Image Effects Image Effects by cecilia
Beam Me Up, Scotty

When I was first told this would be a special Star Trek issue, it got me thinking about the effect that this series has had on my life. Like many people, I grew up watching the show. Yes, it's only a TV program, but it really had an impact. It was the only show that gave me chills when the opening music started. Everyone likes TV but this was the only program that made me tingle with anticipation.

Being an odd child I was immediately drawn to characters that were doing something "out of the ordinary". I had always felt like a Stranger in a Strange Land. Childhood is all about feeling out of place in the world and learning to cope. Star Trek allowed me to see how others dealt with perpetually being from 'out of town'. Tourist on a cool ship, so to speak.

The two characters that meant the most to me were Mr. Spock and Lt. Uhura. In the first season, Spock was not exactly loved. Trust me. Some of the characters even exhibited a certain amount of "racism" - or xenophobia! In spite of this, he was respected for his intellect, and keen insight during stressful situations. In my own young and insignificant life, even I could see that being "popular" was not important despite what most of my naive classmates thought. Being educated and intelligent is practically revered in my family, so I already had role models for how to live a good and useful life. But here was an example outside my family (not to mention species!). Very intriguing. If Mr. Spock could get along with these emotional and occasionally obnoxious human creatures, well, I would find a way.

Now, many viewers might feel that Ms. Nichols was not "given" alot of lines to read, or may have seemed to some to be a glorified secretary (?). But, that was not MY memory. It also underestimates Ms. Nichols as a performer. Lt. Uhura was an Important Member of the Command Crew. She had amazing poise and always behaved professionally. I was too young at the time to realize that Ms. Nichols had dance training and that special discipline was one reason for her powerful physical presence, but I could sense it. If you get cable TV, tune in to the Sci-Fi channel to view what is now referred to as "Classic ST". I recently caught many of these episodes and the same feelings I had as a child returned. "Wow, Lt. Uhura always knows what to do, works well with her colleagues, and always acts like a lady!" How can anyone exude that much dignity?! She was the only woman up there ALL the time. I didn't care that she wasn't always talking. I knew she was always thinking! And even in 1999, there are still dopes who have sexist ideas. Trust me, having Lt. Uhura there was REALLY IMPORTANT to a young girl growing up in these turbulent times. Females have often been underestimated, almost to the point of being invisible. No matter what the actual amount of dialog was, the Command crew always Acted like they took Lt. Uhura seriously and needed her there. It's good to be respected. And it's comforting to think the future could be better for everyone.


NO ENGINEERING DEGREE REQUIRED

Ok, so I'll never be a lady (I grew up in Nuew Yawk, it ain't happenin', baby) and I'm not as smart as Mr. Spock - not many are. But I do keep trying. Star Trek was also about adventure and fun. I find all these qualities in the art of special effects. So why don't we try 'Beaming' something in? Everyone who grew up on Star Trek wants at least two "toys". A Transporter and a Communicator. OK, some want Phasers. But believe me, the first two are much more powerful. I'm totally convinced that the real selling point of cel- phones is that it makes people think they finally have their own personal communicator. They are small enough to fit in a pocket and many "flip" open. Just add your own sound.

A Transporter, however, will probably remain impossible. I'm loath to say never because the future holds many surprises. But it certainly isn't happening soon. Which is a shame because I can think of lots of reasons for having one.

But that's what special effects are about: making the impossible look real. So this month's column is How to Make Your Own Transporter Without Becoming an Engineer.

Download beamup.zip with all the needed files. Save these files in your ImageFX directory in the appropriate places. I used ImageFX4 to do this project, although version 3 should work just fine because it has layers. If you are using version 3 please note that the AutoFX project files are expecting ver4 in its' directory listing. This can be changed by editing the project file in an editor like CED or just by making the suitable changes to the Project once you are in AutoFX.

I would have liked to use a picture of Lt. Uhura to beam in, but it seems lawyers enjoy taking the fun out of life. So, instead, I looked for a photo I have of the Isle of Skye in Scotland. In it are several sheep, one of the common inhabitants of this beautiful place. I removed one of the animals to use as a separate image. (No sheep were harmed in the making of this article).

sheep

So this is the subject that we are "Beaming in". I have several photos of the southwestern area in Scotland known as Galloway. I picked one in which I could beam in a sheep and it would "land" on it's feet. Although it would be standing on beach sand at low tide - something sheep generally don't care to do. Nothing to eat, see.

In case you're wondering if we are straying too far from Star Trek just remember Scotty is from Scotland although I can't quite place his accent - definitely not Glasgow which can be Very heavy. (What! You didn't know there were different Scottish accents?! You're all getting lazy depending on that Universal Translator). And while it may have made more sense for Scotty to be beaming in a bottle of Laphroaig [a single malt whiskey from the island of Islay and very peaty tasting. Yum], I don't have a picture of this wonderful grog, even though I do have a bottle. And no, I don't have a scanner. The sheep will do for now! After all, this is a test. We wouldn't want to risk anything happening to the bottle of Laphroaig!


THE TRANSPORTER

The first thing we have to make is the beaming-in effect. If one recalls how this looks in the original show, there's actually lots of things going on. But I want to keep it reasonably "simple". That way you can take the basics and add whatever extra effects you like later. I'm making my transporter by creating "stars" and adding a little Sparkle to some of them. If some of you have been on the ImageFX mailing list for over a year you may remember when John Whiting was attempting to make text appear to beam in and out for a title sequence. He altered and made several scripts to do this. They were eventually uploaded to the NovaDesign ftp site  (°FTP Tip°) as "Transporter2.lha". For this article I am only interested in using the autostars.ifx script. Ron Jensen also altered this script and made a hook that one can use with his script to make a series of frames in which the number of stars increases. The hook is "CStars.lha" and the script is "AutoCStars.lha" at Ron's website.

The biggest difference is that Ron's hook makes the rendering faster and the script saves the results to ram. So if you don't have alot of ram you'll have to alter the end of the script. Before we render the beaming-in, lets examine what this animation should look like:


THE ANIMATION BREAKDOWN

For my test I only want the whole effect to last 30 frames. But each separate "plate" must be rendered differently.

graph

This graph demonstrates the changes in Blending over time for several of the elements we have to composite in this project. The plates of the background and the alpha channels are not represented in the graph simply because they are at 100% the whole time. And the trick with alpha images is WHERE you put them. But we'll get to that later.




THE STARS, MY DESTINATION

Once you've gotten the hang of beaming in things, you can add and alter your transporter in any way. It doesn't even have to be stars. Hockney Tiles, anyone? Well, that's for another day.

Ok, now that we have the transporter effect, it's time to think of how to beam in that sheep.


AREXX DIGRESSION

First off, it seems apparent that a method to control Blending over the course of an animation would be crucial. To coin a phrase, "logical". In past versions of ImageFX this was done with Compositing. But I want to use Layers for this Project. I was making my tests in layers to figure out the sequence of which plate would go where. So why not? Layers are more efficient, faster and cooler. Woooosh! I can already feel myself on the Bridge.

But this means writing a SCRIPT for Blending. (Oh, the Horror!) I looked at several AutoFX scripts to see which ones I could steal from, but that original macro is now lost in the mists of time. Regardless, what my final "LayerBlend_B.ifx" does is bring up a slider which the user moves to the number which will be the MAXIMUM BLEND by the end of the animation. It will then calculate what the blend amounts are for all the frames up to that point. It does this by simple algebra. That is: the frame about to be rendered is divided by the total frame number and this value is multiplied by the Final Blend Value as indicated by the user.

"a" is the value from the slider:
Blendy = a * (framenum / framemax)
Simple, right? Yeah, that's why it took a couple of days and several tries. So now that we know I'm not Einstein.....

There is ONE SMALL CATCH. As I write this I've reported the "problem" to Kermit. But who knows when this may be fixed. In the layers manager the Blend slider values go from 0 to 100. This seems logical since one assumes it refers to %. However, the arexx commands go from 0 to 255. What this means for me writing a script is that if my maximum percentage is less than 100 - and it is for the sheep shadow - I had to perform some extra algebra to translate into the arexx value before using the script. So why didn't I add this extra calculation into my macro? Because it strikes me as clumsy and I'm hoping that this oversight in the program will be fixed in the future. I don't care what the programmers finally decide the range of numbers should be. As long as they are the SAME for both the GUI and arexx. And if the programmer changes the arexx commands to be the same as the GUI, then all I have to do with my "LayerBlend_B.ifx.pre" script is change the line

RequestSlider '"LayerBlend:"' 0 255 a
to:
RequestSlider '"LayerBlend:"' 0 100 a
Very simple. At least to me. Plus, I just needed this script to work NOW. Always an important consideration.

GET ON THE TRANSPORTER

To make the background I already prepared a file which has as its top layer the sheep shadow and its bottom layer is Galloway.

AutoFX aside: When I first wrote this article and tested the scripts my copy of ImageFX was on my system HD. So, the AutoFX scripts are expecting ImageFX assign to "sys:ImageFX4". I understand not everyone has that setup. On my new WinUAE, I have ImageFX4.5 on another location. This just to let you know that nothing is broken and, no, you are not losing your mind. (At least not over this!). You may just have to reload the files from the correct path.


At this point you can convert the files to whatever form of animation you happen to have or need. For this article I just made a Gif anim. I loaded the final sequence from the Layer Manager, then scaled it for the web site, made it colorMapped - [Color/Convert to CMAP] and saved it as a Gif anim. (using Gif saver version 4.1).


click here to Beam Up


Star Trek was also about friendship and good times. Did you know that the first X-Ray Satellite was launched in 1970 and it's name was - Uhuru? I think it's time for Scotty to Beam in some Laphroaig. I take mine straight up, please. Slainte! [That's a good Scots Gaelic word. First person to tell me the translation gets a hearty handclasp!]



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