UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims at DVinfo.net

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Old April 26th, 2011, 06:41 AM   #1
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UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

I live in cave country. There is a cave with Federally listed endangered species within 100 yards of my house (no access). So, when Catherine bestowed upon us this wonderful theme of ďLightĒ, what did I do? I went and made a video about the total lack thereof! Total Darkness

In my youth I was an avid spelunker. Iíve been in over forty caves in Texas and Mexico. This video was shot in four caves (one twice) with a little help from some members of a local grotto. (A grotto is a local chapter of a caving club.) It was a lot of work but really fun to see that caving culture hasnít changed much. Cave dirt is called groediness. A common exultation upon entering a cave is ďLetís get groedy!Ē

Most of these shots were made in extremely low light. (Some with flashlights and some with caversí ďroom lightsĒ.) Settings of ISO 6400 on the T2i and +36 dB on the XL H1a were required. As you would expect, the native footage is very noisy. I can heartily recommend Neat Video. Without it most of this footage would be unusable.

Due to the three minute limit, I took liberties with some facts. There are actually two species of blind cave salamanders shown; I treated them as one. The one in the close-ups is found in several caves in the San Marcos, Texas area. (There is probably a thriving population living 200 feet beneath Chris Hurdís house!) The closely related other one is only found in Cascade Cavern. A big flood in the late Ď80s wiped it out in the human accessible parts of the cave and it was not seen for many years and feared extinct. It has returned and I was lucky to find and record several. The owner of the cave tells me this is the first time it has been recorded. There are at least seven species of fish known from the caves in question, however, the species depicted is not one of them (although itís progenitor species is found in the above surface waters ). It actually comes from a cave to the south.

Given more time there are several things I would like to have changed. I think the opening sequence is too abrupt. I would have liked more of a pause before the first light switch. With more time I would have shaved a frame or two off the other clips to gain time for it. I would have liked more camera movement, as is currently fashionable. I actually carried the slider 180 feet down and a half mile in to get some shots zipping between stalagmites. It took a great deal more time to noise correct these moving shots than I was able to allot. (As it was the noise reduction required a 52 hour render.) There are a couple of shots of cave wall and water where I missed the focus. I was forced to use them to complete the story. Given time, I would have gone back and re-shot them. I like the reverb on the VO when in the cave. It sounds better than without but, I think the effect is a bit overdone. This is due to my continuing ignorance of Soundbooth. In Audition I could have faded the effect to a more appropriate level. I think it makes some words difficult to understand, particularly the phrase- ďtheir brains have lost the ability to form imagesĒ. Finally, upon rendering to mp4 the gamma got messed up. My nice inky blacks became muddy greys. I need to invest some time between rounds to work on this problem.

I welcome your critiques, comments, observations, suggestions and questions. Not just from those of you who finished, or even those that entered, but from everyone that wanders by and views the videos. You help me improve. Thanks for watching- Letís get groedy!

P.S. If you have never cleaned cave mud from your video equipment, it is not an activity I recommend with much enthusiasm.
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Old April 26th, 2011, 12:00 PM   #2
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Re: UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

Sounds intriguing, Mike. How do we access your film?
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Old April 26th, 2011, 12:14 PM   #3
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Re: UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

Duh! By clicking on the title. That works!

I agree with you on two points. The opening scenes are a little abrupt, (perhaps cross dissolves might soften that), and the echo is way overdone.

Other than those problems, I found this piece totally fascinating and technically astounding. How, for example did you do that Alice in the rabbit hole thing? The cave fish. Was that in an aquarium, or did you really go underwater (dangerous) and find steady footing (almost impossible in the slippery mud)?
I don't think the piece suffers at all from lack of movement. Ripples are just fine. I hate to say it, but the end credits were my favorite part. Once again, how did you do the dirt falling from the letters. The juxtaposition of splashy footfalls and flashlight on the letters was just right.
One last question. Where were those good-looking Texas girls you mentioned?
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Old April 26th, 2011, 07:14 PM   #4
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Re: UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

Mike,

First, thank you for such a huge effort to put this piece together. I found it totally facinating and educational!! I did a couple cave explores alomost 40 years ago and I was somewhat frightened we would lose our light and did not enjoy the endevor!!! you made it so I could!!!

to the film, I agree with your own acessments. The VO souned like you were in the cave but perhaps it was a little to heavy on reverb for me. I think you did pretty fantasitic on your shots considering the lighting.

If I were to have any complaint, it would be that at times it was slide show like and needed a slightly smoother flow.

Aside of any criticism, I think you told your story welll, I think the images were pretty grand!!

what porogram did you use for noise reduction?? I thought that you actually did a great job there!!!


Again, thank you for sharing such stimulating video!!!!

pretty awesome.
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Old April 27th, 2011, 11:26 AM   #5
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Re: UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

Steve- The animations were all made in After Effects. The credits animation somewhat follows a tutorial by dvinfo member Andrew Kramer on his excellent website VideoCopilot. I added the flashlight bit which is just a large black png with a feathered doughnut hole in it position animated over the main animation. Andrew also has a tutorial for going underground which I watched some time ago, but I came up with my own version which is a bit simpler. There are a lot of limestone road cuts around here. I found a cut that was only about three feet with the trees in the background and set up my motorized slider vertically. (It was set up in the road to get the proper frame. Thank goodness it was at dawn and no police or motorists came along!) I shot a few seconds of video at the top and then motored down to the bottom. I trimmed the video so it ended most of the way down the road cut and then grabbed the last frame. I added the frame to the end of the clip and extended it until the total length matched the duration of the final animation- in this case eleven seconds- and rendered out the base video. I took still shots of a number of other larger road cuts (30-40 feet) and used them to prepare a still in Photoshop by placing them all on different layers and arranging them to make a very tall road cut. I blended their edges. I took the last frame from the base video and inverted it then copied the top 10% to the top of the tall still and blended the edge. I placed a black frame at the bottom and flattened the image then applied a gradient from black to transparent from bottom to about midway up and saved the still. In AE I made a comp from the base video and added the still as a layer starting at the point in time where the live video ends and positioned directly below the video frame. I then parented the still to the video and at that frame position animated the whole thing up until it ended on the black frame. Crude, but I think it worked OK. Besides being in the credits, the ladies were behind the scenes holding and carrying lights and helping shoo critters in front of the lens.
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Old April 27th, 2011, 11:29 AM   #6
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Re: UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

Thanks Dale. I like to edit until I have a bad case of Studio Tan (hopefully not Studio Burn!) and then walk away for several days. When I come back with fresh eyes I can generally see many things I missed before. No time for that here. I can now see about 100 things I would adjust. I recorded the VO first and edited to it. In places the cuts too closely follow the phrasing of the voice. Also, the shots are all about the same length. I should have varied them more to help with the pacing. Thanks for pointing it out. The noise reduction program is called Neat Video. They have a plug-in for most editing programs. There is a link in my first post.
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Old April 27th, 2011, 11:55 AM   #7
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Re: UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

Great idea.... absence of light to demonstrate what nature adapts to depending on light.
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Old April 27th, 2011, 06:38 PM   #8
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Re: UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

This was really entertaining to watch. Your opening and closing segments were really creative, and added a lot to the piece. And like you, I really like salamanders. There is a reason I am living in the epicenter of Plethodontid salamander biodiversity :)

As you noted, the cave effect on the VO may have been a bit strong, but I did enjoy it- made you really feel like you were underground.

Very nice mix of footage, informative, and fun to watch.
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Old April 28th, 2011, 11:05 AM   #9
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Re: UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

Hi Chris. Thanks for watching. Hope to see you next round!
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Old April 28th, 2011, 11:07 AM   #10
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Re: UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

Ruth! Do you know how long I have waited to hear a woman tell me that she knows she is living in the epicenter of Plethodontid salamander biodiversity? Oh, wait- youíre married, right? Sigh. ;) Seriously, you have some interesting Ambystomids in your neck of the woods also. Thanks for watching and commenting.
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Old April 28th, 2011, 11:53 AM   #11
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Re: UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

Hi Mike:

First, I thought your comment to Ruth was highly entertaining and brought me a laugh :)

You are really getting fluid and creative with your storytelling and your transitions match. I thought the transition from above ground to way below the earth to introduce your title was a show stopper. There was no better way to introduce your film.

You are a teacher that is simply living to spill all of that textbook knowledge you have pent up in your head, and what better way to do it than in film! You are creating quite a platform for the entertaining transfer of knowledge.

So which of the cave creatures were the first caught on film you were excited about in 'Tales'?

This was technically a difficult film to pull off for obvious reasons and you did it very well. It is a great plug for "Neat Video" and good information to know. If most of this footage was unusable and you brought it to this level, that is truly remarkable.

Nice job, Mike. A technically difficult film that you pulled off with aplomb.

Cat
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Old April 28th, 2011, 01:04 PM   #12
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Re: UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

Mike, looks like you're winning at the box office. Double the views of your thread than any of the others ;)
So the cave has an owner, and I'm wondering if they charge an entry fee. Nice effect going under ground. The lack of music was a good effect since caves are very quiet right?
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Old April 28th, 2011, 01:30 PM   #13
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Re: UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

Catherine- Now Iím blushing! Neat Video is very good. Iím convinced it can rescue almost any noisy video. They have a free trial and some practice files so you can convince yourself. There are some good tutorials on how to use it online. The one that got me excited was the Cascade Caverns salamander Eurycea latitans. Iíve looked for it many times (as have many others) and Iím still pretty happy to have finally seen it.
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Old April 28th, 2011, 01:32 PM   #14
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Re: UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

Bill- Thatís probably just because I posted first and for a while there wasnít anything else to look at. Most caves in Texas have private owners. We only have about 1% public land and that includes our quite extensive highway system. One of the caves I worked in has a modest entry fee which was waived for me. Another is in a State Park which definitely has an entrance fee! Caves are usually terribly quiet. It is the only place you can literally hear another personís heart beating.
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Old April 28th, 2011, 01:49 PM   #15
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Re: UWOL 20- Total Darkness- Mike Sims

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike Sims View Post
The one that got me excited was the Cascade Caverns salamander Eurycea latitans. Iíve looked for it many times (as have many others) and Iím still pretty happy to have finally seen it.
This is quite exciting. They look like they would be very elusive and difficult to capture on film. It's great that the footage happens to be spectacular as well. That could be footage that someone is willing to pay for to use. Just a notion.

Congratulations on the find,

Cat
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