Friday, April 27, 2007

Digital Still vs Digital Video

I'm a big advocate of the use of digital cameras for the purposes of stop motion animation. My main reasons being part subjective and part technical:

  • You are taking still pictures so why would you want a video camera...
  • The ability to control the aperture and exposure which allows control over your depth of field.
  • You don't have to have a computer attached (see article giving the opposing view) hence you can do outside shoots easily.
  • Resolution and image quality can be higher for the same cost
However, I've been reading up on some of the disadvantages of digital still cameras and some of the advantages of video. For example, the film "House" would have been very difficult to film using a digital still camera. The film was edited from short clips of a person jumping, the highest frame was taken from each shot and blended together in video editing software.

The key issues are:
  • Power, care needs to be taken not to drain the batteries otherwise critical settings can be lost.
  • Onion skinning, most digital cameras don't support this so you have to know how far to move the puppet which can result in jerky movements.
  • Shutter cycles, basically the parts in your camera wear out. The typical life is 100,000 shots which can easily be reached in a longer project.
  • Flickering due to different exposures for each frame, I've not actually seen this issue but it can be quite irritating apparently. See links below for why this occurs and how it can be avoided or corrected.
  • Do not work natively with most of the off shelf stop motion software tools which assume you have a live video feed.
My recommendations based on this is to make films with whatever you have. If all you have is a biscuit tin and a large amount of photographic paper then use that, if you have only a digital camera, use that, if you have a webcam then use that. By the time you've finished your first short film the technology will have changed and perhaps someone will have come up with the idea solution. Your first film is not going to be super high resolution, perfect colour and last 3 hours so I'm not really sure you need to worry. Saying that I'll make sure any second hand digital cameras I buy are not from ex-stop motion animators.

Digital Still Cams: How they work, Issues such as flickering, shutter exposure cycles, powerdown etc.

Digital Camera Shutter Life
Shutter life for my camera

Stop Motion Pro - Frame Luminence Averaging functionality

Choosing a Camera

Monday, April 23, 2007

Today is....

1) St George's Day
2) 25th Anniversary of the Zx Spectrum

When I noticed it was St Georges day, I thought I'd track down a list of all of the St George and Dragon films and a fee related items that I remembered from being a child. I was trying to remember if I'd seen something on Ray Harryhausen's early years DVD or not?

The Reluctant Dragon

George and the Dragon (2004)

St George and the Dragon (in Production)

Dragon's Lair (the video disk game)

Jane and the Dragon (a new animated series that's shown on Channel 5)

Given that it was really the ZxSpectrum computer that first got me into animation I thought I'd have to mention that it was it's 25th anniversary. Many hours were spent with graph paper and a HP pencil designing walk cycles for the game that was writing at the time "American Penguin in London" and then renamed to "King Penguin". It was inspired by American Werewolf in London and a game called Renegade by Ocean.

World of Spectrum

Retro Trader

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Mike Figgis book and lecture

Director Mike Figgis' book on Digital Film Making is soon to be launched and is available on Amazon for a bargain price of £3.99. Mike has been working with Digital equipment for some years now and was quoted back in 2005 as saying “The aim is to make film-making less of a technical process, not more.... Film-making is about storytelling and storytelling is about people and how we all interact.” Hopefully this will make for an interesting and informative book. Unfortunately with the predicted delivery of 4 to 6 weeks you are unlikely to get a copy for him to sign at his Master class at the BFI on Thursday. He will be explaining the possiblities of digital tools and providing inspiration to new film makers.

Monday, April 16, 2007


In the latest edition of Storage Magazine (something I get for work), there is an article on how the British Film Institute is working with HP converting their highly flamable film stocks to digital versions.

For the Mediatheque project they will be providing access to their archives of films and television footage in a new "BFI Southbank" building just along the Thames from the London Eye. Initial this will be a few hundred essentially "British" clips but this will be expanded as the footage is converted. The important films will be hand restored but HP Labs have been working with Warner Brothers on techniques to remove dirt, scratches and other imperfections from the digital copies.

One film that I would like to see available in the Mediatheque is The Strength and Agility of Insects (1911) which is already digitised but only available to registered access points in libraries and colleges.

For more details see the BFI Website.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

European Conference on Visual Media Production

The IET is running the 4th European Conference on Visual Media Production at Savoy Place, London on 27-28 November 2007. The submission deadline for papers is 3rd August. Papers are invited to present novel research and practical applications related to media production.

Last years papers included:

  • Automatic Metadata Editing using Edit Decisions
  • Tracking Football Player Movement from a Single Moving Camera Using Particle Filters
  • Stastical Estimators for use in Automatic Lip Segmentation
  • Inverse Skinning
  • Optimizing Video Codes for Mobile Multimedia Applications

Monday, April 09, 2007

Animation Magazines

Some thoughts on the animation magazines available in the UK. I've bought all of these from W.H.SSmiths, Borders or independant newsagents around London. All of the magazines have a website, industry experts writing for them and the latest news and events from around the globe.

3D World - The Magazine for 3D Artists

3d World is the animation magazine that I buy most often. It's probably because of the glossy covers and plenty of tutorials. It also has a CD full of models, textures and tutorial files. 3D World is published in the UK. Its the most expensive of all the magazines listed here. The articles range from architecture and advertisements to computer games and the regular columnist Mental Roy gives an alternative view. Articles typically have an almost comic book freeflowing style with mixed graphics and text. Product reviews normally look into the technical details which makes this a good magazine for shortlisting hardware or software. There is currently an acting editor but his editorial still seems to be up to scratch. The magazine has an image showcase and regularly includes details of short animated films. The website for 3D World has latest news and access to additional files, competitions and a series of forums.

Animation Magazine - The Business, Technology & Art of Animation

US based Animation Magazine not unsurprisingly is biased towards the USA and Canada and because of this, I buy it less often. Animation Magazine has columnists from the US animation market and an insight into the top animation schools. The articles are typically a couple of pages long and are full of quotes with a few choice images. The advertising is interesting in that it has lots of smaller adverts for studios, schools and festivals.

Also includes a directory of the top animation companies and schools in the USA.

Imagine - The magazine for animation professionals

Imagine Magazine is new to the market, it's on Issue 11 and is released every two months. The articles are longer and the reviews seem less technical than 3D World. Like the others Imagine Magazine looks at a wide range of animation from Flash and Games through to traditional and stop motion animations. There are no tutorials but instead inspirational and more well rounded articles. There are several interviews in each edition and a profile of a key figure in the animation industry.

The website also has jobs online, a forum and has a also includes a directory


Influences and inspiration also comes from Computer Arts Projects, SFX magazine, Digit, Giant Robot and ImagineFX

Online one of my most regularly visited sites and source of help and inspiration is

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Book: Prepare to Board! are soon to release book for animation writers by Nancy Beiman. This book covers the first stages of a animated film from story and character development through storyboarding to pitching and animatics. The book has already received a 5 star average rating from US readers. Nancy has 20 years experience in the animation business having worked on everything from Beavis and Butthead to Disney's Hercules.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Amazon Web Services Video Conversion

A couple of interesting posts from the Amazon Webservices team this week showing how their system can be used for video conversion. Mitch Garnaat describes how it is possible to build your own video conversion system using the Amazon storage, queue and compute services. It's already put a seed in my head, wondering how this could be extended to CGI rendering.

If that all sounds like too much work then mDialog have already provided this facility.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

BBC Animation Competition

Thanks to a link from Myspace, I discovered that the BBC is running a new talent animation competition. There are 42 entries that made it into the competition and you can watch them and rate them on the BBC's website. The films are in a variety of styles and techniques.

Once the viewers (that's you) have rated the films they will be put in front of a panel who will select their favourites. These will be used for a pilot TV show called FAO3 which should be appearing on BBC3 sometime this spring.

For people making animations the BBC has kindly left their advise pages accessible so you too can benefit from industry input.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Flea Circus Cartoon

An amusing Flea Cartoon from Fritz can be found at "Fleas and Circuses"