Frame Scanning with Dragonframe

One of the applications I often lean on for any SFX, product or small scale camera work is Dragonframe. It has become the industry standard within the world of stop motion film production, but seems to be something of an enigma to many other professionals in production and post. But look a little closer at what this software can do and more importantly, how seamless the workflow and it should become pretty clear what an amazingly useful tool it can be, even for non animators.

The software is broadly broken into several windows, including animation, cinematography, audio, lighting and motion control. While most of the commands and controls are set up to be intuitive for animators, many of the areas, especially the cinematography window, should be fairly familiar to camera operators and photographers. In this respect, it’s a versatile workhorse for tethered image capture.

The real power of the software becomes more obvious once you delve into the motion control and lighting windows. Leaving lighting aside for now, the arc motion control element of Dragonframe can become a central part of any sfx/scale/product workflow. With the supplied Arduino script, a few stepper motors and drivers, it’s relatively simple to run a basic ( non realtime ) motion control camera rig, as well as move objects, scroll backgrounds, control small light movements, you name it. All without entering a single line of code. It can also communicate with numerous commercial MoCo systems and some Timelapse rigs, such as Dynamic Perception and Edelkrone. Realtime moves are possible, but for that you’ll need to add the DMC controller.

Creating material for the Scratch Tapes effects, I’m always looking for new ways to capture film elements. Realising that being a frame grabber that could also control stepper motors, couldn’t Dragonframe also work as a film scanning front end? A few trial runs and a rusty clamp to hold a motor temporarily in place, was enough to confirm that this software could work pretty effectively, for small run, but higher resolution scans.

So far, I have this running at what I’d call a prototype stage, running on an inverted and temporarily hacked film viewer. The main points missing in the test runs so far, are a film gate/pressure plate, light blocker ( to control ghosting and flare ) as well as permanent backlight and motor mounts. A trial capture of 10 seconds of very warped and scratched Super 8, resulted in around 1mm of drift over 240 frames.. The motor was calibrated to the notch to notch distance ( 4.22mm ). This drift is most likely due to to the rough set up, warped film, as well as slipping feed and take up reels. For my needs this doesn’t matter ( the more chaotic the better ), but for more detailed telecine work, it would need to be more accurate and stable, plus kinder to the film. Some kind of feedback registration could be set up via a sensor and input signal, to tell the software the next frame is in place. Looking around the web, I’ve not seen any mention of Dragonframe and Arc Motion Control being used this way, so it’s all trial and error currently.

Producing the elements for Scratch Tapes can be a lot more productive using this setup, once a more refined setup is working. The ability to shoot from multiple angles and through various elements can produce some interesting analogue effects, which are difficult to reproduce in the digital world. Refining further with a better transport mechanism and I can see this becoming a regular part of the film effects chain.

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