Monday, April 28, 2008

Learning the curves

Click image to see it on Flickr

Tonight was spent learning the intricacies of using the Lumix in full manual mode. Turns out the white balance was set to outdoors, while I'm using halogen! That's why my original pics were so red/orange. In my initial animation tests there's no flicker at all, but it kept refocusing, even though I had it set to manual. Turns out I wasn't supposed to be using the "manual focus assits", which finds focus only for one shot. I needed to use only the focus ring on the lens barrel, and then click the focus lock button. Worked like a charm. And since this one was shot at the full 7 MP rather than only 2, and because I figured out how to use the built-in light meter to get good exposures, I was able to do some photoshop processing without any ill effects this time. Kel has used this camera professionally and says it's never flickered at all for him or anyone who used it in the studio.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mikey,
Just to clarify, the Lumix actually does works great for low light scenarios, but like most DSLRs it doesn't have great high iso performance. All of this is really only an issue if you're using it for HAND HELD photography, since the only way to get the shot is to go to a higher iso (think simulated film speed). On most digital cameras this is where field performance starts to really matter. Higher iso usually always means more more image noise, or if you use a shutter speed slower than 60 you're likely to get blur because your hand shakes move the camera. Only on the most expensive DSLRs can you shoot at iso 1600 and be able to take shots with a 100 or 200 or fater shutter speed. BUT, because we're shooting in studio setting, we can control/paint with light easily since the camera is always locked to a tripod/moco/handmo mover/whatever. With that said, you'll want to use iso 200 for the cleanest/crispest image quality. This will force your meter to either tell you to slow your shutter down for long exposures (1 second exposures usually work best) or open up your iris which yields a softer, shallower image. to tweak things you do most of it with your lights - adding more light or slowing your lights down using dimmers, scrims, or nd gels. but again since in stop mo land the camera is always stable during exposures, we can use the optimal ISO and just compensate with longer exposure times.

Sven Bonnichsen said...

Who's the new puppet? We haven't been properly introduced yet. ;)

Darkstrider said...

Sven, meet New Clay Dude. He's so new, he doesn't have a name. I did intro him in the comments under the last post, but I'll do it again here for the benefit pf those who didn't see it.

I got super-inspired from watching Prometheus' Garden and from seeing the awesome progress Prammaven is making in clay lately, so I wanted to try my hand at it. He was fun to make (still gotta put some fingers on him) but I suspect animating him will be more trouble than I'm prepared for. But he's just a for-fun project.

Kel...

Hmmmm, I could swear my lower-light pics with the Lumix have some weird color artifacts in the dark areas.... maybe because the shots were underexposed? I'm still learning my way around it though....

Ryan McCulloch said...

It's also good to shoot things brighter, because if you upload the video onto the internet, the darks will always have problems, usually being too dark and losing contrast and detail within it. Great to have a little control. It's all lokkin good.

jriggity said...

EXCITEING!!

jriggity

Darkstrider said...

Hey, thanks Jrig and Ryan!

I did a little more experimenting with low light (way underexposed) shooting, and now it's working beautifully. Not sure what I was seeing before... maybe overprocessing or something.

... Is it possible to have a meanginful relationship with a camera? Cause I think I'm in love!

Nofby said...

I envy you!! I'm pathetic at getting a good lighting atmosphere and you pull it off all the time! All these experiments with lighting and cameras will really pay off and give your shot a slick look! You have control over your world.. controlling all thse lights and gizmos. I'm finding it hard to manage mine..:)

Great progress!

Don C. said...

Hey Mikey, thanks for the name drop, man. I'm glad I could be inspiring to ya.

As far as lighting, I've been shooting darker and brightening later. I think I got that idea from Misha, who was aiming for theatrical distribution with his film. Makes sense that it would be darker.. The INTERNET, on the other hand, has this blasted white background on almost every video sharing site. Makes darks look darker, and brights as well.

Oh, and you're tempting me to buy that camera. Kel turned me onto it on my blog awhile back, but with the new information about ISO... Whoo baby, signed, sealed, delivered...(PROPS if you can tell me what that reference is from!)

Well, it's back to the grind, gotta dust a set and throw together a makeshift fabrication bench. Hey, keep me abreast of what you're working on! It's a pleasure to have been able to corrupt a fellow animator and turn them towards the CLAAAY SIIIIDE. *pipe organ swells*

Darkstrider said...

Hey Nofby - I'm gradually getting better control over lighting, but it's happening pretty slowly. The biggest help was a book called Matters of Light and Depth by Ross Lowell - Strider's Highest Recommendation!!! Available through Amazon or fine booksellers near you! And some of it is post production done in Photoshop. Lately I adjust Levels and desaturate just about everything.

Pram - sorry, no idea what the quote is from! Just a guess.... sounds like a Tom Cruise line? (heh.... I said Cruise Line....)

Darkstrider said...

Oh, also - on the last 2 shots I posted (the top actual post + the new blog banner) there was no light actually aimed at the set.... it was all completely reflected light. Otherwise I find I tend to get some pretty hard reflections and glare and high contrast between light and dark areas.

Darkstrider said...

One final bit of advice for anyone looking to improve their lighting (photography).

TAKE LOTS AND LOTS OF PICTURES

Use the camera you'll be animating with, on your set table (under your animation lighting setup). Just keep on shooting.... that's one of the truly beautiful things about digital photography - photos are completely free!!! I still have a Canon Rebel (non digital) that I bought to try to learn about photography years ago, and it got expensive. Rolls of film, processing..... it puts the pressure on and you get nervous about trying anything adventurous (weird). But with digital I just shoot everything I can think of, and even go out on a limb trying to come up with weird setups because hey.... it's free!!!!

Just keep tweaking things.... move your lights around, use reflectors, change framing or camera angle..... you almost have no choice but to get better.

Nofby said...

"Nice advice!" says Seamus, writing it down in his notebook..:) Light seems to really count in this project and your pulling it off!

Anonymous said...

Pram,
I believe it's Stevie Wonder with that quote.BTW I'm a huge Stevie fan.
Yes you can achieve nice darker image, but as even Chach will tell ya, with digital you need to make sure that your exposure isn't so dark that you loose detail. Cause once the exposure turns solid black, there's no way to lighten up an area without creating weird artifacts, the detail information is just gone. It's actually the same with really harsh highlights or hot spots.Not saying you can't push your values as contrasty as you can. but once you loose detail information there's no getting it back.
What irks me the most about video on the interweb is the color gamut differences between mac's and pc's. When I look at video, or even mike's test pictures on my mac they look perfectly fine. but on my pc everything tends to look way way dark, even though my PC setup is properly calibrated. It's mostly because Pc's have a much lower gamma setting, and mac systems have universal color settings, whereas pcs are driver dependent (which there are a million different graphics cards).
And with HD TV it gets worse.. If you've got a Plasma you get beautiful rich blacks and contrast, but if you get an LCD, you'll still get decent contrast but because LCD tv's are back light all dark areas look fuzzy darkish gray. So I guess you just gotta let go, and aim for your primary delivery format looking as good as possible.

kel.

Darkstrider said...

Ahhhhhh!!!! Geeze.... we're heading right back for the Tower of Babel, but in digital image format!!!! An endless gamut of different profiles, and when you create your artwork you don't know what it's going to look like on anything other than your own computer!!!! I just posted about that on the board.

You know.... this sounds a lot like the problems oldschool film animators talk about.... "You never knew what you were gonna get till it came back from the lab".

Anonymous said...

Mikey,
well you know technical problems like this are nothing new. It's actually what killed the 3d film format in the 50's.With film, sometimes they don't survive the projectionists booth, heck sometimes they don't make it back from the lab. Formats are always going to be a thing of confusion and error as long as so many exist. But let's focus on the positive side, and that's flexibility and choice. Sure Darkstrider's pics are just a little too dark on my pc, but that's ok. If I really want to see them I just open my mac laptop, and viola. All you gotta do is shoot for the best that you can get with the means you have and if it doesn't look as good on someone else monitor, well they can still enjoy the storytelling. I don't even think average viewers are even that picky about image quality anymore, they'll watch entire movies on their cell phones if given the chance. As long as they have the latest and greatest, they don't really care about quality. They just purchase things that are new and shiny without researching, easily swayed by sales and advertising.
So anyway, to your problem, well it's simple. Not all LCD monitors were created equal, and none of them are even close in contrast to that of a CRT or even a plasma flat panel. Well why use them? Hmm.. they emit little if any radiation. They don't fatigue the eyes after long hours of usage, and they use alot less energy. They are inexpensive. Oh and they can easily handle really high resolutions endlessly without quickly fading out, ghosting or burning images in. For animating it will do your eyes good to stare at one for hours upon hours of the day. For color grading, well not so much. you can ball park it, but for really getting it sweet you'll need a good ol fashioned CRT. With that said, its always safer to shoot for an even exposure, then just do all your pushing/pulling in post later somewhere else. go to a friends house, or borrow a crt just for that purpose later, if you must get it "perfect." But until then I'd just wing it. go with what looks good to your eyes with what you've got.
on a side note, have you seen "The Man Who Wasn't There" can you believe they shot that in color? Roger Deakins is my hero.

Darkstrider said...

I don't mind if it's not perfect.... it just was a shocker to suddenly realize that the images I was making might look completely different to most people! And the next thought.... what would it look like on a TV?

I guess that's the best test right there..... take some pics and review them on my TV. If they look alright there then I know my calibration isn't as far off as it seems to be. ORRRRR.......... calibrate my monitor as close as I can to the TV screen.

It's fine if some people see it a little darker or lighter.... I just want to make sure it's not completely off.

Haven't seen TMwwT, but I remember the trailers.... looks pretty good. Heck, it's hard to miss with Billy Bob and the Coens!

Don C. said...

Thanks, Kel.

That helps loads, and I wish I knew it when I was doing all that earlier stuff.

There was one shot I couldn't brighten up in post because of the reason you mentioned- it as simply too dark. When I tried to lift the gamma, the blacks became grays and I could see all this nasty stuff no animator or photographer should ever subject themselves to.

Great tips all, and I'll post some of my finds on the blog shortly. Gotta keep the giving going 'round.

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