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Content creation by bitmap processing of footage

Tom Baldwin

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For an upcoming show I need to create some video content. I've never done this before, although I do have a fair amount of experience of bitmap and vector graphics work. Mindful of the adage that when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, I thought I'd run my proposed approach past people with more experience to see if there's a better way of achieving my aims.


The content is a talking head, and I would like it to look very much as though it's an animation rather than a video conference.

Starting with a head shot of an actor wearing a black polo-neck sweater, shot against a black background, using contrasty lighting and the sort of contrast-enhancing make up that was used on the very first television broadcasts, my processing sequence (in Corel PhotoPaint) runs as follows:

- edge detect (to give only the outlines of the features)

- pixellate heavily, to give an effective resolution of 100 x 75 pixels

- reduce colour depth to one bit (no halftoning), to give a very blocky output

- overlay a mask. The mask is a grid of 100 x 75 transparent circles - effectively, convert square pixels to circular ones, with a decent margin around each pixel

- colourise to green, so each pixel is either black or 100% green


PhotoPaint can perform these transformations, but it seems to fail on the output stage - I managed to create a 128MB file last night from just 2 seconds of 320x240 footage... I am not going to be able to create the full 5 minute clip like this! It looks like CinePaint might be an alternative package, but I haven't tried it yet.


As you can see, I'm trying to get an animation effect without the effort of drawing 5 minutes worth of frames.


Does this sound sane? Are there better ways to do this? Is there hardware available (for hire) which can do this live, or are we firmly in the realms of pre-processed video here?


I should add that I need to preserve the audio track that accompanies the visuals.


Any thoughts or feedback appreciated!



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Well, I guess your software is the limiting factor. After Effects does it quite well, and having access to all the photoshop filters can create some really nice animations. I did something similar a couple of years ago for a job and used the charcoal filter - looked nice.
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Thanks for your feedback, Paul.


Looking at what After Effects can do, and its workflow was very instructive, even if I can't run to the £1000 for a licence.


I've now managed to get a system going which achieves what I want:


I've been using MPlayer to strip out audio, and convert the clip to a sequence of JPEGs. I can then batch process these individual files in PhotoPaint successfully, to give me a directory full of processed images. MPlayer's sister program, mencoder is then used to recombine the audio and the JPEGs into a (heavily processed) movie file.


I still need to tweak the details of the processing in PhotoPaint, but the basics of the system are there.





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