Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sent - Global Encounter 2012 [Projects]

The Video

I had 2 videos to create for Global Encounter this summer.  The first was a goofy intro video to get the students (hopefully) laughing and in a good mood for the opening service of the week (you can check it out here).  The second was a more serious video conveying the overal theme of the week, which is what I'm going to talk about here.

The Plan

Brad Russell (College Pastor at FBCA and one of planners for Global Encounter) wrote up a script for the video.  My job was to give it some motion and energy.  He showed me a Dan Stevers video to give me an idea of what he was looking for.

The way I went about building this video was basically this:

  1. Find and cut down audio
  2. Determine length of each "slide" or set of words
  3. Throw it in after effects and come up with a transition for each "slide"
This actually worked pretty well, but the end result doesn't really have a lot of continuity.

The effect I used for all of the flying particles is called CC Particle World.  I'm relatively new to the effect, but after researching a whole lot about it I've found it to be really powerful for an effect built right into After Effects.


For this video I actually went through a couple different songs before I landed on a song called Divine Knowledge I found on SoundCloud.  The original song is almost two minutes long, so I ended up cutting it down to just over 1 minute.

Closing Notes

I still found it very difficult to work with music and After Effects.  I tried to use some strategies from one of Dan Stevers' tutorials but I still found it to be difficult to get that tight audio video connection that I'm used to in Final Cut Pro.

My wife actually came up with the idea of stubbing the whole video out in Final Cut Pro beforehand with just simple text and then using that video as a template in After Effects.  I'm excited about trying this one out on my next video, and I might try to make a tutorial on it if it really works for me.

Nehemiah: The Build [Projects]

I know it's been a while since I posted here, but that's because I've been really busy this summer.  I've worked on a bunch of video's that I'd like to write about here, but I just haven't had the time.  I'm currently waiting for a wedding video to render, and figured now would be a good time to get started.

My goal is to build up some reference material for myself if I ever want to look back at how I did something, and also for anybody else out there trying to teach yourself how to create videos.

The Video

One of the things I've been trying to learn better lately is After Effects.  Fortunately I've been able to help build a couple sermon series intro video's for my pastor that are pretty much done entirely in AE.

The latest series is called Nehemiah: The Build.  It follows the story of Nehemiah as he leads the Jews in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem.  The main goal with this video was to portray bricks, and building material and what not.  Here's the finished product.

The Plan

Because of a couple other videos on my plate, I only had about 3 days (after work) to create this video. Due to that restraint, I ended up scrapping my original (and more complicated) plan and decided to just go with dynamic moving text.  To keep with the theme, I found a bunch of royalty free stock photographs of different types of bricks and went to work.


I found the music here on Soundcloud.  I would recommend checking out Soundcloud for all your video music needs.  In the advanced search options, you can check off that you want music using the creative commons license so that you can use it royalty free.  This song endup up being the perfect length, so I didn't even have to cut it down at all.

Closing Notes

Working with music ended up being a much more difficult task than I thought it would be in After Effects.  I was pretty rushed and you can tell there are a few transitions that don't go with the music very well.

My other mistake on this video is the animated outlines on the text.  I didn't set them correctly on the last two sets of words, so they don't really animate while on screen at all.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Toler Wedding Video [Projects]

I finally finished the Toler Wedding DVD.  This is the highlight video of the reception.  I'm going to try to get into the habit of writing up a post of projects I finish, mostly just so I remember what I did in certain situations for future reference.


Sony HDV 1080i (Borrowed from church)
+ Shotgun mic (also borrowed from church)
+ Fluid Head tripod (borrowed from church)

Canon T2i (Borrowed from Matt Peterein)
+ Canon 50mm 1.4 lens
+ Sigma 28-75mm 2.8 lens (I think)
+ Ball head tripod (Borrowed from Matt)


During the wedding ceremony, I was set up with the Sony on the Fluid Head tripod in the second row on the left side of the auditorium.  This way I could pick up everyone walking down the aisle, and then turn to get the everyone on stage.  Matt Peterein captured a consistant wide angle shot from the balcony with his Canon T2i.

From the Sony the angle wasn't the best so I could really only see the Groom and the Pastor's face.  The auditorium was way to dark for this camera, so I had to gain up a lot (which introduced a LOT of noise).  It was even darker down the aisle, so the noise level in those shots were really bad.

Notice how bad the noise is in the black suit.

The Canon was a different story.  Matt was using the Sigma 28-75mm 2.8, but because the light was so low he switched to the Canon 50mm 1.8.  This ended up being a life saver, and as you can see, produced a much higher quality shot.

It wasn't as wide as I would have liked, but it was worth it to get the low light.

The reception (video at the top) was shot entirely with the Sony HDV camera.  I need the ability to quickly zoom in and out, and I had to mount the shotgun mic to pick up the guest speeches.  The shotgun mic performed much better than I expected.  While shooting, I couldn't hear the person talking myself sometimes, and I was afraid none of it would be usable.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the audio was actually pretty good considering the loud room it was shot in.


All of the video was shot in 1080i and 1080p, so the file sizes were huge.  All in all my project files are about 30Gb.  I worked off of an external hard drive formatted with fat32 which means I have a 4Gb single file size limit.  The wedding video when rendered out at its highest resolution is well over 4 gigs, so I had to render it out in standard definition (which ended up being 3.48Gb).  This isn't a problem right now, since it's getting put onto a DVD anyway, but I'll have to re-render the video from the Final Cut Pro project whenever I eventually burn it to Blu Ray.

Closing Notes:

This was my third wedding filming and editing, and so far all three have been completely different (that's what happens when you borrow all of your gear).  I learned a lot, and I think this will really help me out for future weddings.  Based on what I learned here, I think I'll definitely use a DSLR for the reception, but I for sure need a shotgun mic to capture people's voices.

Now that I have my own DSLR, I should have a little more consistency and flexibility with wedding videos.  Low light is definitely key, but I also need some flexibility in zoom for certain angles.  Hopefully I can eventually get to a 3 camera setup so I can capture both the bride and groom, and keep a wide shot to help with editing.

Hopefully, I'll have one or two more opportunities to get some practice this wedding season... and maybe help pay for some gear to increase the quality as well.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Photography for Beginners: How to Buy a Camera (Part 1)

The consumer camera space has exploded in diversity since the fall of film (and Kodak).  With so many choices it can be very confusing for consumers who just need something to capture fun family moments and post them to Facebook.  When I worked in the photography department at Circuit City my job was to try to guide people to the camera that would best fit their needs for the lowest cost.  That's what I'm going to try to do here.

In this guide I'll walk you though the different classes of cameras, and try to help you determine what type of camera you should look into.  In the near future, I'll try to write a buyers guide for each type of camera.  In those posts I'll go through the specs that matter, and let you know what to look out for.  As I finish those posts, I'll add links to them here, so this can be a central hub for all of my Camera Buyer's Guide posts.

That's enough explaining what I'm going to do.  Here we go.

Camera Phone

  - Free (if you already have one)
  - Ultra portable
  - Extremely easy to share pictures

  - Lower resolution (small sensor)
  - Bad in low light
  - No optical zoom
  - Usually little manual control

This one might seem silly, but the way smartphone cameras have progressed, there might not be a reason for you to buy a separate camera (provided you already have a smartphone).  Many smartphone cameras are now around 6 to 8 megapixels in resolution, which is more than enough for making standard sized prints or uploading to the internet.  

The obvious huge advantage to using your camera phone is that it's always on you.  Most smartphones also make the process of sharing your pictures painless.  If you have a Android smartphone and use Google+, you can set it to automatically upload your pictures (set to private initially), as this commercial (right) for Google+ shows, this could be a life saver.  There are also Facebook apps for most phones that allows you to upload pictures.

Smartphones are not dedicated cameras however.  They have small sensors, and small lenses.  This equates to a lower resolution than most dedicated cameras, and generally very poor low light ability.  You're also not going to have any real (optical) zoom to speak of.  And usually you won't have very much control over the settings used.  I would imagine that an app could be made that gives the user more control over typical camera settings, but I haven't seen one myself.

If you are just wanting to capture events to upload to facebook and maybe print a few to put on your fridge, then your smartphone might be plenty of camera for your needs.

Point & Shoot
  - Cheap
  - Very portable
  - High resolution
  - Many cool specialized features
  - Usually easy to use
  - Many capture video as well

  - Limited zoom range
  - Poor optical quality (not great lenses)
  - Poor low light

Point & Shoot cameras originated in the film world as very simple cameras with fixed focus points, zooms, and a built in flash so that all the user had to do was simply "point" and "shoot."  Moving to digital, these cameras had a bunch of new features to help serve that same purpose.  Electronically controlled lenses allowed for autofocus.  This innovation allowed consumer friendly cameras more zooming options without worrying about pictures being out of focus.

This was actually taken with a DSLR (Seth Casteel),
 but it shows how awesome underwater photography can be.
Since moving to digital, the point & shoot market has exploded.  With so many players in the space, company's have had to find ways to differentiate themselves.  This has led to many really cool specialized features for different cameras.  Some are waterproof, dustproof, dropproof and whatever type of proof you can think of.  Others can shoot high speed video, or can even upload directly to your computer over wifi.  And most of them will shoot fairly high quality video as well.

Point & shoot cameras are going to be the cheapest digital cameras you can find.  And other than cameraphones, they are going to be the smallest cameras, many will fit right in your pocket.  The other main advantage to point & shoot cameras is that they are very simple to use.  The automatic settings on these cameras will give you adequate images almost every time.  You probably won't be blowing up these pictures to poster size, but they'll be fine for documenting your kids birthday party and posting them to Facebook.

This $179 Canon camera can shoot video at 240
frames per second. Perfect for analyzing a golf swing.

Image quality on these cameras will okay at best.  The lenses on these cameras were designed to be small first.  They sacrifice zoom range and low light ability for the sake of size (Although you will find some point & shoot cameras with huge lenses on them).  The other disadvantage, again related to size, is the sensor itself.  The smaller sensor sizes on these cameras compared to SLR's make it much more difficult to capture highly accurate low light scenes.  This means that indoor shots taken without the flash on will be very pixilated looking.

Due to the highly specialized nature of point & shoots, there could be many reasons to buy one.  If you have a pool and you want to take underwater pictures, want high speed video of your golf swing for analysis, or simply want a cheap camera to document life's events a point & shoot camera might be your best bet.  As long as you aren't looking to make really high quality pictures and don't mind giving up most of your controls to the automatic settings, you probably will be fine with a standard point & shoot camera.

This ended up being much longer (and taking much longer) than I expected, so I'm going to break it up into two parts.  In a week or so I'll release part II which will include superzoom camera's, DSLRs, and maybe I'll unravel where these new micro 4/3 cameras fit in line with the current consumer lineup.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Are Point and Shoot Camera's Going Extinct?

When working on a post on how to buy a camera, I was looking for some statistics on camera ownership.  I couldn't find anything good that was recent, so I decided to check out Google Trends (tool that shows number of searches over time) and the results were not what I was expecting.

I entered "digital camera" and what I got is a very steady decline in searches since 2004.

At first I thought this must have something to do with the use of the word "digital camera" declining rather than actual interest in digital cameras declining.  But then I saw an article from 2004 (where the little "A" flag is) that was called Sharp forecasts the death of the consumer digital camera.  Basically the article states that the growing quality of cameras attached to phones will eventually kill off the need for consumer digital cameras.

Well, it's 8 years later, and consumer digital cameras have not yet gone the way of the dodo But smartphone camera's have come a long way from the 2 to 3 megapixel cameras the article was talking about, to Nokia's recently announced 41 megapixel behemoth.

Another interesting trend I found was the oposite graph generated from searching "DSLR".

It seems that people's interest in learning more about photography beyond the consumer level has not waned. I would even go so far as to say that many people probably get started taking pictures with their phone and eventually move on to a DSLR.

What does this all mean?  Well pretty much, it's just an observation of the evolution of technology.  We used to have separate mp3 players and phones.  The smartphone revolution pretty much did away with the need for a separate music playing device for most people.  In the very near future, we might be saying the same thing about point and shoot cameras.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Act of Valor [Movie Review]

I've always been a sucker for a good war movie.  I think being thrown into a world that is unfamiliar to me is one of the things I love about the movies, and little is more foreign to me than war.  

Now to me, the best war movies are the ones that successfully engross you in the day to day reality of a specific set of soldiers.  Saving Private Ryan for example, captured the epic scope of WWII by following a small group of soldiers throughout some of the biggest battles in recent history.  The Hurt Locker was a great example of the slow nerve-racking intensity of the Iraqi war.

Act of Valor attempts to capture the versatility of possibly the greatest fighting force in the entire world... the Navy SEALS.  The producers of this film worked with the Navy to create a fictitious story that weaves through multiple missions based on real Navy SEAL missions.  The idea is, everything that happens to the characters in this film, has happened to real Navy SEALS.

This leads to two things to point out about this film.
  1. The acting leaves much to be desired (although really isn't as bad you might think).
  2. It honestly feels like what you're watching is real.
The action scenes in this movie are absolutely phenomenal.  It's hard to explain how unique if feels than other action/war movies.  The way my wife described it afterwords is that "it just seemed so professional."  Once the mission began, there was no witty banter, no funny one-liners, and in general no characterization.  Most of the time, you didn't know who was who since all of the SEALS had on so much camo.  It was very plainly good guys vs bad guys.

Now normally that would be considered a bad thing, but the strategy involved in the missions themselves were so intriguing that taking the time to develop characters would simply be distracting.

The story itself left much to be desired.  The bad guys were pretty generic as was the overall plot line.  The first 15 to 20 minutes were pretty slow, and didn't really do much to go into depth of the characters.  I will say that, despite plenty of cheesy dialogue, I really found myself liking the two main characters a lot (although this probably has to do with their "good ole boys" accents than anything else").

Rating: 7/10

Overall this movie was fantastic, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes war movies.  It's definitely lacking it some areas, but as a way to experience what it's like to be a Navy SEAL you will not likely find anything better.

Beyond the Screen:  Another amazing thing about this movie, is it was primarily shot using a Canon 5D Mark II DSLR.  That's absolutely amazing that a camera designed for photojournalism could perform so well on the big screen.  

This also allowed for some crazy angles that wouldn't be possible with most modern filming equipment.  Now, I know 5D's have been used for specific shots in movies (Iron Man 2 comes to mind), but I think this is the first film to make it to theaters with a DSLR as it's primary camera.

Here's a behind the scenes video on how Act of Valor was created.

Also, if you are at all interested in creating films with DSLRs you should definitely check out Act of Valor cinematographer Shane Hurlbut's blog

Friday, February 24, 2012

Control your Canon DSLR with your Android Phone/Tablet

Ok this is awesome.  Probably the most difficult thing about shooting video with a DSLR as apposed to a standard camcorder is proper focusing.  The screens are just not quite big enough or high enough resolution for proper focusing, and most DSLR's don't have a proper continuous autofocus during video (except for the Sony SLT's). This combined with the razor thin depth of field SLR lenses can accomplish, and you have a problem.

There are many solutions, some cheaper than others, but I have yet to see anything as awesome as this (or as cheap).

Meet the DSLR Controller app for Android.  This app allows you to connect your android device directly to your Canon EOS DSLR, and gives you a multitude of features.  For starters, your android device becomes a live view monitor for your camera.  Depending on the resolution and size or your phone or tablet, this can be fantastic, and aid significantly in focusing.

Another feature the DSLR Controller app boasts is tap to focus.  Personally I don't think this would be that helpful, since the autofocus on Canon DSLR's while the mirror is flipped up (it's in live view) is terribly slow.  One of the features that is apparently being worked on however, is the ability to set focus points that you can jump to.  This could be a huge deal as it could be used as a follow focus that's detached from the camera.

I haven't had a chance to try it yet as I have to order the proper cable to connect my phone to the camera (mini usb to micro usb).  There are all sorts of other features already implemented, or currently being worked on.  The app is currently labeled as beta, so it probably still has some kinks to be worked out.  But you can't beat the current price, and the developer says you'll be able to upgrade for free once it moves out of beta.

If I can get this working with my phone (which is technically on the supported devices list) then I'll post a review once I get the cable in.  Until then check out this video demonstrating some of the features, and then hit up the source link to try it yourself.

UPDATE:  It looks like my phone won't work.  Or at least I'm not willing to go through the trouble to make it work.  Turns out, your phone must support USB Host mode (OTG mode) so that you can plug usb devices into it using a USB host cable.  While there are some kernels for my phone that support this (and I'm fairly comfortable loading them), they currently require an outside power source to make it work, which kind of kills the appeal.  

This does make getting a Nook Color more appealing though, as it's officially supported on the DSLR Controller website, and it's pretty much the cheapest android tablet available right now.

Source :  : direct link to market