Friday, June 26, 2009

2 fixes for the Lumix FZ50

2 problems have come up that can affect the FZ50, and there are simple solutions for both. I just wanna get these posted in one place so I can always find it when I need it. The blog makes a great interactive notebook for that kind of info.

  • Live View only in Preview Mode

  • This only affects some FZ50s... so far only European models, which have an E at the end of the model number. The problem is this.... there's no continuous live view, it only works in Preview Mode, and you have to switch to a different mode before you can shoot a picture. Obviously this is useless for stopmotion purposes. On these cameras, it states clearly in the manual that live view is only provided in Preview mode. My camera is a US model, and it doesn't say that in the manual (the live view just works all the time, no matter what mode it's set to).

    The fix -
    Hold down the delete key for 5 seconds in record mode

    There is an undocumented function in the fz50: if you hold down the delete key for 5 seconds in record mode then you get an ntsc live video feed. Important... this is only an NTSC feed... you need to make sure your computer or framegrabber is set to accept an NTSC feed (if you're in the US or Canada then it is already set to NTSC). My theory is that it's the European models that need this fix, so generally speaking, you'll need to switch your computer or framegrabber to NTSC mode in order to make this work. You might have to do this several times, but once it "takes", Live View remains on indefinitely.

  • Can't shut off Burst Mode

  • This is a problem with all the FZ50s, and in fact with apparently all Lumix cameras. Once Burst Mode has been turned on, it can't be turned off!! Well, it can in certain modes, but not in Manual mode, which is the mode we need. For stopmotion of course, you wouldn't use Burst Mode... if you did you'd end up with three to five frames every time you try to take one. That would be - counterproductive to say the least! But some people will be using the Lumix for still photography as well as animation, or might just mess around with settings while learning how to set it up properly - or, since we have to buy the FZ50 used (it's no longer being manufactured) it's possible the former owner had used Burst Mode and it's already stuck there. Heck, maybe thats why they're selling it cheap!!

    The fix -
    Reset the record settings in the main menu

    Check your manual on how to perform a reset of the camera. That will turn it off. It should be in the setup menu.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dream a little dream with me....
The fantasy element in late 80s and 90s stopmotion/gomotion

"Fantasy is essentially the dream world; an imaginative world, and I don't think you want it quite real. You want an interpretation, and stopmotion to me gives that added value of a dream world that you can't catch if you try to make it too real"

.... Harryhausen from the documentary Ray Harryhausen Chronicles.

This will be the subject of today's blog, and take notes, there may be a pop quiz on Friday!

Lately I've been buying a lot of stopmotion on DVD, with an emphasis on the movies from the 80s and 90s, such as Dragonslayer, The Gate (and its sequel), I Madman, Howard the Duck etc. Phil Tippett, Randall William Cook, and their contemporaries... these are the progeny of Harryhausen -- his offspring in the world of stop motion animation. Generally speaking, the animation looked smoother than most of Uncle Ray's work, and the designs were more wildly creative - sometimes to good effect, sometimes not so much.

As the animation itself got smoother, and especially with the advent of Tippett's Go-Motion process, which eliminated the strobing effect that gave stopmotion its characteristic hard-edged, slightly stuttery feel, things began to look increasingly real. The compositing work improved greatly as well, so that now the creatures actually seem to occupy the same world as the people, and to actually be there right next to them. For my money, the most realistically animated go-motion creature (that I'm aware of) is the whimsical Ebersisk from the movie Willow. I believe this was a refinement of the already awe-inspiring technique as used in Dragonslayer. I've posted a clip above. Watch it now class, I'll wait.

It might not be apparent on a first viewing, as you're doubtless busy drooling over the beauty of it all, but there is just the tiniest bit of flutter in that animation. Now compare with the Ebersisk (two-headed dragonthing named for Siskel and Ebert):

It looks absolutely real, in spite of its somewhat ludicrous design and comical aspect. It seems to actually be right there... as if the actors could reach out and touch its horny hide. But it completely lacks the sense of fantasy Vermithrax has. I believe it's because of the complete smoothness of the animation, the absolute lack of any slight flutter (well ok, the near lack... there is a little bit, but just the teensiest little bit.... ). In this sense, toward the 90's stopmotion (and go-motion) were moving closer to the sensibilities now associated with high-end, hyperrealistic CGI. People love to throw around the line from Jurrassic Park (actually originally said by Tippet when told that his go-motion dinosaurs would be replaced with computer generated ones) "I've become extinct!" -- but there was another line, spoken by Jeff Goldblum in the movie, that fits equally well for late-period stop/go motion animation as well as CGI.... "You were so busy trying to find out if you could... you never stopped to ask if you should" (paraphrasing here... not sure I've got it completely right).

I'm not sure this applies equally to pure puppet animation, with no live action component.... haven't really studied the effect in that realm. There was something a bit offputting about Corpse Bride that many people attributed to too much smoothness in the animation, but I suspect it had a lot to do with the slick silicone puppets and the painting of them that accentuated their smoothness. Coraline's animation is incredibly smooth (the bodies anyway, the faces don't move as smoothy because they aren't animated on ones... it would have required entirely too many replacement face parts to be made)... and when I concentrate on the bodies (anything but the faces really) it doesn't feel too smooth or slick to me. The fantasy element seems to be there. But looking at the machine-made faces, so smoothly finished and slickly painted, I can see why some people feel it's sterile and doesn't have the handmade look of something like Nightmare Before Christmas.

Obviously that elusive "sense of fantasy" Uncle Ray was talking about comes from many factors combined - production design and cinematography being key, but I feel the slight stutter is an important one, especially when stopmotion creatures are combined with live action. I think you have a somewhat different sensibility when the world of the film is a normal human one and the fantasy comes strictly from the creatures - their design and the way they move. Also - and this is one factor that makes Dragonslayer a close counterpart to its earlier Harryhausen ancestry -- Vermithrax is the true center of the film. Everything builds up to her appearance, which does not disappoint, and her death is the resolution of the tension in the film. So often in the 80s and 90s flicks the creatures are basically little throwaway parts that aren't essential to the movie.

Ok class, today's lesson is complete... now go outside and play!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

New additions to the lighting grid -- fine tuning the Movie Making Machine


I've been running into some frustrating limitations in my lighting grid.... lights can only be directly over the table or a couple of feet in front of it. I wanted to be able to get lights lower, and to position them farther from the table in any direction. So I got a few accessories from the hardware store and rigged up a pair of these nifty ceiling-mounted light posts.

A 4 foot length of hardwood dowel, a couple of pipe clips, and some big hefty C clamps is all it took. I can clamp the posts wherever I want to the ceiling joists (incidentally, the clamps ensure that I don't permanently mar the joists). I always have to laugh at sizing conventions in the hardware world... a 1" diameter dowel fits into a 1" diameter hose clip with about 1/4" of clearance all the way around. I had to jam pieces of wood into the gap and fill the chinks with hotglue. But I guess the pipe clips weren't made to fit real snug anyway. Oh well, it works.

The other day as I was setting up for one of the Skulkin animation sessions I was struck by a thought....

The stopmotion studio is all one machine. All of it... every part.... the table with the holes drilled in it, the little puppets that can be secured to it, the lighting grid, the camera positioning apparatus, the camera and the capture device (computer, software). It's all made to work together in perfect harmony, like clockwork with you as the operator - nothing moving or changing until you want it to.

The really cool part is when I get the puppets set up and get ready to do a shot.... I position and plug in the set lights I'll be using one by one, and then switch off the normal overhead light. This process is a gradual transition from the ordinary basement surroundings into the Stopmotion World. Now only the set is lit, and it takes on a special look... far more attractive than under ordinary household lighting. The mess that is the rest of my basement fades into darkness behind me, and now my attention is focused completely on those little puppets that I labored so hard to make, and will now labor to bring to life.

Welcome to the Stopmotion World!!!

In fact, now that I think about it, you could extend the machine metaphor to include the shelves full of books that feed my knowledgebase... the DVDs and tapes that provide invaluable inspiration... even the computer that connects me to the internet... to other animators and friends all around the world. Wow... it means my machine is connected to Shelleys, and Svens, and Jeffreys... and to YOURS if you're a stopmoe!!! Insprirational!!!!