Thursday, February 15, 2007

Making the "YouTube Birthday Flaming Tribute" Video

I'm not sure how this idea started, but I think I wanted to do another time-lapse with candles. The goal was to create something to get a lot of views and drive traffic to so I could sell more time-lapse software. We set out trying to make something short, funny and different.

Here's the video, if you haven't seen it yet...

and more than you ever wanted to know about making it...

Cynthia scrounged up some table candles and I did some test shots. The cheapest candles looked best by producing copious quantites of molten drippy wax. But, I wanted to make a video using a large number of candles (maximum overkill) and even cheap candles would burn too long (hours) and cost too much (over $1 each).

Since birthday candles were cheap ($.89 per 24 wholesale online) and burned quickly (about 15 minutes max) thoughts turned to doing an "over the top" birthday cake. Kristin discovered that YouTube's second birthday was coming up in mid February. At first I wanted to do some geometric designs with the candles, but Kristin thought it would be cool to reference some of the most popular names on YouTube.

I dropped the idea for a while, but Kristin bought me a test cake at Raley's to get me going again. I did a test to get the right camera setup and quickly discovered that a real cake was not strong enough to stand up to repeated flaming candle formations. The candle wax accumulated in pools on the frosting and the frosting carmelized and burned. This formed a hard wax crust making it difficult to place another round of candles. I tried using an electric drill to pre-drill holes for the candles, but the cake collapsed under the pressure of the drill.

In talking with the cake decorator at the local Raley's supermarket, I learned that they occasionally decorated fake wedding cakes made from styrofoam. I bought some styrofoam sheets, cut them into the shape of a full-sheet cake and covered the top with a 1/4" thick layer of Sculpty clay. The clay would provide a compliant layer to hold the candles and also insulate the underlying foam from the heat. The decorator did a great job with the YouTube logo. When she asked "What is YouTube", I told her and she replied "All I do is eat, sleep, and work so I guess I'm out of touch".

I set the cake up in the barn with lights and two cameras (a 400D and a S3) for the video and a third camera (A620) to document what happened. I made stencil patterns for each director to make it quick and easy to place the candles. The entire shoot took over six hours...

It went pretty well. The cake got so hot the candles were melting before they burned (as in the "Nalts segment"), so I had to spray water on the cake to cool it down between takes. The electric pre-drill technique became necessary as the wax layer accumulated and the Sculpty clay began to bake. It became clear that long names wouldn't work, so I discarded "lonelygirl15", "barats and bareta" and "blendtec". I was a bit worried that the styrofoam would catch fire at the end, but the fire extinquisher worked like a champ.

The hope is to get this video featured, but the odds of that are slim.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Queen Mary Slips In

Rather than watch the Superbowl last Sunday, we spent the day at the Golden Gate Bridge time-laps'ing Queen Mary 2's San Francisco arrival. It was my most ambitious time-lapse setup to date, with a crew of three running six cameras. The one minute film is on YouTube...

and also on BrightCove (much better quality)...

We expected a big crowd so we arrived at the bridge at 11AM to get parking spots and good camera locations. By the 3PM expected arrival there were thousands of spectators waiting and we had to vigorously defend our space to keep people from disturbing our camera setups.

I ran the cameras to the west of the bridge, Cynthia ran the ones from the Marin observation overlook, and Kristin was on the bridge.

Bill Owens joined me and shot his own footage of the crowd and the scene. Rosie helped Cynthia with crowd control and Kristin enlisted the aid of a SF couple in defending her bridge perch. We met a bunch of people and have some good stories about all this. Kristin found herself as the arbitrator of another couple's serious disagreement over where they should relieve their bladders.

Our gear included the six cameras, three laptop computers, various tripods and a couple of battery systems with AC inverters. Not shown in the photo was the other support gear - food, drink and chairs.