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Enhanced Vision – Digital Video

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

Digits digital video image still
Image Still from the Digits digital video

I received an email the other day from ACM SIGGRAPH Digital Arts Community of which I am a member. The email alerted me to a new ACM SIGGRAPH (Association of Computing Machinery Special Interest Group-Graphics) project. Titled Enhanced Vision – Digital Video, it is billed as "an international survey of today’s most exciting and innovative digitally-enhanced video art works". The thirty videos included in this exhibition were curated by a committee of ten experts in the field.

The videos are supposed to tell a story – some worked, some didn’t. Be that as it may, my focus was on the imagery itself and the technical skills and imagination that went into their creation. On this level, a number of the videos did not my level of expectations.

While I watched all the videos, I have opted to comment only on certain ones. The list of videos and my comments follow.

  • 366
  • Apotheosis of Glasgow High-rises
  • Arcadia
  • A Small Fee
  • A Written Perspective – in black and white, it appears to have used thresholding and/or edge finding to process a standard video. While it has no soundtrack, this was one of the more visually interesting videos with its white on black outlines flickering across the screen.
  • City.Flow() – also visually interesting. Its use of multiple exposure video of urban activity made for an interesting visual effect that lent itself to the story the video was telling.
  • Composition Fukushima 2011
  • Deephorizon
  • Digits – visually the most interesting with varied image processing techniques applied to the video. Identified as a "video that refers to the symbolism of ten numbers", it featured a short individualized segment for each number.
  • Don’t Know Where To Point
  • Fashion To Die For – used no image processing or CGI (computer-generated imagery) but did have a very interesting opening with its use of video taken of machinery in a garment factory that was fascinating to watch with its spinning spindles of thread.
  • Filament
  • Grotesques
  • Horribile Pictu 1
  • Mudland #1 – a striking video, it is both visually surreal and bizarre – I like it. Its strength is its very imaginative use of compositing.
    Mudland #1 digital video image still
    Image Still from the Mudland #1 digital video.
  • My Meds, from the series Testament
  • necrolog of robin williams or the suicide of irony
  • Not To Scale At All
  • On China Sea – a visually interesting video of the motion of water in the wake of a ship.
  • OU TOPOS
  • Particle Daydreams
  • Printed Clothes DIY (4 my catcaller)
  • Raw Quinoa
  • Shatter/Flood/Mud/Houses
  • Simulacrum
  • Slip Away
  • Soft Pong Inari
  • Surveillance Siddhi
  • The Dust Machine Variation – probably the most sophisticated of the videos, it also easily had the most sonically interesting and imaginative sound track.
  • Water

If you are a maker of videos then you should give these a look. Each video comes with a brief description as well as a list of the software that was used in its creation. You may also want to contact a video’s creator(s) to learn more about how the created their work.

All the videos are accessible from the Enhanced Vision – Digital Video Collection

Happy Screening

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Video: The Liquified Paintings of Claude Monet

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Liquified Paintings of Claude Monet
The Liquified Paintings of Claude Monet Video

Since setting up an account on YouTube towards the end of last year, I confess to not having been active on that platform. I created the account for the purpose of publishing several video portfolios to promote my art. The plan was to create a video for each area of artistic creation I am working in. I created exactly one portfolio video and that was for my portrait art. That was my first attempt at making a video and you can see it here: Portrait Art Video. If you’re interested in the story of how I went about making that video, read Portrait Art Video Project.

The experience of creating that video got me interested in creating some original animations of my own. Since that time I’ve only posted two videos exploring animation. One I dubbed the Swimming Eye Art Video. The other was a crude quickie experiment in animating an image – Sailing A Stormy Sea Video.

For this new video I wanted to create something that would feature the art of the great impressionist painter Claude Monet. I have recently been experimenting with vector fields and their utility as an algorithmic means of creating flowing brush strokes. It occurred to me that I could use this technique to create a series of liquified paintings that would evolve. And that’s how The Liquified Paintings of Claude Monet video was born. And here it is.

The video captures the evolution of six separate paintings and the transition from one to the next. For me it is the transition between paintings that is visually the most interesting. One thing you may have noticed is the very slow evolution of the first painting. It is no coincidence that this first painting is the darkest of the six paintings. You see I tied the speed of evolution to the overall brightness of the image.

Given that these paintings have been "liquified", I deliberately chose artworks by Monet that featured water, be it a pond, a stream, a river, or the ocean. Following are image stills from the video and the name of the Monet painting that was used as the color source at that point during the video.

Claude Monet Impression, Soleil Levant
Claude Monet – Impression, Soleil Levant

Claude Monet The Argenteuil Bridge
Claude Monet – The Argenteuil Bridge

Claude Monet Morning By The Sea
Claude Monet – Morning By The Sea

Claude Monet Autumn On The Seine At Argenteuil
Claude Monet – Autumn On The Seine At Argenteuil

Claude Monet Poplars At The Epte
Claude Monet – Poplars At The Epte

Claude Monet Water Lilies
Claude Monet – Water Lilies

The most time consuming aspect of this project was writing the program that produced the video stills. In all I used 3272 image stills (not counting the title and trailer images) to create this video.

Graphics Software Used

I created this video using several different software packages. The liquified/animated images used to construct the video were created with a program I wrote using the Processing creative coding platform which is a framework built on Java. As a programming language, Processing is easily the best language for non-programmers interested in creative coding projects. To stitch the individual images together into a video, I used the DOS command line utility FFMPEG. To create my title and trailer images I used Adobe Photoshop CS4. Note that my workflow would have consisted entirely of "free" software if I had used GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) to create these two images. For the soundtrack file, I used Audacity to edit the mp3 sound file.The soundtrack music is Laideronnette Imperatrice Des Pagodes by Maurice Ravel. Finally to assemble everything I used Microsoft’s Windows Live Movie Maker which came bundled with Windows 7.

In Conclusion

If you would like to know more about Claude Monet, you may want to read this biography of Claude Monet. If you are of a technical bent, there is this Wikipedia entry for vector fields which served as the painting foundation upon which my Processing program was built. And while I don’t often add new videos, you may want to follow me on YouTube.

I’ll close with a couple of noteworthy quotes.

When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you – a tree, house, a field….Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives your own naive impression of the scene before you. – Claude Monet

A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more highly finished than this seascape. – French art critic Louis Leroy in 1874 commenting on Monet’s Impression, Sunrise

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Swimming Eye Video

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Swimming Eye Video
Swimming Eye Video

I’ve just completed a video project titled Swimming Eye. This was yet another accidental project on my part as I was not planning on creating a video. Rather I was experimenting with using Processing to create an algorithmic painting program.

In experimenting with applying Perlin noise to a gridded particle field to create a large algorithmic paintbrush, I was struck my the nature of the ensuing motion. It was similar to that of a liquid surface in motion. The impression it made on me was that of a living painting: it wasn’t a static image but an image that had a life of its own.

My original idea of creating some rather unusual digital paintings using this methodology was replaced with the idea of creating a video. The image used as illustration above is representative of my original idea. It was created by stacking several individual movie frames together in Photoshop and using different layer blend modes to merge the individual images together.

Previously I wrote about using Windows Live Movie Maker to create a YouTube video (see Portrait Art Video Project). However I found that Movie Maker was not capable of turning jpeg images into a real movie. With Movie Maker, an image must remain on display for at least one second. This is fine if you want to use images to create a video slide show. However, it does not work when it comes to creating an animation. To translate my 1400 images into a movie, I wanted each image (frame) to display for 1/30th of a second (think 30 frames per second).

I tried using Avidemux but it crashed repeatedly. In searching I came across FFMPEG – a DOS command line utility. It worked. With the basic video created my next step was to come up with a soundtrack because I really didn’t want to create a silent movie.

Searching opsound.org, I located a public domain song that met my needs (thanks to Free Sound Collective for making their music available for use). I used Audacity to create a sound clip of the necessary time length. I used Movie Maker to add the mp3 to the video created by FFMPEG.

I hope you enjoy the show.

Don’t forget – art is in the eye of the beholder.

See the Swimming Eye Video on YouTube

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Portrait Art Video Project

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Portrait Art Video
Portrait Art Video

Last week I wrote about making and posting my first video to YouTube
in Learning YouTube and Movie Maker. Earlier this week I posted my second video – The Digital Portrait Art of Jim Plaxco – a promotional video for my portrait art.

Let me tell you about the process I used to create this video. First I knew that I wanted the video to be not much longer than two minutes. Next I estimated how long I wanted each artwork to be displayed in the video. These two pieces of information told me exactly how many of my artworks I could use for the video.

My next step was to create the individual jpegs that would be used to create the video. I used Adobe Bridge to select the art that I wanted to use for the video. I then used Adobe Photoshop’s Image Processor (Adobe Bridge -> Tools -> Photoshop -> Image Processor) and the Resize to Fit option to create uniformly sized jpegs. I then created a title slide and a credits slide for the video, again using Adobe Photoshop.

Next was to bring all the jpegs into Windows Live Movie Maker. It was at this point that I sorted the pictures into the order I wanted. Once I had finished ordering the portraits in Movie Maker, I next applied a transition effect to each image. I tried to apply effects that I felt would work nicely for the artwork being transitioned from and to. Lastly I adjusted the display time settings associated with each image. Since I wanted to use a uniform display time for all the artwork in the show, I used Ctrl-A to select all the images and then used the Edit feature to set a uniform display time. I then individually selected the opening title slide and closing credits slide to give them a longer display time. At this point the visual portion of the video was complete. I exported the video and then watched it to decide if the timing and transitions were all to my satisfaction. To watch the movie I used my video player of choice – VLC Media Player

Adding sound to my video

At this point I had a silent movie. Now that I knew the movie’s final length (2:37), I had to locate suitable music of at least that duration. While I could have looped a shorter audio to fill out the video, I wanted to avoid that. Regarding music, there are several web sites that offer music under the creative commons license. Even though I limited my search to creative commons licenses that allow for commercial use (non-commercial licenses dominate) just to be 100% safe, I was still able to find a nice selection of music.

A note to those interested in using music with a creative commons license – it is important that you follow the creative commons licensing terms. The musicians are providing something for nothing except an acknowledgment in the work you produce. You know – that thing artists hate to hear — "can I use your art for free – you’ll get good exposure." These musicians have said yes so be sure to give them their proper credit in your video.

I found a very nice selection of music on opsound.org music web site. One song I found particularly appropriate was Big (Astronaut Mix) by Dave Howes. Big (Astronaut Mix) was a little bit longer than my video so I turned to Audacity. Audacity is excellent, free, open source, audio editing software. Being able to use Audacity to edit the soundtrack was wonderfully simple. There were only two things I had to do in Audacity. The first was to crop the soundtrack’s length to exactly match the length of my video. The second was to apply a fade effect to the end of the soundtrack so that the audio would fade out in the final seconds of the video.

With a soundtrack ready to go, I reopened my Movie Maker project, imported the mp3 file, and once again exported the video. It was just that simple.

With my video completed, it was time to turn to YouTube. While the video upload was in progress, I gave the YouTube entry for the video an appropriate title: The Digital Portrait Art of Jim Plaxco and an appropriate description:

A video presentation of digital portrait art created by Jim Plaxco. For details and a list of the art used, see http://www.artsnova.com/portrait-art-video.html.

Soundtrack: Big (Astronaut Mix) by Dave Howes, http://opsound.org

Also, rather than use one of YouTube’s random frame choices for the video’s thumbnail, I went with the custom thumbnail option and selected the jpeg of my video’s title slide.

I must confess that the entire project was rather a stress-free, enjoyable exercise. If you are an artist and have contemplated creating your own video to promote your art, what are you waiting for? The tools are free and the time investment in creating a video similar to mine is not bad at all.

Watch the video
The Digital Portrait Art of Jim Plaxco Video

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Learning YouTube and Movie Maker

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Movie Maker Masters of Lightning Screen Shot
Movie Maker Masters of Lightning Screen Shot

I’ve decided to dive into the world of publishing videos on YouTube. I had given it some thought last year after creating a CG animation but took no action. I recently created another animation and decided it was time to take action. The videos I have or plan to create are of four types:

  1. computer graphic animations I’ve created
  2. instructional CG videos based on lectures I’ve given
  3. promotional CG videos for my art
  4. videos I’ve shot at events

Before publishing any videos to YouTube I decided to do some research – which led to a trip to the library. I came away with the following books:

  • Conquering YouTube by Jay Miles, 2011
  • YouTube and Video Marketing An Hour A Day by Greg Jarboe, 2012
  • YouTube for Business, Online Video Marketing for Any Business by Michael Miller, 2009

The library had more but given the rate of change, I ignored all older books on the subject. As it was I almost took a pass on YouTube for Business as 2009 qualifies as ancient.

Conquering YouTube wins my award for Most Misnamed Book. Going through the book it became clear that the only reason that YouTube was in the title was for the book’s own marketing purposes. The book has absolutely nothing to do with YouTube. Rather it is a book of tips for creating live action videos. As a book on how to use your video camera to frame and light a scene, create special effects, and to construct a movie, the book succeeds but the book’s content ends there. Video file formats are not discussed. Post-processing on the computer is not discussed. Video software is not discussed. And using YouTube to host your video is never mentioned.

Briefly looking over YouTube for Business, Online Video Marketing for Any Business, it appears to be exactly what I was looking for with sections on:

  • Marketing Your Business Online with YouTube
  • Producing Your YouTube Videos
  • Managing Your YouTube Videos
  • Working with YouTube Video Blogs
  • Promotion and Monetization

With a publication date of 2009, there is a fair chance that some of the information is no longer accurate. For that reason I decided to focus on YouTube and Video Marketing An Hour A Day by Greg Jarboe and published last year.

Before getting into the book, I decided it would be better to first get some hands-on experience by uploading and sharing a video. Fortunately I had a video of a Masters of Lightning singing tesla coils performance collecting electronic dust on my computer. My first task was to create a title and a closing jpeg image for the video. Yes it is extra work, but it does provide the viewer with useful information and it clearly establishes the ownership of the video. To create the title and credits images I used Photoshop. This consisted of taking a screen shot of a frame from the video, adding the text, and using a layer style to enhance the text’s visual appeal.

I hate to say it but I used Microsoft’s Windows Live Movie Maker to attach the two jpegs to the video file and create the initial transition effect. Unfortunately Movie Maker only allows you to save your video as a WMV (Windows Media Video). No problem though as YouTube accepts WMV files. Uploading and filling in the required fields on YouTube was a piece of cake. The video that follows is that video.

Masters of Lightning play the Dr Who theme song at the Duckon Science Fiction Convention

Having created and published this video, I’ve started in on YouTube and Video Marketing An Hour A Day which contains the following chapters:

  1. A Short History of YouTube
  2. Map Out Your Video Marketing Strategy
  3. Month 1: Make Videos Worth Watching
  4. Month 2: create Content Worth Sharing
  5. Month 3: Customize Your YouTube Channel
  6. Month 4: Explore YouTube Alternatives
  7. Month 5: Optimize Video for YouTube
  8. Month 6: Engage the YouTube Community
  9. Month 7: Trust but Verify YouTube Insight
  10. Study YouTube Success Stories
  11. A Quick Look at the Future

This looks to be exactly the sort coverage that I was looking for. According to Greg Jarboe, the book’s author, "over three billion videos are streamed every day on YouTube." Creating a video and getting it watched on YouTube represents quite a challenge. From the book: "… more than 70 percent of all videos on YouTube make up only 1 percent of the views on the site." meaning that less than 30 percent of all videos get 99 percent of the view traffic. Clearly a challenge for every video creator out there.

Windows Live Movie Maker Tips

There are two things I’ve discovered with my initial work with Windows Live Movie Maker that I’d like to share with you.

Movie Maker Tip 1

Let’s say that you’ve imported an image into your video. Let’s also say you’re unhappy with it so you go back and make a change to the image. Movie Maker will not recognize that change. In fact if you delete the image from your video and re-import it, Movie Maker will recognize that you previously imported that image and will use its cached version instead of the file you’ve updated. I found that what worked was to save the image with a new file name and import that new file into the movie.

Movie Maker Tip 2

With respect to image resources on your computer that you have imported into your Movie Maker project, Movie Maker does not make its own copy of them inside the video. Rather it relies on linking to where the resources were at the time you imported them into Movie Maker. If you subsequently move these resources to a different directory or drive, the next time you open your project, you will see empty gray boxes where your images used to be. You will need to double-click each and every box individually to open a Windows Explorer dialog so that you can tell Movie Maker where that image is now located. My tip: make sure you keep all your resources for each video together with that video project. This makes me wonder about tip 1 – what would have happened if I had closed Movie Maker, modified the image file, and then reopened Movie Maker and the project.

Closing Thoughts

It’s always fun to learn something new on the computer and to acquire new skills. I expect that the next video I release will be a work that promotes my portrait art. For that video I’ll need to come up with a sound track – which represents yet another challenge. I hope that I”m up to it.

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Hubble 3D IMAX Movie

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Hubble 3D IMAX movie
Hubble 3D IMAX movie

What a great IMAX movie. Thursday I visited Chicago’s Navy Pier to take some photographs and attend a screening of the latest IMAX movie – Hubble 3D. I had a number of free passes so I and several friends from the National Space Society met up to see the movie.

According to the theater Shuttle astronaut John Grunsfeld, who was in the movie and was one of the astronauts on the last Hubble servicing mission, was supposed to be there. However there was no John Grunsfeld. I never did ask anyone from the theater what happened.

As to the movie, the main themes were the training for the Hubble servicing mission, the actual servicing mission itself, and simulated 3D views of some of Hubble’s better known observations. The blend of shuttle launches, astronaut training, the Hubble servicing missions, and the simulated trips through the Orion Nebula and M87 kept the movie well paced.

The 3D, which relies on polarized light rather than the red/blue anaglyph, really made the movie spectacular. When the astronauts were in the Space Shuttle’s payload bay servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, it was like being there with them. One particularly effective shot was a close in view of astronaut Megan McArthur suited up prior to boarding the Space Shuttle for the STS-125 mission. She was seated and it was like she was seated only a few feet in front of me. I felt like I could reach out and give her a high-five. Megan was a mission specialist on STS-125, the 5th and final Hubble servicing mission, and worked the remote manipulator system (RMS) used to grab the Hubble Space Telescope and bring it into the Shuttle’s payload bay.

Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula is arguably the best known and most photographed astronomical feature. Astronomically, the highlight of the movie was the simulated trip to and through the Orion Nebula, which is a stellar nursery. I’ve had an interest in the Orion Nebula, also known as Messier 42 or M42, for a long time and have in the past considered putting together a presentation on the subject. If you want to know a lot more about the Orion Nebula, I recommend the book The Orion Nebula: Where Stars Are Born.

Disappointments

There were some slow moments during the show that relied on non-3d visuals. These were primarily news reports associated with Hubble’s initial optical problems (recall that the primary mirror was ground a fraction of the width of a human hair out of shape).

I would have liked to have seen more of the movie devoted to astronomy. There were some beautiful 3D stills, like that of the Helix Nebula, and the simulated trip to the galaxy known as M87, a giant elliptical galaxy with a super massive black hole at its center. And there was more – just not enough for me.

Bottom Line

If you are at all interested in space exploration or astronomy, then this is a movie you’ll enjoy. The 3D views are amazing and the script provides a great educational opportunity. And did I mention that the 3D views are amazing.

Afterwards

After the movie we headed to Bubba Gump’s for food and drink. Bubba Gump’s wasn’t our first choice but other than Harry Caray’s, it was the only place still open. For the next hour and a half we talked some about the movie but mostly about the National Space Society and the upcoming International Space Development Conference (ISDC) – which all of us have an involvement in. For my part, I am the ISDC webmaster and am the point of contact for the Call for Papers. The ISDC is being held in Chicago this year over Memorial Day weekend and is the best space exploration conference for the general public. Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, and many other space luminaries, will be attending. For more about the ISDC, check out the International Space Development Conference web site.

The Hubble 3D IMAX Web Site

The IMAX folks have a web site for the Hubble 3D movie. There is background about the shuttle missions, the astronauts, and a few movie wallpapers available. Be forewarned – the web site is heavy. If you don’t have a high speed internet connection the site will take some time to load. And if you don’t have a newer computer – well let’s just say that the site will put a strain on your browser. So for more about the movie, visit www.imax.com/hubble/.

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