“Where’s That Submarine Research?” – Cataloging Your Stuff

I took the big file of submarine research, surveys and photos and tossed it in the trash. Then I stopped to think about it. Was I really ever going to use this information again? I’d done three sub movies before, what were the chances of ever doing another one. I looked at it sitting on the trash pile and then scooped it back out, just in case.

That’s been my constant dilemma, what to do with the dozens of boxes of files from past film projects. I finally decided that if  there was no way to easily put my hands on a file, I might as well toss all of them.

I’ve been in the midst of trying to catalogue and organize my collection of +2000 books and decided the research needed to get catalogued the same way.

The thought of trying to manually type in the info of all those books kept me from even starting the project until I found Delicious Library. When you open the program you are presented with a virtual bookshelf.

This is the way your books appear on the virtual bookshelf

You just wave the barcode on the book in front of the screen and the program searches the internet and within 3 seconds it loads a photo of the cover of the book onto the shelf. The window along the side records the publisher, date, value, reviews and a lot more. There are multiple ways of organizing and viewing the items including by Dewey decimal system, author, title, location or value.

If the book is older and doesn’t have a barcode, you can enter the ISBN number and it will log it. You can also input older books by inputting the title and author and it will search for all the books editions.  If, like me, you have a LOT of books, or DVDs, when you purchase the program you can also purchase a handheld barcode reader that allows you to scan about a hundred items at a time. When you plug the scanner into your computer, the program will download and record the items onto the ‘shelf’.

The program is also a great way of cataloguing anything else, including research. I created a system of boxes and have the various files noted as to which box they are in so I can do a word search in the system and an icon of the file and its location pop up.

The only downside is that Delicious Library is  for Macs only. For PC users, the nearest similar products which work similarly are  Librarian Pro 2, or All My Books.

Measuring Heights Without A Tape Measure

No, it doesn’t involve Google Earth or Sketchup. That was covered in an earlier post. Here are three high-tech to no-tech ways to calculate the height of a building or tree or pole or anything else you need to know the size of but can’t determine with a tape measure.

1. Theodolite Pro

Theodolite Pro is an app for the iPhone, iPod Touch and the iPad.  Made by Hunter Research & Technology , it’s a multi-function augmented-reality app that combines a compass, GPS, digital map, zoom camera, rangefinder, and two-axis inclinometer. Theodolite overlays real time information about position, altitude, bearing, range, and inclination on the iPhone’s live camera image, like an electronic viewfinder.

At $3.99, it’s worth more than 4 times the price.

Theodolite Pro screen

The apps screen data gives you your position in either latitude and longitude or UTM units, as well as the time and date and your elevation. On each side are the horizontal and vertical indicators in tenths of a degree. The device has a one-button calibration function as well as a 2x and 4x magnification for pin-pointing a particular object. There are several options for the center crosshairs, one of them are a pair of multicolored floating boxes which merge and turn white when you are plumb in both directions.

You’ll get a much better result if you mount the device on a tripod. For an iPhone, the method I like is with a Snap Mount. It has 1/4″ female sockets for mounting in either a vertical or horizontal direction.

Snap Mount device for the iPhone 4

Once the phone is mounted, you point the center at the top of the object and push the “A” buttton to take a reading. Then tilt the device toward the bottom of the object and take  the “B” reading.

Then the app will ask you for your distance to the object. The more accurate your answer the more accurate the result will be. So, you’ll either have to pace off your position or measure the distance with a reel tape or laser measure device.

If this isn’t possible, you can use the option to determine the distance and height, although this will probably not be as accurate.

There is also an optical rangefinder built into the view screen that works by way of a series of concentric circles in either size factors or mils, that you can use to determine distance if you already know the size of an object in the foreground.

optical rangefinder rings

This app has been a best-selling navigational app for some time and has become a very useful tool in many different fields. You’ll find it’s very useful when doing field surveys and it’s certainly a lot cheaper than an analog theodolite.

2.  Clinometer

A clinometer, or inclinometer is a device which measures the angle of slope and uses basic trigonometry for estimating height. My clinometer is a combination clinometer and optical compass made by the Finnish company Suunto and is called the Suunto Tandem. Like the iPhone, you’ll get better results if it’s mounted to a tripod and the Suunto has a 1/4″ socket for this.

The Suunto Tandem

You look through the peep sight, leaving both eyes open. The graduated scale is superimposed over the object you’re centered on and you can read the results as either a percentage of slope or degrees of elevation.

You sight the top of the object in the device and read out the angle. Then you refer to the cosine table on the back of the device. From there it’s just a simple trig calculation. Adding the height from the ground to the center of the clinometer will give you a very close figure for the objects height. Like before you need to know your distance from the object you’re measuring, so it would be a good idea to determine your average stride to have a semi-accurate way of pacing off distance when surveying.

The back of the Tandem has tables of cosines and cotangents printed on it to make calculations easy.

The list price of the Tandem isn’t cheap, but I’ve seen them go for $20 on Ebay, so you should check there before you buy a new one. The results may not be quite as accurate as with the Theodolite app, but you’ll never have to worry about a dead battery and the device will still work perfectly 50 years from now. Like the Theodolite app, it’s good for shooting grades and taking elevation surveys as well.

A handy addition to both the above devices is to get a Keson Pocket Rod. It’s a collapsable surveyors stadia that rolls into it’s case. It has black and white graduated scales on one side and red and white on the other. It’s a great tool to have to put in location survey photographs as well for accurately scaling details from photos when you don’t have time to measure everything at a location. They come in both Imperial and metric units.

Keson Pocket Rod

3.  Biltmore Stick

This is the cheapest and easiest method of determining height but it’s also the least accurate. This is a trick I learned from my Boy Scout days. It’s based on the Biltmore Cruiser stick which is a way of determining the heights and widths of trees and how much lumber they would yield. The Biltmore Stick ( sometimes called a hypsometer ) gets it’s name from the famed Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina and was invented in the 1890’s by a German forester named Carl Schenk who was the master forester at the estate.

A real Biltmore stick has graduated markings that take into account for foreshortening but there’s a less expensive method. We were taught to use a yard stick (not very compact) or a 6 foot folding rule, which is a little wobbly to hold vertically. I like to use a Four Fold rule which is the original folding rule from the mid 19th century. They were sometimes called Blindman’s rules because the numbers are large and easy to read, making them perfect for this use. Garrett Wade carries a good reproduction of them. They fold down to just 9 inches long and fit nicely in a survey bag.

The way to use this one is to pace off 25 feet from the tree, building, etc. Turn and face it, holding the rule at arm’s length. 25 inches from your eye is the ideal distance. hold the rule so that the bottom of it lines up with the bottom of the object, like so:

using the Four Fold rule as a Biltmore stick

Read off the number than lines up with the top of the object and that will give you the height in feet. If the object is above the 25 inch mark, back up another 25 feet and multiply the results by 2. If it is still above the 25 inch mark, back up to 75 feet away and multiply the results by 3, and so on.

This method won’t necessarily give you a really accurate height, but it will give you a number that will be pretty close, say within 3% to 4% of the true measurement, providing you are very close in the distance increment and the rule is very close to 25 inches from your eye.


Sculpting Tools For Sketchup

Most people think of Sketchup as a program that just draws boxes. As a poly-modeler it was always handicapped when it came to modeling compound curved surfaces and even with the built-in Sandbox tools, drawing terrain was never truly easy.

Now there are two different plugins that make not only terrain construction but organic and vehicle construction possible without having the urge to jump out the nearest window. I use both regularly and because they each have different attributes, I think their capabilities really complement each other when you are constructing complex shapes.

Artisan

The first is a plugin called Artisan which is a great solution for creating organic shapes. Created by Dale Martens, who has produced numerous other free plugins including Subdivide & Smooth, has created a set of sculpting tools that work very much like the sculpting tools in Maya and are incredibly easy to learn and use. The site has nice tutorial videos as well as a nice gallery of others work using the plugin. You have a series of settings which allows to to adjust the pressure of the brush, either positive or negative, and after setting the width of the ‘brush’, you drag it over the area to create the sculpted surface. The demo video below will give you an idea of the process.

One of the tools that alone is worth the $39 cost, is a poly-reducer which is a huge help when you import models from a NERB software package like Rhino or Maya. The tool allows you to select how much you want to reduce the poly count of a model to get it down to the size you need. You can also reverse the process and take a low-poly model and increase the detail.

I consider this plugin to be an absolute must for people who want to be able to build anything besides flat walls in Sketchup. Here are some examples of Sketchup models created using Artisan:

scooter by Pete Stoppel using Artisan

Motorbikes by Pete Stoppel

creature by Erik Lay

terrain by Pete Stoppel

Vertex Tools

The other plugin is called Vertex ToolsThis program has tools which work differently than Artisan but has some advantages over it in the way the selection tools work. Designed by Thom Thomassen, a modelmaker from Norway who has also designed an incredible number of other useful free plugins, has designed a set of tools that are what the Sandbox Tools aspire to be.  At $20 it, like Artisan, is a real bargain. The video below will give you a quick overview.

The selection tools allow you to set how the tool affects the surrounding polys with either a linear or cosine fall-off. This one is really a must when you are creating terrain.

At a total cost of $59 dollars, these plugins will give you a huge boost in your modeling capabilities. If you use Sketchup, they should be your next purchase. You won’t be sorry.

A “Sweet” and Cheap Architectural Detail Resource

Yes, I thought it was time for a bad pun. The “sweet” resource I’m talking about is the Sweet’s Indexed Catalogue of Building Construction. Not the modern version, mind you, but the earlier volumes. In particular I’m talking about the first one ever printed, in 1906.

Reprint copy of the first edition of Sweet’s

I found my copy in a used bookstore about 25 years ago, back when 3rd Street in Santa Monica was still a sleepy street lined with great used bookstores instead of chain outlets. It was a 1970’s reprint of the original, in great condition. But the most striking thing about it was how different it was from it’s modern relatives. This book was printed for people who actually drew details, and both wanted and needed to know how things were built.

Most of the products pictured throughout the book had either detailed drawings or photographs of the items, with dimensions and cutaways showing how they operated and how they were integrated into the architecture of the building. This was a far cry from the ‘updated’ version, void of details, which was meant only to be a means of calling out the correct ‘part number’ on a drawing rather than giving the architect a full understanding of the specifics.

The original volume, if you can find a copy, has a green cover. The reprints will have a tan cover. The most useful ones for our work run from 1906 to the 1930’s. They aren’t easy to find but Google has solved that problem. Among the millions of books they have digitized for their ebook site are the 1906 and 1907 editions of Sweet’s. The digital editions aren’t as crisp as a printed copy, but the details you’ll glean from them are priceless. You can download it as a pdf and have it on your computer whenever you want to refer to it. Here is some of what you’ll find:

A sample of a typical advert featuring both photos and detailed sections

details of furnace and ducting showing how the duct and registers are attached to the wall framing

One of hundreds of photos showing details such as trim, ironwork and tile.

Detail of large furnace for an office or apartment building

An early central vacuum system

And here’s proof that people had MUCH bigger heads 100 years ago

Another good source in Google Books is a magazine from about the same time period called The American Builder which has some good articles with details. This ad for a drafting course is great. Considering an average draftsman would have made about 35 to 40 cents an hour at that time, $100 a week would have been top dollar.

Understanding RED Camera Formats & Camera Angles

In the Sketchup™ Camera Tools seminar this past weekend I talked about the current trend in digital cameras and how they relate in using camera lens angles to view 3D models and illustrations.

The RED Epic™

A camera that is creating a great deal of excitement in the camera world, and a lot of confusion in Art Departments, is the RED camera. Just over three years ago the Red Digital Cinema Camera Company  entered the market with what they called a DSMC system, or Digital Still and Motion camera system. The camera was basically a component system with the body, or brain, containing the sensor and the other various components needed to record an image. The system was designed to be configured and upgraded as the user saw best to fit their work needs. The design of a camera with dual capabilities would fuel the current trend of high-end still cameras which also record HD video, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

Designed with a 35mm sized chip, the camera is able to record video with the same depth of field as 35mm as well as having similar focal lengths, allowing for the use of existing lenses from other camera and 35mm systems.

The system allows the user to record in four different formats: 4.5k, 4k, 3k, and 2k and each of these can be framed or extracted in different aspect ratios. With the new Epic, whose sensor is 5k (5000 pixels across), the choices are 5k, 4.5k, 4k, 3k, 2k, 1080p, and 720p.

At this point your eyes are probably crossing and you’re saying, “so what?” Basically, what you need to know is that each successive format is a smaller cropped version of the previous one.

diagram showing a Super 35mm frame and the three extracted ratios

In Super 35mm, the frame, or negative is cropped according to the aspect ratio for the release. The difference is,  the cropping only occurs vertically. The width of all the formats is (nearly) the same, so that a lens focal length will be similar in each of them. Here is a diagram explaining the Super 35mm format from an article comparing digital and film formats that I wrote for theAug-Sept. 2010 issue of Perspective Magazine.

With RED, each format will have a narrower horizontal field of view than the previous one. Meaning that a 50mm lens in in 3k will have a much narrower field of view than it does shooting in full sensor 5k.

Below is a viewport in Sketchup™ set up using the Advanced Camera Tool pluging. The “camera” is set up for the full sensor option with the safe areas turned on for the other formats.

screen capture showing RED Camera full sensor area and 2K, 3K and 4K crop areas

In this screen shot of a model viewed with a 14mm lens, you can see how each progressively smaller ‘k’ format crops the sensor and has a narrower angle of view with the same lens. So, when you are setting up a model to view from a specific position with a particular lens, it’s important to know at what ‘k’ is the set going to be shot. Click on the image to enlarge it on your screen.

Chart of horizontal fields of view for various focal length lenses in the three different shooting formats

Here is a chart that breaks down the horizontal angle of views depending on which format the film is going to be shot in. The lenses listed are generic focal lengths and do not cover the entire range of lenses available. But, this should give you an idea of the proportional change in the horizontal angle of the captured frame based on the different shooting formats.

Apple Releases New Location Survey Tool

Actually that’s not entirely true. It’s not really a new tool and it wasn’t made specifically for location survey work. The iPhone has become a ubiquitous item on film sets now. The number of apps created specifically for film work is over 50 with others being released monthly.

There have yet to be any released specifically for the Art Department but quite a number of them, including those designed for other occupations, are really useful to have.

Among these are the two apps, Photo Measures and My Measures And Dimensions. Both work very similarly and are great for recording and transmitting measurements of locations or of objects.

Basically they both work by either taking a picture with the phones camera or importing an image from the library. Them, dimensions are added, both linear and angular.  Zooming in to the photo allows for accurate placement of arrows as well as allowing you to delineate small details. Notes can be added as well using a text tool.

As you can see, both applications are very similar, but one advantage of Photo Measure is, the basic application is free as compared to $2.99 for the basic My Measures. Photo Measures also has an enlargement window that makes it easier to precisely place dimension arrows. Give it a try and see if it’s useful for you. If you don’t own an iPhone, many apps also make versions for the Droid.