Sunday, July 31, 2016

And More: In Search Of The Long Exposure Shot (Simulated From Game Material) - Part I [Personal Project]

[Short Disclaimer/Note: These posts ("Personal Projects") contain some 'Editorial' material; that is, some wording and subject matter that is more personal in nature and may contain viewpoints of The Editor/Author, which does not reflect the opinions or viewpoints of this blog in its entirety, the hosting site (Blogspot), its affiliates (Google), or any other associated entity or product mentioned or utilized herein. These "Personal Project" postings will be of a 'personal journal' or 'diary' nature and approach. While they still contain many helpful tips and edifying experiences, avoid these postings if this approach does not appeal to you]

This little 'Personal Project' is one that I only recently started working on, in earnest, anyway. Starting a few years ago, I began recording what I called "Envirogamescapes" [my coin, a working title], where I record a nice long period of time of something naturally beautiful or remarkable in a game, a serene scene or a well-constructed area of a city, et cetera - to use for relaxing or working on something - and to share with others to enjoy, of course!

While experimenting with an efficient way to do this (resolution, codec, etc) I began experimenting with "Time Lapse" recording, as well. This was, where I would record one constant session of one scene/area for literally, hours on end (8+ hours) and then speed-up the material, playing it back at anywhere from 400% up to 2000%, for a nice 'montage' showing the passage of time and how it is displayed/handled by a specific game/engine.

GIF conversion of a Time Lapse recording I did last year in the game Planetside 2 ("Dome at Day and Night")
[Logos added and GIF resized from original recording resolution for smaller upload]

I thought this would be a great thing to share for others to enjoy too - and I have collected many, many recordings (Terabytes of them!) - but as always, I am far better at 'Collecting' than I am at 'Organizing', so these little Projects have been amassing virtual dust on my hard drive(s) for the past number of years... until now.

Just last week, I began to attempt to focus on these Projects, 'processing' and 'finalizing' them, creating logos and experimenting with effects and various software (graphic editing and video editing applications), to try and bring these years-old aspirations to some kind of fruition.

[/Begin Personal Drama Rant]

Hopefully, within a reasonable period of time, I can 'finish' some of these videos - if my own personal tendencies don't get in the way - "thanks, A.D.D. for not letting me focus on one thing too long!", "thanks, ongoing illness, for making me too tired to work on one thing too long!", "thanks, O.C.D for making me feel guilty about 'dropping' projects!"... great stuff, all around, way to go brain and body!

I also tend to have Perfectionistic tendencies - which, while it sounds 'like a good thing' or even perhaps that I am 'bragging', it is not really 'a good thing' - it often leads to never finishing many personal projects or never reaching many goals that I set for myself - as somewhere along the way, I feel that "if it isn't Done Really Really Well, then there is no point (on going further, or submitting it, etc)" - I cannot count the number of times I didn't hand in Homework on time, or at all, in the past because of this - thanks again, brain!

So, as part of my own Personal Psychotherapy perhaps - and as part of a personal yearning to share some great gaming material/scenes/beauty with others, I am going to try to 'focus' and 'buckle down' and other phrases that only make half-sense to me, to Finally Finish some of these - and I will not only share them here (and on YouTube/etc), I will attempt to journal some of that ...journey, here as well.

I am not sure how long it will take, as I know every video, every graphic, will feel [because it has in the past] "never quite finished"; but I gain some strength in beginning this endeavour from a quote I recently came across, by a fellow perfectionist, the great Leonardo Da Vinci, who stated: "To an Artist, a Work is never Finished, it is only Abandoned..".

[/End Personal Drama Rant]

The Long Exposure Shot

While I will still be working on those other Projects that I began years ago (Time Lapse videos and "Envirogamescapes"), I want to focus here [in these articles, for now] on the journey for what I am calling a 'Simulated Long Exposure Shot' - that is, a game capture (screenshots/video) that looks as though it was taken In Real Life as a Long Exposure photographic image.

Even if you are not a Photographer, I'm sure you have come across such photos before - created In Real Life simply by setting any camera to a longer/slower shutter speed, exposing the film (or the detectors/sensors in digital cameras) to the material/medium/scene for a much longer time, allowing the incoming Light to develop/collect the image over time, creating the effect of the moving parts/areas of the photo being Blurred, but the static or lesser-moving parts/areas of the photo to remain more clear/crisp (hence the phrase I am using, 'Long Exposure'). Here is a Stock Photo example of this effect:

In beginning this journey, I played with some effects that were 'built-in' to a few graphic editing programs I like to use [this is just a short list of the 'main' ones that I use]:

  • The GIMP
    The Graphic Image Manipulation Program (now called simply GIMP), a powerful Open Source image editor with an interface loosely based on Photoshop
  • Corel's Paint Shop Pro
    Formerly JASC's Paint Shop, a full-featured graphic editing program
  • Inkscape
    A great Open Source image editing program, geared mainly towards editing Vector-based material

Not really finding what I was attempting to accomplish via the Automated Tools of these programs - that is, the 'trails' of lights in traffic being the first effect I was going for - I quickly shifted to looking up some Videos on the subject and querying some Experts in the field [of Photography]. I quickly found two sources of information, among many; a video (that seemed to produce the effect I was looking for, but with clouds) and a helpful forum (with experienced Photographers and Editors). Here is one of the many Videos I found on the subject, the first one I came across showing an example of the effect I am trying to achieve [although he performs it with 'clouds' versus my 'traffic lights' goal]:

Along with many other videos and examples of potential ways to approach this - although they all dealt with Real Life photography, as opposed to my Video Game Capture approach - I also found in my searching, a very helpful group of people in the Corel User Support Forums, where I received many ideas about how to 'blend' or 'blur' the images in a way that could potentially emulate the effect [of 'lines of light, coming from the traffic'] - and again, although they were experienced and giving possible approaches to the emulation of the effect from the realm of Real Life photography sources, the concepts could [I felt] carry over into my goal, simulating the effect using purely Digital Material (ie. game captures). To read that Discussion Thread, it is located at the Corel Forums, here.

To start off, I tested out some of the ideas that these knowledgeable helpers were positing, using PaintShop Pro. Each contributor had their own 'off the top of their head' approach, this effect or that one, layering it this way, using these filters - I thought it was great to hear it all! I did a few quick compilations of the tests - and here's what came of them:

Various effects and filters quickly tested, most from PaintShop Pro
(This example compilation will be repeated in the following four paragraphs)
Click to see Full Size
There was quite a difference in some of the effects and approaches, as shown above. In the first one, a user suggested to try the built-in Photo Blend, an automated utility that would essentially take a number of photos and 'blend' them together, amassing all the differences between them, into one image. You can also tweak what 'you want to keep' and what 'you want to get rid of', as well, in the process. As seen, the Photo Blend utility worked well with combining the differences between the images - but it did not add a 'streak of light' effect at all. Still, a useful utility that I will have to remember to return to, someday.

As seen above, in the second section, a 'layering' approach by another helpful user actually produced a result very similar to the Photo Blend utility, as 'ghost images' of cars from one image blended into another image where there were no cars in those places.  While I don't fully understand how the 'Lighten' layering setting works (technically/mathematically), it appears to simply keep the lighter-coloured areas of the images, as it blends them together; the lighter a pixel is, the more it is 'kept', it seems.

In the third section above, the result can be seen of a suggestion from another knowledgeable user, which was to add a Motion Blur to the images (Motion Blur is essentially a 'blur that has a direction'), blending the layers together in the end with the Screen setting. The little of what I know about the Screen layer blending effect, is that it accentuates the lighter areas between the images, where middle-of-the-road tones get some blending as well, while darker areas are not carried through very much at all (ignored). The result is an overall brightened image, where the lightest areas are maintained well. While this layering approach wonderfully gave the 'streaks of light' effect I was looking for, it also 'blurred' the entire image - whereas the end goal I am searching to emulate has the more 'static areas' of the image (ie. non-moving) maintained crisp and clear - seen more in the first two sections of the Example Compilation above.

The fourth and last section of the Example Compilation is actually the result of a quick test in VideoStudio Pro, a video editing application also from Corel. In it, I tried the NewBlue Motion Blur effect, with the 'angle of blurring' set to match the direction of the roadway. The result seems promising - the light sources are 'stretched' and the buildings are left crisp and would perhaps would more detailed if I played with the Blending settings more (I also had to Blend each image as Overlays in the Overlay Tracks of the Timeline (as this is a video editing application)). For a quick test though, I think it showed potential for emulating this effect.

[Note From The Editor/Author: I am not affiliated in any way, nor do I receive anything, from Corel (or any other of these companies in this post) for mentioning their products, in any form - I am merely an enthusiastic user of these products and I use other, similar editors just as much (such as CyberLink's PowerDirector, Sony's Vegas Movie Studio (now belonging to MAGIX), Open Source programs, such as GIMP and Inkscape, and many more). I switch often between them, using each for their offerings and capabilities and switching back again when one offers features that another does not. I state this so that you, dear reader, know that I am not influenced by these companies to write or say what I express in these posts]

The next thing I did [on my own now] was play around a bit with PaintShop Pro's Push and Smudge Tools, dragging a point from the car lights outward in a line:

Testing out the Push and Smudge Tools, to emulate a Long Exposure effect (the goal of this Personal Project)

As seen above, it gave me a nice 'light line', similar to what I am aiming for - but it was hard to make a straight line (holding SHIFT, normally used to make straight lines, did not seem to work with these Tools) - and I'm not quite sure yet if I want to do this potentially many, many times when blending together multiple traffic shots to compile a finished Simulated Long Exposure Image - but I do think these Tools showed potential, especially after using a concept suggested from a Corel Forum User (known as "Flagpole") to combine the edited layers with a 'Lighten' filter [I assume, to keep the darker areas dark and 'carry over' the lighter pixels from one layer to the next]. While this overall did create the 'streaks of light' I desired, it does not seem viable (at this point) as the main approach I would take for simulating the effect.

[For now, I'm getting tired and must stop here...]

Coming in Part II

Simulating the desired "Long Exposure" effect completely within a Video Editing Program - more automated perhaps - but will it work better than a true Image Editing Application..?

The Answer to that question - and more steps taken towards progress in this Personal Project - next time! When? I have no idea! "Soon™"....

See You Then!

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