Mechanical Sympathy Redux – Now with 10 less seconds!

I’ve recently found the time to finally make a few edits to the piece. I’ve been wanting to clean up a few bits since I submitted it as part of my dissertation in late March of this year. I mainly wanted to mix the sound a bit better as I previously did all the audio recording and editing in one day because of a rushed schedule.

I also paid close attention to all the feedback I received during the user evaluations and ignored everyones thoughts and suggestions. It’s my film after all. I did, however, cut some of the still shots at the end of the piece, but not because everyone said to … I just happened to have the same opinion.

I’ve replaced the old version with this one the link is still the same..

Director’s (+ producer’s, script writer’s, editor’s…) cut


Red carpet time

Should have posted this a couple of weeks ago..

Roll up, roll up! Showing all October on a BBC Big Screen near you (if you happen to live in or nearest to the Edinburgh BBC Big Screen).

I was on the bus home the other day and out of the corner of my eye I saw the EKG scene from MS, 25m wide. I completely forgot the Big Screen was showing it. It had the day’s stock exchange figures scrolling down the side and it was quite a strange experience. I really wanted to stand up and point out to my fellow travellers “that’s mine!!”, but social conformity kicked in at the right time and I sat quietly, smiling creepily.

The BBC Big Screen in Edinburgh is showing Mechanical Sympathy every day this month on a loop with other animations (two more of which are mine) between 2-6pm. If you see it, you owe me a fee.. probably.

Making Mechanical Sympathy

Here’s a quick vid I made to document some of the steps I followed in creating the final video.


The dust has finally settled.

Forgive me blog for I have sinned. It has been three months since my last post.

Since then I finished (well not quite, but read on) the project and university and rejoined the human race. I must admit it was a relief not having to log every event in a daily blog, and to be honest even if I did it wouldn’t have been that interesting as all I did was eat, cut my toenails, skype my mam and argue with Virgin Media (I won the argument and got a great discount). I realised that anyone who might have been following the project via this blog would have been subjected to an eternal cliffhanger so I’ve decided to add some closure and help those people back onto the cliff. Their arms must be very very sore at this point, or possibly dislocated.

Previously on..

Okay so the last post was written on Wednesday 23 March, one full week before the project deadline. Now that the audio was in there and the video essentially finished, I uploaded it to Vimeo and set it free. It was a huge weight off my shoulders the get that part out of the way. All that was left was to finish the report and prepare for the presentation session the following Wednesday. Although Wednesday was the submission deadline I had to get it to the printers by Monday morning to ensure it would be bound and printed by the deadline.


Thursday and Friday were consumed with writing and re-drafting the report. I wrote close to 20,000 words in those two days. On Saturday I focused on tidying up my references and formatting the report. While I left a full day for this, thinking that would be plenty of time to get this done, I took it right down to the wire spending a very long day and night ‘fixing’. I also wrote the abstract and acknowledgements that day. It was a funny one, trying to decide who I should thank in print. Plenty of people were helpful but I had to distinguish between the friend-of-a-friend who may have emailed me some inspirational comments and the people who took time out of their busy lives to share valuable knowledge and skills with me. Sunday was spent arranging the user feedback in a manageable and readable fashion. I received an unprecedented amount of comments and feedback and

I’ll have to check with my supervisor but I may be able to post the complete dissertation here.

I got the report off to the printers on Monday which left that evening and Tuesday to design the poster and prepare for the presentation of the project on Wednesday. Since September I had been taking on an increasing amount of stress because of this project and as soon as I emailed the pdf to the printers that Monday it all vanished in one mouse click. This sense of relief made it easy to sit down and enjoy the poster designing process. Here’s the poster I came up with.


The presentation itself would be in the university’s huge computer lab and was open to all students and faculty to come and see our honours projects. We were given a pc to display our work and the poster would be a means of communicating the projects aims and achievements. I chose to display my animation on my laptop as I wanted to play the audio with it and I wasn’t sure if the allocated pc’s were cabable of producing sound. I don’t really remember but I think it lasted three hours. During that time many of my classmates and lots of faculty members viewed the piece, asked questions and gave me good feedback. Richard and my second supervisor Susan popped over to have a look at the final product and told me they were impressed.

I didn’t realise but there was a competition for the best poster that day. I think it was based on a combination of student votes and a final decision by the module leader. Amazingly I won and left £25 (in amazon vouchers..) richer.

I misunderstood the phrase "Ya gotta give head to get ahead"

The award-winning poster in all its shiny glory


The Cleanup

Luckily during the shooting period the landlord/letting agent never dropped by for a visit but now that the project was over I set about transforming the hospital room back into a bedroom. The carpet had to be laid and I had to plug all the nasty holes in the walls. I never got the carpet to fit properly and it was quite creased after I put it back in place but I’ve since moved flat so I don’t really have to worry about that anymore. To give you an idea of how the operation went down, here’s a few pics to illustrate the metamorphosis.

Messiness is next to.. Deviliness?

A bit better, but what about all that 'stuff'?

...and like that, it was gone.

Which is it buddy, carpet or floorboards? You can't have both.

That hoover sucks

Most of this ended up in the bin or I returned it from whence it came - Gumtree!

The holy wall

Hole before..

.. hole no more.

As good as new-ish

instant wall, just add water.



A couple of weeks later I had my Viva Voce. This was a meeting with my supervisor and second supervisor gave them a chance to ask me questions about the project and to clarify any issues based on the report I submitted. Fortunately there were no difficult questions asked and I was able to justify all of my decisions made during the project. Richard and Susan both agreed that I had submitted a very good project but at that point they were only able to tell me that I had passed. The final result would be released on 26 May, over a month later.


Skip forward a month and I got my result for the project, 84%, which turned out to be the highest in the year (there’s no non-smug way of saying that, apart from not mentioning it at all). Suffice to say I was blown away and veryeryery happy.


After I finished uni on 12 April the plan was to go back over the animation and work on it at my own pace and end up with a nice portfolio piece, and possibly something I could enter into animation festivals. A lot of the user feedback agreed on certain changes that I felt could be made to improve the piece and I wanted to make some edits based on these suggestions and also some changes that I never had the time to make during the project. Before I started hacking and re-editing it I wanted to enquire about getting clearance for the audio I used in it. It didn’t make sense to re-edit the video to the songs and then find out I had to change the music. I first contacted the PRS and explained that I had created a short animation as part of a student project and that I was looking for clearance for the music I used. I was told that Mendelsshon’s Wedding March was public domain so I could use it free of charge, but for the ELO and Hank Williams tracks I would have to contact EMI who owned the rights to both. I did so and only last week did I get a reply..

Hi Tom,
Apologies for the delayed response.
After reading over your request I can suggest a fee of £100 (per song) for a yearlong licence to cover film festivals around the UK. This fee is subject to songwriter approval.
Just to let you know, I can go for approval on the Electric Light Orchestra song but I would suggest you look in to using a different song. The approval contact for Jeff Lynne very rarely responds to requests unless they are for big deals. I think the other track will be fairly easy to clear, so if you would like to go ahead with any of the above please let me know and I will seek approval and let you know how we get on.

This wasn’t the best outcome I was hoping for (I suppose the best would have been “yeah you can have all the songs for free! forever!”) and has got me thinking that I might have to change the music. If I do this I have two choices – write my own music or use copyright free/public domain recordings. I’d much prefer to write my own as I really don’t like using songs that everyone else might be using. For me it cheapens the whole project. Initially I had wanted to write my own music for the piece (The ELO track was just a suitable placeholder that became part of it) but as time went by it wasn’t realistic anymore. It’s a shame though that I might not be able to keep the ELO track because I really like how Steppin’ Out drives the emotion of the scene.

Anyway I think that’s enough for now.

Pro Tool

After a marathon session of sound editing I finally finished the piece early this evening. Given the amount of time I had to do it I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. I feel very at ease using ProTools and this allowed me to be more creative with the editing. Unlike any of the other software I have had to use so far I have never had PT crash on me which is a huge weight off my shoulders. The weight of fear can crush a man!

Using ProTools to mix and edit the sounds

This is where having two screens comes in handy

When I started the sound mix last night I really only worked on the beeps and blips and marking out the points where the camera changed angle. I had to alter most of the sounds each time the camera angle changed in order to introduce an acoustic perspective. This worked especially well when ‘inside’ the machine. I did some recordings of the tape machine and mixed these with sounds of a much larger engine to create the sound of being inside the tape machine.

Once all the effects were in and the soundscape was built I set to work on mixing the ELO track into the animation. As the reels are animated in the film I thought it made sense to have music playing from the machine. I left very little time to mix this and I feel it could be worked on more to integrate it better. I never found enough space in the frequency band to get it to sit nicely amongst the other sounds. I created a version with just the sound effects but when I play it back it does feel like it’s missing something. It’s incredibly dark without the music as well.The alcoholic scene required a good deal of work, and a lot of time was spent searching for the right song. I shot the animation and I rendered the video before I knew what song I would choose which left me unable to alter the time of the visuals. This meant the song clip I chose would have to fit and make sense with these frames. I wanted a song that was lyrical about either drinking, or loneliness or abandonment. This easily narrowed my choice down to country music which can be the most upbeat depressing music. From here I decided to go with Hank Williams who seems to have written a song about every misfortune you’re likely to experience. After trawling through a 10 -CD boxset I narrowed my choice down to three songs and imported them into ProTools. I took clips from each song with lyrics that pertained to the situation and lined them up to see if they fit. Lovesick Blues was the one that worked the best and I then cut the song to the visuals and did my best to give it a little I don’t know what.

Using a lot of automation and pitch shifting for the tape reel animation

The animation so far

The karaoke version

I have now uploaded the video to my Vimeo account as well as emailing people with a request to evaluate the piece. I wrote a 10 question PDF and emailed it along with the request. I’m hoping I get enough responses before I go to print (Mon morning) so I can include the results with my own evaluation.

The next two days will be spent writing my own report on the process from start to finish and then my evaluation of the piece. I will be collating all my info and charts from this blog as well to include with it so I should think that I will be too busy to post any updates for the next while.

Save plenty and often

I left After Effects to render what I had done so far last night while I was sleeping. I woke up this morning to find it still rendering! When it finished, the total rendering time was over 8 hours. I’m not sure why it suddenly jumped from 3 to 8 hours after one day of tweaking. I can only assume it must be the Magic Bullet plugins I’m using on the wedding scene. This is quite worrying as it means if I’m to get the sounds added today and the video distributed for user testing then this is the version I’ll have to go with. It’s not too bad and there’s only a few minor changes to be made but I think it will be sufficient for evaluation.

I wrote that paragraph this morning and since then I have nothing to show for the day. Things were going okay with the sound editing until I noticed that with every copy and paste of a sound (of which there was a lot) in Soundbooth it got slightly more sluggish. Saving the project would take minutes and it crashed more frequently as I went on. It got to the point where it became obvious that Soundbooth was not going to work for me.And then the file corrupted and all the tracks I had created were lost.

I then fell back on the idea of ProTools. I though that if version 8.0.3 wasn’t going to run on my mBox1 hardware then I would delete that and install version 8.0.1, After doing that and having success in opening up a new session I suddenly remembered why my last video project required the use of version 8.0.3 and it’s because ProTools 8.0.1 doesn’t stream video with the audio! So the situation I had then was editing audio to line up with refence pictures.

At this point I was getting panicky. I was supposed to have finished all the editing by lunchtime and emailed out the user evaluation forms by the afternoon. It was 6pm and I’m facing huge problems. I contacted a friend who thankfully loaned me his mBox2. It’s great having friends who own shiny stuff! Unfortunately I had deleted ProTools 8.0.3 off my system at this point and it took 3 hours of downloading the update to get me to a point where I was a full day behind my tight schedule.

It’s now 7:30pm and this is where I’ll post this as the rest of the night will all be about editing as fast as humanly possible, leaving little time to do much else.

I hope we’re not out of coffee.

List’ll fix it

Overnight I rendered out what I have so far using the H.264 codec at 100% quality. This morning I woke up to a .mov file 3.15 Gb in size and 4.56 minutes in length. It took just over three hours to render, which isn’t bad for processing over 6,300 frames and 41.79 Gb of data. These figures will undoubtedly increase as audio and extra scenes are added. Watching the footage back I jotted down a list of changes that needed to be made. Some were minor and some were more tricky. The aim was to complete the list as well as attend my supervisor meeting, shoot and edit the remaining scenes, edit all the audio and have the User Evaluation prepared by the end of the day. I held out hope for time standing still..

List of demands

The first thing and what appeared to be the most time-consuming was to remove the feet in the table sequence. The fact that I missed this during the shoot and the editing until now was that the exposure was quite dark but when played back in a sequence there is noticeable movement in the lower right quadrant of the frame. I took the first 45 frames into Photoshop, boosted the exposure and used the Polygonal Lasso tool to remove and replace the offending sock from each frame. Thankfully frames 46 onwards don’t suffer the invasion of the size 15, otherwise this would have been more of a draining task.

Sock begone!

The next thing I noticed was the lighting flickered quite badly in the side reveal of the patient. This occurred as a result of one of the floodlights slipping ever so slightly during the take. I only noticed after the shot had been disassembled. While I initially thought I could get away with leaving this in as it was an interesting ‘artefact’ of the stop motion process, it was too distracting to the eye. After spending a lot of time on this shot earlier in the editing process, I had to bite the bullet and use the masking technique which has worked well so far to freeze the first frame. Then I added two masks to cut out the animated parts monitor & tape reels).

Fixing the lighting problems

I then took a break to go and meet Richard for my final Supervisor Meeting. On the way back I cycled around and scouted a suitable church to shoot the wedding scene. It had to be close by as I would have to carry the big fella there. Luckily, and as I mentioned before, Edinburgh is chock-a-block with churches (there must be seven at least within a mile radius from my flat) and I decided on Gilmore Church. I noticed all of the churches had their doors closed so I would have to put up with this slight story inaccuracy. I’m not sure if the church on Gilmore is still ‘operational’ as I have never seen its door open, so I couldn’t ask permission to take the photos. After walking there with the heavy machine and equipment I decided to take the shots and if God himself has a problem with it then I’m sure I’ll find out.

The happy couple

I’ve put this shot off as long as I did because I knew it would draw attention and strange questions from passing public. I can’t blame them, I would too. I asked my girlfriend to come with me just so I wouldn’t look super strange and I could laugh at the absurdity of the scene with someone as opposed to laughing on my own which wouldn’t help my case. I planned the shots I needed and the props before we left so as we could get there, shoot and leave. My timing couldn’t have been worse as a nearby secondary school was unloading its horrors exactly the same time as we were beginning to shoot. Miraculously they didn’t come near us and I managed to get the shots in about fifteen minutes or so.


I didn’t have time to set up the aperture or shutter speed and am ashamed to say I shot these with the camera on auto. I was afraid of getting home and seeing on the bigger screen that I was out of focus or it was underexposed. At least this way I could be guaranteed that I was getting the shot that I wanted.

Editing the wedding photos in After Effects


Although I had hoped to get most of the audio loaded into ProTools to edit and have done by tomorrow evening, I hit a major snag. I forgot that when I upgraded to Snow Leopard that I also had to upgrade my ProTools to version 8.0.3. This meant that my mBox1 hardware that runs PT became obsolete. The last time I used it for an assignment I borrowed a mBox2 which worked perfectly. I don’t have that option this time.

I decided the only way was to either use Garageband, which I really don’t like, or Soundbooth which I have never used before. I opted for the latter in the hope that it would be as intuitive as the rest of the Adobe suite. It’s a bit tricky to get me head around, and like learning any new software just getting the basics right are proving frustrating. It is quite a step to the side from ProTools and I feel a little lost with this. But it does seem to be geared towards editing audio for video, and I see that After Effects links up with Soundbooth so I will persist with this.

I’m going to post this blog now but shall by no means be calling it a night!