Archive for March, 2011

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!

Supervisor Meeting 22/03/11

Today was the last supervisor meeting. We talked considerably about the user evaluation and I showed Richard my mocked up version that I have been working on. Some of the questions I think I can drop. For example, I had a question which asked the user if stop motion complimented the story or would the animation would have been more suited to film or 3D. As Richard rightly pointed out, what relevance does the answer have?

The good news is that I don’t have to do any re-arranging of the Literature Review. I was worried that because I had exceeded the specified word count that I would have to shift a lot into the appendix to fit within the guidelines. So the submission should read: Literature Review, Development Report, Evaluation (my own and then the users’), Appendix. My own evaluation will essentially be a condensed version of this blog, as it will document the process of creating the animation and the conflicts I encountered along the way.

The second piece of good news is that the poster, for the poster session, doesn’t have to be as text-heavy as I had been originally informed. While it must give an outline of the project, it should also have a nice aesthetic to it. I’d love to spend a month on this, but as Richard pointed out (as he often does) that perfectionists can’t control time. That is until we perfect the time control machine..

The End Is Nigh

As a quick test I decided to render out a second of footage to get an idea of how large a file the different codecs produce. I first rendered in Animation at 100% Quality which gave me a .mov file 316.4Mb in size! I Exported that from Quicktime then as 1080p which dramatically reduced it to 2.5Mb. Secondly I exported using the H.264 codec and this gave me a file 21.6Mb in size. That’s much more manageable and I think this’ll be the one I go for.

The morning was spend implementing the mocked up photos of the child and the wedding (I used a stand in photo here as this has not been shot yet) into the animation. The scene where the patient is having a seizure and looking at the pics shaking took a loooong time as each of the 100 frames had to be treated separately, twice. I used the Corner Pin effect as well as the Box Blur effect (to match the blurring in select frames) to fit the images into the animation. The Blue and Green keys I tried to pull were useless as the footage blurred a lot due to the original movement when taking the shots. This is why I had to manually place the images. It took so long that I decided that it might have been quicker if I had taken the photograph myself, printed it and included it in the shoot a few weeks ago.

Using the Corner Pin effect to place the images into the animation

I’m starting to edit the nitty gritty bits of the animation now. This is where the perfectionist in me will want to change every single aspect of the shots. I used After Effects Motion Stabiliser tool to smooth out the opening shot which I used the glidetrack for but ended up quite jerky. I used the tool to analyse the footage as a whole and then restricted the stabilisation to the Y-axis only. This allowed the footage to move perfectly along the X-axis.

Using After Effects' Motion Stabiliser to smooth out the panning shot along the X-axis

Out of curiosity I counted up the shots I’m just using so far in this session (more to come for the wedding shots). Funnily enough the total came to exactly 6,300. I’m not sure if I’ll get around to counting up the total amount of photographs taken overall but I reckon it’s at least 10,000.

This evening I focussed on collecting and building up a library of sound effects that I could work with when creating the soundscape to the animation. As well as using sounds from my own collection, I used the following free sites to complete the effects I needed:


I will export a rough version of the animation and use ProTools to arrange the sounds and music to fit. I might have to go back and forth to make alterations to the video so I won’t export at the highest quality just yet.

I would like to have the sounds and video ready for user testing no later than Wednesday. This gives me tomorrow to shoot the final scene and begin editing the sound. The bit I’m worried about is the extremely slow rendering out of After Effects so I might have to render it in sections so I can be working on one bit while rendering another.

The Masked Avenger

Things were going swimmingly until I installed a plugin for After Effects which somehow corrupted the program and prevented it from opening. I wasted the whole evening/night uninstalling and reinstalling it a few times and trying to fix the problem. Turns out the Magic Bullet plugin had installed itself incorrectly and was wreaking havoc with the root files within After Effects. I simply found the troublesome folder and Time Machined its ass back to yesterday, where it never existed. A simple solution but only after 6 hours of panic and panic and panic. and panic.

The scene from above the suspended fac e needed some attention. Due to my flimsy tripod balanced on a less than sturdy surface, the face of the machine moved slightly from frame to frame. To fix it I used my new trick of placing a still frame in a layer above the animation and using a mask to let the animated bits be seen. Simples.

Using a mask to hide unwanted movement

I used this technique again in other places. I noticed that in the scenes I had already used it in (the other shots from above) that the table cloth jittered considerably from when I walked past it each frame to move the machine. The light reflected on the IV bag shifted quite a bit too so I essentially froze all these elements in place during this shot. As I’m blending both layers for the animation, this meant I had to import a frame from each set of exposures and apply identical masks to both.

Using multiple masks to freeze elements

I had to stop the numbers at 0000 in a couple of the takes. I had done it by hand during shoot but I had to hold onto the numbers to prevent them from advancing so they moved slightly each frame. When played back the numbers had the jitters..

Numbers frozen at 0(000) degrees

When editing the piece today I had to be ruthless in the cut I made. I’m all to aware of how long certain shots took and the amount of effort I put into each and every frame but I have to start thinking what works for the actual story and how long each shot should be. I’m the first to admit that I shot way too many frames for this, but that’s mostly because I wasn’t sure what I’d need for the putting together of the film at the end. I’m glad I did as now I have choices of different angles and lighting arrangements to choose from. Still, having to cut minutes (which equates to days of shooting) out of the film has undoubtably been the most disheartening activity yet.


I also had a bit of fun making the photo of the kid, which triggers memories of a happier time. I just played around with a few images of my own and came up with a cheesy tourist snap which might work well. I’ve been researching motion tracking in order to get these new images to follow the blue and green mattes. I may have a bit of trouble getting a key from the blue piece of card though as the images are fairly blue-heavy in their overall tint. This is something I will have to deal with when and if it becomes an issue.

Saturday, Sat here (all) day

According to author Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in a select field of interest. Going by those figures, I should be an expert stop motion filmmaker roughly by the time I’m finished this project.

Whilst rendering out of Bridge I have decided to get a jump on the sound design part of the project. There are some amazing websites that offer high quality recordings for free and I shall be using them when building up the soundscapes for this animation. I’ll also be recording my own sounds, mainly the tape machine sounds which are quite object-specific and would not be able to locate online.

More importantly, I have loaded all the treated JPGs into the After Effects session.  Now I can begin to edit from within AE and get the timings figured out. I was surprised to see that the session is 41.63GB big! I’ll soon find out if the laptop is up to the job. There will probably be a bit of back and forth between Pro Tools when I begin adding audio as I want the music to sync up to certain sections. This will be fine tuning later on though and for now I will work on getting the rough structure and sfx in place so I can get some user feedback.

By far the most time consuming edit I made today was the second of the ‘above’ shots. As with the first sequence, to get the proper balance of light on both the subject and the surrounding room I shot each frame with two distinctly different exposures. With the first sequence I explained how I imported the brighter set of exposures into After Effects and then a single frame of the darker exposure was placed in a layer above and a mask was used to display the more exposed version of the patient with the darker surroundings.

I did the same procedure here, only as the patient in this sequence is convulsing in the bed each frame was very different to the next. I had to import both full sets of exposures and apply a different mask to each frame as the patient moves slightly from frame to frame. This was quite laborious but in the end I was pleased with the result and the shot won’t look out of place when played alongside the better naturally-exposed shots.

mask placed on the darker exposure to reveal the brighter exposed layer below

due to the movement, a unique mask had to be created for each frame