Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Photographing metallic or shiny objects (added new LARGER VIEW!!)

Tonight I finally figured out something that's been bugging the crap outta me for years! I used to take totally crap pics of anything shiny or metallic, like this bronze-coated sculpt I did a few years ago:

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The glare is so bad it destroys the surface, which in real life looks great! As a result I was always unable to post (decent) pics of these bronzed sculpts when i wanted to show them off. Well I finally decided to try pointing the lights completely away from it, and putting a bright background behind it so the camera cuts exposure levels. Here's the result:

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(Click tiny thumbnail to see larger version)

The camera told me there wasn't enough light for a good exposure, but I taunted it and snapped away anyway. Guess I showed it who's boss, huh?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Cheap ripoff post today

Sorry peeps, not a lot going on or anything to talk about, except a ripoff from my Blog Brother LIO's most recent post. He posted links to Corky Quackenbush's excellent Mad TV claymation Cops parodies:

Clops 1

Clops 2

Clops 3

Clops 4

Clops 5

I really dig this stuff! Kind of like the forerunner to Robot Chicken, but cruder (visually) - more handmade, and with a much stronger artistic feel to them (especially in terms of lighting and atmosphere). Also the humor is (a little) less sick and twisted, and a lot more creative. I watched these over and over, and I love the darkness and all the practical lights - windows, streetlights, flashlights, police flashers etc, as well as the constantly moving camera. There's something magical about the scene where Gumby is sliding along the street on one foot through pools of darkness, only occasionally passing through a lit area. Also, while Corky's films do have that handmade quality that gives them a certain charm, they're always very elaborately done. It's amazing if you really look at all the props and how good most of them look. I'm guessing he didn't do these completely solo? Probably had assistants to help crank out all the stuff. Anyway, just thought I'd share something so people don't think I fell off the face of the earth!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Lightmatters - or A Hobo in the Studio

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Nice Film Noir effect, huh? Accomplished with the help of my own personal HOBO (as seen below). See, Hobo is my acronym for Home-Brewed Gobo (pretty sweet, eh?). A Gobo, of course, is a focused studio light that projects an image onto the set - they're commonly used for stage shows etc, but are also very nice to have around a stopmo studio for effects like shuttered windows, branches casting shadows on the ground, etc.
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For mine I just bought an old slide projector off ebay - something small and without the bulky carousel. Analog slide projectors are relics of the past now - phased out to make way for the shiny new digital projectors. But these things are stockpiled away in closets and attics all over the place, just waiting for you to snatch them up. Mine is an Argus AP200, a thing of beauty made in a time when looks counted. It's got this great sort of Art Deco look, kind of reminds me of the front of a train. It takes a 200 watt bulb (no longer manufactured, but can be sourced online at various sites that handle these kinds of things). It's pretty small, but weighs about 10 pounds... but fortunately it has a threaded hole in the bottom to go on a tripod. To create the Gobos you just have to place something opaque on a transparent slide of some sort that fits in the slide housing. I just cut some plastic from the front of a DVD case and stuck a few strips of gaffer tape on it for my admittedly rough shutter effect. A little online research reveals that blu-tac also works.
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Another good alternative would be to get an Opaque Projector like the Artograph Tracer. There's a smaller, cheaper model called the Tracer Jr, which has a 3.5" x 3.5" platten for inserting artwork and takes a 75 watt household bulb, which might be good enough, but the regular Tracer takes a 100 watt bulb and allows artwork of 5.5" x 5.5". These would be much lighter than my heavy slide projector and allow you to draw line art using markers or something, doubtless a lot easier to create complex patterns than by cutting tiny pieces of tape to go on a slide!
I've decided to step up the lighting department in the Darkstudio - lighting is essential in creating a good visual effect. This is just one of the tools I'm creating for my arsenal - I'll be detailing more in future Lightmatters entries.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Up to par?

Well, the awesome Pro-Light, my birthday present to myself, arrived the other day - and what a treat to assemble it and hang it on my grid! It looks perfect there, and it lends my entire "studio" a nice professional look. However, as soon as i got it all set up and switched it on, I must admit to a bit of disappointment. I mean geez - I paid quite a pretty penny for this beautiful little gadget, and it turns out all it does is cast light on my set! Hell, I've got lots of things that do that! Yes, it's got ultrasexy barndoors (well, it doesn't sound very sexy, but oh yes, it sure looks hot!) - but they do so little - seriously I could accomplish more with a little cinefoil (thick black aluminum foil used to shape light beams) or some cardboard attached to a wire in front of a light.

The main advantage to this particular light - really the reason I bought it - is it has an "adjustable, focused beam" that they say is "fresnel-like". Well yes, there is a switch on the side that changes the quality of the beam. It's supposed to change it from spot to flood, but mostly it just seems to function as a sort of crappy dimmer. I suppose the width of the beam does change a little, but it's hard to tell - maybe if I had more room, but I'm using it about 6 feet from my set. Well, I began to wonder it this (rather expensive) light is really all that much better in any way than my good old par cans. So I put them to the test. Below are a series of pictures demonstrating the shadow clarity of each light under various conditions. See, that's the beauty of a focused light like a fresnel (or the Pro-Light, at least supposedly) - it's able to cast a good crisp shadow. I can think of certain situations where I'd want to use this feature.... for instance in a shot where all you see is a puppet's shadow on the wall. Here's how the lights stacked up, with a surprise contender at the end ( the object casting its shadow is my animation camera).....

Lowel Pro-Light, beam centered:
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Lowel Pro-Light, edge of beam:
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(Yes, I discovered a strange thing quite by accident - shadows are a good deal clearer at the edge of a disc of light than at the center!)

Par 46, beam centered:
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Par 46, edge of beam: (not too shabby really!)
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But here's our surprise contender folks.... by far the best and crispiest shadow yet....

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What is it, you say? Why, but of course - it's nothing more than a simple hardware-store clamp light housing an unfrosted 75 watt bulb from the corner convenient store - total cost about $3.00! Not as bright as either of the centered images above of course - those lights are 200 or so watts each, but it's about as bright as the non-centered images. Here's a nifty shot of our little hero:

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Normal household bulbs are frosted, giving them that familiar whitish appearance. This scatters the light beams, diffusing them for a more pleasing appearance - it softens shadows, see? But it also fuzzies them up quite a bit. The unfrosted bulbs are less common, but can still be found at most stores that sell bulbs, and give a nice clear shadow quality. I wonder if they can be bought at higher wattages?

Anywhoo, I'm now convinced that the single greatest feature any light can have is some form of gel frame or filter holder, so you can insert colored filters or diffusion or scrims to tailor the light. The par cans have them, and I could buy ten of them for the price of one of the Pro-Lights! In fact, I even have a swingarm desk lamp with a piece of diffusion taped over it! See, what I'm finding is that the pro quality stuff is maybe slightly better than ordinary household lights, but not at all worth the enormous price difference! (And in some cases, for certain specific applications, the household stuff is actually better.)