Convention Projects

Another Video Project

Just like last year I have
created another video for Connecticon.
This time, instead of an AMV, I made an FMV (fan music video). This translates
to using a live action video source instead of an anime one. Go on and give it
a gander. It may not
have won any awards, but I like it.

I approached this piece differently than my last one. At first I was
planning on making a far more simple video than before. The last one was very
drama/story focused and I wanted something a little less involved and easier to
grok. Something more actiony and less reliant on knowing the story of a
particular series. I already knew I wanted to use the song I went with after
remembering its use in Metropolis. As far as the
video source, I was not quite sure. I knew I needed something with a lot of
action, but I did not want to do something very well known (e.g. Attack on
Titan or Black Lagoon). I want my videos to not only be entertaining, but also
to highlight less known works. That is when I remembered Ran. This is not the most
obscure film, but it is not super well known or talked about either. Based on
the Shakespeare play, King Lear, it is about a Japanese warlord who divides his
kingdom amongst his three sons. Two of the sons betray the father who goes mad,
only to be rescued by his third son. It is an engaging film, with vibrant
colors, devastating battle scenes, and masterful direction by one of Japan’s
great filmmakers: Akira

Initially, I was thinking that just setting the battle scenes to music would
make a pretty good action entry. In preparation for making FMV, I printed out a
copy of the lyrics and rewatched the film, taking notes and marking time stamps
of scenes I wanted to use. As I started to string clips together I naturally
progressed to a more story focused video, like my last one. The actions scenes
did work well set to the music, but If I had used just those scenes for the
whole thing, I would be stretched thin clip-wise. Kurosawa is a skilled
director which means he is not one to linger for too long, so there is not a
whole lot to work with. That is when I started going for more of a storytelling

+Comments on Particular Scenes+

The cold opening (0:00-0:0:15): I really like the opening. Most AMVs/FMVs do
not do that. They just go straight into the music and video. I toyed with
making this part SUPER long because I like the idea of people sitting there
wondering what is going on, but I did not want people getting too bored. It is
a real fantastic scene from the movie and I just had to put it somewhere.

Start of the music (0:16) The dichotomy of the violent murder of the King’s
entourage and the feel good lyrics of the song is a really dissonant in a good
way, IMHO. It sets the tone early on that this is going to be a weird piece of
work, with the song and images constantly at odds.

Flashbacks(0:29-0:0:38) I wanted to put more in here, but there is very
little time in the song to allow for that. This does an acceptable job of
providing some back story, but it was a concern of mine that this would not be
enough. It is hard to judge how understandable the story is since the audience
is probably unfamiliar with the film, but I am intimately familiar.

King’s guard bleeding out(0:55) Again, the song and pictures should be at
war with each other. This is a scene I really like which highlights the
dichotomy at plan.

King picks flowers(2:41) I love this cut. The King is really happy (in a mad
way) in this scene, but it is totally at odds with the scene that came

Son comes to king’s aid(2:59) It is a bit on the nose, since “Blue” in the
context of the song is really about the singer’s emotional state and less about
the color, but as Bob Ross would say, it is a “happy little accident” that this
scene lines up.

Son’s death(4:07) This is a tough one since it is not immediately obvious
what happened. In the movie all you hear is a gunshot from the distance,
context which is lost given all you hear is the music. I left it in since it
sets up the next two scenes, but I am not a huge fan of it. This is the real
struggle of making these videos: trying to convey meaning with the scenes you

King’s death(4:10-4:12) A big peccadillo of mine is flapping lips or any
speech you cannot hear during an AMV or FMV. Unfortunately there is just no way
to cut this scene to avoid that. Yet, if I leave this scene out the funeral
procession next scene makes no sense.

That is it. It took about ~10 hours to do with minimal changes after I made
a first draft. This was a lot quicker than the last one, but I had a lot less
footage to work with and a much stronger theme. I hope you like it. I will try
again next year and see if I can get an award this time around.

Projects Review

Lets Get NASty

I want to talk a bit today about my storage setup, specifically my NAS or
Network Attached Storage. I have been running my system for a little over a
year now and have had no issues so it is a good time to give a brief half
review, half description of setup. I started considering a longer term storage
setup when the available space on my desktop began to dwindle. I am a bit of
“digital hoarder” if you will, constantly butting up against my limit. When
space is so cheap and ubiquitous why throw anything out? The problem with this
is you always need to be increasing your capacity. At the time I was getting my
NAS my several year old external drive had failed, another drive in my desktop
was faltering, and the rest of the case was already filled up with other
drives. I did not want to get rid of my existing drives and I also wanted a
better solution than continuing to lock data to my desktop. Enter the
ReadyNAS 104

The first thing you need to know about NASs (NASes?) is that there are a ton
of models on the market featuring wildly different prices and sets of features.
You will need to determine what you want out of your NAS before you consider
purchasing one. For me I had just two requirements:

1. Four drive slots. This allows for a ton of storage and is very flexible
when it comes to determining your RAID setup. 2. Minimum computational
performance, I do not need my NAS to be a file server or another computer. I
need to put files on it and get files off, that is all.

With those requirements you can pretty much be satisfied with things at the
low end of the market, hence the ReadyNAS 104. Your real cost on the low end
here is going to be in drives. I went with four of these
for a total capacity of 16 terabytes. Total (including the NAS) this
ran me $1045.94. You could cheap out here and go for smaller drives or slower
drives. From what I read 5600RPM drives work just as well, albeit slower. I
went max size and max speed because I wanted a long term solution. There were
at the time some rebates, but I do not remember how much they were for. As far
as quality of drives this particular brand came recommended, but other brands
are just as well regarded.

For setup I configured the drives in RAID 5 (~10TBs of space). Take a moment
to read up on the different RAID options here. In my opinion
RAID 5 gives you the best space efficiency (you lose about 1/4 of the capacity
compared to 1/2 in some other configurations) and reasonable fault tolerance
(you can lose one drive and not lose any data). I do not want to lose data, but
then again it is not exactly mission critical. Actually formatting and
configuring the drives takes about a full day so sit tight. After that there is
not much other configuration to be done. Plug it into your router and it should
assign itself a local IP address automatically. It would be wise to configure a
static address in your router’s control panel so its not always changing on
you, but this is not required. You can access your system via its IP and (at
least on Windows) it will appear like one giant network drive.

Of course since your NAS is basically a low powered computer you can run any
number of programs on it. The ReadyNAS people helpfully have a site with some options. I myself jun run
qbittorent for my torrenting needs, but there are some useful apps to be found.
If you are handy with the command line you can SSH into your NAS and do
whatever you want since it runs Linux.

For daily use a NAS is pretty helpful. Transfer times can be slow since I
connect through mine wirelessly, but its not terribly slow. Think a few minutes
for a couple GBs. It is certainly quick enough to stream video from itself to
your computer which is what I primarily use it for. Although when initially
transferring all your files to it I suggest hooking up an external drive. There
are a few USB ports on the back so it can mount drives, but I could not figure
how to connect it physically to my desktop.

In regards to configuration you can mostly roll with stock settings. I
suggest disabling file snap shots, which
can be a bit of a pain
, but will save you a lot of space. I also recommend
enabling SSH access (so you can fiddle with things yourself) and enabling “Disk
Spin Down” to both conserve power and the life of your drives.

Overall a NAS is a little pricey, but it is a convenient way to get a lot of
storage you can access from anywhere in the house. It also allows you to sleep
safe knowing your files are backed up. Granted its not off site, but if your
house burns down you probably have bigger things to concern yourself with.

Anime Projects

My First AMV

It is true here it is spoilers and everything: view here, download

For a while now I have been thinking of doing one of these and I mentioned
it as a goal for this year.
I recently finished the main anime adaptation of Legend of the
Galactic Heroes
and it was very disappointing to me the series has such
little visibility amongst English anime viewers. Granted its age and its MIA
English localization probably play the largest role in its lack of popularity.
That said I wanted to do a little something for a show more people should
watch, to that end my first AMV.

For those not familiar with the format, an AMV is a series of anime clips
set to music. Sometimes they tell a story, or showcase some
or are just funny.
I wanted to make an AMV that covered roughly the events of the first half of
the series (episodes 1 – 53 to be exact). I did not want a flat retelling of
events though so I themed it or focused it around the relationship between
Reinhard (blonde hair) and Kircheis (red hair). To those not familiar to the
series, they are childhood friends who set out to conquer the galaxy.

For the music I wanted something that fit the feel of the series. The show
makes extensive use of famous classical music, mostly Beethoven. While not
classical I went with Time To Say Goodbye,
sung by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli. I like the mournful nature of the
song and the interspaced use of English. I did not want to go with a poppy
contemporary piece as it would be jarring with the visuals of the series.

Scene Breakdown

Now that I have given a brief summary I am going to provide some commentary
on parts of the AMV.

00:00-00:22, I wanted to start big to give a good scale the series works
with. A shot of the galaxy to begin with and with each strum I narrow the shot
until we focus on the ship of our two main characters and then the characters
themselves. The preceding shots show a vast battle taking place until we fade
out to the end result of the battle, lots of ship wreckage. Not a huge fan of
the fade, but it does its job. These scenes are mostly from early episodes so
we see a very young Admiral Reinhard.

00:25, Shot of the Odin, the capital of the Empire. Its not important that
you know that, but series fans probably recognize it.

00:25-00:31, I wanted to establish that Reinhard is important within the
Empire, but still not the leader. The scene shows him being honored for the
battle we saw in the beginning.

00:32, Start of the flashback. Need to establish the long relationship
between Reinhard and Kircheis that started when they were young.

00:38-00:46, This scene with the bully helps establish both Reinhard’s
aggressive nature and how Kircheis is always there to help Reinhard out. The
rock beating scene also nicely matches up with the music. At times I think it
is a bit humorous, but I resisted changing it.

00:47-00:58, These are some scenes set after the bully time frame, but still
when Reinhard and Kircheis were young. I wanted to convey Reinhard ambitious
nature and I like the imagery of the gun shooting into space that fades into
his ship in full action. As you can tell I like fades. There is an important
subplot to the series involving Reinhard’s sister that these scenes are
important to, but it is not important for the story I am telling.

00:58-01:12. Easy call here to tie Kircheis’s death to the first “Time to
Say Goodbye” lyric. It is perhaps a bit quick setup after the flashback, but it
is really important that death and lyric are timed up well. This is a pretty
big spoiler for people who have not seen the series and arguably the most
important event in the entire series.

01:22, I went back and forth on including this somewhat gratuitous death
clip. It is a bit jarring, but I think it works. Kind of quick flashback that
Reinhard is contemplating.

01:25-01:43, Second flashback showing a bit more of Kircheis interacting
with Reinhard and doing his own thing. As a side not we can really see the jump
in quality across some of the early episodes in these flashbacks. After the
series came out some episodes were remastered so the quality can be all over
the place.

01:45, Its debatable if we need this shot of just the gravestone as the
earlier scene basically covers what we need to do, but I like lingering here a

01:49, The locket is a very important item to the series so I had to get a
shot of it here. You can see it also includes his sister who is important to
the story, but I ignore here.

01:50. Kircheis in the stars may be too cliche, but its from the series and
bookends this section of the AMV nicely.

01:53-01:56, The music changes and I need to jump a bit chronologically and
show how Reinhard has increased in power in the Empire. The scenes with the
crowd accomplishes this.

01:57-2:01, This scene is a bit clunky. I want to convey again how in charge
Reinhard is and setup the rest of the AMV, but we linger, perhaps too long, on
planning screens.

02:05, I love this shot of Reinhard and all the ships engines. As a side
note that is Mariendorf next to him. She becomes pretty important around the
half way mark of the series.

02:06-02:13, This is the planet Fezzan, a planet not in the Empire nor the
Free Planets Alliance (FPA). The two major antagonists in the show. It is one
of the first planets Reinhard takes on his campaign. It is a relatively quick
battle which I used to convey the size of Reinhard’s fleet in action.

02:14-02:19, Some of the most well drawn scenes in the series. Bookends
Reinhard’s conquest of Fezzan.

02:20-02:25, Maybe the cheesiest part of the AMV. That is an actual scene
from the anime so I went with it. Also you can see the locket again which is
super important.

02:26-02:45, Lot of ships again. Start to show some large battles with the
FPA, but nothing decisive.

02:52-03:19, Again we return to Reinhard’s ship and then show his decisive
involvement in a battle. Lots of FPA ships blowing up climaxing in a nice large
explosion. I cheat a bit and take a lot of battle clips from across the series,
but we need a lot of different shots here and frankly a lot of these battle
shots look the same.

03:20-03:23, Good scene to show after Reinhard’s great success. You can see
how lonely he is on the empty bridge and it contrasts well with the first shot
of him and Kircheis from the beginning.

03:24, This is Heinessen, home planet of the FPA, after being captured by

03:26-03:27, This is a shot of Yang Wen-li, Reinhard’s counterpart in the
FPA. He is super important, but not covered at all in this AMV. I wanted to at
least give him a quick showing and I think these two rapid beats help introduce
him as the adversary nicely.

03:28, Real cool shot of both of their massive fleets converging.

03:28-03:41, Start of the battle, lots of fireworks to show the scale, but
nothing to show who will win.

03:41, Maps again! Its hard to convey how the battle is going so I went with
maps (which the series likes using too) to show things going against Reinhard.
This shot also has Yang in the middle.

03:44-03:51, Might be asking too much of a person not familiar with the
series, but I need to convey the battle turning in Yang’s favor. Showing the
map of a fleet disintegrating, FPA ships firing, and a lot of Empire ships
exploding hopefully conveys this. It might be difficult to get if you cannot
distinguish the different sides ships at this point.

03:54, Great scene of the Empire ships moving to defend Reinhard’s ships.
Hopefully conveys how desperate the battle is going.

03:55, Another really excellent scene of Reinhard having the ships guarding
his front explode.

04:01, And here we are end of the AMV. This shot is the best in the series
and what motivated me to do this AMV. I love the giant imposing FPA ship
bearing down on Reinhard. Its awesome and in my opinion, a a great ending with
the sudden cut to black.

The thing about that ending scene is, its a massive cheat. The very next
second that ship gets blown out by the timely arrival (in true anime fashion)
of Admiral Muller’s fleet. I admit its deceitful, but I really just wanted a
nice cliffhanger to end on to motivate people to watch the series.

Tools Lets wrap up with a quick tool discussion.
All of my editing was done with Sony Vegas 13. I like it a lot since its
relatively simple to use. I am sure other editors like Final Cut are just as
good, but I have been fiddling with Vegas for a bit now and I know how to do
what I want. The only real issue I had was the video sources. I was using files
in MKV format and Vegas cannot handle those files. I had to convert each
episode I wanted to use from MKV to MP4. I did this using Handbrake which is dirt simple. It was a tedious
work around, but it got the job done. I will leave you with a shot of all the
clips in the editor. You can see I like to have a lot of clips lying around so
I can mix and match and see what works.


Cosplay Projects

Melting Metal:Attempt 2

When last I attempted this I was met with a decided lack of success. Whether it
was a faulty microwave or a generally bad plan I will not pass judgement.
Luckily, I was groomed to be stubborn and one failure was not going to dissuade
me from my dream of controlling intense heat.

Thus we arrive at attempt two (try one):

What are we looking at here? My very own homemade foundry with a hairdryer
for a bellows. Instructions courtesy of this
youtube video
. The general idea here is, put a bunch of coals in the
foundry, turn on the blower, and hope it gets hot enough. The results were
again disappointing. After about half an hour the foundry was at about
“hamburger grilling” temperature and the zinc block still resolutely solid. I
needed to get to, “melt your hand” temperature and that did not happen. Another
failure, but an instructive one. This leads us to attempt two (try two):

For the first try with the foundry I had not filled it with coals, using
only a conservative six coals or so. This time I could really amp the number up
so I packed in as many as I could which was 21. I accomplished this by reducing
the size of the crucible from a stainless steel pet food bowl to a tall shot
glass. I also significantly increased the air flowing into the foundry by
replacing the hair dryer with a leaf blower. The results were impressive:

And this was on the low setting. It is hard to see clearly, but there is a
very hot glow from the foundry this time. The difference in heat and noise was
immediate when I turned the blower on. With the hair dryer, the heat was tepid
at best. With the leaf blower there was very much a fiery roar. Looking in from
the top, the coals were glowing with heat within a few minutes. A marked
difference from last time. The heat pouring out the top was, in the words of a
person who never looked at a thesaurus, very hot. Worryingly, I found a part of
glass blown out from the foundry. Regardless, I let the whole thing run for
about ten minutes. After I turned off the blower, the sound died down and I
took a look. Upon removing the lid I came to a few conclusions:

1. The coals looked like moon rocks.

2. I could not find the glass.

Digging around a bit I eventually found what was left of the glass:

Yes it seems I put too much faith in the $2.09 Walmart glass purchase I had
made. Looking online it says glass does not melt until 1000-1500 degrees, but
it could become malleable around 700-900 degrees. Since 787.2 degrees is the
melting point of zinc, the metal I was trying to melt, this was not good.
Lesson learned the hard way, do not use a glass crucible next time. What of the
zinc though? I too was perplexed until I dug to the bottom of the foundry and
saw it had pooled at the bottom as a liquid. Yes, sweet success never felt so
hot. Moving quickly we were able to pour it into a coffee can and then to the
mold. The liquid was so hot it burnt the label off the can, but thankfully the
can was stout enough to not melt itself.

You can see the bottom of the mold was not good enough as the metal pooled
out, but the general shape is there. I would call this a success.

What did we learn?

1. Glass is not a good crucible.

2. 21 coals and a leaf blower is enough to get 800 or so degrees of heat. I
honestly did not expect it to get so hot. I really must get a IR Temperature
Gun to see how hot I can get it. Also would be interesting to see if I can get
the same results with less coals.

3. I need a bigger foundry cover. A number of embers slipped out via the
edges and we had to constantly put out small fires and keep the ground around
it wet. This should not be too hard to do, I can just add on to the cover I
already have.

4. I need a better mold, with a better seal on the bottom. Perhaps
investigate these sand
on the same youtube channel.

Overall, it took three tries, but after some tweaks I got it. I look to make
some improvements and give it another shot. You can find a few more photos in
the album.