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A close friend of mine recently told me, in the politest way possible, that maybe it’s time to pronounce my most recent film project dead and move on. When I repeated this to my wife, she said, “I could kiss him for saying that. I’m not going to, but I could kiss him for saying that.” (sorry, man). Well, I think he’s right. Here’s what I learned from making this short 3 minute film. Or in other words, tips to producing a good short film.

The Good:

1) Storyboards created for the film helped ensure the story was understandable from a purely pictorial perspective.

2) The animatic was even more useful to estimating the pace of the story.

3) Verbally directing the acting. Speaking an actor through the emotions, as if shooting a silent film really helped get the right visuals.

4) The story works. It has flow, you can understand what the action is. That’s all good.

The Bad:

1) Create a plan view of the action for every sequence. This consists of a diagram a bit like a football play diagram. Then you can easily pick camera angles, and draw your storyboards.

2) Obtain shooting locations far in advance. Having to change all of your shots last minute due to being moved to a different location makes keeping shot continuity a real chore.

3) Be flexible during filming. Trying to cram the exact script down your actors’ throats makes for a very long day for them. Try leaving some fudge room and being accepting of different variations.

4) Have the storyboards and script on set and well organized. Being able to refer to them in an instant is really handy.

5) The actors didn’t really like acting. Well, one of them did, but the other (who I don’t think had acted before) had a tough time with the conditions on set.

6) Shoot the right pacing on set. Trying to get the timing right on set just has to be easier than attempting to fix it in post. I say after having tried to fix the timing a simple walk in post. This is where a field monitor would come in handy to review the shots immediately after filming them and check to make sure everything looked good. I may need to participate in a professional shoot to learn an effective way to do this.

The Ugly:

1) Plan out every detail of the special effects/visual effect shots. This includes a plan for obtaining the necessary equipment and rental estimates. It might even be handy to have a property master instead of doing all of the hauling myself, but that would cost more rental money. I shot the main actor “flying” without a leaf blower onset to add some “wind”. As a result, he really looks like he’s just hanging there instead of floating.

2) Use a good camera. The next camera I shoot with will need to have the ability to turn off the auto exposure feature. After wrangling with the exposure of otherwise perfectly fine shots, this has been beaten into my head.

3) Use an HD camera. The extra resolution gives me so much more latitude in recovering bad camera motion, bad focus, bad exposure, etc., if necessary, during post production.

4) Use a camera stabilizer. I’m currently planning on building a hard drive gyroscope stabilized steadicam. Should be fun!

5) Rehearse in costume. That will give a good indication of the final effect on film. Had I rehearsed the flying shot with the actor in costume, I’d have known that we needed to cut holes in the shirt to hide the rock climbing harness we used.

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Yeah! Let’s make a flying robot that responds to light and heat! How about a Butterfly-ornithopter with a large wings, a slow wingbeat, and muscle wires instead of a rotary motor? I say, heck yeah!

Or at least that’s the plan. It involves muscle wire–wire that contracts when current is applied to it (technically a shape memory alloy – SMA). This combined with what I learned while making an office supply ornithopter (see "The Flying Scrooge") made me think I could make a robotic butterfly that responds to light and temperature.

Now there is already a non-flying muscle wire kit that flaps it’s wings, but I think the wing surface area is much too small. When I was creating the Flying Scrooge, I found this neat video of a butterfly-like ornithopter that flew with a surprisingly slow wingbeat, because it had two pairs of wings.

Looking at the following video of a Japanese ornithopter, I can avoid actual aeronautical math and just estimate the size and weight of the Jap ornithopter.

Hmm, looks like maybe two wingbeats per second and a wing size of about 36 inches square. That’s doable. Probably weighs less than a pound.

Now if I can get the muscle wire to quickly respond, this might work. I’d use a Lithium Polymer battery (currently the battery with the highest strength to weight ratio), or perhaps an ultra capacitor, and a chip to oscillate the output from one set of wires to the other.

Time to do some napkin math.