Category Archives: Video

Making films, television, and more

Discovery channel casting for new show “Top Engineer”

For you engineers, tinkerers and makers with reality TV dreams — you’ve got until March 7th to submit yourself for a new Discovery show being produced by Pilgrim Studios —  the company that makes Dirty Jobs, American Choppers, and Ghost Hunters (among many others).

I have no connection with this show, so I can’t assist you in any way other than advising you to keep your energy up (general guideline for being on camera), and make sure your fly is zipped (general advice for life).



Are you a designer who can build? Are you a machinist who can design?

The Discovery Channel is looking for America’s most creative and daring techies, machinists, inventors and engineers to design, build, and BLAST their way to a Grand Prize on their new competition TV show TOP ENGINEER.

A handful of lucky men and women will be chosen to take on exciting challenges from various engineering fields at the state-of-the-art WET design facilities ( in California.

No, you don’t need to have an engineering degree to compete on this show, but you MUST be able to design, build, test and integrate an idea into a final product that WORKS. These will be fast-paced, hands-on, VISCERAL challenges! If your experience is strictly behind the keyboard, then this show is NOT for you.

We are looking for visual effects experts, accomplished home shop machinists, contractors and engineers with backgrounds in electrical, civil, structural or mechanical engineering.

If you have an outgoing personality and are ready to get your hands dirty for the chance to win a GRAND PRIZE and the title of TOP ENGINEER, then we want to hear from you.


Email with your name, age, location, phone number, a recent photo and a brief explanation of why you are perfect for this competition show.

Deadline to submit is March 7, 2012

Continue reading Discovery channel casting for new show “Top Engineer”

“Sold,” a gripping short film about the illegal sex trade, and a look at filmmaker John Irwin’s indie/DIY film technique

John Irwin is a writer/director acquaintance who’s making some kick-ass projects. Commercial work, music video, short film — and all with impressive results. John recently showed me his short “Sold,” a very intense piece about the horrific world of human trafficking. Very well written and told, the tension and story grab the viewer quickly; suspension of disbelief can be hard to achieve when you’re watching a project that was made by someone you know, but this one had me wringing my hands from the start. Afterwards, I asked him for details about the film, the filming techniques used for some of the tighter spaces, and  the motivation behind it. He graciously supplied me with a thorough rundown — check it out below.


By John Irwin.

Sold is a short film that focuses on Maya and another young girl, Alexa, who are trapped in the trunk of a car on its way out of town, and their eventual confrontation with their captors.

Up until very close to filming, we didn’t know how we were going to film the interior trunk scenes with the time, money and resources we had. On good ol’ craigslist, we found someone with our “villain” car that agreed to let us rent it for a day. This is the car that shows up at the end of the short. We were desperately searching for a trunk lid in junkyards across LA that would match the make/model of this car (a Mercury Marquis). The plan was to put the lid on top of the trunk and cut holes in the four corners so we could lower our small DSLR camera down and film the inside from each hole. A great plan in theory aside from all the dangerous sharp metal that we would have had to deal with — but we called every single junkyard within 60 miles of Los Angeles and not a single one had a trunk lid that matched.

Continue reading “Sold,” a gripping short film about the illegal sex trade, and a look at filmmaker John Irwin’s indie/DIY film technique

The DIY Princess Leia-Style Vapor Screen ‘Hologram’ Projection System by Chris Weisbart

If you like DIY tech stuff, make sure to follow me on twitter — thanks!

My pal Chris Weisbart is a huge inspiration. Creatively minded, handy in any workshop, great cook, loves surfing at 6:00am, and always able to get a room full of people laughing anywhere he goes. The best type of guy to hang with.

Chris recently posted a few of his art projects online. Some of these are pieces that he’s put together in his day job as an event tech at a local museum in Los Angeles. Others are personal endeavors done for art shows or just for fun. All of them have Chris’ signature aura of “cool.”

One of my favorite of his projects is the vapor screen display. Remember that scene in the first Star Wars when R2D2 projects the video of Leia pleading, “Help me Obi-Wan, you’re my only hope?”  This’s like that. It’s based on the same concept used by commercial units, but built instead with everyday items (drinking straws, scrap PVC pipe, a kid’s humidifier from the thrift store, some scrap computer fans). The device creates a thin sheet of vapor mist that catches projected light from a forward-facing projector, which generates an eerie, floating hologram effect that almost looks 3-D.

The brief how-to from his video:

diy vapor display made from a humidifier, 10 computer fans and a couple hundred drinking straws. Humidifier output is routed out a central channel of straws. the computer fans are placed under two banks of straws on either side to create a buffering stream of air around the water vapor stream. projector is 4000 lumen, and the display is visible in a sunlit room. Cost is inexpensive, except for the projector, and most parts can be salvaged

The best part: Chris found that actual Star Wars footage and sent it through this device, popping it off the flat screen and right into your face. (The footage is from Rob Meyer, who, btw, built is own Aliens-style “Loader.”)  All he needs now is an R2-D2 casing for the projector and fanatics will be pooping Star Wars action figures.

(I still need to get him to upload the video of him playing Burger Time on this thing.)

Chris has a few other cool projects in his portfolio — I like the full-motion video domed hologram display (looks cool on video, looks GREAT in person) and his hovercraft hologram laser robots (there’s a theme starting here…). Check out all his uploads here.

And set some time aside to watch all four parts of his short film, Muetes Ul Gallaxiante!

a movie i shot waaay back in 2002 with a bunch of friends, a crappy digital 8 camera and about 800 bucks of taqueria money. It’s long, silent and in another language, so prepare yourself. I wrote the script (based on a children’s book i read), shot/edited it, and drew/animated all the backgrounds.

There’s also a great piece about Chris from earlier this Fall in the LA Weekly, discussing projects he was demonstrating at the “Melrose Trading Post.” More info on the fun stuff he does there.

Good work, Chris!

Red Epic Camera on Octocopter – Aerial Filming Movie Rig

Helicopter-mounted cameras open up some interesting shot possibilities to DP’s and directors. With a remote control flying camera, you can do bigger moves than with a jib or crane, as well as aerial follow shots that might otherwise require a full-size helicopter — if a helicopter even fits into the space you’re filming.

The big trend with aerial filming is mounting a camera on a quadcopter-type platform (or tricopter, hexcopter, octocopter). The stability this setup gives is much improved over that of the traditional RC helicopter design that mimics a full-size chopper. And as the designs of these platforms improve, we’re seeing many new configurations including this one from Omstudios in Berlin, which connects a Red Epic to an eight-armed copter setup. The results: gorgeous.

The camera itself is mounted to a cradle that can pan, swivel and tilt via a controller on the ground. Although it’s not specifically mentioned in the video post, some of these systems are also designed to automatically stabilize the camera from any helicopter movement, keeping the shot steady. And the operator has a wireless video link to the camera, able to monitor the shot as it flies around overhead.

Due to the lighter weight of these RC rigs, they’re more easily affected by wind and movement, and can have a slightly shakier look than something connected to a full size helicopter — I suspect the slowed-down aerial footage shown here may be done to minimize the evidence of this. But even at that, this is great stuff, an amazing camera on a fantastic aerial platform. Long story short, I want it.


Not the same rig as above, but here’s a great example of some RC heli-mounted vide footage, from Poland I believe, of some recent riots and the organized police response. I’m trying to find information on the camera they used. Scary but incredible–that’s not an angle I’ve ever seen before.

Earth Fly-Over From The ISS: The Most Glorious Time-Lapse Video Of All Time

Hands-down the most amazing time-lapse video ever produced.

From the vimeo description:

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

Note: Still couldn’t find any appropriate, reliable source describing the technical setting for this footage. The same applies to any specific information about the responsible person in charge of the photographs. Please let me know, if you have any information, links or the like.
Time lapse sequences of photographs taken with a special low-light 4K-camera by the crew of expedition 28 & 29 onboard the International Space Station from August to October, 2011. All credit goes to them.
HD, refurbished, smoothed, retimed, denoised, deflickered, cut, etc.
Music: Jan Jelinek | Do Dekor, faitiche back2001
w+p by Jan Jelinek, published by Betke Edition |
Editing: Michael König |
Image Courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory,NASA Johnson Space Center, The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth
Shooting locations in order of appearance:
1. Aurora Borealis Pass over the United States at Night
2. Aurora Borealis and eastern United States at Night
3. Aurora Australis from Madagascar to southwest of Australia
4. Aurora Australis south of Australia
5. Northwest coast of United States to Central South America at Night
6. Aurora Australis from the Southern to the Northern Pacific Ocean
7. Halfway around the World
8. Night Pass over Central Africa and the Middle East
9. Evening Pass over the Sahara Desert and the Middle East
10. Pass over Canada and Central United States at Night
11. Pass over Southern California to Hudson Bay
12. Islands in the Philippine Sea at Night
13. Pass over Eastern Asia to Philippine Sea and Guam
14. Views of the Mideast at Night
15. Night Pass over Mediterranean Sea
16. Aurora Borealis and the United States at Night
17. Aurora Australis over Indian Ocean
18. Eastern Europe to Southeastern Asia at Night

Merlin-Style DIY Camera Stabilizer/Steadicam Build Tutorial

DIY Steadicam by StudioAmarelo. Tutorial on construction below.

Steadicams are like handheld tripods that hold a videocamera on a swiveling base, so that almost any movement you make is isolated from the camera. The resulting shots are flowing, dreamy, and somewhat ethereal (sorta like this).The big wheel scene in The Shining is one of the classic examples, although they used a modified system (also: the notes about the way Stanley Kubrick and director of photography Garret Brown set up the shots for that film is a fascinating read)

Large, Hollywood-quality steadicam rigs cost $60,000. Smaller professional units are available, with compact consumer level units like the Merlin retailing for a bit under $1000.

For many hobbyists, even the consumer price is beyond their budget. So people began to tinker and many DIY alternatives were developed. Johnny Chung Lee made himself famous with his $14 Steadicam website, detailing a simple design that uses a counterweighted pole to shift the center of gravity and help smooth the jitters, although it excludes the concept that makes a “true” steadicam, the gimbal.

The gimbal is a key part to the movement that defines steadicams–it’s basically the pivot point that allows the handle of the system to move separately from the camera it’s connected to. Able to tilt forward/backward, side to side, and rotate in circles, the gimbal isolates most jerking movements, except up/down. A counterweight system helps control that by increasing the mass of the whole package, so any up/down movement has a deadened effect.

The most simple gimbal construction is a cup that balances on a pin, with the camera platform attached to the top of the cup structure. More commonly, it’s made from three bearings that can rotate independent of each other. Many DIY gimbal units started off using three short segments of PVC pipe stacked into each other (from small to large diameter) and connected together other through their middles with a rod. Inside the the smallest of the pipes, a skateboard bearing is affixed that allows for the rotational movement. A photo illustrates this much more easily:

The PVC gimbal from's DIY steadicam. Click to check their build.

The problem with the PVC gimbal is getting precise holes drilled in the center of the pipe, and then using PVC as the rotational surface. A new technique was devised using the universal joint from an RC car drive shaft (the Traxxis 5151 seems to be the most sought after unit). Still using a skate bearing for rotation, it reduced size while increasing accuracy. A few build details on this design can be found here and here.

Use this RC car driveshaft to stabilize your camera tilt problems

The beauty of these efforts is that now there are many writeups and tutorials on how to build your own mock-Merlin steadicam, at a fraction of the cost. One of my favorites is by Vimeo user StudioAmarelo, and uses parts sourced almost entirely at Home Depot, costing approximately $30. The video below steps you through the process.

2 x Electrical Ground Clamps
1 x Approx. 7″ Curved PVC Conduit Elbow
1 x Male (Threaded) PVC Adapter
1 x Extra Large Ladder Hook (Approx. 15″ High x 10″ Deep)
2 x Universal Brackets, 1.5″ Wide, 2″ High
2 x 1.5″-1/4″ Flathead Screws
1 x 1″-1/4″ Flathead Screw
2 x 6″-1/4″ Bolts (Smooth Shaft)
2 x 1.5″ U Clamp
1 x 4″-Wide Double Eye Tension Rod
2 x 3.5″-1/4″ Screws (Fully Threaded)
8 x 1/4″ Locking Nuts (Nylon Locks)
4 x 1/4″ Regular Nuts
3 x 1/4″ Wing Nut Locks
1 x Zap Strap
2 x 1/2″ Washers with 1/4″ hole
2 x 1″ Washers with 1/4″ hole
36 x 1.5″ Washers with 1/4″ hole
Adapted from “WSCLATER” YouTube Design
2 x Traxxas T-Maxx 2.5R – 3.3 F/R Center Driveshafts (#5151) – get on eBay
2 x 1″ (Diameter) Skateboard Bearings
1 x 1″ (Diameter) Male (Threaded) PVC Adapter (for top of gimbal)
1 x 1″ (Diameter), 1.5″ long PVC Straight Connector (No Threads, for bottom of gimbal)
2 x PVC “Shims”
1 x 1″ (Diameter) Screw-on Hose Cap
2 x Small Screw + Washer (To Mount Driveshafts to Bearings)
1 x Manfrotto 323 RC2 Quick Release Plate (w/ 200PL-14 Plate)
1 x 1/4″-to-3/8″ Step Up Screw Adapter
1 x Rubber Bike Grip
**similar but with 90 degree bend on end, except for 2nd Aubuchon link that looks to be the same one I found, but sold in bulk

iPhone 4s Video Footage Looks Fantastic

Vimeo user and new iPhone 4s owner Benjamin Dowie (check him on Facebook here) posted a fantastic demonstration of the much-improved video capabilities of the iPhone 4s. As someone who is still blown away with the quality of the camera on the iPhone 4, I have to say this footage looks stunning. Smooth, crisp, fantastic depth-of-field. It’s going to be hard to determine what camera our shows and movies are shot on pretty soon. Still doesn’t appear to be as high quality as the compact Canon Powershot S95 (which adds in additional parameters like 24p frame rate), but that has a bigger lens and possibly larger sensor, and will cost you an additional $340.

You’ll have to click through to Vimeo to experience this in its full-HD glory (unless someone would like to buy Benjamin the gift of Vimeo Plus…).

From Benjamin:

Holy cow. Time to throw my 7D in the bin.
Got an iPhone 4S yesterday and got up this morning to go for a surf. No surf, so thought I’d shoot some stuff to see what the new camera is like on the 4S. Got home, looked at the footage, and couldn’t believe it came out of a phone. Was so excited so thought I’d quickly cut a vid to share the goodness.
It’s actually amazing. The automatic stabilisation seems to work wonders, and gets rid of most the jello. Depth of field is flipping awesome. Colours are really good straight out the camera, but I did give this footage a slight grade.
Yesssssss //////////
Cut with Final Cut 7.
Music: ‘Blach’ by ‘Elks of Envy’

And make sure to check out some of his other pieces–I like “Morning Surf.”

Here are some screenshots from Benjamin’s iPhone 4s demonstration video–click any to see enlarged.

Another iPhone-as-Audio-Recorder Approach: Handheld Mic

A couple months ago I posted about how to improve your video projects by using an iPhone to record improved audio. I described a system that mimics a lavalier (clip-on) mic, by putting the phone in your shirt pocket, or even on the desk next to you.

Jeremiah Warren (the guy who strapped a camera to some fireworks) took the same concept and expanded it a step further — using the iPhone as a handheld microphone in his latest video (about cooking food on the hot dashboard of your car). The interesting thing about this approach is that it creates the concept of a handheld microphone with a built-in-audio recorder, rather than the system where the mic wirelessly connects to a separate recorder. This creates the option of having as many channels of audio as you have microphones (I’m envisioning a full concert with all the instruments and individual drums recorded on a multitude of iPhones). Of course, the iPhone doesn’t have the ergonomics a handheld mic does, nor does it have the same microphone patterns that the variety of mics used for various instruments, sound levels, and recording environments require, but still something I might have to play with…

And get a kick out of the windscreen!

Forgotten Detroit – Kickstart this indie film

Making an independent film embodies the tenets of DIY to the max. With that in mind, I got excited when I heard about my friend Sarah Pierpont’s new project — she’s producing a film called Forgotten Detroit, (“About learning when to let go–something Detroit has never conceded to do, thankfully”). Sarah works with a small group called Hott Garbage, a crew of creative individuals that collaborates on video and film projects — check out their last piece, I Hate Chicago, In the Gutter with Nick Vandermolen, a short documentary with some really funny interactions between the sarcastic Nick and local kids that might not fully get him.

For their new film, Sarah and Hott Garbage have put together a Kickstarter to help get things made — you can help produce the film with your contribution/pre-order, including the opportunity to get executive producer credits on the film itself.

Being a film buff and a gadget geek, I asked for more details about how they film will be shot. Sarah’s notes:

– We’re shooting it digitally, either with a Red/EPIC or a souped up 5D (to be determined). I’m such a sucker for sweet camera technology…the RED is a beautiful machine. Since we’re keeping the budget cheap, we’re taking advantages of these more realistically-priced options, and compensating with amazing glass – if we shoot 5D we’ll be using Zeiss Compact Primes like this one.

– We’re shooting in the Russell Industrial Center – an amazing rehabbed/gutted old airplane parts factory. It’s huge, gorgeous and has tons of studio space for artists, builders, musicians – you name it. It’s like an artistic commune for $3 a square foot. It also has massive empty spaces that make for great music video locations (see this video we previously did – check out “safe for the time being“)

– This is my favorite part: not only is “Forgotten Detroit” a film, it’s an eBook! Hott Garbage Film’s sister company is Nan Bu Nan Books – a publisher, run by the same folks as HG, that focuses primarily on eBooks. Self-build from the ground up. We do TONS of crossover stuff with Hott Garbage and Nan Bu Nan — for example, a short film called “I Hate Chicago” that you can check out at

– I’ll be cutting the film myself – in Final Cut (7, NOT FCPX. haha). One of the COOLEST thing about “Forgotten Detroit” is that it’s totally a family affair – the music, shooting, editing, color correction are all being done in house by a group of folks who love and trust one another and have each other’s backs artistically. It’s pretty amazing!

Wide-angle HD Micro-Camera Mounted to a Firework


Happy Fourth of July! Here’s a fun way to get a first-person view of a rocket’s trajectory and mid-air detonation.

The setup was put together by Jeremiah Warren (friend him on facebook). The camera is the 808 Car Keys Micro Camera #11. 720p HD capabilities in a keychain housing that weighs 15g, with a price around just $15 – sweet! The rocket itself is a professional-grade pyrotechnic firework, the type you need a license for (although I’ve seen some pretty burly fireworks for sale in certain states).

If you decide to try this yourself, PLEASE do it safely and responsibly. There have been some big wildfires this year, so let’s not cause any new ones with carelessness. Not to mention handling explosives.