Sunday, October 04, 2015

Got a GH2 and learning editing - keyframing brightness filter

I haven't made any direct progress yet on the stopmo flick, still haven't got the power fixed. But I did buy a couple of cameras and start to learn Final Cut Pro. In the spirit of journaling - largely to preserve the info here in case I need it later, here's the quick rundown.

First I decided to get another camera. Not for doing the stopmotion - the G1 is plenty good enough for that, but to document the process, to shoot stills (with the G1 in shot) and video and maybe even some time lapse. So I needed something capable of HD video, and I thought it would be wise to get another micro 4/3s camera so I could use the lenses I already have. Checked eBay and immediately found a Panasonic Lumix GF3 going for the ridiculous price of $58!! - they're usually more like $400 to $600 body only, even used. So I snatched it up, got a couple spare batteries , and then made the disappointing discovery that it doesn't do time lapse and has no socket where you can plug in a remote shutter release. Well crap! In fact, a little more digging turns up that it was aimed at people used to a camera phone or point and shoot who wanted to step up to M4/3s. So made to be used mainly in full auto mode, though it does allow manual control.

I played with it for a while, and cooked up a crazy plan to devise some kind of electronic shutter release using a linear actuator, something I've seen the Mythbusters use a lot for pushing buttons. Researched that (ok, I begged on SMA and Thomas Nichol was kind enough to talk me through the whole thing) and bought the stuff I need to rig it together, including a beginner's soldering kit for electronics.

Meanwhile I had also bought a 7" monitor since the camera's rear screen doesn't flip out allowing you to see it when shooting selfies. And it turns out it will work with a monitor - sort of, that is until you start recording, at which point the signal shuts off and the monitor goes black.

That was the straw that broke the camel's back, and I ordered a Panasonic GH2 - a filmmaker's wet dream said to capture video as good as $5,000 cameras and nearly as good as the $10,000 ones. That's if you use a hacked GH2 - this Russian guy named Vitaliy Kiselev found a way to get into the coding and trick it out so people could start creating patches to upgrade various parameters of its performance.

The GH2s tend to go for around $600 - $800 body only, but I found one for $330. Started researching on how to hack it, downloaded all the stuff I need and when the camera came in I started getting familiar with all the menus and features, and suddenly realized it must already be hacked, because the ISO goes all the way up to 12800! That's definitely not factory. No idea which hack it has, but the amount of detail and clarity is astonishing. And it should get even better when my new SDXC card comes in - the write speed of the card determines the data rate while filming.

Anyway, aside from that, I've been recording some video every day and editing it into little movies - stupid ones at this point, littered with bad cuts and bad shots and every error imaginable, but this is how you learn. By the time I get to work on the stopmo flick I plan to have reached a point of competency with editing and getting the right kind of shots to allow for good editing and good storytelling.

Last night I was testing various lenses for low light performance while walking through the house, some dark rooms some lit, and outside a bit. And I figured out how to add a brightness filter and keyframe it to bring light up smoothly in the dark areas and back down in the light ones. Really sweet!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Brush brush brush..

Major unearthing done, and now it's down to the delicate work with tiny brushes, like any excavation job.

I'm going to finish this film

Suddenly decided last night that I cannot let this film die. It's so close to completion - a few more months can see it all the way through. As you can see, the set literally needs to be excavated before I can even get within 2 feet of it! So much stuff piled around it and on it. Let the digging commence.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Looking for

Here's the link where you can see it in's Wayback Machine:

It's with mixed regret and relief that I've let the site lapse. I purchased the domain way back before there was a YouTube or a Blogspot, and in order to post videos on the internet then you had to have a host site - one that you paid for on an ongoing basis. Since then of course things have changed immensely - not only can you host videos for free on YouTube, Vimeo or any number of other sites, but blogs allow you to also post written material and images for free as well. Not only that, but bandwidth has increased insanely since then, to the point that it's no problem for most people to stream videos in HD without waiting for buffering at all. Those little MOV files I was posting way back then were tiny because it was recommended clips be under 1 MB in filesize, otherwise too many people would have to wait a long time to let them load.

Well, today most people don't know what an MOV is or have the software to watch it! And they wouldn't understand why the clips are in such low resolution or so short, or why many of them have no sound (all to keep filesize down). As more time goes by the site got to seem more and more like an anachronism from some bygone age - I'm using Blogspot now,and YouTube if I ever want to upload a video file (which hasn't been for a long time).

So I decided to let it lapse. It just didn't seem like there was any reason to keep paying for it anymore - I didn't think anybody was even looking at it anymore.

I'll post that link in the sidebar of this blog in case anyone still remembers it and wants to visit. I just checked to make sure it was working, and was amazed to find the video clips are still functioning!! I didn't think it worked that way - text and images sure, but usually not the video. Maybe it's because they're quicktimes rather than flash? Or maybe it's because the files are still hosted on the server? Yeah, that's probably it. Anyway, at least it's still there in some form - actually virtually the same, as long as the clips still work.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Friday, October 18, 2013

Ok, it's time to reveal my *other* blog...

Forgive me stopmoes, I've been unfaithful! The reason I haven't been updating here is that I've been working on my other passion - learning to paint. About a year ago I started another blog, which remained private until today, which I've been using as a journal of my artistic development. I'm still pretty insecure about going public with it, it consists largely of my thoughts about various artists and art in general, along with the art I've been doing to try to blow the dust off my neglected skills and try to transition from drawing to painting. I had just got a tablet around november last year, and was fumbling around with it very clumsily. Just because I kept trying though, I did develop some skill with using the stylus and with working in photoshop elements, and now I'm beginning to get used to working in color. A lot of what I have posted there isn't very good at all - much of it is simply exercises to develop my skills and stay in practice, some of it in media I'm unfamiliar with or trying things I hadn't done before.

Ok, enough excuses - the blog is called Artventure, and here's a glimpse of my latest creation in its current state of development:

I'll add the link to my sidebar soon. Hope to hear from some old friends over there! Feel free to leave comments on old posts if you want.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

CronenBergman... Or why movie spectacle and good old fashioned storytelling just don't mix (Newly edited)

What I've come to realize is that usually the movies that are spectacular don't have good stories, and I think it's because all the surface glitz, all the fast motion and staccato cuts and excessive spectacle is visual candy, meant to be addictive and leave you wanting more - and once you get sugar you don't want green beans and steak anymore. When you get the sugar rush going that's all you want anymore, until you get sick and puke it all up, and you're left feeling empty (a very apt description of my experience seeing quite a few modern blockbusters!) So it seems on a basic level the excessive spectacle and the meat and potatoes of storytelling are incompatible. 

Though there was a time in the late 70's and early 80's when some of the New Hollywood filmmakers like Spielberg, Lucas and Ridley Scott were still doing good solid storytelling and just starting to develop the modern excesses of spectacle that are pretty much all today's blockbusters consist of - but they were using it sparingly, only to spice up the story - the effects were still in support of the story rather than the other way around. The last director I'm aware of who worked like this in the sci-fi effects genre was James Cameron - not the Cameron of today, but when he did his early films - up through around T2, when he was starting to give in to the call of spectacle and CGI. I still feel like T2 is effects in support of story, though the dynamics were starting to shift already.

From what I understand, Spielberg wanted to do Jaws very differently - he wanted to be able to see the shark all the time, for the camera to be able to follow it underwater while it did loops and crazy stunts, but the mechanical shark didn't look good enough to allow that, so it was only by a twist of fate that we ended up with an actually great movie rather than the spectacular effects extravaganza he wanted to make. Instead he had to fall back on traditional tricks like not showing the monster too much, letting the viewers use their imaginations to fill in the blanks. Apparently he thought that was sub-par, when in actuality it made it a much better and more sophisticated film. I was really shocked and let down to discover that the greatness of that film was something that happened by accident… I had more faith than that in Stevie boy! Sad to see it was completely misplaced.

I've been on a huge Cronenberg kick lately (of all things!) - I just read 2 books, one about his films and one composed of his own words from interviews etc, and decided to watch all of his movies, all as part of my studies of directors and how they work. I was pretty surprised to hear him say that he admires Bergman and  Kurosawa and Godard and the other international directors of the postwar period and that he deliberately makes his movies like they did. Say WHAAAAT??!! At first I couldn't even comprehend what I just read - oh sure, Scanners, Videodrome and The Fly are just like The Virgin Spring or Seven Samurai!! Sure they are!

But after reading some more and watching his films starting from his first ones, I realized they actually are alike in many ways - there's no empty spectacle just to make it fast-paced for a modern popcorn crowd, but at the same time he doesn't (usually) do boring Drama movies about relationships or people trying to improve their social standing. I mean, he works in color, but so did Bergman and Kurosawa et al once that became cheap enough. And he does the crazy morphing body horror stuff - but that's the extent of anything spectacular in his work, and it's actually never just for shock effect or cheap horror scares the way Carpenter would use it - it's always to say something that the whole film is about - something philosophical about human nature. It's shocking, sure, but once you get past that (most people never do) and pay attention to what he's really doing, his films are actually built on very interesting philosophical ideas, not just on scares or gross-outs. All of Cronenberg's films turn out to be doing the same thing in different ways - physically externalizing an internal state --- manifesting psychological conditions literally in the flesh - done through body horror special effects in most of his early films, and through performance technique in everything from Dead Ringers on (everything after The Fly if I remember right, which isn't my strong point).

He did a film called Crash, which involved nothing but sex and car crashes, and still he didn't give in to the temptation to go all Hollywood Blockbuster style - the crashes are simple and quick, no explosions, no slow motion shot from 12 different angles, no elaborate setups or ticking countdowns or anything. No tough-guy muscle-head drivers spouting off cheesy one-liners. None of it is for exploitation, it's all to explore the ideas his movies are based on. His actors can really ACT - they're not models who decided to try their hand at being in Sy-Fy Channel style crapfests.

Actually the same is true of David Lynch and Kubrick too  -both of whom Hollywood doesn't know what to do with because their work is about ideas and even though it flirts with the same material Hollywood uses only for cheap thrills it's used thoughtfully and intelligently - something severely lacking in Hollywood since sometime in the mid 80's at least.

And something I realized about all of them - even though they do use great cinematography and are known for it, it's never ostentatious and it always always serves the story rather than the other way around. In fact most of their cinematography is quite simple and straightforward - the reason it tends to look so nice is because they're shooting things that are inherently interesting and they carefully arrange visual elements for greatest storytelling clarity (not visual eye candy effect) and they or their cameramen (both in most cases) have a great eye for composition.

It might seem odd that I mentioned David Lynch in this article. He's different from the rest because his stories are usually pretty surreal and don't follow standard narrative convention. And like Cronenberg, his work shocks people raised on the standard Hollywood formulas and happy endings. But in spite of the sometimes frightening or nightmarish nature of some parts of his films, he's known as the Jimmy Stewart of surrealism. He looks a lot like Mr. Stewart, and in fact he describes his childhood as very Norman Rockwell. It was idyllic and serene, but he was always fascinated by the little red ants that swarmed unseen on the beautiful trees, and the weird patches of dripping slime. So most of his films focus on that dichotomy - a pastoral idyllic world that when examined closer reveals a nightmarish underworld hidden just beneath the surface, which erupts through from time to time. He also likes to examine themes of duality, many of his female characters split into 2 people (I think only one of his male characters does the same, in Lost Highway). This duality of human nature is actually one of the great themes running through the annals of human thought from the heady days of the Greek philosophers onward, with significant stops at Freud and Jung and throughout the great world literature. All of these directors concern themselves with thematic material that is pretty well known to readers of great literature or philosophy or psychology - it's just considered too difficult or challenging for Joe Six Pack and Suzie Homemaker, who would rather be watching American Idol or Real Housewives.

** EDIT:
I just made the connection between Lynch's idyllic pastoral neighborhoods erupting with insect plagues and slime with what happens to his human characters. It's pretty obvious once you've made the connection, but it's the same thing applied to landscape rather than person. In Lost Highway for instance the man and his wife both start off as happy, successful well-adjusted yuppie types until suddenly a mysterious video tape shows up one night that begins a series of transformations essentially ripping away that outer illusion to reveal the seething murderous shadow personae of them both lurking inside unsuspected. The same happens to Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn in Mulholland Drive - through most of the movie we see her shiny happy Hollywood Hopeful dream self, smiling brightly and all innocent, finding instant success and friendship on arriving, but little by little her Shadow self bursts through, which had always been there but unseen, unsuspected. It's the parts of ourselves we hide away because we don't want to own them, and when they do show their ugly faces we don't recognize them as ourselves. That's why he actually changes their names and has them played by different actors sometimes. 

Ironic now that I posted the 2 names of the Naomi Watts character - her shiny happy character is even named for trees! 

It's also the kind of thematic material I've discussed a few other times on this blog - most prominently in my articles about Gene Wolfe, a writer often relegated to the science fiction and fantasy shelves, but who says the type of work he does actually concerns itself with the biggest human issues - things that can't be touched by the very limited scope of the social realist novel, a genre that only arrived on the scene relatively recently and that according to him won't last very long. The great work of the world's most ambitious thinkers - Homer, Shakespeare, Goethe etc, does not limit itself to the workaday lives and ambitions of ordinary folk. It's true that in their most limiting genre forms science fiction and fantasy are extremely weak, but if a writer or filmmaker really wants to broaden his scope to include the full range of human experience and thought, then he needs to reach out to the outer limits, beyond the pale of everyday experience - and then you find yourself in uncategorizable territory, dealing with stuff that gets you classified as science fiction and/or fantasy, though really it may be closer in nature to myth.  And that's one thing all the filmmakers I listed above definitely have in common. Well, many of them at least used-to concern themselves with this level of experience, but have since switched over to glitzy shiny empty spectacle, which brings in much better opening weekend box office. What is it this is called? Oh yeah, that's right - selling out!