Animating the future…

Recently I’ve decided to broaden my horizons and utilize Adobe After Effects to enhance my film project on plastics in the ocean, and I must say, it’s like being a little kid all over!

First and foremost, After Effects (AE) is far more powerful than most average users will ever even begin to realize.  There are YouTube tutorials for doing just about anything, and most users will blindly just go thru those specific steps in order to get their desired result, not realizing what many of the settings can even do.  

I quickly realized though that most of those steps are essentially the basic building blocks of most motion graphics, and you need to think of them more like ingredients in a recipe.  Let’s use flour for an example, you can use it to give fried chicken a crispy battered coating, and you can use it to bake a moist and fluffy cake, it all depends on how its used, but in the end it’s exactly the same ingredient no matter what the final result is.

So in After Effects you have a timeline, and you have a ton of adjustable parameters, from the simple stuff such as opacity, position (x,y,z),  rotation and scale, to more complex parameters for 3D presentations such as orientation (x,y,z), adding trim paths, and even applying a variety of effects to each layer.  And you can adjust all of these parameters over time, for example, setting opacity to 0% at the start, and 100%  3 seconds in will give you a quick fade in of that layer.  Some of these parameters also include equations, for example in the rotation parameter, you can select how many rotations the object will do and the final angle it will end with.  Paths (and trim paths) are worthy of an entire other post, but I will say they are extremely useful in animating some movements, and revealing elements.  

In my current project, I am incorporating only some “flat” screen footage, being that the video is a 360° film, and I want the user to be immersed in the experience.  Working in this 360 degree realm has given me the opportunity to do 3D objects within that 360° sphere of view.  Essentially I can make things fly out of nowhere, hover in the sky around you, while leaving you with the ability to look around in every direction, and have everything I added not become distorted in the 360° realm.

An easy example to help you understand this is inserting a basic box.  If you just used your basic editor to overlay a box onto 360° footage, the box would appear to wrap around you when viewing in 360° mode, instead of appearing as a floating square box in front of you.  It takes some special software from Mettle called Skybox Suite in order to compensate for the 360° wrap.    This is where orientation parameters become critical as you can now place any composition, anywhere you want, angled however you want, within your 360 degree world.

I’m going to post some examples as I work thru some footage for my project, just to give you an idea of how much more you need to think outside the box, because you are literally outside of the box now.  So stay tuned!

360° is here to stay, and it’s just in its infancy.  

Living (and Editing) in a Virtual World…

You ever have one of those weeks where you felt like you made great strides learning something?  Like you have an absolute ton of “Ah-HAH!” moments in a week?  Well, that was this past week for me.  

See, I’ve been working hard and watching a lot of tutorials for editing motion graphics, and placing them in a 360° video.  Some of the software that I use for this is very complex, and if you don’t do something just right it doesn’t render correctly, or something isn’t quite right about how it renders.  I’m talking about using Skybox Extractor and Composer within Adobe After Effects, using AE for the motion graphics, and using the Skybox software to allow me to place my comps in a 360 world.

And I’ve often felt like I waste a lot of time watching tutorials that I somehow never end up using.  So I am going to try to make myself more accountable, and in order to do that, I want to produce a video per week.  Each week I will either produce a new video, or add on to the prior weeks video so that I may track progress and attempt to keep myself more on track.  The video produced for each week will have elements from any tutorial that I watched during the week, showcasing any new ideas or techniques that I learned.

Continuous Education

Depending on who you ask, there is a saying, and regardless of which way you look at it, it still says the same thing:

“Once you stop learning you start dying” – Albert Einstein

“The day we stop learning is the day we die.” – Michael Scott

“The day you stop learning is the day you stop living…” –  Tetsuyama-san

My mother always used to tell me this, and I swear to god that instilled in me a lifelong love of learning.  I can often be found looking something up on google to figure out how to take it apart or fix it, and often times I am glued to some kind of YouTube video tutorial on the latest piece of software I am using.

Well, lately I have decided to embark on a project in which the scope and scale of things seems almost impossible for one person to do.  But I am hell-bent and determined to do it!  The project of which I speak is a short film on plastics in the ocean, shot in full spherical video, with all sorts of information, graphics, photos, etc, all incorporated in my 3-D, 360° space.  

Ok, so you have all seen the credits at the end of a film, even an animated short.  And that credit roll usually includes a dozen or more people, many times there are many people just doing editing, color grading, compositing, etc.  Well, for some oddly insane reason I have decided to take this on completely myself, playing all the parts.  So I become not only the story-teller, but also the camera man, sound guy, graphic editor, researcher, video editor, content editor, motion graphics composer, renderer and even promoter!  

Add on to all those responsibilities the fact that I am determined to do this in spherical video so its more attractive to today’s youth, and with virtually no information on 360° film making save for a few motion graphics tutorials, I am forging new ground and constantly challenging myself and learning new things daily.

Lately I’ve been really experimenting with and learning a ton about using motion graphics in a 360° setting.  Recently, much of my editing has been done in Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere Pro, as Adobe recently acquired Mettle who made the Skybox series of editing plugins for 360° video.  To say that I feel like I have gone backwards and feel like the days of old where it took forever to render just a straight cut, flat video in low res, would be an understatement.  My laptop is decent enough to do it, but some of these file sizes are gigantic!  Some renders can be hours long, only to find out I don’t like how it looks in the end, and I need to delete it, and re-position something.  

You’re always learning…  Today I concentrated on figuring out how to do photo and video pop-outs, and be able to place them in my 360 degree space.   Next thing will be animating them in my 360 space.    Little by little my project will come together.  One small bite at a time.. After all, there will be a few hundred pop-outs of various types (photo, video, stats, info), and I get to make each and every one of them!  

Kodak SP360 4K Underwater Tips

Kodak SP360 4K Underwater Tips

Having used the Kodak SP360 4K cameras for about a year now, I have learned a few tips and tricks to using these cameras to get the best 360° footage underwater that you can from them.  Since I am going for full spherical video, I have chosen to use the Kodak Dual Camera Dive Housing, and I have been working with a pair of Kodak SP360 4K cameras mounted basically back to back.  I have also purchased a third SP360 4K camera, as well as individual dive housings for each camera (3) to be used with a 3 camera mount, but I haven’t had a chance to test that setup on a dive yet.  I am hopeful that the extra camera will provide more overlap to eliminate seams, as I still get seam lines in my best underwater footage with just 2 cameras (above water with 2 cameras I can get a near perfect stitch).

For starters, the software that comes with them for stitching, Pixpro 360 Stitch, is decent for a basic stitch, but lacks in the ability for users to add control points.  Professional software like Kolor’s Autopano Video Pro has the ability to fine tune your videos by adding hundreds of control points that help to line up the videos between multiple cameras.  

But there is ONE adjustment that I found in the Pixpro 360 stitch software that I have not been able to duplicate in Kolor AVP, an adjustment for “distance” (in other words, the distance between the lenses).  I came across this adjustment after reading a post by INSERT NAME HERE from the 360Rumors site, and after applying the adjustment to footage I already had, the results were immediately better.    But there is still a size limitation in the Pixpro software of 3840 x 1920even though you are capable of producing an video that is 4096 x 2048 with the cameras, and if you were using Kolor’s AVP, you can choose this larger size.

Getting a Basic Stitch Underwater

I’m going to go over how to do a basic stitch using two Kodak Pixpro 360 4K cameras and the dual underwater housing, using the included PixPro software to do the stitch.

File Management


First, obviously copy the files from the cameras to your PC.  Since you will eventually be dealing with many files, and organization is KEY, I would suggest you be meticulous in how you organize your files.  I like to create a folder for the date, then inside that folder I create individual folders for takes, and depending on file size, I may then create folders within the takes folder for each camera.

I would suggest something along the lines of this hierarchy:


Creating Your First 360 Video

Assuming you already went out and shot some footage with the camera, go ahead and open the Pixpro software and drag both files into the software. You should have at least 1 file from each camera, sometimes your camera will contain multiple files from multiple takes, or it may even break a very large file into 4 gigabyte segments that you would need to join before you stitch.

For ease of use, lets assume you just shot one video, there would be 1 file on each camera.  Once you drag them into the Pixpro software, the software will compare files (making sure the aspect ratio is correct, and the files match in frame rate, size, etc).  If the files are a match, it will give you the OK to stitch button.  Click OK, and now its time to sync your videos together.

Using Audio Sync


Audio Sync is simple, and I wish it were just a little more accurate.  For everyday use its adequate, but I have found I can get better sync if I bring my audio out to other software and figure out the offset.  For the purpose at hand, we’ll use the Pixpro Audio Sync, which is really as easy as pushing the button.  The software will analyze the audio from both videos and automatically slide them to synchronize the start.

Calibrating Your Overlap


Once you click the calibration button, you will get a sub-screen for calibrating a few items.

As you can see from the two examples above, you have adjustments for either camera (and you DO need to adjust both).  If you click on the image, you will see it selected in yellow for the camera you are calibrating.  I have found that I use an adjustment on the “Distance” setting, of  +1.21 on EACH camera to give me the best underwater stitch.  The easiest way to explain the “Distance” setting is it adjusts the distance between the “back center” of each camera if the cameras were placed back to back.  To note, I have *only* found this setting in the Pixpro software, and not in other, more high end softwaresuch as Kolor’s Autopano Video Pro 2.6.If you “pan” the video in your preview window to view the stitch line, you can see these adjustments in real time as you move the sliders so you can easier see what setting gives you the best overlap between both cameras.  NOTE:  You will almost always have a band at your stitch line while stitching underwater, and this is due to the amount of overlap between the videos.  Water adds in refraction, and the basic Kodak Dual Underwater Camera Housing doesn’t deal well with this.  Essentially you will lose approximately 30° of your Field of View (FOV), making for some very slim overlaps.  This is why you will have banding when stitching underwater videos but not above water videos using the basic underwater housing.  Specialized housings like the Seadak will correct the FOV, but will set you back about $1400.  Hopefully I will have a future review of the Seadak housing, but for now I can only go on what they say is possible.Once you are happy that the overlap between cameras is a good match, click OK to apply the calibration. 


Adjusting the Image

To open the effects panel, just click on the “Effect” button near “Export” button on the lower right.  This panel contains sliders to adjust Sharpness (need to check the box), Brightness, Contrast, Saturation as well as two options for Blending, Smooth or Sharp.   Feel free to adjust these settings to tweak your video.  Granted they are very basic, and they don’t provide any control for matching both cameras to each other, but its better than nothing I guess.  (On a side note, it would be great if the makers of the Pixpro software gave you the ability to adjust each camera, similar to the calibration screen, to help color grade videos for a better match).

I find that I get better underwater stitches while using the “Smooth” blending method.  Above water, I prefer the “Sharp” method only when my tripod is stationary, otherwise using “Smooth” tends to help blur where objects cross the stitch line. 

Click “OK” to apply the settings, or “Reset” to reset them to the default.

Exporting Your Video

Once you are ready to export your video, click on the “Export” button on the lower right side.  This will bring up one more menu to save your file.  Click on “Browse” and select where you want to save the file, and name your file.  For output size I always choose the largest possible, 3840 x 1920 being the largest Pixpro will allow.  Since all you hear underwater is bubbles, so just pick an audio track, it doesn’t matter which really (or uncheck the box to export a silent video).  And finally, if you want the software to automatically upload the video to Facebook or Youtube, put a checkmark in the “Upload to SNS” and fill out the information for your video.  

That’s it!  You now have a basic 360 stitch, including the metadata needed if you were going to upload it to Facebook or Youtube later (assuming you didn’t already upload it).  If you want to edit several clips together, you can now take this stitched video and edit with it.  If you have access to Adobe Premiere Pro you can easily edit several clips together, and using a few plugins from Mettle, you can even add titles in your 360° sphere.  Please note, this is now a 360 degree video, and you can view it in any number of players.  GoPro VR Player and Kolor Eyes are two I use to view files locally (viewing them in something like Windows Media Player or VLC will show you a 2:1 aspect ratio video that looks all distorted).  You can add flat videos into your 360, but they will never be 360, they will appear as floating flat screens in your 360 degree universe.  I’ll get more in depth on those plugins in a later post.

Happy editing!

Cozumel June 2017

Cozumel June 2017

Dive #
Date Site Name Location
Time Down
Dive Time
Max Depth
Water Temp.
2017-06-24 Punta Dalilah Cozumel
2017-06-24 Yucab Cozumel
2017-06-25 Palancar Caves Cozumel
2017-06-25 Paso de Cedral Cozumel
2017-06-26 Palancar Horseshoe Cozumel
2017-06-26 Punta Dalilah Cozumel
2017-06-27 Colombia Deep Cozumel
2017-06-27 Paso de Cedral Cozumel
2017-06-28 Santa Rosa Wall Cozumel
2017-06-28 Yucab to Tormentos Cozumel
2017-06-29 Santa Rosa Wall Cozumel
2017-06-29 Tormentos Cozumel
2017-06-29 Tikila Cozumel