How To Improve a Mediocre Image with the Android Photos App

A quick video on how to improve a less-than-perfect image using the simple tools found in the Photos app in Android. (Most of these tools are found in iOS Photos and many other apps, to start.)

This video was screen-recorded using DU Recorder on a Google Pixel 2 phone. Edited a bit using KineMaster on that same phone.

DIY Mobile Curriculum Work

IMG_2173

I’m doing a lot of screen captures right now as I’m plugging away at our DIY Media Creation curriculum. When it’s complete we will have around 40 full lesson plans with presentations, activities, and tutorials.  I’m responsible for some of the lessons related to image capture and editing on mobile devices, along with lessons on adding text, animation, etc.

I’m working here with a Google Pixel 2 phone because most people in the world are using Android devices and this curriculum is meant to be taken and used in the majority world, not the U.S. We’re also testing on older devices to help equip as many people as possible.

 

 

Virtual Reality view of a Yanomamö Shabano

I’ve resurrected some VR shots I made way back in 2005. This was from one of our pre-production trips to Venezuela for the filming of “Yai Wanonabalewä – The Enemy God” – a feature film we made in partnership with the Yanomamö people in that region. You can watch the film HERE.

Unfortunately, my personal WordPress account won’t allow for a real embed here, so you have to click on the link. But it’s worth it!

https://roundme.com/embed/360993/1226641

[ALSO, there are two sections, just look for the little “hotspot” behind the crew.]

This was in pre-digital VR days, when I was shooting on real film! I used a Canon T70 SLR with a Sigma 15mm fisheye lens. 10 frames were stitched together using QuickTime VR software. Now, I’m playing with these old panoramas using current tech.

Natural Light Tabletop with Pixel 2

Natural Light Tabletop with Pixel 2

I’ve been picking up a few shots for a curriculum I’m working on with some other folk. The lessons are designed to help media organizations and individuals to learn, and then to pass on, important skills in content production using mobile devices.

These shots will be part of lessons on capturing still images using a mobile device. I’m collecting screen shots and many, many photos to use as examples in the curriculum.

Keeping the gear to a minimum, just window light on my dining room table and a little tripod for the phone. The goal is to help people anywhere, with any device, create nice content.

 

Orchid Arboretums in 360 VR

A little fun with my (now-ancient!) Ricoh Theta SC VR camera.

I had part of a morning in Thailand to explore the Tweechol Botanic Garden outside Chiang Mai. I’ve been there several times and love to walk around the many garden sections. I hadn’t been inside these arboretums in the past, and love these kinds of environments.

This is a little walk-through in 360VR. The video quality isn’t great because of the limitations of this older camera. Pondering an upgrade now… 😉


My “Best Kit” for Mobile Production

I was prepping last week for a short trip to Asia. As I was sorting gear, I thought I’d write a bit here about what I chose to take, and why. Here’s the layout.

mobile gear layout 2

One of the things I’ll be doing on this trip is introducing co-workers to opportunities to use mobile devices and simple gear to create compelling content for their varied audiences. I decided to bring some examples of gear from what I’ve collected over the years.

I want to over the key technical needs for video, audio, lights, and mounting a mobile as a camera. I also want a kit that will fit in a small camera bag that will then slip into my normal carry-on. I’m thinking one-person-band like many of us in the mojo world.


full rig vert 2

Full Rig: I am thinking of mostly run-and-gun shooting, with lots of handheld shots, easily transported, but also something I can set down for a longer shot, like an interview or event, if needed. Of course, I might often choose to strip this down to a few pieces for even more mobility.

My kit ended up being mix-and-match from different manufacturers, but I’ll explain why I chose what I did and spec some models if you want to check them out for yourself. I’m not sponsored by anyone and this is all stuff I’ve picked up over the last few years. There may be some new options that you can also check out based on this list. Create your own “ideal kit.”

 


Basemanfrotto tripod: When I want to set this all down for either a steady shot or just between shots, a nice small tripod is essential. I’m using a Manfrotto Pixi Mini tripod for this one. It’s beautifully designed, very compact and solid. The best part for me is how it feels when I fold the legs and handhold it as a support. It also has quick, one-button leveling. It’s not as infinitely flexible as something like a Gorillapod, but it’s a neater package. If I know I’m going to need to mount my camera on a tree branch or light post, I’d bring my Gorillapod.


shoulderpod handle

Phone Mount: For traditional (horizontal) video production, I really like this mash-up. I’m using a Shoulderpod H1 handle, topped by a Movo PR-1 smartphone grip rig. You can see that I’m also using the Shoulderpod short plate arm when I want to have a mic and light mounted to the rig. I love the Shoulderpod gear. It’s elegant and very high quality. The feel of this handle is great by itself and reminds me of my film shooting days with Aaton cameras and their famous wooden grip. Of course, Shoulderpod also makes a nice grip for a phone as well and it comes as a kit with this handle. But their clamp (at least the original model I have) is missing one important feature – a cold shoe. If I want to go really compact, with just a phone and a small movo grip topshotgun mic, the Movo clamp has a convenient cold shoe to let me just mount the mic (or anything else) up top, and I’m ready to go. With a Shoulderpod and other clamps, I have to add an arm. So, kudos to Movo for adding the shoe, and a handy bubble level. Maybe it’s not as pretty, but I’ll take it. (Movo’s handle, on the other hand, is a short little thing that’s harder to hold. Go figure; mix it up.)


rode videomicroAudio: For on-the-go news and documentary filmmaking, or for capturing b-roll shots, I want a good external microphone. This one is Rode’s Videomicro mini shotgun mic (with their SC7 cable to make compatible with a smartphone.) It’s a big improvement on the phone’s mics and well worth the investment. I can mount it on the phone clamp or on an extension arm, cage, etc. Connecting the mic to a phone like my Google Pixel 2 requires adding a 3.5mm to USB-C dongle. That’s becoming more common. I also add a Rode SC6 adaptor. I audio connections horizlike to monitor audio while I’m filming, especially for interviews. The SC6 lets me connect two mics – like a shotgun and an Aputure A.lav microphone (shown in the gear layout) or two lavalier mics. Plus, I can monitor through its headphone jack.

 

 


aputure led light

Lights: I generally shoot with existing light unless I’m making a scripted, narrative film. But having a small LED light can be very helpful as a supplement for news and doc shoots. This Aputure AL-M9 is small, rechargeable, color-accurate, and dimmable. Their color correcting gels are pretty lame, but, oh well. I would bring a larger LED panel if I’m really trying to light something and so more color adjustment.


sirui tele lensCase and Lens: For a compact and really solid kit, I really like the Moment photo case. They make them for some of the higher-end phones. I don’t like to mess with clip-on lenses if I’m trying to travel small. Again, I’m cheating here by using a Moment case with a Sirui lens. (I’m killing my product endorsement opportunities here, I know!) When I got my Moment case for the Pixel 2, I also ordered the Moment 2x tele lens. That first version from Moment was really pitched as an ‘art’ lens because it was so soft at the edges. (Their new version looks really sweet and they’ve re-engineered the lens for much better image quality, so it’s worth checking out.)  But, when I needed a tele lens, Sirui had a 60mm (2x) tele lens that looks great and mounts on the Moment case. If you are looking today, I think either lens is a good choice – with Sirui being a more budget-friendly option. I carry the tele lens most of the time and not always a wide angle because the Pixel 2 is pretty wide already. This is still for the world of single-lens phones; the add-on lenses do interesting things with more recent multi-lens cameras, so check them out.

There you have it – my running rig. I build it up and down as I need it. And it fits easily in a small camera bag.

This is what’s in my closet and carry-on for simple but effective shooting. I bet there are things you may like and recommend. What say you?

A Few Thoughts on “The Limit” – New VR film from Robert Rodriguez

I’m looking for a narrative VR film I can really love and want to watch over and over again. Could it be, “The Limit?”

“The Limit” is Robert Rodriguez’ latest entry into the world of narrative filmmaking using VR technology. Released on November 20, 2018, it’s an action film that takes the audience on a brief journey to find out why some bad guys are chasing “us.” It’s not much more than that. It’s fun, but in the end not very ambitious as storytelling. Rodriguez, joined by his son, Racer on this outing, isn’t known for his thoughtful character dramas, but for action and trying new things. This film reflects those values. It’s a non-stop action sequence, with only a few moments of relief. For action fans, it may be the next thing. Or?

Let’s Talk Story
The story begins with “us” (the viewer) sitting in a bar, and meeting M-13 (Michelle Rodriquez) who is obviously a badass waitress. The filmmakers take little time to set up anything, but we quickly learn that we can’t speak and have some kind of AR “enhancements” that enable us to see bad guys. Other than that, we have no idea why we’re here. If you read the synopsis for the film, you’ll discover that we are “…a rogue agent with a mysterious past…” — whatever.

We are quickly forced to flee said bad guys with M-13. After that, we mostly get shot, help drive her Jeep, and suffer repeated blackouts after bad things happen to us. But, for some reason, we don’t seem to die from anything we suffer, including a gunshot to the stomach and a freefall from an airplane. Guess that all needs some explanation, which M-13 gladly gives in a long static monologue that tries to fill in a few details in an attempt to convince us that this all matters for some reason. Oh, we’re kind of alike. And now she’s got a plan and goal for herself. Finally! But it mostly involves us walking in to a poorly defended warehouse, killing the stupid henchmen, and confronting the Big Bad Guy (played by Norman Reedus of Walking Dead fame.) He wants something we’ve got, of course. A kind of slow, pitiful chase ensues. We have another blackout. But then there’s a twist ending. You get the idea. Oh, and the story will continue. Theoretically. If anyone would shell out for more. I’m not convinced they’ve given us anything to hope for. Michelle is badass and they treat her pretty well in terms of not really playing on her sexuality. Points for that.

Ultimately, as with many films in this genre, the story suffers for the sake of the experience. Why does this have to be? I’d call it more of a ‘ride-along’ experience. We (the audience) are immersed in the action but are almost completely passive characters, only taking initiative for a moment toward the end. So, we get to watch M-13, the real Protagonist, go through her journey that our appearance at the beginning seems to spark.

The problem with this, and many stories, is that we have no reason to care. We don’t know who we are, or who she is, other than a little backstory and a twist at the end. The stakes aren’t even that high for most of the film because it seems that we can just get shot, survive a car crash, a freefall from a plane, etc., and it’s no big deal. Guess “we’re” pretty badass, too. But “we” don’t say or think much of anything the whole time.

On the medium and techniques used in “The Limit.”
Just a note for would-be viewers; it’s not full 360 VR, more like 180 in a custom “Surreal Theater” that does fill in the other 180 with a dark cineplex, in case you want to see how cool it is to be alone in a dark cineplex.

It’s not an open world by any stretch. The directors choose and maintain our focus using the camera as in traditional cinema and it’s a completely linear timeline. The main difference here is the increased sense of immersion and some ability to look around a limited frame. I think it works pretty well, and it seems to me to be the best option for story-telling. If you let the audience just wander around, it’s hard to create a narrative flow and pacing. That works for exploring worlds in a game setting, but I don’t think we humans will lose our enjoyment of and desire for stories to be told to us. I’m not alone in thinking about ways to guide a viewer, using other cues (visual & auditory) to direct attention but without locking an audience’s POV one frame. But it’s a big challenge, to be sure. The directors do choose to pull us out of the POV a few times so we can watch ourselves drive away, etc. Also, they cut to insert shots that are from our POV, but are done in traditional cuts rather than “moving” us closer. It works fine.

Our character cannot speak for some reason. We communicate, very little, via some kind of text screen, but I can’t figure out where it may be located, if our body and face are supposed to be normal looking. At the beginning the logic doesn’t work. Maybe it begins to make sense later (spoiler!) when M-13 reveals that she’s also a biconically enhanced person. Can she see our communications in a kind of heads-up AR display?

The main problem with a lack of our ability to communicate is that the film is mostly a monologue by M-13. It gets really tedious when she has a long exposition scene where she puts the pieces together for herself and for us. Was this just lazy on the part of the writers, or an inherent limitation of the medium?

Final observation; my feeling is that running time on an immersive VR action film must be kept short. This film is really about 15 mins of actual narrative and Rodriquez made a good decision to keep it brief. Because the viewer is immersed and can’t control their point of view much, the intense action and motion will certainly cause some queasiness for many viewers. It did for me. I could never watch a feature length film without breaks if it is shot in this style. Maybe with some downtime scenes? I’m sure they took that into consideration, but it’s something for all of us to consider if we’re planning a VR film. On that note, an immersive story without all of the intense action is likely just fine for a longer run time. Then, the challenge is to have a real story. And, does anyone want to watch a ‘talky’ character drama in VR? Perhaps?

Other notes: I watched the 3D version on an Oculus Go headset. The film is delivered as an app from the Occulus story and includes a lot of behind-the-scenes material that I think will be fun to watch. The app download is pretty big, over 3GB,ut it’s not a problem to me. You can watch this sitting in a chair as the film is not a full 360 experience.