was with a Canon BC-02 cartridge which was a lot more difficult than this week's experiments.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Green screen chroma key - the Askar details

Received this question in the Youtube comments for "Test Scenes for Askar"

i read that it wasn't possible to chroma key with HDV format. how you do this?

Difficult to give a long answer in the Youtube comments area - so here is the place.
The forums I was reading said it was possible but I borrowed cameras and did experiments because I do not take what I read as the final word. For this scene I borrowed a "real" greenscreen sheet that a local studio imports from China and sells for $100. Careful lighting of scene and sheet with film lights each side angling in so shadows do not hit the screen.

It helps to get the camera as far away from the green screen as possible then zoom in - you can then get the actors away from the screen. We did this in an ordinary classroom. Shot on Canon HV20. Editing was so easy - used the now unfortunately discontinued Ulead Mediastudio Pro 8 software. I selected the "bluescreen" preset then clicked on the green area with an eyedropper tool and hit 100% with the slider control. No masks, no separate tuning of various colour channels, really just one click on the default setting for dummies and instant gratification. I understand that most Video Editing software has this "bluescreen" setting but the screen does not need to be blue - green(this case) and red work just as well and there is an eyedropper control cursor to click on your screen colour to get the process started.

I think that to get "composite" shots to work, we need to get it together with hi-definition and pro greenscreen material and careful lighting.

We ran out of time for the main shoot and I needed to visit the "mystic" actor at her home and we did her closeups there. Same camera and greenscreen cloth but I could not borrow the film lights so I used halogen work lights as sold at $30 each by hardware stores - these go well as low-budget film lighting.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Askar published as ebook

Author Bronwyn Calder has taken the ebook plunge with her novel "Askar" by publishing on "Smashwords".

Big decisions on pricing and policies. Bronwyn has priced at USD 2.99 with a free preview of the first 25% of the work. She has chosen the path of an ebook free from DRM digital rights management in agreement with the Smashwords philosophy that it is best to enable readers to enjoy their books without complex restrictions which may create unfair situations, and that most readers can be trusted with the work.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

CVSEJ-A4402 Low cost high definition Camera - first impressions

I am checking out a CVSEJ-A4402 video camera - low cost currently USD$177.50
Of interest because it is representative of advances in cameras emerging from the Chinese electronics industry. My first test was to point it at line resolution charts EIA1956 and ISO12233. Good results, 700-800 line pairs rating which well qualifies this as "High Definition". I am digging deeper to check out the potential for educational use. There is no manual focus or focus lock but the auto-focus seems to work as well as can be expected for a low-cost optical zoom lens. I am seeing it hunt once for focus then lock in until a major change of view happens. Focus hunting takes longer in dark conditions. I wish it had a mic input port. The LCD view matches well with the framing of the recorded video - IMHO better than most cams which tend to record more than they show to allow for traditional TV cropping. The testing continues.

Update - Test shot now posted on Youtube:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kindle - hey Amazon, share the love!

EDIT - (22 Jan 2010)
NEWS - 15 Jan 2010 - Amazon now effectively does "share the love" by making the simple 30% USA withholding tax method available to international authors. We can now get started more easily and do the paperwork later if sales justify that.

Amazon is going international with its Kindle ebook reader. Tonight I downloaded their Kindle ebook reader for PC. Exciting ebook news but here is a negative. It is too difficult for writers outside of the USA to participate. To sign up you need a USA bank account and US Tax paperwork that is a bureaucratic drama to work through - I know because I am partway through this process. And this is quite unnecessary because Amazon's own Createspace print-on-demand service can invite anyone in by using the available simple 30% withholding tax regime. The Kindle needs to be one of the Createspace platforms and operate in the same way and I see no good reason why not. Hey Amazon, if it is good enough to collect money from all the world for ebooks, it is good enough to let all the world join in the creativity!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Best results on Youtube - WMV format does well

I was helping my friend "Walnut the Clown" publish a band performance on his Youtube channel.
'The Amazing Frank E. Evans Band plays "Red Red Robin"'
We had problems with the video looking bad compared to our usual Youtube results. We deleted it, tried rendering different ways then uploading again - 4 times before we got an acceptable result, and that success is a little bit of a surprise being the Microsoft WMV format.
Our earlier efforts were:
1. MPEG-2, DVD-PAL format. MPEG-2 is one of Youtube's officially recommended formats and it seemed like a good idea to have one render cover both DVD and Youtube publication. .... er no!
2. DIVX format. This has been successful for us in the past but this time ... er no!
3. XVID format. Seemed better than DIVX for this clip, probably acceptable, but WMV was better.
4. WMV format. Our widescreen original render output set at 720 x 404 pixels, 30 frames per second progressive from PAL 50i original footage, bitrate 3500 kbps average VBR video with keyframe interval of 2 sec plus keyframes on cue and edit points and 192 kbps audio. This 3.5 minute clip came out to about 85 Meg.

The only reason I even thought to try WMV was that "Walnut" had uploaded some WMV videos he had edited in "Windows Movie Maker" and they look good - for example:

The surprise here is that articles I have read and people I have talked to have said that WMV does not work well with Youtube. These results tell a different story!

Walnut's channel - Comedy and Music:Nostalgia, Vintage, World, Folk, Jazz, Swing

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Film Festival success for "How Europe Got Its Name"

Our short animated film "How Europe Got Its Name", 6 min, has been selected for public screening in the "New Beijing International Film Week". This is a big step forward for us and we are very very happy about it. You can see it in the festival program at:
Link to Beijing Fest 2009 Selected Movies
"How Europe Got Its Name" appears a little over half-way down this page.

Backgrounder for new readers: the democratisation of film-making makes production easier for us (yay), and easier for zillions of others(uh oh) so selection panels can be choosing as little as 5% of what they receive. Why Beijing? My 1980s successes were often in non-English speaking cities. Our movies this century have been collecting rejections from US and NZ festivals so when "How Europe .." was ready, I thought it was time to revisit the wider world. I liked the style of this festival and the film-makers connected with it - you can see what I mean by using the above link and looking around the festival site.

"How Europe Got Its Name" version 1 was made in 1 weekend when we were competing as "Team MITCIT" representing the Manukau Institute of Technology in the New Zealand 48 Hours Furious Film-making Competition. It was wildly ambitious to do a speed-film-making competition with modelling clay animation but we did get it all shot and we got a panic edit version over the finishing line with 2 minutes to spare. We won a small audience-favourite-vote award for 3rd place in our heat.

The Beijing Festival entry is the completed "Version 2".

We can not show you the complete movie on the web yet because we are exploring its film festival and commercial potential. I do plan to post about a 30 second sample soon.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Unsharp Mask" filter works well with digitised film

I have been doing more digitisation of Super-8mm and Standard-8mm movies dating back to 1962. I ran across "Unsharp Mask" in the GIMP manual and I find that Ulead Video Editing software also has this in its video filters. Looking good - on careful inspection results do not have any better detail but they seem to look better. I have found that other sharpeners do bad things with film grain but Unsharp Mask seems to handle graininess well. With "The GIMP", I am using the default settings. With "Ulead" IMO the default settings go too far and I am using relatively gentle settings of "15%, 15%" on the 2 controls provided.
Ref - info with image examples in "The GIMP" online manual:
"The Unsharp Mask filter (what an odd name!) sharpens edges of the elements without increasing noise or blemish. It is the king of the sharpen filters..."