Thursday, May 7, 2009

Animation Frame Capture - Video Capture

This article was written several years ago when mini-dv cameras or other digital video cams were more commonly in use . Today just use a good quality HD webcam , like the Logitech C920 or C930.  (best prices for webcams will usually be found on Amazon)  Use it with a webcam control sofware (such as Webcam Settings) that allows for manual override of focus, exposure, and white balance, so you can get optimal image quality from the webcam.


At the pencil test stage one option for getting your hand-drawn artwork into the computer is to capture your frames with a digital video camera or webcam mounted on a down-shooter (could be a sturdy tripod, but preferably a Copy Stand). Drawings meant to be digitized for final coloring should be captured using a scanner , which I'll discuss in the next article. The camera is pointed straight down at a shooting stage which has an Acme peg bar embedded or taped along the edge. The drawings are placed one at time under the camera and each drawing is captured as a single "frame" taken by the the animation software (i.e TVPaint or Digicel Flipbook, etc.) via the live video feed from the camera. Digital video camera is attached to the computer via firewire (IEEE 1394) cable or USB cable. (NOTE: firewire is not as common now as it used to be when this article was written) Here are photos of typical video pencil test stations with mini-dv camcorders used to shoot the drawings.  (NOTE: these photos are from several years ago. It's more common nowadays to mount an HD webcam or even a mobile phone to use as the source camera on the downshooter)  


 (click on the images to see them larger) You can still find relatively simple, inexpensive Copy Stands at photography supply stores and on eBay. A popular line of copy stands that have been used for pencil test stations are the CS-3 and CS-2 line of copy stands made by Testrite Co.

 Testrite CS-3 copy stand being used for shooting pencil tests: The Testrite CS-3 an CS-2 copy stands are no longer in production, but they show up often eBay. Other brands of copy stands made by Bencher, Kaiser, Beseler, and Bogen will work equally well. You do not need to get one of the super-expensive models with a geared column and professional quality photo lights. Basically all you need is a sturdy column to hold your camera securely in place and a platform or "stage" underneath to tape-down your Acme peg bar. (the "stage" should be large enough to accommodate standard 12 and/or 16 field size animation paper.) A tripod may also be pressed into service to shoot your animation. Be sure that the legs are secured so that they don't get moved during a shoot.  

 Lighting is very important when shooting your pencil tests. You should have bright, diffused lighting aimed down at the artwork at about a 45° angle to eliminate any shadows or over-exposed hotspots on the artwork. Adjust the lights and the manual exposure and white balance of the video camera until you have an image where the white of the paper is as light as possible , but the image of your pencil drawing is sharp and clear. The spiral type of fluorescent bulbs called "Cool Bulbs" which are about 150 watt-equivalent can be used with inexpensive metal reflectors (clamp-on shop lamps) with ordinary white paper taped over the lamps to diffuse the light. If you have any open windows or other strong light sources other than the light you are shining on your animation drawings you should mask off the windows with heavy shades or black paper taped over the window , and/or mask off the shooting area so stray light does not fall on your shooting surface.  

(click image to see it larger) 


A regular consumer-level mini-dv camera such as the Canon ZR-960, most cameras in the Sony HandyCam line, or the Panasonic PV-GS320, PV-GS90 or PV-GS80 cameras can be used for video frame capture. (as long as the camera has an IEEE 1394/firewire out port it should work fine) NOTE: mini-dv cameras are no longer being made , although you can still pick up working mini-dv cams on eBay , etc., but they're not really worth the trouble to buy cable adapters.  Just use an HD webcam like the Logitech C930.   

Canon mini-dv camera mounted on Kaiser copy stand.  


With the passing of mini-dv cameras,  you may use a webcam such as the Logitech C920 or C930.  (best prices for webcams will usually be found on Amazon)  Use it with a webcam control sofware (such as Webcam Settings) that allows for manual override of focus, exposure, and white balance, so you can get optimal image quality from the webcam.


 B&W "security monitor camera" mounted on copy stand: 
At one time a popular option was to use a security monitor camera.  Those can still be found on eBay and other sources, but getting adapter cables that will hook it up to a modern computer may be an issue.  Probably better to just use an HD webcam as the capture device.  If you do want to use a surveillance/security camera look for one with these features:
 1.) S-Video Out connection if possible. (many have BNC "composite video" connection out , but S-Video is better quality than BNC, although BNC can work if you can find the right kind of adapter to get the feed to interface with your computer. )
2.) Manual over-ride on the lens shutter to adjust exposure
3.) Manual focus on the lens. Lens should be able to focus in range down to 12 inches.
4.) A zoom lens is helpful, though not necessary if the column on the copy-stand can be adjusted up and down.  
Be aware that if you use this type of camera you will need to purchase an adapter such as the PYRO A-V LINK to feed the S-Video out or BNC Video out connection cable to your computer. Another suitable adapter is the Canopus 77010150100 ADVC110 Converter . The adapter will convert the analog S-Video or BNC Video signal to a digital signal that can be inputted to your computer. Be sure that the animation application you are using can read the signal . (if in doubt ask the Tech Support Dept. of the software you are using for frame capture.  Again, I want to point out that this article was written in 2007 , so in 2022 it's probably better to just use a common HD webcam like the Logitech C920 or C930 for frame capture. If you already own a Canon or Nikon DSLR camera  that has a live video feed , you could probably use that for frame capture. )