Tuesday, June 25, 2013

An Unlikely Ride: Our New Stop Motion Video

An Unlikely Ride: Behind the Scenes

I suppose the concept for this video started a couple years ago when I used my GoPro to make a stop-motion video of myself building a new Transition TR250. It was when the 250 had just come out, and I figured people would like to see the bike and the stop motion would be a fun way to document the build. It was easy; just stick the GoPro in the corner, set it to take a picture every two seconds, and then build the bike. After piling the pictures together in Final Cut and slapping some music on it, I had a fun video that got a decent response on Pinkbike. But it planted this evil seed in my mind. I thought:

"It would be cool to do the same thing but without anyone in the pictures, so it looks like it built itself."

I tried to banish the thought as soon as it came, but it was too late. I told my mates my idea and we knew we had to do it. We made that video a year later. The results, the TR250 stop motion bike build, got a pretty substantial response on Pinkbike, Vimeo, and Youtube. Making the video was incredibly tedious, but we knocked out the photography in 18 hours over the weekend and the editing process was relatively simple. We had never done legit stop-motion before, so after brief planning we just hoped for the best as we took the pictures. We really didn't know how it would turn out until we lined all the pictures up on the computer, and while we were really excited about how it turned out, we noticed a lot of things we could do better. 

Still shot from our original video.

My favorite part of that video is the actual bike building itself, but a lot of people were really stoked about the "riding" at the end of the video (which we pretty much did as an afterthought). So a year later, when the pain of stop-motion photography had been dulled in our memories, we started talking about doing another video where we applied everything we learned from last time and focused more on the riding. 

We wanted to tell more of a story this time, so we spent a lot of time brain storming. As ideas came, we would talk about how horrible it was going to be to try and carry them out. Some had do be dismissed as impossible. Others just weren't in our budget (of zero dollars). Ultimately, we mapped out the story in the constraints of our location, a friend's shop with 18-foot ceilings, which provided a decent sized concrete background for our photos. In the end we spent a few bucks: A new lens, a power supply for the camera, and a 30 foot USB cable so we could see what we were shooting and take the pictures from a laptop.

The shop floor was dirty, so we washed it.
Getting ready to mount the camera.

We may or may not have zip-tied two ladders together to reach the ceiling. The first couple times up there were a little scary.

Final touches on the floor.
 We wanted to make the trail and speed look much more realistic, so I spent some time calculating walking speed, falling speed, riding speeds, wheel revolutions, and ultimately how far the wheel should turn in each picture in relation to how much ground would move under the bike in each picture. Annual quota of math filled!

early calculations and thumbnail sketches.

Meanwhile we recruited high school freshman Treston to be our rider. In all fairness, we spent a couple weeks making it very clear just how much time he was going to spend laying on concrete flexing his body in odd positions. He insisted he could do it, and he did, although he did get cranky a couple times. (Something about losing all the feeling in his arm). If you can imagine it, take a second to think about how it would be to lay on your side on concrete for thirty-five hours, every moment being jerked around and yelled at by two guys: "Arch your back! Point your toes! Rotate your wrist down! Lift your head up! Look happy, you're on a bike ride! FLEX!" Don't worry, Treston was (sort of) compensated for his work.

Photography took around thirty-five hours. With each picture, Treston and the bike (or bike parts) had to be positioned accurately, the wheels turned the right amount, and the markers on the ground had to be moved the right distance to the left. Taking pictures was tedious enough, but a lot of the time was spent visualizing the video in our minds and trying to figure out the best way to pose everything. If each picture wasn't posed right, then the final product wouldn't look right. It's a taxing mental process.

Treston did this for thirty-five hours.

testing out the lawn chair.

Examining our options.

Training before the shoot.

Still shot, ready for video.

Editing involved far too much time in Photoshop, mostly drawing the house, trails, and trees, and erasing the portions of the house and tree that overlapped the rider in each picture. Fifty hours of some of the most tedious work I've ever done. Tying the pictures together in Final Cut is pretty easy if you've taken the right pictures, and by then, adding music and sound effects was like putting frosting on the cake.

An example of some of the rigging that we took care of in Photoshop.

A lot of people just shake their head when they realize what we've done. The urge to do something no one has ever done, or to do it better, is a powerful motivator in mountain biking. It is an endless quest for those at the top of the sport (maybe even an addiction) and it leads to the progression we love to watch, from Redbull Rampage to the World Cup. I suppose it's that same desire that drives us. Take three parts equal love for shooting photos, editing video, and riding bikes. Next toss in that nagging impulse to do something different, even if it requires hours of torturous work, and this video is what you get.

Weeks of planning, thirty-five hours of photography totally 1000 pictures, followed by fifty long hours at the computer editing photos, audio, and video. 10,000 minutes of combined work for a two minute video? All worth it if it puts a smile on some faces and sparks some creativity in some minds. Thanks for watching.


Here are the steps we took, if you're crazy enough to read through all of them.

  1. Write the story
  2. Find a place to shoot where we could stay setup for a couple weeks
  3. Determine photography setup
  4. Build custom camera and bike mounts
  5. Find some decent looking, and bright, bike clothes
  6. Take test photos
  7. Arrange and take photos
  8. Organize photos into scene folders
  9. Batch process photos in Photoshop for image improvement
  10. Import photos into Final Cut, assess timing, delete any bad photos
  11. Various Photoshopping to merge some pictures and delete props
  12. Draw the ground and jumps using a digital pen
  13. batch export to Final Cut, assess ground and jumps
  14. Fix mistakes in ground and jumps
  15. Draw and arrange a collection of pine trees
  16. Position pine trees in proper position on each picture
  17. Export to Final Cut, assess trees
  18. Fix mistakes
  19. Erase parts of trees that overlap rider
  20. Draw house and windows in Photoshop
  21. Erase portions of windows that overlap rider
  22. Export to Final cut, assess house and windows
  23. fix mistakes
  24. Check every picture individually for any mistakes
  25. Final arrangement in Final Cut
  26. Determine duration of each picture in Final Cut
  27. Scour internet for free sounds that will work for sound effects
  28. Edit sounds in Logic and export to final cut
  29. Arrange sound effects
  30. Mix audio
  31. Create titles in LiveType
  32. Render final video, assess titles
  33. Fix mistakes
  34. Render
  35. Fix mistakes
  36. Render
  37. Fix mistakes
  38. Export final, share with friends and family
  39. Fix mistakes
  40. Render
  41. Export final
  42. UPLOAD! 
  43. Cross fingers people like it.