Monthly Archive for December, 2008

Buildings and terrain

These are some of the latest pictures from the workshop.  We have four miniature outdoor environments, which are set on reinforced plywood and foam.  Karin has been cutting through the foam with a chain saw to establish the major forms, and from here we’ll go into the details.  A number of the streets are cobblestone (the pattern we’ve made is on the rolling pin), and the sidewalks are based on Berlin sidewalks – which are wide and both tiled and cobblestoned.

Loco 2nd Generation, stable and shipped


So we shipped out our 2nd generation LEGO rig to a studio in Germany, who’ll be working with it for the next year on a combination stop-motion/CG project.  Above is a quick timelapse test I did this morning – the camera is running through the middle of people, dogs, movement, and general unrest in my squeaky wood floored studio.  The rig got a bit pushed on occasion, but the move came out incredibly stable – what you see above is directly from the camera.

All of pictures you see below are with the top mount.  There is also a 1.5 meter bottom mount to hang the camera.  Notice how the rig transitions to black – this is some laborious hours sanding, washing, and spraying the rails and base plate.  For the next rig, we’ll try to hire someone else to cover some of these areas.

I’ve also implemented the iCommand NXT library, a command (not VM) based project of leJOS.  I’m having much better luck with setting rotation limits, and stepping down the power as we approach the actual rotation target.  I’ve also implemented some parity compensation, as well as gear lag, in the software package, and the data structures are a bit cleaner.  It looks as though I’ll be writing a keyframe interface as well in the next month.

I’ll be flying down to Germany on Sunday to set up and test the rig on the set there.  If I can (I’m not sure about the NDA restrictions), I’ll post some pictures.

As for the future – are you can see, parts of the rig are still Mindstorms driven, and LEGO built.  There are benefits (modular construction, easy to refactor), and some looming disadvantages (plastic parts on top of that list), and at some point, not the next generation, nor, probably the one after, we’ll consider looking into other microprocessor boards and sensors, and designing the rig in a slightly different way.  I think LEGO will continue to play a big part in the development, and certainly the feedback sensors, which is our biggest focus for the next version(s), will continue to be in the design and prototype process.

The LEGO rig on set

Goutte d’Or is now running with the LEGO rig daily on set.  Here are some images around the ship and of the new lift.  Above is one of the latest camera moves.

Character concepts

Here are some character concepts – these are pretty dated, but still the ones I’m working off of.  The last one is a 3d sketch, trying to work out the look.

Reclining man: ZBrush test


This is a test for some of my process ideas.  I’ve gotten recently back into using ZBrush, and I thought I’d see how far I could get starting from just a polygonal cube – above is the result of about a day and a half of working with the mesh.  In production, I’d expect to have a posed (possibly) higher resolution base mesh, with a nicer topological layout, but this was an exercise in figuring out how much mesh resolution I really needed to start with.

I expect that the majority of secondary characters in the film will have very little movement on a shot by shot basis, and rather than fully rigging/modeling/texturing these characters, I expect to work predominantly from the camera’s perspective.  It’s an idea I tried out on a recent commercial project I directed and supervised (which at some point I’ll put up here).  The storyboards and 2d animatic were locked down (after many revisions) well before production, which allowed us to really economize the production time on only what we would see.

Below are some progression shots.

New modules and Goutte d’Or


Above is a test clip we shot yesterday for Goutte d’Or, a stop motion film by my friend Christophe Peladan, which is using the LEGO rig.  I’m rebuilding the lift, and using a more modular construction for it.  I’ve also organized a large part of the LEGO collection, which you can see below.

There have been some great replies on the nxstasy forum to my questions about minimizing slop in the gear train for our rig.  With any luck, this new version will add some more stability and user friendliness.

The software has also been updated to deal with both the Canon EOS 40D and the Canon EOS 400D.

LEGO Motion Control v2



We’re building the next major iteration of the motion control system, and are thinking of supplementing the LEGO with some more stable parts – the major part is the baseplate of the rig, which we’ll use MDF to start with, and see how much stability it brings.

Tomorrow, the 1st iteration rig also starts getting use on La Goutte D’or, a stop motion puppet film in production in one of the other buildings here.  With the new seek algorithm, I’ve sped up the incremental moves by 300%, which means we can shoot about 8-12 seconds automated per hour.

The movies above represent moves run with the new software.  I’ve started consulting my handy American Cinematographers Manual to look at the pan and lift speeds.  Both moves are processed with the “smoothcam” node in Shake.  As far as I can tell, the amount of pixel shifting that happens when smoothing has a minimal effect on the plate – I don’t see much introduced blur, especially since our processing happens at 4K (roughly), and then gets downsized to 2K.  I haven’t yet tracked a “smoothed” shot, so I might discover some issues there.  The jitter in the original plate is also pretty minimal, and hopefully with the next iteration of the rig, we can bring it even further down.

Below are some images of the 1st iteration.

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