Living in Utropia
Rotoscoping: Welcome to the threshold of He**

Why hello.

It’s been a while. Allow me to fill you in on what’s been occupying my time as of late. With Filmkamp going online in the form of youtube videos, I’ve been squirreling myself away during the weekends editing these films. They may only be 10 minutes long, but they take two and a half days with little to no sleep to edit to the level that they are now. Especially so with this second episode which has involved some special effects.

As the Filmkamp was about star wars and avatar, lightsabers just had to feature somewhere. Of course, that meant special effects… in iMovies? C’est impossible! Fortunately, I did not take a French attitude towards this challenge and endeavored to find a way. And a way I did find. SaberFX is a program that works with iMovies to create all the greatness of Star Wars: sabers and lightening. And US$30 poorer, I was rotoscoping my way into a new realm of moviemaking. 16 hours later, I amended this view to merely rotoscoping into an early grave.

For those who have not had the pleasure- and I’m using the word quite wrongly- rotoscoping is a way of integrating SFX into your film. Basically, you overlay the graphics FRAME BY FRAME. Now I could not find a working copy of handbrake and therefore could not slow my frame rate any lower than 24fps. So for each second, I had to overlay the effects 24 times. So for a 30 second clip, that’s 720 frames… 720 times I had to draw in a lightsaber… Dear Mother of God, and that’s just ONE clip.

Now it was not THAT bad, I should admit. As long as the characters didn’t move, I could draw the visual effect and copy it over a number of frames. That saved time. And I may not need the saber for the WHOLE clip. But what was difficult was 1) having to draw the sabers turning on and then off; and 2) not having props.

Basically, the hardest part of the visual effects was not just having to go frame by frame and make the swords just a tiny bit bigger, but I also had to calculate ahead of time how many frames to do it for so that the final clip could be synced to the stock sound effects. That’s really key. Figure out how long the audio clip that you want to use is, so that you know how many frames you need the visual effects.

In this case, the clip with the lightsabers turning on and off is 2 sec. BUT, that’s the clip, I then had to analyze within that clip how long it took for the sound of just the sabers turning on was. In other words, the clip was 2 sec. But it only took 1 sec for the sabers to turn on. The other 1 sec was just sound of the sabers being on. Therefore, I knew that I needed to have my lightsaber grow for a period of 24 frames (in each second) and stop right after that. Then I needed to know how long the swords should be. Once I knew that I ruled up a piece of paper with the total length (in this case, 6inches) and ruled up 24 increments.

Why the piece of paper? Because of the second reason why it was difficult. NO PROPS. In order to keep the saber in the same place from frame to frame, I initially started with a piece of paper, but then moved to a bit of scrap plastic, which I taped to my computer screened. Then I would draw the effects using this line as my guide for both place and height. And it worked… mostly. Small inaccuracies, but at normal speed, not that noticeable. There is a small amount of the audio sadly out of sync. But again not too noticeable in the final video- but certainly leads on to the other big problem with this project:

AUDIO SYNCHING. My iMovies must listen to the Backstreet Boys, because it had a real hard time being… N’Sync. oh, *guffaw* indeed. Facepalm humor aside, this latest dalliance with iMovies saw multiple superimposing of audio tracks that not only had to be synched with the visuals, but with each other. And then, it was necessary to duck them with respect to what was going on on camera. (Ducking is a technical word that I have become acquainted with that means lowering the volume of an audio clip in relation to any and all other clips playing at the same time as it is.).

Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that it required lots of patience and incremental .01sec fine-tuning. 

But it’s done now. I invite you all to have a look at it online at: You can’t miss it.

I have also attached a few photos that highlights some of the work involved, from filming through to post-production work. Enjoy.

—- Cameron T.