the "lighter side" (1998)

It was 1998. We had a party (dude) at the house that I shared with a buddy, and in the process of cleaning up, I found an alarming number of cigarette lighters around our basement.

At some point within the weeks after the party, I found that I had:

  • Many cigarette lighters
  • The house to myself for an entire Saturday
  • A clear tabletop (atypical, but I'd just cleaned up)
  • a crappy little video camera
  • A Snappy Video Snapshot
  • A computer

Of course, given these things, I had no other choice but to make a stop-motion video of the "Grand Ball Of The Cigarette Lighters".

As far as I remember, it started out doing an Esther-Williams-Bathing-Beauty-esque sort of geometrical kaleidoscope thing, but somehow, it developed a plot along the line.

I'm not going to try to remember most of the production details, but I had a freeware program to make individual images into an AVI file. I simply set up a capture program so that I could click a mouse to take a picture. As I recall it was a ball mouse, and I took the ball out so I could click without worrying about moving the pointer off of the capture button.

Snappy, as it was, took something like 10 or 20 seconds to digitize and send an image anyways, so the procedure was , rearrange lighters, rearrange lighters. The whole process took about a day.

Things I learned or figured out:

  • Get the "shutter" action down to as simple as possible, hopefully a mouse click or space bar. You won't want to dig around in menus 30 times for each second of video.
  • Anchor the camera so it won't move. If it's on a tripod, place it out of the way of your big feet and elbows, and/or attach heavy stuff to the legs. Some sort of overhead mounting you couldn't even reach would be ideal for static-frame stop motion.
  • Depending on the type of project, you may get away with fewer than 30 fps. If you want to simply provide the file for download, 10 may be fine for your purpose. If you want to end up rendering to DVD or even YouTube, you need to consider the output. You can alter frame size and frame rates, etc, but some processes will have negative or unpredictable effects on your product.
  • You may have noticed the frame marker tape right before the credits in "Lighter Side". You will save yourself some trouble, after you anchor your tripod and set things up, if you put tape on the table to mark just where your frame (the camera's view) ends. If you don't have a live video view, take a pencil or other object, put it in frame, take a picture, and repeat until it's out of the picture. You want to tape the frame just outside the shot, so the tape doesn't show.

The credits were done with a Perl script, running on Linux, and the PBMPLUS utilities. If you want to deal with large numbers of frames, etc, you may want to look into all three. Another common package for image manipulation under Linux is ImageMagick, which is pretty cool, I used it on this web site for a while to auto-monochrome all uploaded pictures (This was at the time a completely colorless website).

Another video that is inidicative of my playing around in the same period is woody.mpg. "Woody" was the computer in the picture (named after Toy Story's Woody the Cowboy). I had a frame capture set up on a Sun Workstation, using a shell script to 1) beep 2) wait 10 seconds, 3) take a frame 4) repeat. So each time it beeped, I would move and wait for the next beep...

Watch "The Lighter Side" on YouTube: