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Sunday, February 28, 2010

••◊ Where's George?

So...my mom emails me the week before last and tells me about this Internet site called wheresgeorge.com. It allows you and I to track where money goes. Mom then sends me a dollar bill with the wheresgeorge.com logo stamped on it and tells me it's my duty to continue George's journey to Washington DC (more about that in a future post). So far it had been to Portland (Oregon) and Seattle. I, of course, start by logging it into San Diego.

Somewhere in the air over Colorado I thought to myself..."ah ha, I think I have a photo project; Where's George, the photog version." Everyone takes photos of the White House (with the plethora of snipers outside now days), the National Mall, Capitol...etc...big yawn. Considering they just had an snow and ice storm a lot of the trees are broken and bare, there's no shrubbery, and things are just dead looking. It's not exactly picture paradise this time of year unless you're into squirrel nut gathering photography.

Me? Well, I'm going where George is going. George is an adventurous sort and evidently very popular in Washington D.C. (not just the name). When I exited the jetway off the A320 I was smackdab in gray suit-land. Feeling like a redneck in jeans we kept going because we had important things to do.

As a side note...George and I had a stop over at Chicago O'Hare airport. George and I were both creap-ed out by the Burger King advertisement at the right, so we kept on trucking. Next stop, Washington DC.

Our first stop in Washington was the Lincoln monument. Between you and me, I think George still has a bit of statue envy.

George and I stopped at the Washington Monument, which George still doesn't quite get because it looks nothing like him (for the most part). The National Park folks have also nicknamed the place "WAMO" as seen on the park ticket. I guess that makes it easier to TXT to a friend.

George said he wanted to stop by the old house just for nostalgia sake. He never got to see it completed.

George and I geeked out at NASA for a bit. We had some business to do there related to the power beaming challenge that the Lasermotive team won in November last year. I almost bought a t-shirt in the company store, but they were out of my size. Oh man, what I wouldn't have given for a space suit from that store back when I was six!

NASA is about three blocks from the Capitol building. George is still extremely popular there. Enough said.

So where's George today? I left him in the capable hands of two gentlemen heading for the colony of New York. They were given specific instructions to log George into that area. So if you see a dollar bill with serial number L92626498I series 2006, you'll know where it's been. More to come about this trip later.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

••◊ custom rails and DSLR mounting

After many failed attempts at focusing using the Canon EF lens focus ring I broke down and bought a follow focus (FF) unit from David Aldrich at D-Focus. You know, even at such a low price it seems to work pretty well. I'm taking it into the field tomorrow to give the FF unit a try before a shoot I have scheduled next month.

In order to use a FF unit you really need rails and a way to mount your camera to them. So it was back to the machine shop, armed with engineering paper and a digital ruler. Believe it or not, the whole rail setup cost about $16 to build; mostly because I had to buy a $10 roll of cork and five 1/4-20 plastic knobs at extortionist prices. Otherwise, the materials were laying around the shop in scrap bins.

The rails were custom lathed out of 5/8" aluminum rod stock. Yes, I drilled them out for weight. The base plate is custom designed to fit on a Manfrotto tripod mount, alignment pin and all. The other part is the actual camera mount/riser with the cork padding. The two slots you see on the rise allow side to side adjustment of the rise top plate. All measurements are industry standard; 15mm rails, 60mm separation between rails, 85mm from rail center to lens center.

Even more important is that the rail system breaks down into something small enough to fit into my backpack for travel. I can't say the same for the Zacuto, Red Rock Micro, or Arri semi-equivalents. Of course I'd like to own those product. They're beautiful works of machinery - however cost prohibitive for my level of production.

Here's a picture with the 5D mounted on the rail system with the lens gear installed. Yes, I know, thrilling (not). However, this is just a first step in a multi-step process. Now I can buy industry standard camera accessories and they all fit (yeah!). A field monitor seems like the logical next step, but I might have to break down and buy one (boo) instead of making one.

Next up? A shoulder rig for handheld work. Time to pull out more green engineering notepad paper. Shane Hurlbut - See what you started?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

••◊ Valentine's Day

For those less single, last Sunday was Valentine's Day. I've been so busy lately that if it weren't for photography I would have honestly forgotten about it. President's Day is typically more memorable because at least I get the day off from work. Jeremy Cowart at Help-Portrait sent out a last minute notice asking for fundraising for Haiti, so we decided to do portraits at Hennessey's in the gaslamp in return for a donation to the Red Cross International Response Fund. The usual suspects were included: Clarence (aka "Lumpy"), Lauren+hubby Clay, Chriselda+hubby Miguel+girls, Pol, Michelle+hubby, and video Greg. Somehow, with a half dozen photographers present, I ended up doing all the shooting. Why? Dunno. Pol managed out on site IT services, man-ing the tethered laptop and printing the pictures. Clarence donated the lighting gear and did the behind the scenes photos (below). Chriselda and Lauren handled the street hustle. Michelle brought the back drop and nursed her under the weather husband. Larry at Nelson's Photo in San Diego generously provided us with a discount on our white seamless paper.

The concept was that we would set up a seamless backdrop in a banquet room of the restaurant and have street barkers bring people in for portraits. Easier said than done as we soon found out. The good news is that we (meaning I) did get some good shots. The trick was to tell people to be a fun, campy, and as cheese-ball as possible since this was Valentine's Day. I'm not a wedding or couples photographer (by choice - puke) so when it comes to the whole loving couples thing I just lack inspiration. Having couples pose themselves seemed to alleviate the involuntary hurl sensations.

Let's get to the pictures, shall we? After all, you're here for the pixels, right? First up were Chriselda's little girls. Boy does she have these two trained to be in front of a camera. Clarence was just going around taking random photos and turned the camera toward the older girl - sure enough, she knew to begin smiling and posing without being prompted. The younger daughter seemed to be equally well trained, believe it or not.

You know those couples that you just know have a weird sense of fore play? Yeah. Picture of Lauren and Clay below. Kidding...I keeeeeed. Actually, While we were standing around idle I told Lauren that after some of the other couples' offbeat posing that she had to up her game - so this photo was more of a dare than a fore planned thought. Then again, who knows. Maybe this is what they do every Sunday afternoon; training for the yearly wife carrying championships.

Two couples came in from Novato, California (up north). I managed a few fun frames of them, but this one definitely stuck out. You gotta love the buckling knees and the expression on her face.

I reserved the pictures that may cause projectile vomit onto your computer screen for the archive just because I was in a good mood from President's Day. I need another day off like that.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

••◊ Custom movie making equipment, first attempts

I like to make stuff - always have. I recently saw a number of videos recorded on the 5Dm2 that used the Kessler Crane PocketDolly or Glidetrack Pro. For a lot of shots the one meter distance limitation seemed like just enough, but at $400 a pop it was out of the question to just buy as a toy to experiment with. However...I do have access to a machine shop and with a little engineering I figured I could make something suitably similar and good enough for my personal usage. As I'm writing this blog post I just found the Indifocus IndiSLIDER, which seems very similar in concept to my design.

Below is a picture of the resulting assembly; framed in CinemaScope (2.35:1) by the way. I have to say that the sled movement is very smooth; more so than I originally envisioned it would be. The design was a collaboration between my co-worker Josh (a mechanical engineer) and I. The best part...still have all of my fingers and can cross them for further good luck. Click on the picture to see the assembly in detail.

First off in the structure is the extruded Aluminum beam which was purchased from a hardware store. I machined end caps out of Delrin and bought rubber bumpers made for furniture to screw into the side caps as feet. The adjustable bumpers allow the track to sit flat on most semi-flat surfaces. I just found out that the coffee table pictured above isn't flat!

You may have noticed that at the center bottom of the beam there is a flat piece of metal. This piece has 3/8"-16 threading and allows me to attach the assembly to my tripod. I just tried it today and have to say that unfortunately my tripod is a little too weenie weight to hold the dolly steady. Time to buy a real video tripod I guess (no, I'm not going to attempt to make one).

The sled is made out of Delrin and aluminum. Josh recommended that we try Delrin over the conventional linear bearing design for cost reasons. Surprisingly, Delrin is silky smooth on an anodized surface and seems to slide nice and quiet on beam. What I didn't want is the typical linear bearing noise, although I think the Glidetrack/PocketDolly sleds are similarly quiet. I also designed in a quick release sled lock for obvious reasons. The lock handle was purchased at the same hardware store as the beam, thus the matching colors.

The time spent on this was a good investment in general. I now need to build some rails for my camera so I can mount a D-focus follow focus assembly. I also need to build a few more things, but only have so much time to give as it's still a hobby. This dolly is going into use later in the month with a dance production I'm going to DP.

Below is a very quick and dirty video showing the sled in operation with the lock down and a dolly move with my 5Dm2. I obviously need to practice, but this is my first time actually using the dolly. Not impressive, but it shows the concept.

So what was the damage for this bad boy. $39+tax. Yep, about 1/10th the price. This, of course, doesn't take into account my labor or cuts and bruises (no joke about those). Also, a lot of the sled and attachment materials were scraps just laying around the shop, so these items didn't figure into the cost.

Lots more to work on. Happy sledding.