Author Archive

Mini Cooper D – Production Time Lapse Video

Over at our izmoEurope studio in Belgium the team had some fun with this Mini Cooper D production. It must be those long winters in Belgium that had Andreas and Stephan driving the Mini on the cyclorama walls and all. Have a look at this behind the scenes time lapse video too. The video is captured over about eight hours of production time, and playing back just for you in one minute.

2010 Mini Cooper D – Behind the scenes time lapse from izmostock on Vimeo.

How to build a cyclorama

Imagine being inside an empty egg. There you are, surrounded by white, with no horizon in sight. You’re depth perception is gone, but it’s not stressing you out, because you are calm, zen like, suspended in the illusion of endless space of silky white and smooth.

This is what a car sees inside a cyclorama, also known as a cove. And this is why we build cyclo’s to photograph cars. At izmostudio we have purpose built cycloramas, for photographing very high volumes of automotive media, and custom photography.

Many other parts of the media industry use cycloramas for all kinds of media production like fashion, large product sets (think furniture), movies, green screen, and television sets. Common to all are the smooth walls sans horizon, and the creative capacity to play with light, and shadow, on curvy cyclorama walls.

As common as cycloramas are, there are many times I see a blank look of confusion, when discussing cycloramas with different people. Maybe I’ve mistaken the calm, suspended, zen look, for a blank stare of confusion. In case it is confusion, I thought it would be cool to write a quick review of the three basic forms of constructing a cyclorama.

Building a cyclorama is basically building walls, with smooth curves instead of right angles. The difficult part is the corners, where two or more curves meet. The three different structural materials I’ve used successfully are wood, steel, and fiberglass. Each one has advantages, which I will review. All three different approaches, require some form of drywall and plaster. For our European friends, this material is known as Gypsum plaster.

finished cyclorama stage

Finished cyclorama stage

Building a cyclorama is like any construction project. The space you have available and the budget for time, materials and labor drive the process. Make sure that these elements will meet your production goals.

Producing video or photography of large shinny objects requires much more cyclorama than beautiful models with wind blowing through their hair, or a small green screen set for composite and EFX work.

Now that you know the size of the cyclorama that you need to cover the subject, and provide enough background from your field of view (FOV), lets look at the all important radius.

What is a Radius?
A full radius is half the diameter of a circle. A radius on a cyclorama then is ¼ of a circle to cover the horizontal distance from floor to wall, or vertical distance, from wall to wall in the corners.

The goal is to hide the right angle intersections from wall to floor, wall to wall, and possibly wall to ceiling, with a top radius. All radius joints need to be as smooth as possible, with no visible seams, just like the inside of our egg.

How much radius will you need? The size of the subject will determine some of this decision. The radius key is – the larger the curve of the radius – the greater the achievable distance from the subject, and the more cyclorama background you can have in the FOV without seeing the radius. Larger = smoother transition.

If someone says you can light a radius enough to hide it. Forget about it. Unless you plan to shoot on 100% white all the time ignore this distracting idea, and take the time to build it right, so you can focus on lighting the subject, and not fight with the background, or add extra post-production costs.

01 Pre-fabricated Fiberglass
Naturally this seems like the easiest solution – Pre-fabricated fiberglass pieces. You can buy radius pieces, corners, or as a complete cyclorama system. With the radius delivered to your door, it is relatively easy to install, and all you have to build is the structural (studs) and flat wall parts.

Pre-fab pieces of a cyclorama

The real joy of the pre-fab fiberglass solution is the corners, which I spoke about earlier as being – not so fun to build.
Some providers of pre-fab cycloramas offer a modular freestanding system – “cyc on wheels”. Ready made and modular sounds really cool for some applications.

Taking fiberglass one step further is a custom built solution, where a model maker can make the mold for you and then just push out the radius pieces.

The biggest advantage of pre-fab cyclorama systems, and fiberglass radius pieces, is that they can be used, disassembled, and re-installed, when your studio business moves. It’s worth considering the lease terms on your studio space, when making this decision.

In the USA Pro-Cyc is the leader and offers several pre-fab, modular, and permanent cyclorama systems.

In Europe talk to Hassan at Servix, or have a look at Colorama Photo in the UK. And for a superb custom mold and install check with Christian Bogaert in Belgium.

Wood and plaster are excellent materials for building more permanent cyclorama installations because these materials are more flexible to form, and a bit less forgiving to errors. In my case I always worked with a good contractor or carpenter to make the parts. Working with a contractor is a good way to approach this option because there are four professions required, framing, carpentry, drywall, and painting.

Framing the walls of your new cyclorama is basic wall construction. Make the frame to code for your local area!

Wood radius pieces

Wood radius pieces

Make the radius from 4X8 sheets of plywood. Use a table saw to cutout the radius. Place one radius at each frame stud. It is possible to get two 5ft.(1.5m) radius from one 4×8 sheet of plywood.

Make support blocks from 2×4”s. For the bottom radius, I would make one support block for every foot of radius distance. If you plan a top radius you could use fewer support blocks, since it’s unlikely anyone will walk or skateboard up the top.

Place two sheets of ¼” plywood on the bottom radius to cover. You might be able to use just one sheet depending on the amount of traffic and support needed. If making a top radius the plywood is not needed for support, and it adds too much overhang weight.

Wood cyclorama corner

For the corners use wood slats and chicken wire. These two materials will provide a good base to add plaster. Plaster and sand to make the corner shape. Start the corners at this at this step, or in parallel with drywall, since the amount of plaster required will have long dry times.

Now drywall, tape, and mud the entire cyclorama. Place the drywall horizontally on the radius. Although it seems a bit counter intuitive, the horizontal orientation will bend enough. A light misting of water will help bend just enough to get it in place. The reason for the horizontal bend is that it is less tension, and therefore less likely to crack over time with temperature and humidity changes.

The last step is to finish the surface by sanding, a coat of primer, and painting. Generally cycloramas are painted white. I would suggest not using a pure super white paint, for light exposure value reasons. And if your budget and sport the cost go with Silicate Dispersion Paints.


Steel radius support

The benefits of steel are its structural load capacity and lower labor cost compared to wood. Depending on where you are located the material choice can vary widely between steel and wood. Not to mention responsibly harvested sustainable wood. Commonly steel is a higher material cost, with a lower labor cost. Steel studs come pre-cut from the vendor, and are much faster to work with.

The process for the walls is the same with steel. The difference is in the radius. The actual curved supports for the radius are still made from wood. Although for this steel structural method, use ½ inch pressed particleboard, or chipboard in Europe.

Instead of layering plywood for the surface of the radius use steel studs placed horizontally the length of the wall. For a five foot radius, I used four horizontal steel studs evenly placed, from the top down through the arch of the radius. This method is super fast. Just screw the studs into braces on wood radius pieces.

The horizontal steel studs also provide the support for the drywall surface. Place the drywall horizontally at the top first, and down toward the bottom to the radius where it meets the floor.

A excellent Portuguese gypsum professional pointed out the that two thinner pieces of drywall are better than one thick piece, for resistance to cracking due to temperature changes. Who would argue with Portuguese gypsum professionals? Not me, so I took this advice and used two layers of ¼ inch drywall, for the radius surface, instead of one 1/2” inch sheet.

If you are installing a top radius one horizontal steel stud, with layer of drywall, is enough for the top return, without adding too much weight. A five foot overhang needs to be supported securely from the top and sides, so adding any extra weight to the top radius just means added expense for its structural support.

Painting a cylorama stage

The last step is to finish the surface by sanding, and making sure the transition joints are super smooth. I recommend good lighting for this finishing phase. Add a coat of primer, and then paint. I would suggest not using a pure super white paint, for light exposure value reasons.

These are three basic options for cyclorama construction. Albeit a little on the large scale for cars, but the methods will pan out at any size. Do you have some experience to share? Send us comments and pictures of your new cyclorama or one that you are building.

Steven Poe

Motion Control & Time Lapse Equipment Review

Motion Control and Time-Lapse Round Up

At izmostudio, we produce high resolution stop frame animations to create automotive media. Most of the time, we move the subject in front of a locked down camera to make the final animations. Now that time-lapse is such a fast growing market, I thought it would be cool to do a blog on new equipment that is making production easier, more creative, and affordable.

Up until recently, fully motion controlled camera rigs, which give the photographer the ability to control three or more axis of movement, have been very expensive. Even big automotive budgets only afforded rental of fully motion controlled equipment. Whilethe Milo is still the king of  MoCo  for the studio, and probably always will be, there are other viable options now available.

Thanks to all the new DSLR’s shipping with HD video capability and the increased interest in time-lapse photography, there are now several innovative and affordable options for motion control. Depending on the needs of the project, this equipment round up looks at the equipment options available for both quick smooth video pans and long programmable stepped motion for time-lapse sequences.

We will start out with the lower cost options and move towards the higher price tags. While one can certainly achieve the same visual effects with the lower cost, and do it yourself (DIY) options, it’s worth understanding, from my perspective anyway, the less money spent on the equipment, the more complex the setup time. Consider every axis of movement adds some complexity to the setup, so its worth thinking about that and planning all this before light, people, weather, start moving and your exposure is drifting while your batteries are running low. Aggghh!

FIXED POSITION – Intervalometer
The easiest and most obvious way to record a time lapse movie is to lock your camera down on a good heavy tripod. Take a sequence of pictures over a period of time and, wow, you have a movie recording of scene motion. What you need to accomplish this is an intervalometer. This is a cable release that communicates to the camera your instructions for exposure, how long to wait between exposures (interval), and how many exposures total. iPhone time lapse calculator
There is much to think about with this first step, so make it easy, and try this free iPhone application by Dan Thompson.
Depending on the scene brightness range or your creative intent, it is also common to bracket at each step for High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDRI) time-lapse. An intervalometer I like to use is the Promote Control, because it is so simple and quick to setup. Some cameras have time-lapse exposure control built in, and most offer one as an accessory. Of course if you are not moving around much, a laptop with camera control software works great too. Here are intrevelometers at each end of the budget spectrum:

  • Promote Control
  • Digisnap 2000
  • DIY

Once you get a few nice fixed position movies accomplished, it’s time to add a new layer of calculation to your planning and pizazz to your movies. The goal of dolly’s and sliders is to achieve linear axis motion during your captures. Think of a 3D space and the movement like this:

X = left/right, or lateral
Y = up/down, or vertical
z = push/pull, or in and out

Depending on how the dolly is supported and the orientation of your camera, all three of these can be achieved easily. The catch is achieving the slow incremental movement and programming how much movement over a specified period of time. There are many DIY dolly sliders being made today. No doubt many more than I’ve found, so if you know of one you want to share please post a link here.

One more thing to know before the equipment round up. Motors. There are three common types:

  • DC motors
  • Stepper motors
  • Servo motors

The motor choice is a balance of cost, speed, repeatability and what you require.

Under $1000
At the heart of most DIY dolly rigs, is the Arduino controller, and the best resource I know of is the OpenMoCo forum, where you will find a great community of time-lapser’s and innovative dolly builds.

If you are like me, and just want to get to making great images, then here we go. Next step up is the Jay Burlage’s (aka MiLapse) Dynamic Perception Timelapse Dolly and the MX2 Dolly Engine, which is based on the OpenMoCo mentioned above. You can definitely burst out the creativity and experiment with this lower cost entry at around $900 dollars, which also includes the intervalometer to control the camera.

Dynamic Perception Stage Zero Dolly

Dynamic Perception MX2 Dolly

One nice aspect of this dolly is that the rail is standard #1030 aluminum, so you can make any size you want. What you should know about this dolly is that it’s made with DC motors, so demanding uses like composite, video, and special effects are limited.

For the mid-range budget, there is Ditogear’s Omnislider. This is super clean slider with a joystick for controlling movement, dampening to ramp up to speed, and record/playback of motion. To me, a system that records the motion is a key component, because it is one less calculation you have to make. For example, if you’re doing a night to day pan and you miss calculate the lateral distance too short, your move could stop before the sun rises, or even worse during.

Ditogear OmniSlider Dolly

DitoGear Motion controled dolly slider

Then you have to start over some other day. It’s a big time investment. So having the a system that records a distance from point A to point B, and then plays back over a specified time, is super nice to have. DitoGear Omnislider

As a bonus for outdoor users, their controller has some nice weather proofing features. Ditogear is also addressing common problems like lens condensation with their new DryEye Lite system, which prevents dew and condensation buildup on the lens in humid, long term, and changing temperatures. Nice!

The Kessler CineSlider with the Oracle Controller and elektra drive is an amazing price point for the build quality and amount of control. The CineSlider comes in a couple different lengths, and for the $3000 I priced it, with the five foot slider. Might as well, right? Cars are big and reflective so we need lots of movement.

There are also lower cost dolly’s like the Pocket Dolly, which not only costs less, and it works with the same motors and Oracle Controller. The thing to note about Kessler systems is the motors come in different speeds and average about $200 each. So whether you are doing a time lapse or video, you will have to plan this into the budget. On the plus side though, all the sliders have a hand crank and tension control for nice smooth manual slides.

Kessler CineSlider and Oracle Controler

Kessler CineSlider & Oracle Controler

The real pièce de résistance here is the Oracle Controller. It’s super easy to use, very precise, and has what Kessler calls, SmartLapse, for recording moves in real time and time-lapse playback. While it’s not based on open source, it does sport CAT5 / CAT6 cable with RJ45 connectors and standard 12v battery power. So, if your outdoors or a traveler, this is really nice common connectivity.

Have a look at this equipment with Tom Guilmette. You can see some excellent tutorials and the Kessler setup here:

Being kind of a gadget geek, I drool when I see the Camblock Motion Control. This rig is also a great topic transition into the next topic of pan/tilt heads,

camblock motion control system

camBLOCK multi-axis motion control

because with the Camblock motion control system, you get full multi axis motion control from a PocketPC and every thing fits in one case. Yes, it’s the most portable, configurable (think tinker-toys), and functional. CamBlock and the Camblock Vimeo group.

The next layer of motion to add is what is known as panning and tilting the head. This gives you motion control output of two more axes of movement, and of course, more planning. Both the Dynamic Perception and Ditogear dolly/slider time-lapser’s have been creative, and use astronomy star tracking heads.

The MX2 controller will work with these low cost motorized telescope heads, where the MX2 takes over for the hand controller by connecting with a special cable.

photo of acuter merlin mount

Acuter Merlin Star Tracking Mount

* Acuter Merlin
* Merlin SynScan AZ GoTo
* Orion Teletrack
* Skywatcher Multifunction
* Celestron Skywatcher

The DitoGear OmniSlider seems to work well with the Mead DS2000 series#494 and #497 heads. I haven’t seen this in action and I’ve been told Mead locked out any ability to place custom firmware on their controller in 2010. If you plan on going this route, check in with Patryk Kizny at DitoGear, as he has done some really nice movies with the Mead head, like on the Chaple video.


kessler crane revolution pan/tilt head

Kessler Revolution Pan/Tilt Motion Control Head

Kessler’s Revolution Pan and tilt system is once again really nice build quality and quite affordable considering. Controlled by the same joystick mentioned previously, Oracle Controller, this would be a good buy if you are considering a rig that will do both video and time-lapse. At the time of this post the controller will only record either a linear dolly move or the pan/tilt. There is a Smartlapse controller upgrade coming in a few weeks that will record two axes of simultaneous movement. So, the only way to have a three axis Kessler rig is to buy two Oracle Controllers. Added to the cost o the Cineslider, this would make the total cost so close to that of the CamBlock, that its a better option for a portable three axis motion control rig.

Compared to just a few years ago, motion control is expanding really fast. As you can see from this post, there are many affordable points to jump in for exploring your creative motion genius. Stay tuned to izmostudio as we develop new creative visuals for automotive media. And for some amazing visual inspiration, and MoCo networking, jump over to Tom Lowe’s

Steven Poe

Renault New Master Trucks | Nouveau Master

Renault France recently posted photography produced by izmoStudio last year. April 2010 seems like a long time ago now, but I remember having a ton a fun on this photo shoot with photographers Andreas Lunde, David Marlé, and assistent Stephan Sturges.

Naturally being a car photographer the super fast eye candy cars are the ones that get us going, but these trucks were a refreshing change. Everything is bigger! And higher, if you look closely you’ll notice that many of these are taken from high camera angles of 10-20 feet up. To really show the capacity and illustrate functionality of these magnificent trucks, with stop frame animations of moving parts, we found that the high POV was the best place shoot from. As an added bonus, this high POV provided some laughs watching Andreas climb down from the cherry picker after getting the camera set.

Thank you Benoit Chimenes, for your supreme art direction and working with izmoEurope on this project.

Steven Poe

Hadise Music Video Studio Rental

Occasionally at izmoStudio we rent one of our cyclorama stages. Most of the time its a treat for us because, well, its a production thats not of cars. Of course we love cars and studio work, but its a real treat to see and work with different talent and productions.

Recently we rented one of our cyclorama stages to 11H09 for a Hadise music video called Kahraman by director Senol Korkmaz. See the video below. Hadise is a Belgian singer with Turkish roots who was a semi-finalist at The Eurovision Song Festival 2009.

Our 225 square meter cyclorama, with a six meter top return, was perfect for this music video production. The lighting director utilized the cyclo for an eloquent play of light (1:28) and motion on the six meter high walls. The izmoStudio team was quick to notice and drool just thinking about owning several Arri 10K lights like the ones used on this music video set.

The production crew was vast and man did they move fast. They shot this video in just a couple days. A bonus they say is our six meter diameter motion controlled turn table. Check out the Rolls Royce Phantom in the video (2:07, 2:19) Both the motion of the singer Hadise and the Phantom were done with the turntable.

Thank you Senol and everyone at 11h09 for the rental business, and a fun break from our automotive media.

Steven Poe

Imagine Whirled Prints

Here at izmostock I’m fortunate to deal with many different kinds of vendors in different parts of our wonderful whirling blue ball in space. Often there are vendors who go far above and beyond the customary level of service and quality that it creates a total jaw dropping pattern interrupt. Enough to make my little busy busy pedal to the metal production whirled of car photography stop and take notice.

This time around its a printer. Not just any printer mind you. Canterbury Media Services in Berkeley, California is in the vortex of stellar prints. FTP uploads, spot on profiles, amazing print quality, and so extremely flexible with scheduling.

Many print shops use the Epson 9900 with UltraChrome HDR ink sets. How many can make a print sing with the first pass?

Having been a custom printing production manager in the past and now a creative with a perfectionism handicap I’m admittedly not the ideal customer. This didn’t phase Art Kotoulas and the team at Canterbury at all. I’ve been printing our izmostudio advertising portfolio with Art at Canterbury for the past few months.

The process can be gruesome. As many of you know, lighting a car in the studio for that visceral feel of every sheet metal shape and form to seemingly touch the textures, is no easy task. Then in post everything looks awesome on the gazillion dollar meticulously profiled monitor. It’s beautiful! All the pixels are harmoniously spinning congruently in blissful expressionism. Ahhh, but then comes the odd conformity of cramming all those pixels into a smaller color space, different profile, and reproducing them on a flat two dimensional piece of paper.

I have done a ton of color printing myself and I’ll admit it really does take a master craftsman that can balance the art and technology of digital printing like Art and the guys at Canterbury. Thank you! And while I’m giving out the major props in this post…I might not have never found Canterbury if it were’t for the referral from Mark Spandorf at the Bay Area’s major player in the digital printing and processing industry, Image Tech. Thank’s Mark.

Steven Poe

izmoStudio ignites an international Spark for Chevrolet!

And as promised, the latest happenings at our izmoEurope Studio in Brussels Belgium!

GM Europe recently engaged our izmoStudio Team to launch their spiffy little ‘Spark’, the latest in their trendy mini or subcompact car segment. Only a little off-beat, the Chevrolet Spark boasts close to 47 miles per gallon and is just 1 point away from receiving a 5 star safety rating. The dapperly junior seemed to be the perfect fit for the hip city dweller and we thought it would be fun to take this car of little consequence to a sizable scale.

On a referral from a Belgium Photographer David Noels, our talented izmoStudio team went to work. {Thanks David!}

So just what is involved and goes into photographing a vehicle of such minuscule proportions?

Creative efforts of artists, designers, directors and photographers from across 5 Countries ignited the Spark project and together production began.

First, the car was shipped from Geneva, Switzerland to our Studio in Brussels, where an automotive decal specialist applied the Wrap Sticker, designed by Portuguese Artist, José Rocha, who is the winner of the Young Creative Chevrolet (YCC) .

Then our studio team – Photographer Andreas Lunde from Seattle, WA and Creative Director Steven Poe of San Francisco, Studio Photography Specialist Stephan Sturges of Brussels, Belgium, and Producer David Marlé from France – spent a full day producing the photography.

The 2011 Chevrolet Spark was then shipped to the UK for the World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) races at Brands Hatch, U.K., while our professional in house Digital Artists in Bangalore, India retouched the digital elements to fully capture the essence of the Spark and to authenticate the final press photos.

Now that is flat world economies of scale.

The entire project took just over a week and with the cooperation of everyone involved, the mega mini project was a success. As the Italian Poet Dante Alighieri said, “A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark”.

We would love to hear from you and invite your questions! Please feel free to call us or comment and stay tuned for what’s happening at izmoStudios!

Juli Andra Fuentes | Strategic Accounts for izmocars


Maserati Time-Lapse at Circuit Zolder Belgium

There’s nothing that could stop a couple studio photographers from going outside, with media passes and a invitation to join the Maserati racing activities. A few months ago the izmostudio Brussels team went out to the Zolder track to make a little timelapse movie and some still images.

izmoStudio photographers Andreas Lunde and Stephan Sturges rigged up a Nikon D3 and a couple magic arms to hold the camera in place, as the Maserati zipped around the track.

During the timelape track runs the photographers were also making some really nice panoramas at the pits and some stills of the day. Thanks for the fun day at the track Maserati Europe!

Maserati race car stock photo

Maserati race car at Zolder in Belgium

Welcome, to our new and and improved blog

The website is completely re-done. We did this to make searching and finding car stock photos much easier and to help expand our stock photography library online. Sometimes there are some really interesting things happening at the studios, so we are adding a new blog too.

Most of the time we are all really busy sourcing the latest cars, which means figuring out how to get the newest cars to the studios. Then we photograph the cars inside and out. After the studio photography, our teams of digital artists retouch reflections, build HDR composites, and assemble animations. Well, this is our stock library production workflow, and its efficient enough to publish up to 700 new cars and trucks per year. As we come upon new features, or interesting happenings at the studios we’ll post them here.

We also photograph custom photography and interactive projects for agencies and OEM’s. These projects range from the exciting pre-launch cars, to the normal marketing and advertising materials, and the bizarre. We’ll blog about all these too.

Thank you for reading the new blog.

Steven Poe