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Category Archives: Essential Equipment and Software

Got a New Green-Screen!

It’s been slow news for the past two month, but all that is changing.

I had ordered a green screen from www.tubetape.com and it arrived earlier this week. It’s a massive 10 by 12 feet (compared to the other screen I had that was 8 by 8 feet) and cost 20 dollars. Add thirty dollars for shipping and ten dollars for customs clearance and the total cost ended up coming to just over sixty dollars. I don’t feel like that’s too much money to spend. It was important for me to have the correct green to key out.

So it came as a surprise to me when, upon unwrapping the packaging, I found out that the green screen was significantly darker than the last one I had used. I’m not complaining. I have to test it out first. I was just taken aback. Maybe because after shooting two scenes and having some difficulties getting a solid key on some shots I’m realizing I may have been using the wrong green.

According to tubetape.com, to obtain a perfect key you need to light the green screen evenly and have a screen that’s as close to pure green as possible. Sounds fairly simple but I think in practice there are other factors to take into consideration such as the how the color of the lights you are using to light the screen may modify the color of the screen itself.

Without getting into specifics, if you are using a DV camera connected to a computer you should be able to use software to check whether your green screen will key out using a chroma vectoroscope. I don’t have either so I guess the only way for me to find out will be to test it out. Before that I need to have the screen ironed to remove folds and I also need to install a rod to support the screen in place.

Before I resume shooting (or testing for that matter), I need to buy lights. I found two types of red-reads in town. One type is Chinese and the other is German. Both use the same bulbs which are available in plenty, but the Chinese lights have a lifespan of a few years while the German red-heads apparently last forever. I’m not picky, so I might get the Chinese lights (unless anyone raises any objection between now and next Saturday).

 

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This just in…

…and now we have some  complications.

  1. 1. After shooting the drumming scenes Maena (bless him) needed his lights and green screen back so I have to find some way to substitute these. Fortunately I am starting a new scene, so I’m not too worried about switching lights as opposed to doing the same in the middle of a scene. The drumming scenes were fundamental to the whole film and having the Lowel lights and the screen made shooting it a lot more painless. The new green screen consists 2 pieces of joined cloth with a huge seam in between. It suck, but will have to do for now.
  2. Olokut just broke his shoulder, and the Omulosi puppet lost some fingers after the drumming sequences. I need to ensure that both puppets are structurally sound before shooting.
  3. I begin production on an animated series in September so this gives me five weeks left to shoot. No pressure.
 

Springboard

If you ever need software to plan a short project and don’t want to fork out 900 dollars for the brilliant but very expensive ToonBoom Storyboard Pro you could either opt to get their lighter version Storyboard for 199 dollars or pick up 6sys’s Springboard for the grand price of… 35 dollars.

When looking at software for making a storyboard you want to be able to:

  • Draw your frames using a graphics tablet (for me this isn’t too important since it would deny me time to play with Art Rage which is my favourite drawing application right now.)
  • Put frames together in a sequence
  • Attach descriptions to each of the shots for dialogue action and additional instructions such as VFX requirements
  • Preview that sequence in realtime to get a sense of timing for scenes
  • Export your sequence as a movie in different formats and resolutions
  • Export your storyboard as a document that can be printed with all your frame or shot information intact
  • Export your storyboard scene information intact into your favourite video editing software to assist in editing.

Now save for the last point, everything else can be done in Springboard. The only caveat is that sound support is limited to mono and 22100 khz but the developer says that this will be resolved in the next few months. Only other issue is that multiple tracks for sound aren’t supported. In Storyboard pro you have this plus you can visually slide your sound clips around to position them on the timeline.

The brilliant thing about springboard is that it allows you to create a heirachy for your story using scenes (see the image above) and then automatically saves these files as separate editable files in a folder. This way working with huge scenes becomes more manageable. To preview the entire storyboard just open the master file and you will find the other files updated.

My only gripe is a lack of a PDF export option. I hope this will be resolved sometime. Other than that, I see a very bright future for this application.

EDIT:

I recently discovered that Springboard exports to the XPS format, which is a sharing format created by Microsoft. Windows Vista users get an XPS viewer by default while XP viewers need to download it from the Microsoft site.

For those who can’t live without PDF, here’s a workaround. You could always print tour file as an EPS and then use a program such as Adobe Acrobat Distiller to make the PDF.

UPDATE:

The new version of Springboard now accepts stereo files so there are no more issues with sound files needing to be converted to mono.

 

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Blender Training in Nigeria

The Blender Foundation conducted a seven day introductory training
workshop in Nigeria. Blender, for those who don’t know is an open source (read free) fully fledged 3D animation software. It has pretty mean capabilities as evidenced in their latest animated short Big Buck Bunny. I will be using it to make backgrounds for the film and for special effects.

It has a huge learning curve, but is a very effective tool once mastered. But then again-which serious 3d application is easy to master?

Find out all about the Nigeria workshop here. I wonder if they would consider sending a few guys down to Kenya? Hmmm….

 

GIMP

I plan to fix my broken character this evening and, if need be, tomorrow.

I just wanted mention that I will be using GIMP instead of Photoshop in this project. It’s a bit of a risk, but I will give it a shot for making backgrounds. I always said that Photoshop would likely be the last thing that would be replaced in an open-source pipeline, but the newer releases of Gimp seem to have swayed my opinion a little bit.

I had been playing around with version 2.44, but had issues with a BUG that offset the cursor by a marginal distance. Installing the latest release 2.45 fixed the issue. They even made a  note in the release  notes. 

It’s not a very intuitive application, especially for painting, but it’s free and it has a large set of tools. The only problem I forsee is getting my files into and out of my compositing application with the layers intact. If push comes to shove, I may get Photoshop or try another application like Pixel which is not free, but really cheap and with more features (and a unified interface).

 
 

Stop Motion Pro

I must say that having used STOP MOTION PRO 5 on this production has to be one of the best decisions I’ve made. It works seamlessly with my Canon EOS 30D camera.

I get to shoot directly from the camera, have the frames download instantly via USB and then hide and delete or hide frames as I choose. Then I can rearrange the shot frames any way I want. I can individually drag and drop frames anywhere in the sequence or I can even reverse all the frames I shot so they play backwards. This came in really handy for a shot I was doing in which one of the characters, Omulosi, was placing a drum on the ground. I had been having issues doing it straight ahead because the lest frames of the drum resting on the ground couldn’t match up so I was getting wierd shaky motion. When I shot it in reverse I was beginning from a point of rest so I was able to get smoother motion.

Neat.

I haven’t had any major performance issues or bugs yet. Sometimes when working with audio I get a slight mismatch between audio and video, but this doesn’t happen when I export the movies.

The audio-syncing feature alone is worth in vesting in the software. I can shoot frames and then bring in audio and scrub along the time-line to choose where I want to start the audio.

Amazing.

Pricing aside I have no complaints. I couldn’t have done better at the time. If I had a Mac and was starting pre-production now, I would have seriously considered Dragon Stop Motion. It seems to have all the bell’s and whistles I love about stop motion pro at a cheaper price. Still, for the PC and using a DSLR, look no further than StopMotion Pro.

UPDATE [24/6/2008]

Techie note: I found out just last night that while shooting you really need to pay attention to the settings dial on the camera. In order to access the aperture and exposure settings. I made a mistake and set it to Automatic Depth of Field instead of manual and found myself wondering why I couldn’t  change the settings directly from the software. I even almost thought there was a problem with the camera or the software drivers for the camera.

 
 

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A Great Gift, Thanks Celtx

What a great birthday gift I got today! Not just for me, but for all the movie makers out there. Celtx has just released an update to their script writing and asset management software . Celtx is not a fancy word processor. It’s more than that. It allows you to lind movie production assets directly to your script including sounds, and photos. The completed project can then be shared over the web with collaborators via Celtx’s secure site, allowing the whole production team to literally read from the same script.

Genius.

Version 0.9.9.5, according to the e-mail boasts a sexier interface, a module that lets you make storyboards, and enhanced script formatting capabilities not to forget index cards so that you never lose direction in the middle of a long script. In addition it allows you to add a column for narration. A welcome feature for documentary film makers. All these are significant improvements to an already great piece of software. They even have a new tag line: It’s the Story that Counts. And the best part is that it comes for free.

I have been a user of Celtx for over a year now and I can’t think of anything negative to say about the software. I have even used it to script comic books without any major issues. So now you know the script-writing/ asset management software of choice for Olokut.

Great.

I’m done selling you the idea already click here to take it for a spin. It’ll help you spin better stories.

 
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Posted by on September 17, 2007 in Essential Equipment and Software