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Filming Miniature Ship and using MoCo

So I conducted some tests with the miniature ship using a Kessler Second Shooter with Pocket Dolly V3. For these tests I used a black blanket as the backdrop, a harsh lighting source, and my GH4 with a wide lens.

I decided to go with time-lapse, in order to make the model appear large in size and move slowly at 24fps.

I am really wondering if green screen is a better way to go, along with 120fps for real time slow motion instead of pictures.

My question is, how much light do I actually need to close the lens down and make everything in focus. I thought the time-lapse photography would make this easy, but I still found things going out of focus, and the scene very dark. I don't really see any benefit of time-lapse over real time yet... Unless maybe I am doing it wrong.

I do remember slow motion makes the scene dark as well, so I guess keeping everything in focus would make the scene darker than with the time-lapse???

Does anyone have any experience with miniatures here?
 
Not real experience, no, but in my youth I was an avid consumer of the behind the scenes footage from Industrial Light & Magic. If I remember correctly, in both (the original) Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, they used a mixture of stop-motion animation and live-action/slow motion for all their model-making. See if you can dig out some of the footage showing how they filmed X-fighters being blown up (that was done with slow-mo coz they used real explosives! ... but I can't remember if it was against a blue-screen or black).
 
The more light you have, the more "in focus" your image will be. Remember that the higher the shutter speed, the more light you need. On film they would shoot at 60-80 fps depending on the size of the model. f11 to f16 was common.
 
See if you can dig out some of the footage showing how they filmed X-fighters being blown up (that was done with slow-mo coz they used real explosives! ... but I can't remember if it was against a blue-screen or black).

I have been trying to find a really good BTS for that, seems most docs are only interested in the success of the business/toy line, rather than in depth miniature work.

You can see the time-lapse method at the link below. I feel like it is too fast, so I need to probably do stop motion style instead. There is that option on the slider.

In addition I will try green screen in real time at 120fps at a later date.

The first shot is actually the first one I filmed, so it is rough. As it gets closer to the end, I get happier with the result. (These are just test, so not official by any means).

I'm wondering how hard it would be to blend in After Effects with the black background, but that is tests for another day.

 
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GH4 with a wide lens
When you say "wide" what do you mean by that? (My wide angle lens is a 10-18mm zoom, which I wouldn't use for model photography) and what f/stops are you using at the moment (or did you use in the test footage)?

how much light do I actually need to close the lens down and make everything in focus. I thought the time-lapse photography would make this easy, but I still found things going out of focus, and the scene very dark. I don't really see any benefit of time-lapse over real time yet

If you're doing stop-motion, you should be able to shoot in near-blackness at f/32 and have everything in focus ... but the with multi-minute long exposures needed for each frame, it'd probably take you all of next year to finish the job! :metal:

Looking at the test footage, it seems to me that the parts of the model that are mostly out-of-focus are those closest to the lens (particularly in the second clip). Is the model straying into a zone below the lens' minimum focus distance? Same question asked differently: on what part of the model are you focusing? If you're picking the closest point, you'll (almost) always lose sharpness towards the back in favour of sharpness in front of your focus point. Make sure you're applying the rules of hyperfocal distance. And apologies if I'm teaching you to suck eggs! :abduct:
 
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When you say "wide" what do you mean by that? (My wide angle lens is a 10-18mm zoom, which I wouldn't use for model photography) and what f/stops are you using at the moment (or did you use in the test footage)?



If you're doing stop-motion, you should be able to shoot in near-blackness at f/32 and have everything in focus ... but the with multi-minute long exposures needed for each frame, it'd probably take you all of next year to finish the job! :metal:

Looking at the test footage, it seems to me that the parts of the model that are mostly out-of-focus are those closest to the lens (particularly in the second clip). Is the model straying into a zone below the lens' minimum focus distance? Same question asked differently: on what part of the model are you focusing? If you're picking the closest point, you'll (almost) always lose sharpness towards the back in favour of sharpness in front of your focus point. Make sure you're applying the rules of hyperfocal distance. And apologies if I'm teaching you to suck eggs! :abduct:

I'm actually wanting to get the entire ship in the focus range to give the illusion of size. But the f/stop wasn't that high, so that is probably the issue. I think I will stick with the stop motion. Yes, it will probably take forever, but that's alright. I expected that to be the case.

The lens may be an issue. Would you use a longer lens for model filming?

This is the lens I am using currently: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01C56V72Q/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

For some reason though, I can't seem to figure out how to sync my camera with the Kessler slider. Even with the control chord plugged in, I didn't notice any communication between the GH4 and the slider.
 
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The lens may be an issue. Would you use a longer lens for model filming?

Can't really say, as my hands-on experience relates to "still life" where I can use additional techniques not applicable to moving images (e.g. focus stacking).

I have more to say on this subject, but gotta go mingle with the natives for the next twelve hours - so in the finest tradition: to be continued ... :)
 
Can't really say, as my hands-on experience relates to "still life" where I can use additional techniques not applicable to moving images (e.g. focus stacking).

I have more to say on this subject, but gotta go mingle with the natives for the next twelve hours - so in the finest tradition: to be continued ... :)

No worries, thanks for the tips!

Looking further into the Stop Motion, it is getting crazy expensive. I would need a slider that has stepper motor capability, then I was doing research and the slider that Derek used was over $3,000 mixed with the Dragonframe software. There is no way I can afford that at the moment.

I'm thinking to save cost, I may just want to manually control the slider. Since I won't be doing multiple passes, I think I can pull it off live, using 120fps and a smooth slider will a ball tripod head. Use the other lens at high f/stop and just add a more powerful light to the mix.
 
A little later than planned, I'm back! Mingling went on longer than expected ... :blush:

OK, to business: this is probably one of those situations that would be so much easier to figure out on-site, but based on what you've written above and what I'm seeing in the test footage, here are my more complete observations (if you want me to annotate screenshots to make these comments easier to follow, let me know):
I still found things going out of focus, and the scene very dark.
But the f/stop wasn't that high, so that is probably the issue.
In almost every shot, it definitely looks to me like the front of the ship is too close to the lens, regardless of whether it's moving left-to-right (nearest element permanently out-of-focus), or moving towards/away from the lens (nearest element goes/starts out-of-focus but is more in-focus at a distance. According to the lens specs, it should be able to keep focus at as little as 20cm - but the f/stop will dictate how much of the model is in focus in any one frame.

In some of the later scenes, especially where the ship is moving away from the camera, I can see the in-focus region shifting. This suggests that you're using an f/stop that is too large for the size of the model or that you're (auto?)focusing on nearest point, and losing sharpness at the back in favour of an in-focus foreground that doesn't exist. That can be fixed by manual focusing at (or just behind) the hyperfocal point.

All of the above takes us back to the equation between focal length, f/stop and light: if you're using a short focal length (which 24mm is) and a wide aperture (which f/3.5 is, if you're not stopping down from that) and you're focusing at 20-30cm, you'll have to add a lot more light to the parts of the model further away from the camera: the inverse square law of light is exaggerated at close distances like these: if you light the model homogeneously, the camera will only see 1/4 the light on those parts at 40cm compared to what it sees on the parts at 20cm (I don't remember you ever citing the dimensions of the model, but I reckon it's about 30cm diameter? )

Using a longer lens, and by extension positioning the camera further away will reduce the relative distance between the front and rear of the model, making it easier to light. As a rule, longer/telephoto lenses (can) make the subject seem smaller by pulling the background forward to dwarf/dominate the subject, but as you don't have a background, this doesn't apply. You do, however, risk flattening the perspective of the ship ... so you'll be messing around with lighting again to restore that depth of field.

Having said that ...
in order to make the model appear large in size
I'm actually wanting to get the entire ship in the focus range to give the illusion of size.
... this is a whole different challenge. Against a monochrome background, it's impossible to create an impression of either size or speed. You can see the problem in (millions of) aircraft spotter videos: turn off the sound and unless there are clouds in the background or trees at the bottom of the image, all you're left with is a plane in a frame - an Antonov 225 looks no more exciting than a Cessna 225. 😝 With an "emptiness of space" background, you'll have to engineer the concept of size in some other way.

For the various Star Wars models, they used visible "human" figures for the smaller craft so that we (the audience) could relate to the size of vehicle; and for the larger fleet, they added lights - lots of lights - to re-create how we Earthlings recognise the difference in size between a skyscraper and a family home. For one of the bigger fleet models, they used 100 000 pinpoint LEDs to create the effect ... before having to come up with another technique for Vader's even bigger star destroyer!

It probably too late for you now, but I can count only 12? points of light on your ship - any chance you can increase that?

If not, the next best technique is ... lighting! Use the inverse square law to shoot an extreme close-up and deliberately underexpose most of the ship, so that as it crosses our field of view, it seems to go on "forever" as the rear parts emerge from the shadows. You can enhance that impression with low-frequency "big-n-heavy" sounds. It might be enough to put a lot of effort into getting that as perfect as possible for the first/establishing shot showing the ship after launch; once the audience has been appropriately "calibrated" you should be able to get away with more subtle suggestions in subsequent shots.

120fps for real time slow motion instead of pictures.
Not sure what to suggest in this respect. All of my animation experience (which isn't much, and was a long time ago) was based on the model moving, not the camera; and in more recent times, when dabbling in timelapse sequences, the traditional advice was to make sure that a slow enough shutter speed was used to ensure that the image was very slightly blurred, as it made for a smoother/more realistic shot when played back at 24fps. But now, with 4k video played at 60fps ... maybe the rules have changed? 😕

I was doing research and the slider that Derek used was over $3,000 mixed with the Dragonframe software.
There are loads of YouTube videos showing how to make sliders for less than $100, using a Raspberry Pi or Arduino as a step controller. It's something on my To Do list ... :contract:

Are you working on this day and night, every waking moment - or is it mostly at weekends? If you let me know the dimensions of the ship, I might play around with focal lengths and apertures during the week and see if I can come up with some reference values.
 
Firstly, thank you for dedicating so much time to responding! It really helps to get my gears turning in my brain.

In almost every shot, it definitely looks to me like the front of the ship is too close to the lens, regardless of whether it's moving left-to-right (nearest element permanently out-of-focus), or moving towards/away from the lens (nearest element goes/starts out-of-focus but is more in-focus at a distance.

I think I may have zoomed a little to much for the shots in an attempt to fill the frame with the ship model. I think that messed with my focus too much, plus as you said my lighting wasn't bright enough. The auto-focus was not on at the time. The ISO was up almost max. I think I just need more light and more f/powa.

It probably too late for you now, but I can count only 12? points of light on your ship - any chance you can increase that?

The ship in relation to human size is slightly bigger than the pod from the film Contact.

contfullpod.jpg

Scale of Lucretia.png


It isn't meant to be too large, I don't think the lights would be to much of an issue. I can however get more light to show through by adjusting the inside of the ship a little more. Believe it or not, those lights are all showing from one light source inside the ship. The ship itself is a see through hamster ball. So i can just remove some pieces of tape and make more lighting.


Are you working on this day and night, every waking moment - or is it mostly at weekends? If you let me know the dimensions of the ship, I might play around with focal lengths and apertures during the week and see if I can come up with some reference values.

I am working on it when I have time away from my main job. The ship is a large 13" hamster ball with a foam ring around it and a booster attached. I don't know if that helps. The model should be considered 1/10 or 1/16 scale of the real ship I would say. (I'm not a math guy by any means).

I'm going to try my hand at live action next time, around 60fps and see what I can do about the lighting and focus. I have a Metabones speedbooster I can attach to the GH4 to bump its low light capability. Then I can attach the SIGMA 18-35 lens to that.
 
I just quickly read the the Visual Effects Society book I bought a year back.

The formula stated in that is this:
(square root of scale model) x film frame rate

So if I say my model scale is 1:12 and my frame rate is 24p... That rounds up to around 84fps needed to make it appear life size.

My GH4 has the ability to do variable frame rate slow motion, so I will go ahead and try that out this next time, with the lens stopped down more.
 
The formula stated in that is this:
(square root of scale model) x film frame rate

So if I say my model scale is 1:12 and my frame rate is 24p... That rounds up to around 84fps needed to make it appear life size.

Not exactly. That formula is used to make ancillary motion appear lifelike, i.e. slowing down the movement of anything that might be disturbed by the action of the primary model, e.g. dust kicked up, falling bricks or girders, bodies being thrown into the air. The technique makes the environment react in a believable fashion, and as a result makes the miniature appear more realistic.

This doesn't apply to objects moving through outer space, where our terrestrial parameters are irrelevant and objects are as likely to fall upwards as down! So you have to imply the size/mass/intensity of the action through other means (e.g. explosions being heard when they would be completely silent if you were up there watching them! )

Edit: extrapolating from the 13" hamster-ball core, I've estimated the total diameter of the model at 20 inches, but calculating it as 1/12th of 3x Rachel's height gives me 16½ inches. Which of those is the more accurate? It'll make a heck of a difference to the f/stop needed to keep it all in focus!

(I'm hoping to get some time to mess about with some models tomorrow or Friday)
 
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