Oct 3 2007

The day Alex made it big

I’m totally amazed by this:

Google Results Alex Honnold 10/3/07

And not the part that the rest of the normal world is thinking, I mean, yeah sure, sure he climbed two veritably insurmountable rocks without any safety equipment in one day, but I think at the moment I’m possibly even more impressed by his google ranking.

I think google must have tweaked their algorithms quite a bit to hedge things towards current events**, but I’m still impressed by just how fast the relatively common name “Alex Honnold” has resolved to not only the “correct” Alex Honnold for my searches, but also to events that are recent.

I’m lucky to have a very uncommon name and due to that fact alone have been pretty happy with my google ranking. The fact that there are only something like 11 “ofsinks” in the world has helped keep basically all the data when you search “james ofsink” about me (although my dad’s cousin’s law firm now comes as the top hit for “ofsink”, harumph, you’ll get yours cousin jay, you’ll get yours). But, regardless, it’s hard enough getting sites on the net to even point towards me and the things that I want them to about myself, let alone actually having recent information.

My hat’s off to Alex. Oh, and way to go on climbing that rock too.

**For more on google’s algorithm, you should check out this interesting article on nytimes.com


Oct 2 2007

Here’s a job I don’t want

I have a distinct memory of being in the MediaStudio with Braden (link depicts the not-uncommon occurrence of Braden being mobbed by small Japanese children), the first time that anyone ever explained the concept of a mask to me. I remember we were doing some effects for Dichotomy and Braden said something about the movie Gladiator and how some studio interns had to go in after the green screen and do masks to make sure that they were really just getting Russell Crowe and not any of the green screen so that they could apply the background to make it appear as though he was in a Roman Colosseum. I didn’t totally understand the concept, but Braden showed me kind of how they work, although I don’t think we used many for the Dichotomy effects.

Random Gladiator Image
Here’s a random image from Gladiator for those of you who didn’t see it, or don’t care to remember it. (Sorry this image doesn’t even illustrate the point I’m talking about here, since there’s no Russell Crowe standing in front of and super-imposed upon a huge Colosseum audience, but really I did look for a better picture and after wasting twenty minutes on google images looking at the same 6 production stills pushed out over a thousand websites, I decided this one would serve as the representative Gladiator shot.)

Anyways… now it’s six years after Dichotomy and I can’t imagine making effects without using masks. At least in After Effects that is; I haven’t done too much with masks in Final Cut, but let me share my evening with those who are not faint of heart.

So, for the film that Fernando and I are cutting, there’s a fairly significant plot point involving a dump-truck that’s converted to run on SVO (straight veggie oil) and the well-intentioned soul (Ben) who wants to drive it from Portland to New Orleans to help the rebuilding efforts. This was an amazing find back 18 months ago when the film was first beginning to shape up and when we realized that to talk about sustainable building in America in this decade you have to talk about New Orleans.

Here’s a still from the first time that Fernando filmed the SVO truck. This is Ben, Billy and Loren, in Loren’s shop, doing the actual conversion from Diesel to Bio-Diesel/SVO.
Original SVO Truck

Pretty sweet eh? Yeah, it’s got that vibrant color, and it’s huge. The idea was to convert it to run on veggie oil (which for most normal people is a waste product that many restaurants and such will pay you to take away), and then drive to New Orleans serving beignets (New Orleans style pastries) and using the veggie oil and proceeds to then power the drive across the nation.

Anyways, next time we saw the truck, when Fernando was getting in to start the cross country trek, it had been given a paint job, and now was this color…

Final Geaux Nuts Color
(this is a shot of the passenger door, with the Geaux Nuts logo on it).

Not a problem. I actually like the teal color better than the orange. And we got some really great footage from the adventures that Ben and Fernando had with this truck. So now it’s many months later and we’re cutting together the film and realize that the truck and the Geaux Nuts journey will not have as prominent a role as we once thought. More to the point, we’re wondering if it will be too confusing to have the truck originally be bright orange and then without explanation suddenly be teal? We don’t have any footage of it getting painted nor does anyone ever say anything on camera to justify the change. Given that we don’t want to spend time slowing down the narration or the documentation, we wondered if maybe it wouldn’t be easier to just change the color of the truck in that early conversion footage.

Here’s a still of what we thought we’d like to do…
SVO Truck New Colors

I’m just applying a filter to change the orange in the image to the greenish-blue. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple yet as just clicking on a color and telling the computer to switch it for another color.

Sigh.

You’ll notice of course that the orange has all kind of shadows on it and different shades depending on how far or close it is to a light or reflecting surface. The software has no way to know that I only want “the truck” and not all the other slightly orange-ish things in the room. For this kind of thing orange was an unfortunate choice because lots of things are orange-ish. Wood, beige walls, post-its, and most significantly in my case, fleshtones are slightly orange. So when I adjusted the tolerance level on the effect to get all the oranges that exist on the truck, I was also picking up (and thus changing) the colors in our character’s skin.

Here’s what the clip looked like after my first attempt.
GreenSkin

Which would have been fine if we were making a sci-fi movie or maybe a Star Trek episode from the seventies, but for our purposes with this particular part of the film, didn’t seem to work. (Although I’m not ruling out a sci-fi/Star-Trek-TOS-episode-sequel to Abode.)

So basically I had to go in and tell the software more specifically where I did and did-not want the effect applied. There are a few ways to do this, you can be liberal with where you want the effect applied and then very specific about the regions where it shouldn’t be applied, or you can do the opposite and be generous about where the effect is applied and build very specific areas that you don’t want it applied to. I decided to apply the effect to nearly the entire screen since the truck was frequently taking up most of the screen, and then mask-off the areas where I didn’t want the effect to be.

It’s uglier than that really because this footage is all hand held and the camera is moving non-uniformly and the subjects are also weird shapes (damn, if only our film was a documentary about squares this would have been so much easier) and moving non-uniformly as well. So I can’t rely on the software to interpolate very well since things are changing from frame to frame in weird ways. So, yes, I had to make a bunch of masks and then keyframe their shape and location nearly every frame.

Here’s a sample of a few of my masks…
Masks to make things un-green

And here’s depressing shot of some of my keyframes for those masks…
Mask Keyframes

:-(

I’m largely finished now though and after rendering it, it looks pretty good. If we decide to use a lot of this shot, I’ll still have some more work to do, and there’s some annoying orange-glow by Billy’s hand in a little of the shot, which could be fixed by more extensive keyframing, but for the moment, let’s call it done.

I’m sooo glad I don’t have to be the intern doing forty hours of this a week. Blech.