Archive for the ‘ Proof Of Concept ’ Category

Proof Of Concept -Importing stills into AE

Before I started the process of editing I needed to make sure that I could use After Effects to import the stills directly in. I found a really useful forum post which made sense of this process. For this test I decided to use what would be the opening shot of the animation. It’s a good example because the shot is comprised of 208 frames/pictures (the JPGs adding up to 155.5 Mb) which will be the average size of most takes. Following the advice I proceeded to do the following:

  • In AE, I went FILE > IMPORT > FILE. I selected the first .JPG of the sequence and made sure the ‘Import As: JPEG Sequence’ box was checked. This created an image sequence in the Project panel.

Importing the image sequence

  • I right-clicked on this sequence and selected INTERPRET FOOTAGE> MAIN. Inside the Interpret Footage dialogue I changed the frame rate to 24 fps and pressed OK.

Setting frame rate of sequence

  • I then dragged the Image Sequence to the ‘Create a New Composition’ button at the bottom of the Project window. This created a new composition based on the sequence and opened it up in the timeline panel.

Converting sequence to composition

  • In the project window I selected the new composition and went to COMPOSITION > COMPOSITION SETTINGS. In the ‘Advanced’ tab I checked the box marked ‘Preserve frame rate when nested or in render queue’.

Preserving frame rate

  • I then made a new composition (COMPOSITION > NEW COMPOSITION) which would theoretically house all the different scenes’ compositions I would be creating. I set it to HDTV 1080 24 from the preset drop down menu and named it ‘Final’. As a test I set the duration to 10 seconds.

Creating a new parent composition

  • Then I dragged the sequence composition from the project window to the new composition. I pressed the ‘s’ key to bring up the scale parameter and scaled the image to fit.

Scaling the Image Sequence to fit new composition's dimensions

  • Then I selected COMPOSITION > ADD TO RENDER QUEUE to bring up the rendering options. I made sure the Render Settings was set to 24fps. In the Output Mode options I set the Format to Quicktime. In the Format Options I initially chose Animation, 100% Quality as my Video Codec. This produced a file that was 1.2 GB big and wouldn’t play smoothly. I can’t understand where all this extra information is coming from as the images were a combined 155.5 Mb. I then re-rendered, this time choosing the H.264 codec, 100% Quality. This gave me a .Mov file 48.9 Mb in size.

Render Settings

Output Module Settings - Animation Codec

Output Module Settings - H.264 Codec

Obviously there is a lot of compression going on here to strip over 100 Mb off the images. I’m not certain that this is the codec that I will be using but I’m almost certain that this is the route I will take when animating the image files.


Proof Of Concept – Line-Up Movie

I realised at the start of the week that I could use a flash animation as an overlay in Dragon Stop Motion. I learned this from watching the making of the excellent Accumulonimbus by Andy Kennedy. In it he demonstrates how he uses Flash to first create the movement of the pieces, then overlaying it in Dragon as a reference layer to ensure smooth movement. This method will be extremely useful in my own animation as I will need consistent and realistic movement.

I decided I would create a short clip in Flash of a spinning circle. I added a line in it so the rotations would be easy to see. To fully test the capabilities of the concept I created an ease in so the circle would start slow and gradually build up speed. I set the frame rate to 24fps and did four revolutions. I then exported this as a QuickTime file and called it

Flash Animation


I then opened up a new 24fps project in Dragon and set up the scene. Lighting and framing were not too important for this concept so I basically stuck the camera in front of the subject which was in this case the reel-to-reel recorder. I put a 7″ reel on one and positioned it in the centre of the frame. I took a few test shots in manual mode and adjusted the focus and settings until I was satisfied.

The camera settings were as follows:

ISO 200
Aperture – f/3.5
Shutter Speed – 1/15 sec
White Balance – Auto
Focal Length – 18.0 mm
JPG 4272 x 2848

Test Shots


I then imported my line-up movie into Dragon and adjusted the transparency to 40% opacity. Now I had my live view of the tape recorder with the flash circle as an overlay. I resized the Flash circle and positioned it directly over the tape reel. I lined up one of the spokes of the reel with the line of the circle so I could sync perfectly.


I proceeded then to shoot the frames. After each shot, the Flash circle would move slightly and I would move the tape slightly in correspondence. The first few frames required minute movements of the tape reel. As the circle  spent four hours on this proof of concept. While it is time consuming I am extremely pleased with the outcome – a smooth, almost film-like, animation. I will have to decide what frame rate I will be shooting in for my final film. 24fps will require a gigantic amount of time dedicated to it and I’m not sure I will have an abundance of it given my deadline.

To check out the result of this proof of concept, here is the video:

I also decided that in future if there are various movements happening on the tape machine I might take the following actions.

1) set up camera and take shot of the machine.

2) bring photo into Flash and draw vector shapes of the moving parts as an overlay.

3) animate the now vector parts

4) export as QuickTime movie

5) import into Dragon as line-up movie

This way the on screen dimensions would be exact. I may return to this idea as a part 2 to this proof of concept.

Proof Of Concept – Anthropomorphism

My girlfriend returned from town on Friday with a handbag she had just bought as a present for a friend. The first thing I noticed about it was that it looked like a face when it was upside down. I thought “this might make a great little animation!”. As she was giving it to her friend the next morning, and this was late evening, I quickly inhaled my dinner and got to work.

I set up the same scene as the spiderman set-up, only this time I used a white background as I didn’t need to key out the background. I set up the same lights in a slightly different manner. The shade-less lamp was off to the right, while the large desk lamp was positioned in front of the scene pointing up. I suspended the small desk lamp above the scene. I was trying to create a more ominous sense lighting to compliment the creepy bag.

What I didn’t mention in the Colour Keying post is that I decided to shoot in large jpeg format as this would still produce a crisp picture without too much compression. As these are only test videos it doesn’t make sense to shoot any higher than that. Also shooting in a larger format would require a lot of disc space and processor power, both of which I don’t have. I set the camera to manual mode. I can’t remember the settings but I kept the ISO to 200 and an aperture of maybe F8 or F9. This way the images would be as sharp as possible. I also took the lens off auto-focus but I forgot to take the white balance off ‘auto’ and that’s why the colour gets slightly darker (I think) at the very end when the light changes.

Again, I shot the sequence without a storyboard and only a rough idea. I wanted the handbag’s mouth to unzip, show it feeling queasy and then have it vomit out various handbag items. I wanted to shoot it from both front and side angles but time was not on my side and I only managed to shoot from the front.

The big problem working with this type of material (real/faux leather – I never checked) is that I would use one hand to move the zip slightly and the other hand would have to counter the pulling by holding onto the side of the bag. This created unwanted movement of the material. Again this is not a huge problem here as this was only a test and I have learned that to use more rigid materials in my final animation will be more controllable.

Another problem I encountered was trying to keep objects such as the £5 note suspended in the air while I took a shot. I tried using thread to suspend it, but it just drooped and hung unbalanced. I then fashioned a pole out of toothpicks embedded in a white tack base but that didn’t work either. In the end I just angled the note to look like it was protruding out from the mouth and inserted only a couple of frames of it falling so hopefully the eye would assume it caught some air.

The shoot lasted 4 hours and I took 292 pictures to create 24 seconds of footage

I plan to add sound to it at a later date to practice syncing sound to video. I would also like to compensate for the lack of other angles by adjusting the framing throughout the animation using After Effects. Colour correction and other visual techniques may be explored during this time.

Here’s the animation so far…

Proof Of Concept – Colour Keying

I decided I would do a series of short test animations so I could identify and flag the problems that may arise during my short animation. As stop motion animation is a hands-on craft I wanted to test out the various techniques I have been reading about. Earlier in the week I purchased various coloured card and used the bright green one to try and key out and replace the background in a simple animation. The subject of the animation would be a spiderman toy that I found on the street some years ago. It’s an almost perfect subject as the toy has plenty of moveable parts.

Using white tack, I stuck the card to the wall and also the desk using a gentle curve to eliminate the corner. This will give me the best chance of integrating the action figure into a scene once the green card is keyed out. I then used a desk lamp and a smaller conventional lamp (with the shade removed) to light the green screen from either side. This would hopefully obliterate any shadows cast by spiderman. I used my larger, but slightly duller, desk lamp to illuminate the action figure. Both the large desk lamp and the shade-less lamp were wrapped in baking paper to help diffuse the harshness of the light.

I used Dragon Stop Motion to capture the frames for this animation. I tried various software and Dragon was the one I felt most comfortable using. Many of the others felt a bit cheap and didn’t seem to offer the same functions as Dragon does. After some research into it, it appears that Dragon is the choice of many professional stop motion animators, so I’m in good company. The camera is connected directly to the laptop and set up for remote shooting. The camera allows live view so it’s extremely easy to line up shots on a frame-by-frame basis.

I began shooting a simple sequence involving spiderman appearing to wait impatiently and then walking towards the camera and out of the shot. As this sequence was all about the process of keying, I didn’t bother with a storyboard, or even a script of any sort. I just made up the actions as I went along. It quickly became apparent that when I shoot a short animation for real that these elements will be key to the success as I was not sure of how the timing would be rendered. From my years of experience animating with Flash I understand the concept of movement and frames and how to make something move slower or faster over time, but to actually do it by hand is completely different when there is no reference to work from.

In total I spent about two hours shooting 106 images at 12fps, producing nine seconds of rendered footage. I learned more in those two hours of hands-on experience that I did in days of researching. I used the white tack to keep spiderman’s feet firmly stuck to the ground, which was fine for the first part of the animation but when it came to making him walk I found it really hard to unstick him without upsetting the other limbs and had to try match up the newly unstuck spiderman with the previous frame. When walking I couldn’t keep him balanced on one leg so you can see in some frames the piles of white tack under his lifted foot and I’m holding a screwdriver at his head to stop him from falling over. If this was my final important animation I would not have been so crude. Also, as it turns out, old spiderman was not the perfect subject for stop motion because although he has many moving parts, they were so rigid that when I moved one piece, the rest moved with it. It may be a case of dismembering him and removing dirt/grit, but right now I don’t have time to perform surgical operations on plastic action figures.

I then exported the stills as a Quicktime movie and opened it in Adobe After Effects. As I’m a total newcomer to After Effects this is kind of where I’m at at the moment. I quickly tried out the keylight effect to remove the green screen and it only worked okay. I may need to tweak the settings but it seems that the green screen either wasn’t lit correctly or that spiderman was too close to the green which reflected back onto him. I will do some more playing around with this and do some research to see how to go about actually removing and replacing the green background.

The plan was this weekend to borrow a video camera and film a bustop so I could drop my animation of spiderman waiting into it, to have him waiting for a bus, walking away and then have a bus pull up. I tried to borrow one of the university’s Flip cameras as they are small and portable and would do the job nicely. As it turns out, they are only available to the third year students. This annoyed me because I feel fourth year students should get preference on what technology to use for their dissertation. I ended up being given a bulky Sony video camera, bag, cables, booklet and charger for my nine seconds of footage! To add insult to injury, when I got home I found that the camera takes tapes and I wasn’t given any to record on. That was Friday afternoon and the school office was shut. So I will have to wait until Monday to get a tape so I can film.

Here is the green screen footage and I will post more when I get  working on it.