A Weekend of Movie Making

Most of the weekend was spent fiddling around with computer software in an attempt to remake my thesis movie. I had a bit of fun too.

Friday - RuneQuest

Friday was a RuneQuest day as it is every other week. Unfortunately we didn't have enough people to play a full game, so we stopped before the big action sequence the game master had planned. The adventurers are currently visiting home in Sartar, recovering from being conscripted to rid the local river of a zombie mud shark and hoping that the dead tax collector's brother is no longer looking for us. Another worry is Gunther's father's newly outlawed neighbour who's out for Gunther's blood after a botched affair with Gunther's sister. The next big trick is to get back to Pavis with a cargo of trading goods (we decided honey combs would be good) across the desert, past towns where we aren't wanted (rival tribe), avoiding the horse hating nomads, and not dying of thirst, while carting several barrels of honey.

We spent an entertaining hour speculating on how to remove the undead power base in the marsh down river (I forget the ancient dead guy's name, but he has an army of zombies) - since it's the ideal job for River Voices like us to do, particularly since the river spirit is broken by the dead zone. We considered building a dike (too much work, unless we can con the Lunar civil engineers into doing it), bribing the undead (he'd get paid and then buy slaves to make more undead), dredging to make a clear channel (hire Ducks or zombies), and tsunamis (dam an upstream river and then break the dam in a few years).

Saturday - Mouse Wheels, Fractals and Movie Making

Saturday was spent playing with the computer. Most of the time was spent using Linux and trying to get the mouse wheel working. Eventually I found a web site with the information (needed to change the protocol used to communicate with the mouse and add a .Xdefaults entry for Netscape). While hunting around, I installed the Xaos fractal viewer program. It's lots of fun looking at fractals at amazing speed, once I found out where it got installed. It showed up in the non-obvious "Another Level" menu sub-item under Gnome. There's also a KDE submenu, which has a Gnome submenu, which contains all the Gnome stuff all over again. So, at least you can find your program, but who knows which menuing system it will appear in.

I also tried recompressing my newly rebuilt Sphereotypes cartoon to make a higher quality version than the one currently on my web site. It's made using POV ray traced data from two months of running on my Amiga hardware accelerator (68030 CPU + 68882 FPU @ 25Mhz) in 1996, converted from QRT to BMP image file format using an MS Visual C++ utility I wrote a couple of days ago, then run through a BeOS utility to make the still image files into an AVI movie file, then through a $50 BeOS application called "Personal Studio" to do video editing and titling. I also used Cool Edit 2000 under Win98 to convert the sound files from IFF. Unfortunately BeOS doesn't have an MPEG codec for video (just for sound). I now have an uncompressed AVI file with the movie. Oddly enough Linux can play the sound (Xanim) but not the video and Windows can play the video but not the sound.

The next step is to convert the cartoon to MPEG, which is a more generally available movie file format. I found a $100 Windows converter from a web site in Taiwan, but that purchase is too risky. All I could find in the way of cheap MPEG video encoders was a program from 1993 on the Red Hat Power Tools CD and a similar one on a university FTP site of similar vintage (but at least it's multithreaded so my dual processors will help). But they need CUV or some similarly named colour encoding scheme, and I can't find the PPM2CV utility (didn't look too hard), and I'd also have to write an AVI to PPM + WAV converter. I also wonder if that MPEG stuff even lets you add a sound track. I gave up and decided to convert it to Cinepak in Quicktime format, the next best thing in portability to MPEG.

Sunday MPEG-2 Annoyances

Then on Sunday, JamesA suggested a Linux utility I could use to make an MPEG-2 movie out of it. I downloaded it, compiled it and got the input data in the right format (QuickTime using certain public compressors) and was able to compress it. Who-hoo! The sound came out at lower quality than I expected, and the video was unwatchable (just interestingly coloured blocks moving around). That's because I don't have any MPEG-2 viewers, and most other people won't either. Still, the MPEG-2 stuff comes with some good utilities for manipulating MPEG files, so I can use Cool Edit to do a better job of compressing the sound track, and find some other MPEG-1 converter somewhere.

Monday QuickTime

Today I gave up on MPEG and bought the Quicktime Pro package for $30, it lets you recompress Quicktime movies using some better codecs than the public domain ones. The first step was to get the input film into a form that doesn't make it crash or miss the last 4/5 of the sound track (not Quicktime, AVI is the answer). After that compression was easy. I even got the whole 1.25 minute, 15fps, 320x240 pixels cartoon down to an amazing 0.5MB, it's viewable but chunky and the sound has become totally abstract organ music (until I figured out that it was stretching 1/5 of the sound to fill the whole film). Anyway, I'll use a higher data rate to fill my 10MB allocation on the Rogers@Home web server. You can see the results at http://ca.geocities.com/dmsmith@rogers.com/index.html.

Later Next Week

While reading people's complains that there wasn't any DVD player for BeOS, I came across a DVD FAQ and in it it mentioned several more encoding software choices. I had a look at the freeware one, bbMPEG, and was delighted to find that it also had an option to output MPEG-1 as well as DVD's MPEG-2. It did a good job of converting my movie from AVI to MPEG-1 format, including the sound. The picture isn't quite as sharp as Quicktime/Sorenson when it's moving, but on the other hand it compresses many times faster, is running at 30 frames per second rather than 15 (can only do TV rates, lowest is 24), and Linux and BeOS users can now see my movie. You can find it at http://members.home.net/beyeler/bbmpeg.html.

- Alex

Copyright © 2000 by Alexander G. M. Smith.