Friday, July 26, 2013

Simple Play, Sophisticated Tech

My boys and I are playing around with stop-motion animation this summer while they are out of school. It makes me realize how much the technology has changed since we moved to New Hampshire a dozen years ago.

Stop-motion used to be a big deal. When we were doing animation workshops in 2002, we had to either use the low-resolution Lego camera (and the accompanying software) or a special program that ran on my Mac and used my camcorder in order to do stop-motion.

Now we just shoot the frames as pictures on our family digital still camera, and I can assemble them into a movie with Quicktime Pro. My youngest son Danny did some tests last week, and I had them up and running for him to see in about ten minutes. And it's footage I can crop to 1080p HD if I want to (though I probably won't bother for this summer's playing around).

Unlike the old days, when we did these things on film, if someone gets a finger in the shot by accident (always an issue with any animator, and even more so if the animator is ten), I can just delete the bad frame and shoot the frame again, and no one will ever notice in the finished product.

Not only that, but I am not obligated to shoot all the scenes at the same frame rate. If a scene calls for a very smooth motion, I can shoot for 30 frames/sec. If the motion is not so subtle, 10 frames/sec will do. And the scenes will cut together as if they'd all been shot the same.

And I can use solutions I never could have dreamed of working in film (at least, not on the budgets I had at the time). Danny want's his scene shot against a starry background. In the old days, I would have painted one, and torn my hair out trying to light it properly.

Now I just use a green screen and composite using iMovie. Just like that.

An old guy like me might wax a little nostalgic for his days behind a Super8 camera, clicking away frames with a cable release. But really, if I'm honest with myself, I like this new way better.

A lot better.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day

Today my family will eat hot dogs and hamburgers, maybe attend the annual parade. We might spend a little time at the beach, and when my wife comes home from work, for she is not one of those fortunate enough to have the day off, we will have dinner and then go watch fireworks, weather permitting.

Between these leisure activities, there is work to be done—cleaning, house construction, work on my wife's camping trailer, and summer lessons for the boys (they don't get the day off, either). In other words, I think our Fourth of July will be pretty typical.

But I hope that we all will also take a moment to think about why we celebrate this day. Two hundred and thirty-seven years ago, a group of men signed their names to a piece of paper, and thus committed an act of rebellion. It was a dangerous act, and the hazards came not only from across the Atlantic, but on home soil as well, as not all in the colonies supported separation from the Crown.

I wonder what they would think of us now. Benjamin Franklin wrote: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

On the other hand, after more than two centuries, we do still live in a republic. If we can keep it.