Monday 22 February 2010

Cutting Room View - new and totally redesigned

We give you a pretty good deal with Moviestorm. You can download the core software for free, and we work hard to ship regular updates and improvements. Those updates are also free. Usually, we'll give you a handful of bugfixes, a handful of new content, and a new feature or two. Some updates are bigger than others, of course, but every new release brings something shiny.

We're hard at work on the next big update right now, and it's going to be great. You see, we've made a few changes to Moviestorm's venerable Cutting Room View ... and when I say "we've made a few changes", what I mean is that we've spent months completely redesigning and improving the Cutting Room View, almost from the ground up. Here's how it looks in the current released version of Moviestorm (version

And here's the same movie as it appears in our latest development snapshot.

There's a lot that's changed, so let's go through it one thing at a time.

The timeline
We've given the timeline more room on the screen, so it's easier to see what's going on. The way the tracks are used has changed as well, giving more prominence to the picture track. You'll notice that each item on the timeline has useful additional information. Movie footage clips now show their scene name as well as the camera name (so you'll never have to wonder "which Main Camera is this?" again). We've also added timecodes to the start and end of each clip. It's hard to describe how useful that is until you try it out, but it makes you wonder how you managed without it. The behaviour of objects on the timeline should be more logical, too, allowing you to drag objects to the timeline and have them snap into position, and allowing you to change the order of objects on the timeline without becoming hopelessly confused.

Objects on the timeline have a more logical colour scheme now. Shots from the same camera will share a common pastel colour. If you've added additional cameras, they'll each automatically get their own colour.

The preview window
Yes, it's smaller. That might seem like a step backwards, until you notice the extra button next to the playback controls. That triggers fullscreen mode (an entirely new View which allows you to watch your movie in all its glory, without any buttons and bits getting in the way).

The clip bin
Adding audio or images is easy with the new Cutting Room View. Just drag and drop from the new "clip bin" area to the timeline. The same drag-and-drop functionality is used to add your camera cuts to the timeline. The tab which contains your camera cuts was always pretty awkward. Once your movie gained more than about a half dozen shots, the list became pretty cluttered. Plus, it had those weird invisible '+' buttons. The Movie Footage tab in the clip bin contains all your camera cuts, from every camera in every scene, presented as a much more logical list of thumbnails. Each cut is timestamped so you can see exactly where it came from, and they're grouped according to scene and camera. There's no need to find the hidden button to add a clip to the timeline any more - just drag and drop.

Extra shiny bits
As well as all these improvements, we've also added some brand new features. The first is the Transitions tab, which allows you to choose from a list of different transition types for your shots. If you're like me, you'll use a straight cut most of the time. That's fine: just drag your clips to the timeline and Moviestorm will use a straight cut by default. Occasionally, though, you'll want to use a different transition - maybe a cross-fade, or a fade-through-black. For the first time, you can now do that within the Cutting Room View. Just drag the new transition onto the timeline. It'll snap into position between your two clips and will apply the appropriate transition in real-time.

Incidentally, that means that Moviestorm is playing back two pieces of action at the same time, and overlaying one onto the other (and that's real-time 3D events, not pre-rendered video clips). That's some seriously clever coding from Julian, Conor and the rest of the Engineering team.

Finally, and for the really fun eye candy, we're ready to release the filters which we've teased you with for so long. Filters are dragged onto clips, and can apply some subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes. Your external video editor might already have some filters, of course, and there's nothing to stop you using them in the same way you always have. The great thing about applying the filters within Moviestorm, though, is that we can use the 3D data from the movie to do things that a 2D filter simply couldn't achieve. Moviestorm's Fog filter, for example, will apply a stronger fog distortion the further away an object is from the camera.

So. That's the new Cutting Room View. We're still working on the final bits of tweaks and polish, but we're pretty confident that it'll be ready for the next major Moviestorm Release - version 1.3.

Big thanks - as always - to the members of the Moviestorm Pioneers Club, who have been helping us out with their opinions, suggestions and comments throughout the redesign process.

Friday 19 February 2010

Camstudio - free open source screen capture software

Over the last few weeks, I've made about 20 short video tutorials. To get the screen captures for these, I've been using a neat little tool: CamStudio. Despite being ultimately an Adobe product, it's free, it's open source, and it does the job on both Vista 64 and Windows 7.

It's capable of recording the audio from the app and from a microphone, so it's great for narrating as you demonstrate something, which is perfect for what I'm doing. Admittedly, I then re-dub it with a better script and a nicer voice, but it serves as a guide. Apart from that it's just really basic. Start recording, do whatever I'm doing, stop recording, render, and do everything else in post.

There are one or two down sides, as you'd expect from a free product. It's not great at handling huge amounts of data. Capturing my 1920x1080 resolution monitor it tends to run out of memory when trying to render anything more than about 4 minutes long, so I work in short bursts, and then save & render. That's just fine for my purposes though, because it gives me a chance to watch that segment and re-do any bits that went wrong without having to step back too far. The other irritant is that (ironically) Premiere doesn't like importing the avi files CamStudio puts out. However, I just run everything through Windows Movie maker, trim the start and end there, and output them at the target size, which takes just a couple of minutes, and means that everything is Premiere-ready.

So, it's not the greatest screencap tool ever, but it's good enough, and a lot cheaper than some of the alternatives.

Download it from

Thursday 18 February 2010

Playing with lights

Movies are, as my buddy Phil South always says, about painting with light. You set up the action, point the cameras, but it's the lighting that determines what that looks like to the audience. So I've been putting together some Moviestorm Made Easy tutorials on lighting. It's a huge subject, and I could go on about it for at least an hour, but I'm trying to cut it down to just a three or four tutorials of a few minutes each.

Anyway, while I was looking at the best way to present this, I was experimenting with a single scene, and setting up the lights in different ways. Here's the set view: two street lights, and three on-set lights, plus the ambient and directional views.

Here's the fancy terminology:
  • The key light is the main light in the scene, which usually comes from in front.
  • The fill light is off to one side and is used to smooth out shadows and create contrast
  • The back light is there to illuminate the background and help the character stand out.
I took a single camera shot from the scene, and set it up with a long lens and out of focus background, then snapped it with a load of different lighting setups. (There's one cheat in there, but I'll 'fess up to it when I get there. All the rest are pure Moviestorm.) Each of these setups took about a minute to create: I just switched lights on or off, changed the colours, and changed the views. Making the decision as to which one to use in a movie? That's the bit that takes hours!

This one uses a plain white ambient light, with a bright pale blue directional light. There's a small amount of pale yellow fill just to add some colour to his face. Nice and simple.

By dropping the ambient light a lot and bringing in a slightly yellowish key light and a blue background light, we have much more control. The colour of the background has changed, and we're starting to get something that's not as flat.

Now I've added in just a touch of extra lighting from the street lights. The straw colour is just enough to take out the shadow on the back of his head. It's not a huge difference, but it can be enough if you want something with less contrast. Personally I don't like it so much, so I wouldn't bother.

This shot dispenses with ambient and directional lights completely. I've gone for a moderate key light, with a lot of the light coming from the fill to give the shot some shape. The background is lit by with a dark blueish tinge so we keep the separation from the foreground character. It's quite low lighting compared to the previous one, and a bit drab and moody, but it works well.

And here's the same thing with the key light turned up and made a bit more blue-grey. It's a bit flatter and brighter, and suggests a different time of day. It's also more of a "video" look as distinct from a "film" look, and feels a bit raw.

Now I've taken the key light down again, and made the fill smaller and closer, which gives more uplighting. This is nice and moody and gives me plenty of contrast, which is great for doing ....

... this. I desaturated this in Photoshop to get a washed out, high contrast look. (I tried it in black and white but it was pretty terrible.) I like this effect, but it can't be done in Moviestorm yet.

And finally this, which is probably my favourite of all the setups. I gave it a really strong blue background to make it a noticeably different colour from the foreground. I used a strong orangey fill, set slightly low with a short range so it didn't affect the background, and a wheat coloured key light with a short range so it comes across quite soft. Add in just a touch of cream lighting from the street lights, combined with a little pink ambient glow, and you get this interestingly balanced shot.

Of course, there's no right way to light a scene. Play around, have fun, and see what you can come up with!

Wednesday 17 February 2010

All this secrecy is driving me crazy

We have a lot of exciting things planned for the future of Moviestorm. Some of them you'll see very soon, some you'll see a long way down the road, and some of them just won't pan out at all. The trouble is, we honestly don't know which is which yet.

We do our best to keep you up-to-date with what we're working on, but the lovely Moviestorm community is insatiable. You just want to know absolutely everything. So, in an attempt to satisfy your curiosity / tease you some more (delete as appropriate), here's a proof-of-concept video from one of our development builds.

This one' s getting a brand new tag of WhenIt'sReadyWhichMightBeNever. Enjoy!

Tuesday 9 February 2010

My life sucks, I want to cry.

Look who we saw hanging around on Chris's computer today.

Like a Goth, only much less dark and much more Harry Potter. (Urban Dictionary)

You know how it goes. When we've finished making them.

Friday 5 February 2010

Moviestorm gets the munchies

Oooh, that Chris Ollis. He loves to whet your appetites, doesn't he?

Earlier this week, he posted these two tasty videos. Check 'em out.

So, go on, spill the beans. What's cooking, Chris?

Your actors will soon be able to sit at a table and eat breakfast, soup, bread rolls, pasta, dinner, desert, coffee and wine. Tables snap together, so you can go from one person eating alone to a romantic candle-lit dinner for two, to a long table with as many people feasting as your computer can handle.

We're also building props to create classy restaurants (tasteful walls and pillars etc) and ready-made 4 and 6 seater tables.

As usual. We'll serve it when it's ready.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Visa Gift Cards

A couple of people in the US have told us that they've tried to use Visa Gift cards and such like on our site, with no success.

Well, after a couple of months investigating, we've come to the conclusion there's absolutely nothing we can do about it.

PayPal tell us: "PayPal does not recommend adding a gift card, prepaid card, virtual card, or one-time use card to your PayPal account. Although some of these cards may be accepted, most do not pass our security checks."

VanillaVisa, who are one of the main issuers of these things, state: "Internet, mail, and phone order purchases may require that we have the name and address of the Prepaid Giftcard owner on file. If you wish to make Internet, mail, or phone order purchases, you will need to go to and enter your name and address prior to performing an Internet, mail, or phone order transaction." They then go on to say "The card may not be used outside of the U.S. or the District of Columbia including Internet and mail or telephone order merchants outside of the U.S. or the District of Columbia." Since we're a British company, that could be causing problems as well, even though our credit card handling is done through the US.

It seems they just don't work for us, plain and simple, and it's down to some online security verification system somewhere that doesn't like anything other than genuine credit/debit cards. You can try, but don't count on it.

Monday 1 February 2010

Happy Land

You get a lot of stuff for free with the basic version of Moviestorm. There's costumes, props, sets, gestures and moods - as the recent Base Pack Contest shows, it's amazing how many different types of movie can be created.

With all these options available, it's worrying how many Moviestormers' first movies involve, sooner or later, somebody being shot. Come on, guys! We know conflict is at the heart of drama, but there's so much more to life! Why not tell a happy story, full of bright colours and friendly characters and rounded corners ... in short: why not take a trip to Happy Land?