I want to develop more back ground for my science fiction story “Felix”. This isn’t a serious proposal for Martian exploration, although I do think it is plausible.
I’ve found “Felix” a real struggle to write. Partly because it is a longer story than what I’ve done before. However, more recently I have started to wonder about how plausible the story is. As a fantasy/science fiction story, I don’t believe that is essential, but if I diverge too far from realism, readers would lose interest.
The proposals I’ve seen for travel to Mars seem to propose some variation of the Apollo Moon project, but on a larger scale. The main difference I see is proposals to send a cargo lander ahead with the supplies the astronauts will need. Robert Zubrin’s Mars Direct mission has the first lander create the fuel for the return trip with resources on Mars. I think this idea makes sense, but I think that approach can be expanded.
A New Proposal
I think that robots could be used to create an industrial base on Mars to support the astronauts while they are on Mars and provide the resources for their return to Earth. I haven’t come across this idea anywhere, but I’m sure that someone must have thought of it before.
I do not think the technology to send humans to Mars exists now or can be developed any time soon. However, I do believe that robotic technology is or soon will be capable of the tasks I foresee for them.
Using a robotic approach, the creation of a Martian base can begin in the next few years, if the project gets the money it needs. I see the project unfold as a series of robotic missions of different types, culminating with a human mission to Mars.
The objective of the Scout Robots is to identify and evaluate locations for the base. I envision that several of these robots, maybe six, would be sent to different potential sites around Mars. They will conduct a survey of the area around the landing sites to see what resources and opportunities are available at each site.
What they would look for are:
- A landing area for subsequent landings, such as a large flat plain,
- A location for the base, such as a cave or tunnels,
- Raw materials needed by the base, such as water and construction materials.
These scout robots would will need a high level of autonomy so they can do their work in a timely manner without detailed instructions from the Earth based controllers. Autonomy would allow them to explore caves which could be used for the base. The surveys could take several years to complete.
Once their missions are completed, and if the scout robots are still operational, they could be repurposed for further exploration.
Once a site for the base is selected, a single pathfinder robot would be sent to the base location. The objective of the pathfinder robot would be to act as a control tower to assist with subsequent landings.
The pathfinder robot would need the appropriate communication equipment, such as a landing beacon. It might not need to be mobile, although this could be valuable if the accuracy of the landing is too uncertain. It would be set up at a location where it can easily communicate with subsequent landers.
The objective of the prospector robots would be to do a more detailed exploration of the vicinity of the base to identify the various resources available. Each resource would be evaluated as to its potential as a source for the base.
They would look at the proximity of the source, the ease of transport, the quality of the materials, ease of extraction and other factors. Each robot would be sent in search of a specific resource, although each would have the capability of searches for other resources if one or more other prospector robots are damaged or destroyed.
One option would be to provide the prospector robots with the ability to mine and extract the raw materials.
The objective of the construction robots would be to build the base and make it operational.
The first stage of construction would be to create an industrial plant, with equipment like 3D printers, that would any equipment needed for creation of the Mars Base. This could include additional robots. This would allow a substantial cost savings over building the robots on Earth and then sending them to Mars. Building robots on Mars would allow new designs to be sent to Mars electronically. It would also allow for the repair and upgrading of the robots already there. Once this capability has progressed far enough, the base will not need to rely on shipments from earth to continue to operate.
The second stage would be to create the extraction and fabrication facilities that will be used to build the base. This would include the structures and other machines that are needed.
The third stage would be to create the facilities for astronauts. These will include living quarters, farms to produce food and oxygen, and research laboratories. The farms would likely be some form of air tight green house. As the farms are established, the food would be sent back to Earth for testing to ensure it is safe to eat. The base would also start to produce the fuel that humans would need for a return trip to Earth.
Once the Mars base has been fully established and operational, a human crew can then be sent from Earth. When they arrive, they will find a liveable base already available. They will need to bring fewer supplies, since the industrial base set up by the robots would provide most of their needs.
The first major challenge for this project would be creation of the technology need for the various robots. Since this would be primarily a software system, the robots could be sent and start their work before they are fully autonomous.
For the most part, the robots would be about the same size as some of the robots that have already been sent. Therefore, the technology to get them to the surface of Mars already exists.
The technology to build the base is only in its early stages. This project could be added impetus to develop these technologies. These technologies will be needed later in the project, which allows more time for them to mature.
Finally, the technology to transport humans to Mars needs to be developed. This may be the greatest challenge.
The Story of “Felix”
Where does Felix, the robot in my story, fit into this? I see it as one of the scout robots. It has been repurposed after the selection of the base and has gone on to explore unknown areas of the planet.
How do I explain why other robots were not sent to search for Felix? I think the best explanation was that Felix has been sent to a site that was not chosen for the base. None of the other robots were close enough to make a search feasible. The human’s transport is the first vehicle on Mars capable of the trip. An alternative is to have one of the other scout robots search, but it breaks down. The humans find it on their search.
Who are the astronauts in my story? I see the Mars base as a research facility with the researchers rotated periodically. This is similar to how the base at the South Pole operates. I had seen the two human characters in my story as researchers who plan to return to Earth rather than permanent colonists. One of them would have to have plans to return to Earth, but the other could see themselves as a permanent colonist. That could affect how he reacts to the revelation.
Does this plan seem reasonable to you?
My goal is to develop a plausible story about Mars exploration, so I need to know if the plan I’ve laid out would seem reasonable to most readers.
While I think this approach is reasonable, I know that there is a lot that I don’t know about the possibilities and opportunities of the technologies needed. If you can suggest changes or other places to check, I would appreciate it.
Well, it looks like my long journey with “My Most Difficult Case” is now over. I hope. I posted it with dailymotion.com’s Open VOD service. In this post I look back at the long struggle to make this film, why I chose Video on Demand, the final touches to the film and promotion.
Release of “My Most Difficult Case”
“My Most Difficult Case” is now posted at:
The cost is $0.59 per view. There is a 30 second free preview.
Description: A judge faces a difficult choice with his latest case. He hardly listens to the lawyers as they try to influence his decision.
A Long Struggle
It has been a long struggle to finish “My Most Difficult Case”. The first draft of the script is dated march 1991, and I based it on a story board I’d done before that. It wasn’t until 2002 that I began to make the film. I had a version done on film in time for the 2004 $100 Film Festival. I was never happy with that version and planned to re-cut it before I tried to distribute it.
I had the original film scanned to digital video before I edited the movie, so I planned to use that. That dragged for a long time and it wasn’t until 2010 that I finally got started. Vildo Sturam did a new edit of the video for me, then I started to make some of my own changes. I got stalled again when the person I hired to do the sound didn’t follow through. Patrick Aull showed me how to do the sound myself and I made some progress after that.
The affair with the sound person left me with a bad feeling about the project, so I found it hard to work on it. It was only a few weeks ago that I decided to put this project behind me.
Why Video on Demand
I had hoped to distribute the film through Ouat media. They had done the distribution of “My Next Film”, which I was quite happy with. When I talked to them in 2009, they said that it might be hard to market because it would be seen as an “old” movie. It doesn’t look any newer 5 years later. That led me to consider other options for distribution, such as Video on Demand.
I get a share of the advertising on my YouTube videos, but the return is quite small. You need to have large numbers of views to get any substantial revenue. The kinds of movies I do are unlikely to generate that kind of volume.
I felt that it would be better to look at Video on Demand for my movies. I looked into Distrify and identified some other VoD services. Several years ago, I posted some of my films on DailyMotion, but hadn’t followed up on it for a long time. A few weeks ago, they added a Video on Demand feature to their site, so I thought I’d try it out.
Since people have to pay, I expect that I would have much fewer views. But I believe I would get more revenue from those fewer views.
We shall see.
There is an old saying that no work of art is ever finished, merely abandoned. While I suspect that there is more I could do on the film, but decided to stop after a few changes I made this week.
I wasn’t happy with the actor’s voices. They all seemed too insubstantial. I played around with several audio adjustments to try to improve them. In the end I found a combination of compression, equalization and reverb gave me a sound I felt better about. I did a slightly different reverb for the judge because his voice is supposed to be his thoughts.
I did a small change to the video in one shot. In the shot of the jail cell at the end I could see the actor’s face clearly before I wanted it recognized. A couple slight adjustments to the brightness and contrast gave me what I wanted. I had thought that higher contrast would give me what I wanted, but it turned out that I needed to use a lower contrast.
I added a few sound effects to the sound track. I felt that it needed more, but I couldn’t see anywhere that I could justify additions.
I will try to do some promotion of the film, although I have trouble imagining how to reach people who will like it. I am open to suggestions if you have them.
Now I can leave this film behind and move on to new projects.
There are two issues I want to address with the sound.
The first is that I find the voices sound weak to me. I think that may have been a result of the noise reduction I did. I tried a few things to process the sound to see if I could give the voices more body.
The other is the lack of environmental sound. There is no real background sound and there are several places where I think sound effects are needed. An example is when the prosecutor picks up some books and there is no sound. I left this until later.
I use Audacity for my audio work. I’m not sure how it compares to other audio programs, but the price (free) is right. It seems to have all the capabilities that I need.
My first test was to try out sound compression. Compression reduces the volume of the peaks while leaving the rest of the sound the same. I found this allows me to turn up the volume of the voices, which makes them sound stronger. I tried several different settings, but I couldn’t tell the difference, so I just used the default settings.
The compression did increase the background noise, which hadn’t been apparent before. The additional noise wasn’t acceptable, so I reran the noise reduction and brought it under control, without a noticeable change in the voice quality.
I’ve always though of reverb as something different from echo, but that didn’t seem to be the case. I tried some different settings, but didn’t learn much from that.
Then I found that the reverb effect had some presets for different types of rooms, such as big room, small room, bright room and dark room. I found that the big room and bright room settings made the voices sound weaker. That was the opposite of what I wanted. The small, dark room setting seemed to give more body to the voices.
To my ear, the combination of the effects I tested does bring me closer to the quality of sound I want. However, the effect isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be. I want to see if there is anything else I can try. My copy of Audacity has something like 140 effects, and my copy of Premiere Pro (CS4) has about 80 audio effects. Apparently you can get more if you want them. I’m familiar with maybe a half dozen or so, but I have no idea what most of the rest do.
I’ll need to do some more research. I could use some advice.
I got back to work on “My Most Difficult Case” this week. My goal was to get all the files organized, but I also started to make some changes to the movie.
Initially I tried to clean up the computer files and get rid of duplicates. That proved to be difficult, so I just sorted files into those I thought I would need to finish the project and those I didn’t think I would need.
The video editing program links to all the input files, and so I had to re-link all the files. That was picky work.
I thought I had it all done, when I noticed a problem with one shot. I had done a overlay to cover up some pictures on the wall because I didn’t have the rights to them. It turned out that I had a missing file. I went to the back up drives on the assumption that I had accidentally deleted the file when I got rid of duplicates. I spent a half day searching for the files, and couldn’t find them. They weren’t on the back up disk either, so I must have accidently deleted them long ago. Finally I decided to recreate the files. It only took a fraction of the time I spent in my search.
I re-cut part of the movie. Years ago I had a professional video editor re-cut the movie and it turned out much better, so I kept most of his changes. One change I had left in was where he put the murder scene. It had been at the front of the movie and he moved it to the end to be a flashback.
He recognized the actor from the way he walked and felt that would give away the end of the movie. I wanted to move it back to the start, but hadn’t tried it until now. I felt that the vast majority of people who see the movie won’t know the actor, so they wouldn’t recognize him. I’ll have another look at it before I decide to keep it or not.
I need to think through what to do next. There are a few tidy up edits that I think are optional. The main issue though, is the sound. I’m not very sure just what I want to do with the sound. As it stands, it is fairly bare boned. I’d also like to do something to build up the voices too. They sound tinny to me.
I left “The Barrier” for now. I’ll pick it up again when the new version of Xtranormal becomes available.
“My Most Difficult Case”
I started to work on “My Most Difficult Case” again. The files were very badly organized, so I tried to clean them up. To start I tried to get rid of duplicate files. I reduced the number of files from 42,109 to 21,789. I cut the number of folders from 716 to 265. The size of the files went from 324Gb to 187Gb.
There are still thousands of duplicates, but I’m not sure which I can get rid of. It also looks like I got rid of some files I should have kept. I generally hang on to all my intermediate files, so that it is easier to go back and fix mistakes. I got that habit when I worked in transportation planning. I think it is a good idea, but I need to document what I do better, so I can clean up the files later.
Triond and Wikinut
Some years ago I used to post articles on a couple of websites: Triond and Wikinut. I haven’t posted new articles to either for a couple years now. I haven’t had any payments from either of them for well over a year. I decided to cancel both accounts and repost my articles on my own site.
Wikinut doesn’t seem to have a “close account” function. I found some discussion of that on some web posts. Someone said that they will close an account if you sent them a message and ask them to close the account. I sent a message, but they haven’t responded yet.
There seems to be some problem with Triond. I can’t log in at all. I did a search and found that people have been complaining about problems with Triond since July. I will try again later.
I’ll likely wait for a while after I close these accounts before I start to report my articles on my website. I’d like to revise some of them. There are also a few that I think I just want to get rid of.
I want to do some work on my website. In particular I want to set it up to be more iPhone/iPad friendly. I use WordPress for my website and use a theme that I created from another theme. It is a bit clunky and I can’t see how I could easily modify it to be iPhone/iPad friendly.
I looked at some other themes, but I would need to make some major changes to any I choose. The last time I did a major revision, I set up an alternate website to test the new theme. I found that awkward to work with.
I wanted to see if it was possible to set up a site on my local computer and do the experimenting there. I found a couple of systems that seem to do the job: https://bitnami.com/stack/wordpress/installer and XAMPP https://www.apachefriends.org. I don’t know much about either, so it is hard to decide.
Pick a Project
I think that I really need to get “My Most Difficult Case” over and done with. On the other hand I really want to redo my website. Maybe it will be easier to choose when I get up Monday morning.
I created a new version of “The Barrier” this week and posted it to YouTube. I made several changes to the first two scenes. Next week I plan to move on to a new project, or do some of the house work I’ve neglected.
Over the last week, I finished the first scene of “The Barrier” that I’ve worked on over the last month. Then I did a new version of the second scene of the movie. Finally I combined them with the rest of the movie to create a new version (version 0.6) of “The Barrier”.
I only made a few minor changes to the previous version of scene 1. I added some more cuts after the car passes the truck to give a more frenzied impression of what happens. Since I planned to use this version to replace part of the previous version of “The Barrier”, I used the same artificial voice from before, rather than my own voice. That voice is a little slower than mine, so I had to extend the background shot a bit.
I am sure that there is a lot more that I can do with this scene to make it better. However, I decided to call it done for now. I plan to redo the entire movie with real actors for the voices, and will have another chance to revisit the scene then. It is easier to see opportunities for improvement when you’ve had time to create some distance.
In the records I keep for the movie, I call the second scene 1.5. It is a fairly simple scene, so I decided that as long as I planned to revise the movie on-line, it would be an easy addition.
In the original version of the scene a woman passes Arthur on the street. She smiles at him, but he is caught up in his own thoughts and doesn’t notice her. Someone thought that she was a prostitute, which is not what I intended. I wanted to revise the scene so that people wouldn’t see it that way.
I had the woman sit at a table outside a coffee shop with a third character that I added. The two women are talking, although I don’t actually have them talk, just gesture at each other. When Arthur walks by, the woman glances at him, then turns back to smile at him. As in the original version, Arthur doesn’t notice her.
When I uploaded version 0.5, it took something like 14 hours to finish! I didn’t want to do that this time, so I took advantage of YouTube’s on-line video editor. I combined the first two scenes and a short piece of the third scene, and uploaded the combined video. Then I used the editor to cut off the first two scenes from version 0.5 and add in the revised scenes.
I never used the on-line editor before and I found it difficult to work with. It didn’t seem to have precision I wanted, although, that could just be my inexperience. I wanted to cut at the end of the short piece of scene 3 that I uploaded.
I fiddled with the cut for a long time. I couldn’t see any way to test it, except to create the whole movie, which took many hours to generate. Fortunately it turned out OK. I can see a slight glitch a few seconds into the third scene, but I think most people wouldn’t notice it. If I had managed to cut out one or two frames more, it would have worked just fine.
I don’t plan to do much in the way of promotion for this version. I want to save that for the “final” version I plan to do. I will leave this project until the new version of Xtranormal becomes available.
I have a bunch of unfinished projects I could work on next. “My Most Difficult Case” has been hanging over me for far too long. I would like to get it out of the way, so I can move on to other things with a clear conscience.
I think the latest version of scene 1 only needs a few tweaks and then it is done. Xtranormal asked me (and many others) for feed back this week. It looks like they are nearer to a re-release.
I did another version of scene 1 of my transportation planning movie this week. I think it is very close to the final version.
It took Blender a long time to output the video. It is a big complex file and creates only about 3 frames a minute, so that a 4 second clip took over a half hour to create.
I made several changes for the new version:
- I added some interior lights to the car so you can see the inside of the car in the close ups of the driver.
- I modified the steering wheel; I had placed too high. I spent a long time fixing the steering wheel. It was joined to the car and I had to un-join it before I could do anything with it. I converted it into a child of the car and then moved it. It would have been easier for me if I had made it a child from the start. If nothing else, I am learning more tricks in Blender.
- I did two versions of each of the close up shots. In one I added a purple screen where the driver would sit, to make it easier to add the driver. I’ve noticed that when I composited the shots that the steering wheel pulses, which I will have to fix somehow.
- I changed the driver’s expression at a couple of points. I think that helped convey what I wanted.
When I watched the final video, I could see several places where I wanted to make more changes.
- Near the end, where the car veers out of control, I think I need to cut back and forth between the cameras faster. I hadn’t out put the video from Blender that I needed to do that.
- The truck currently has no writing on it, such as the name of the company. I did create some for the truck but didn’t use it: “Arrogant Jerk – Transport Services – Why should we care about your junk?” It seemed too flippant. On the other hand, it would pass by too fast for people to read it, so it wouldn’t make much difference.
- I’d like to improve the sound effects. The car sound, doesn’t really sound like car to me. The tire squeals aren’t continuous, so I’d like to do something to fix that.
- As I noted above, the steering wheel pulses in some of the close up shots. It is really distracting, so I really do need to fix it.
I had some positive feedback about my voice in the video I posted last week. I’m not a big fan of my own voice. Who is? It has me thinking I should do the voice rather than hire a professional. The one big advantage is that I work cheap.
The scene should be done soon, so I have started to think about what to do next. I would like to update the existing video on YouTube with the new scene. If I do that I want to redo the second scene as well, which won’t be hard to do. There are a lot of other changes I want to make, but I’ll leave them until Xtranormal is re-released.
Of course I have other projects to work on, like “My Most Difficult Case” and “Felix”. They are both projects that seem to drag on forever, so it would be nice to put them behind me.
This week, Nawmal send me an e-mail about Xtranormal. They asked for feedback from former users about what they’d like to see when they rerelease it. I wrote a long note and sent it off. They didn’t reply yet, but that might be a good sign, since it could mean they had a lot of responses. I am optimistic that a rerelease will be available soon.
Someone posted the letter on FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=726158394131069&set=gm.646440082140320&type=1
I’ve added the driver and some sound effects to the demo video of the new scene 1 for “The Barrier” this week. It isn’t done yet, but I managed to put together an early version of the scene that gives a good indication how the final version will look.
I added more trees and animated the river, but didn’t add them to the demo video yet. The car needs to be developed a bit further, so I want to do that first.
Some people suggested that I should get actors to do the voices, rather than the robot voices I had. It looks like I would need to pay for the robot voices in the future, and I would prefer to give my money to a local actor.
I recorded my own voice and use it in place of the original robot voice. I included two versions of the driver speaking; one with my voice and one with the robot voice I used before. I’m not happy with my voice or my acting chops, but I think that a real voice does work better. If I get some actors with better voices than mine, then it would make a big difference.
I would like to start contacting actors to see what it might cost me. If you can suggest people I would like to hear about them.
I think I am close to the point where I am done with this project for now. Before I can redo the rest of the movie, I will need to wait until Xtranormal is rereleased, and I can get a licence.
The new scene really started to come together this week. I posted a test video that I think gives a good indication what the final version will look like. You can watch the test video here:
I think I’ve got all the vehicle movements done now. Although I might need to do some tweaks later.
I spent most of my time on the set up of the cameras. Most of the cameras were fairly easy, but a couple were more difficult. One of these is a point of view shot from the driver, while the other is a close up of the driver. I plan I need to have them to stay in the exact same position relative to the car and that turns out to be very finicky work.
The point of view camera is a bit easier because I can eyeball the position reasonably well. The close up camera is a real pain. I plan to composite in the driver and to make that easier, I need the camera settings to be very precise.
It is OK when the car moves in a straight line, but when it changes direction it becomes a night mare. I developed a formula to convert the relative coordinates of the camera to the coordinates after the car changes direction. The one I came up with was a bit too simplistic and I’ll need to work on it some more.
I was quite happy how the sequence looks when I cut it all together. I can improve on the continuity though. I also wonder if I need to add more trees and maybe some ground cover to the set.
“The Barrier” is a movie about a transportation planner. You learn a bit more about it here: http://dynamiclethargyfilms.ca/the-barrier/
I made a little more progress on the new version of scene 1 for “The Barrier” this week. I have both a truck and a car for the scene now. I added a lot of trees and played around with the terrain a bit. I posted a test animation.
My first task Monday was to design and create the truck. In the current version of the movie, Arthur calls the truck a semi, but I decided it would be easier to do a cube van. It was easier to do than the car and went fairly quickly. When I imported it into the Gladstone set, it came out huge and I needed to scale it down. Later in the week, when I did some modifications later in the week, I did the rescale before the import. I did the same for the car. I did a test animation with both the car and truck. I messed up the animation of the truck and it jumped around a bit, so it was hard to get at a good idea how it would look.
I made some changes to the truck Tuesday, including some headlights. I modified the car as well. I added a steering wheel and head lights to the car. I modified the car’s front bumper as well. I pulled the revised vehicle both into the Gladstone set. I had to fiddle with scale, but it wasn’t as difficult.
On Tuesday and Wednesday I modified the set extensively. I trim out sections of the terrain that I didn’t think I needed. I added hundreds of trees, I wanted to give some of them different colors, but I ran into trouble with that, so I just let them be. The terrain still has some open spaces, but the forest does look more realistic. I added some rocks along the river and gravel along the side of the road. They didn’t look very good. I will have to try something else. I modified the water so it would be move so it would looks like flowing water. All these additions to the set slows down the animation render quite a bit.
Thursday I revised the animation plan. I calculated the positions of the car and truck at key points on the time line. That proved to be slow tedious work, but I think I have it right now. It will come in handy when I start to work on the animation.
Friday I discovered that the car, the truck and the elements of the set were of different scales. The truck was easy to fix. The car wasn’t so easy. After I rescaled it, the car looked too squashed down. I didn’t want to rescale the height, because then the tires would look oval. Instead, I moved the top of the car up relative to the rest of the car. I think I might raise it up a little more. I was worried that the trees were out of scale, but when I did a test animation, they looked OK to me.
One thing I still don’t really understand about Blender is how the co-ordinate system works. I had to work out how to convert the co-ordinate system for the roadway to the co-ordinate system for the whole set. I need to do that so I can use the time and positions of the car and truck for the animation. After some fiddling about, I came up with a couple of formulas to do the conversion.
Saturday I put more detail into the animation plan for what happens to the car after it avoids the truck. I suspect that once I have everything set up, that I will need to make some further adjustments.
I am still not very sure how I will handle camera movement. Three of the five cameras I plan to use for the scene have track the car and will need to move during their shots. One idea I had was to link the camera to the car but I am not sure that will work. I’ll have to experiment with that. My other idea is to set the first position of the camera relative to the car and then do the same for the end point. That should give it the same speed as the car and have it not move relative to the car.
One camera is a close up of the driver’s seat and I expect that will be the most difficult. I plan to composite in the image of the driver, and if there is any relative movement, the shot won’t work. On the other hand, the drivers point of view shouldn’t be very hard.
Finally, I created a short test animation to see how it all looks. It isn’t a shot I plan to use in the final scene. Please have a look at the test animation and let me know what you think of it.