The setting: An large warehouse in a remote area outside of Josephine County. The setup: the building of a large container. The situation: Showing a step-by-step procedure of the build of the large container, and by large I mean 30 feet long, eight feet tall. The solution: The marketing director wants to show a video as a training process for future builds of this container.
But here is the problem, the build takes nearly three months. Also, the container was so large, a video would be long and boring. So I came up with a solution, one that would end with a dead camera and me also nearly dying.
In the spring of 2013, the company that I am currently employed at was on the verge of landing a major contract with a prime in Southern California. During a inpromptu dinner, the owners of the company I work for and one of the major players of the prime discussed the possibility of creating a very large container for an unmanned vehicle. We had designed and manufactured large containers in the past, but they were framed. This case had to be solid from front to back. It had to meet their stringent standards and it had to be large. Larger than anything we have built before. No problem, our owner said. One catch: the container needed to be on their docks in 90 days. Gulp, again no problem.
After consulting with several vendors, we finally were able to reach an agreement with a company in Washington that built yachts. Could they build our shells? The top and bottom of the large containers using a process called Vaccum Infused Process? They could. We sent a crew up north to oversee this and once the shells were molded, they were shipped back down here where we would add the hardware and the internal frames. Not only did we meet the 90-day deadline, we delivered a product that exceeded their expectations. Now, how do we do it again? That's where I came in.
The intial idea of a training video showing the build would not only be long, but the editing process would be time consuming. How about a stop-motion video? Huh? Setting up a camera on top of a large pallet of material boxes overlooking the build and have the camera shoot a photo every three seconds? Around the clock. For three months. The concept of stop-motion is not a new one. In fact, stop motion was the weapon of choice for many old movies and claymations from the 1930s and up into the 1990s. Even Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back used stop motion during its Hoth scenes with the AT ATs rampaging toward the rebel base. The original King Kong was done in stop motion. The trick is to not have too many seconds lapse between scenes. If you have too many seconds lapse, you get what I call a flicker effect. This is evident in the old movies. I figured three seconds was a short enough time not have the flicker effect.
So the setup was the first challenge. We scaled up to the top of the pallet of material, a sketchy and dangerous hike up a latter and through uneven boxes and gaps, armed with a camera with a tripod, an external hard drive with tons of space, and a laptop. I set up the camera directly on the shells and had it timed to automatically shoot every three seconds. Two issues: Every time the main door of the facility opened, the light, which was bad to begin with, would change dramatically causing a weird effect. The other issue, I would have to come over at least every three days to clean out the external hard drive, which would have tens of thousands of pictures on it. I had two external hard drives and I simple would swap one for the other. The pictures were shot in low resoultion to preserve space. The easy part was deleting everything from about 6 p.m. until the guys showed up at 7 a.m. the next morning. A funny story, as I sifted through photos from 6 p.m. until 7 a.m., it was the exact same photo through thousands of files. But one day, there was a sudden change at about 2 a.m. A light turned on and there were people in the frames. A ghost? No, our owner showing up with some friends and showing them the build. It was a freaky moment for sure.
Through the long summer, the camera clicked away capturing literally every moment from June until late August. The photos I needed, I loaded onto my drive on my own computer and then began creating a stop motion video using Premiere Pro. The transition from shells to case was amazing. I sped up the video showing the guys buzzing around creating this large container.
On the final day, when the container was complete and ready to ship, the camera, a Nikon D300, happily clicked away those final moments. I made my way up to the top of the pallets, hopscothing through the gaps, when. BANG! I went head to head with the steel beam that hangs down. I went down hard and nearly fell off, which would have been about a 25 foot drop to the pavement below. Bleeding and disoriented, I went to the camera when I heard a final, and sickening "clunk." And then nothing. As the container was halfway out of the facility, the brave Nikon D300 died a peaceful death. Yes, it stayed alive for the final seconds of the finale before it couldn't go any further. Both me and the Nikon D300 were causalties. Fortunately, only one of us died that day.
After cleaning off the dust from three months of sitting on top of the pallets, and bringing everything back to the office and loaded onto my computer, I managed to take three months, and 100,000 photos, and created a 2:32 stop motion video, start of build to container being loaded onto a truck. To date, one of my proudest projects. You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlgNNyZk1e4
For sentimental reasons only, I still have the Nikon D300 at my desk in a cabinet. I have considered getting it repaired, but what's the point? I even wrote Nikon and told them what the D300 did (no, they didn't respond). I have thought about diving further into the stop motion world and may do it still.