Monday, December 19, 2011

Backyard Lucas

A million billion years ago when I was young, I used to make animated movies - - not the kind with the acetate sheets on a drawing board, but actual 3-D, stop-motion films. With a bucket of Matchbox cars, a Super 8 camera and a cable release (something that the camera guy at Woolworth's couldn't understand: "Why would you need a cable release for a movie camera?"), I'd film stop-motion traffic jams in my backyard as long as the summer afternoon light lasted. Pixelated GI Joes in Mercury spacesuits would be tethered to the "orbiting space platform" that looked an awful lot like the family mailbox out by the curb. Hundreds of feet of processed film epics sit in shoeboxes somewhere in my house, each reel  a short lesson that taught me how to make the next film a little better.

I went to college to learn how to make professional, compelling films. Then I got married, had kids, and found other priorities that crowded out my early desire to tell stories with moving images. I couldn't go back to making films, because I didn't have time or budget to take care of what was more important in my life. Understand that I enjoyed the life that happened instead - - - I didn't think I'd ever be able to go back to making films like I used to.

In the past month, I've found out that there may be a way to make cool movies again. Since I'm now the CEO of a New England high-tech company, I can now experiment with the latest software technologies and equipment. One of these software technologies is the latest release of Adobe's AfterEffects program, a piece of software that comes pretty close to parking Industrial Light & Magic on your desktop. For troglodytes like me, the output from this software is nothing short of breathtaking.

Let me give you a brief idea of the level of coolitude brimming from this software. I ordered a copy of Adobe AfterEffects from Amazon early last week. It arrived Saturday and took about 10 minutes to install on my computer. After looking at a few brief tutorials online, I thought of a test subject to try as a first-go at learning the ins and outs of the program.

Here are the details: NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been receiving closeup photo data of the Moon from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbit for more than a year now. Last spring, JPL published a high-resolution Mercator projection photo of the Moon. It looks like this:

One of the cool things Adobe AfterEffects can do is  take a flat picture and wrap it around a 3-D sphere, so that the result can be displayed as a virtual globe. So, I took the hi-res LRO picture, told AfterEffects to wrap it around a sphere, and then I spun the virtual sphere and told AfterEffects to move the virtual camera away from the virtual Moon globe. Here's the result:

That's just from an hour or so of playing with the controls and slapping one NASA pic into the photo asset directory. 

Now, I really *want* to make a short film with this amazing bit of software. First, though, I think I have to make it through Christmas first.

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