Light Painting Animation Tips

Location: Cerro Noroeste - Kern County, CA

iceage_sabre_tooth_animation_light_painting_drawing_LED_Night-Writer_dariustwin_long_exposure_photography_tutorial_education_low-light_photography.jpg

Let's talk about light painting animations, I can give you some insight here as I have done a few short films featuring detailed light-art creations moving over the past few years. Here they are below if you have not seen them yet:

'Light Goes On' - 2013

& 'Lightspeed' - 2015

Let's get into the basics first - this is no easy task and if you think animating on paper is tough, this is a bit more physically demanding than that, it's hiking, balancing, squatting, wild hand gestures, intense focus, and most importantly, a grand vision!

My first recommendation is trying it on paper, if it works there, it will work with light! Here is an example of the kind of sketches I like to do before light-drawing the animation: 

sketch_animation_sabretooth_frames_drawings.jpg

Sometimes, I will reference videos on youtube (pressing the spacebar like a spaz to play/pause the frame). Other times I will reference images and videos I capture myself, it all depends on your vision. 

After you can ace the flipbook test, it's time to move toward the light-art animating. For starters you need a dark location - somewhere that has a unique view, or perhaps build it yourself? Up to you! 

You'll need a DSLR, remote, tripod and light - I use Night-Writer because I made it for drawing with. First part is setting the scene - I like to scout locations in the day so I know exactly what I'm getting into at night. Often I will take phone pics to get a general idea of what angles I'd like to use later that night. 

Once on location you'll get to the spot, set up your camera on a tripod, take the lens cap off and start to compose a scene using a high-powered light. Manually set your focus on the area you would like to animate around and set your camera to 'Bulb'. You may need to adjust your camera settings so that you can use the remote. After you think all the settings are correct, it's time to test it out - do something basic to start with and then adjust camera settings to get the right look you're going for. 

Common settings for different lighting conditions:

City Lights: F.16-22 | ISO 50-200 | 100-150 sec

Full Moon: F.7.1-9 | ISO 200-400 | 150-250 sec

New Moon: F.16 | ISO 1600 | 50-100sec

Using your remote - trigger the beginning of the shot, then hop in front of the lens and draw each frame (I like to use a rock or something to mark where my character needs to be for each frame), slowly move your character and motions with each consecutive long-exposure (just like with a flip-book). Trigger your remote for the beginning and the end of each frame in the animation, I like to animate at 24 frames per second because I think it looks best. 24 frames is equal to one second of footage!

Once I have all of my frames, I will edit them using lightroom or photoshop so that they all look like similar exposures. After this, I open all the edited images in Adobe Bridge so that I can see the first frame to last frame files in one place visually.

I open the first frame in photoshop and then stack the next frame on top of the first into separate consecutive layers. Once I've compiled all of my 24 layers on top of each other, I open the 'Timeline' tab from the 'Window' top selection. There's a button that says 'Create Frame Animation' - click it. 

You should see one frame in the timeline, but you will need to select the upper right drop-down menu, there is a selection called 'Make Frames from Layers'. Use that to have all of your layers import to the timeline. 

Now it's time to select the frame rate, adjust the delay as needed to make for the smoothest animation. I like to use a .06 sec delay on each frame.

player_deliverance_banjo_music_animation_light_painting_skeleton_dariustwin_long_exposure_photography.jpg

After you're happy with your animated sequence, you can export it to video or save it as a .gif, you may need to resize the file along the way.

China

Location: Longhushan, China

'Tiger & Dragon' (above) is the result of a large collaboration with a team of international artists at one of many ancient temples in Longhushan - Jiangxi Province, China. 

Before getting into our story, let's introduce the cast: Sergey (Head of LPWA from Moscow, Russia), Lichtfactor (German LP collective), Alfredo (Children of Darklight - Spain), Mass (LP art from France), Sfhir (Multi-media artist from Madrid, Spain), Roy Wang (LP Artist from Beijing, China), Diliz (France), Ivan (Spain), Nacho (Spain), Edu (Spain), Ramon (Spain), and of course my Fiance Astrobandit (USA).

Many sleepless nights in the rain to accomplish this special long exposure photograph (above). A 10 meter tall platform was built just to get this angle.

Our story starts in Shanghai where we all flew in from our home countries of Russia, Germany, USA, France, Spain and China. All of us took a bullet train 3 hours South to Longhushan only to be greeted with a large Typhoon for the next four days.

We were hoping to take some photos at night but sometimes the environment does not cooperate!

typhoon

Here is our light-painting group scouting the location with umbrellas and rain boots on. We're all here for a massive LPWA collaboration (Light Painting World Alliance) to be done in a few nights, if the weather allows it!

Of course I took my trusty Night-Writer along for the journey, I rarely leave home without it these days. It got wet quite a bit during my time in China, but functioned well in most trying of circumstances.

It wasn't like the rain in the West that I was used to, the humidity was high all the time, as was the temperature - I wore tank tops and shorts most of the time in China.

Here is Sergey (below), the main man behind LPWA (Light Painting World Alliance) - standing in about a half inch of water inside the ancient temple walls.

The purpose of our trip was a 2 part operation, the first was a large light painting photo exhibition and presentation in the city of Longhushan (see gallery below), and the second was to create an animation and large scale photo collaboration that would represent the location.

Longhushan literally translates to 'Dragon (&) Tiger Mountain', it's the birthplace of Taoism in China and you can feel this location has a rich history by walking around in it.

Below you can see the animation our international team made over the course of two nights:

For me, it was the similarities and differences in both geology and culture that made this place interesting, the ancient temples and pathways gave a feel of the past that was also connected to the present.

Yin and Yang was the most powerful and prolific symbol we encountered during our trip, the group would see it everywhere as a constant reminder of balance, mostly between chaos and order for us.

Somehow everything came together at the last possible moment every step of the way during our journey, it was intense and inspiring.

I like this image of Astrobandit that I shot in the ancient city inside the middle of the national park, it candidly captures what it was like to be there at that moment.

I think most of the natives were shocked to see a blonde-haired person, it was as if they had seen a unicorn.

Now let's zoom in to those Fu Dogs outside that temple (above). These were made of stone and inside the mouths of these statues were orbs of stone that you could not remove. Imagine the craftsmanship! 

Here my friend (and killer artist) Mass tries to remove one of the stones, not possible.

Here are some of my favorite phone images (shot by myself and others from the trip) in a massive gallery below. 

It was a shared experience I won't forget and I made some great friends along the way. It's hard to explain what this kind of traveling means to me - it speaks to an understanding of life itself.

During most of the trip the underlying theme was simple - NO SLEEP. Here we are after dinner, most of us had not slept in 48 hours, the bags under our eyes doubled and tripled:

Even though I barely managed to sleep, there were some great images I was able to capture in China, here are my favorites below:

Title: Temple of Light / Location: Longhushan, China / View large + print options

Title: Temple of T Rex / Location: Longhushan, China / View large + print options

Title: Chinese Nessie / Location: Longhushan, China / View large + print options

Title: Shanghai / Location: Shanghai, China / View large + print options

Along with the images, I got some animations along one of the hikes in the national park of Longhushan.

'Coffin Rider' (below) tells a story about the historical and precarious cultural practice of wrapping the dead in bamboo coffins and placing them inside the small naturally occurring caves within the mountain.

For my story I wanted to show one of the mountain inhabitants breaking out for a midnight joyride on a piece of the coffin and riding it like a skateboard down the handrail and along the hiking path. I thought this would be a good demonstration of balance, it made sense to me with all the Yin & Yang symbols we had seen around this location:

Some say Shiny Bones is still sliding that rail to this day.. Stay bright light-friends!

35mm Light-paintings

Location: Southwestern US

Title: Reflecting on a Sad Memory // Location: Joshua Tree, CA

Print Options

I've recently developed a roll of 35mm which I brought with me on a trip through the Southwestern US and some areas of the California Coast. 

I often keep a camera loaded with a roll of Portra 400 ISO in my bag and take it out on just the right occasions. It costs a few dollars per image just to get this thing developed and scanned, so I'm a bit conservative when it comes to shooting.

Usually, I take the 36 images per roll over a few months and by the time I actually fill it with long exposures, I've forgotten most of what I had captured to begin with. I like the surprise of it all, and you truly have no idea what you've captured for months. It's a very un-attached way of capturing images, and as I've mentioned before, the negatives for film do not lie in the way that digital photographs can (ie: photoshopping).

For this roll, it worked out very well. I'll tally this up to beginner's luck due to my first time shooting with the late 70's era Canon A-1 and it's 50mm lens, which produced some interesting reflections with the LED light entering and bouncing out of the camera. Overall, I really like the aesthetic and it brings a more organic feel to the media. The colors seem to seep into other tones and it gives the content another layer of character.

Title: Amethyst Dinosaur // Location: Dead Horse Point, UT

Print Options

For the shot above I mixed it up a bit and used a small Amethyst crystal that we bought at a rock shop in Moab, Utah in place of a color-tip for my Night-Writer. It had some strange and unintended color-effects on the landscape, taking blue hour straight into purple hour! The view at Dead Horse Point close to the entrance to Canyonlands National Park was an incredible backdrop to see in person, inspiring for sure!

Title: Endless Grind // Location: Monument Valley, UT

Print Options

I saw that handrail leading into the valley and couldn't get this image of a skateboarding skeleton grinding it out of my head.

The last rays of light were hitting the rail in an interesting way, highlighting the metal edge all the way into the distance through twists, turns, and kinks. Toward the end of the rail it looks like the material turns into a car's light and continues toward infinity. I felt like it was a good metaphor for riding out life's twists, turns, and kinks. 

Title: Best Buds // Location: Joshua Tree, CA

Print Options

Title: Goblin Slayer // Location: Goblin Valley, UT

Print Options

Title: False Kiva Hot Tub // Location: Canyonlands, UT

Print Options

Title: Rainbow Tree // Location: Angeles Crest, CA

Print Options

Title: Raven Rooster Mockingbird // Location: Santa Barbara, CA

Print Options

Title: Sharing a View // Location: Bryce Canyon, UT

Print Options

Title: Tree of Light (35mm) // Location: Santa Barbara, CA

Print Options

Title: Goombasaurus // Location: Valley of Fire, NV

Print Options

Thanks for viewing! If you'd like to check out more film light-paintings, you can see my entire film collection right here.