HOME

More Creative Computing Ideas
   

FILM MAKING WITH THE DIGITAL BLUE CAMERA

Digiblue setup for claymation Digiblue Silhouette Animation in progress  

17th January 2012 - UPDATE
I am busy re-working some of my web pages and most of my film pages have been updated and moved to Film Making for Kids. They are still relevant to users of Digital Blue cameras but the Digital Blue specific stuff is all on this page now.

I still get a lot of hits from people searching for ideas on using the digital blue camera, so I guess it is still being used by a lot of schools. Since upgrading to Windows 7 I have not been able to use my digiblue and afaik there are no plans to provide new drivers for it. So, I have moved on. I now use ZU3D software and a Microsoft Lifecam Studio webcam for stop motion. I am very pleased with both.

If you have arrived here looking for advice on stop motion for children and are looking to buy software and cameras, then I recommend taking at look at ZU3D. The software is great. The cameras they sell get good reviews but I have no personal experience of them. I chose the Lifecam Studio because it has a tripod mount which I feel is necessary for 2-d stop motion. I also have the cheaper Lifecam Cinema webcam which is just as good for stop motion but has no tripod mount. Please don't buy a Digital Blue unless you have to (actually I think it would be difficult to buy one now anyway).

If you have arrived here and are stuck with Digital Blues in your school then don't despair. I have spent many enjoyable hours working with children with this camera and I think they have had fun too! So, read on..

Introduction
First a word about the cameras themselves. Digital Blue cameras ("affectionately" known as digiblues) were originally developed by Intel and came onto the market in 2001. This was a time when digital cameras and camcorders commanded high prices and kids didn't really get a look in. At $99 (it cost more like £100 in the UK), Intel's "toy" camcorder for kids was revolutionary; robust, easy to install, easy to use and loads of fun. Technology has moved on a lot since then, but sadly the digiblue has not.

The digital blue camera is into its third version now. I have had the "pleasure" of using all three versions at some stage and list my thoughts on them below. It may also help you to identify any camera that you have found stuffed at the back of a cupboard (they often are). And if you have lost the software it is available here for all versions:

Click here to download movie creator software for your camera

Digital Blue Version 1
There were two revisions of this camera and both will only work with version 1 of the software (Digital Movie Creator). One is marked on the side with INTEL PLAY, and the other with "Digital Blue".

Recording time away from the computer is very limited and the picture quality is poor. However, I have done a lot of stop motion with this camera and the results are acceptable. Here are two examples of animations done with a version 1 camera with just normal classroom lighting:

Chinese New Year paper shape animation
Fuzzy felt animation

and here are a couple done with lighting from below (lightbox)

A Forest by Night silhouette animation
Halloween silhouette animation

I found that plasticine animation was disappointing with this camera; the colours were not vibrant enough.

For anyone interested in reading about the design and development of the original Intel camera take a look here.

Digital Blue Version 2
This one has been around since about 2005. It has a slightly longer recording time than version 1 and the video quality is slightly better. The software is much the same but not compatible with Version 1 cameras; you can however install both versions on a single machine without problems. For stop motion, the only differences that I have noticed are that colours are picked out better and it can work slightly better in lower light conditions. Otherwise not hugely different to Version 1.

Digital Blue Version 3
Around about 2008, Version 3 was released. Version 3 of the Digiblue boasted superior image quality and longer recording times. However, it still cost around £100 and by then you could get a better quality digital camera capable of recording videos for much less. This camera has a flip out screen and the ability to play back stored video. The user interface for this playback feature is basic and imho quite horrible, however, the kids seem to manage ok with it. There is a new zoom facility which is truly awful; the camera zooms in discrete steps rather than smoothly and it is performed by a physical switch which clicks - the click is picked up by the camera's microphone rendering the zoom facility useless. And the zoomed shot is only shown in the flip out screen and not through the view finder. Build quality is appalling - at least versions 1 and 2 had a good feel to them and could suffer knocks and drops without too much worry. Version 3 is made of some really cheap plastic (well the blue version is, haven't tried the gold/brown one) and is badly finished. And finally, they have added a memory card slot so that you can make much longer recordings - this is an improvement but the software (movie creator) that comes with the Digital Blue takes absolutely ages to download and 'convert' the clips so don't expect to film and edit in the same club session. If you do have these cameras and are doing live action filming rather than stop motion then my advice would be as follows. After filming, transfer the memory card to a memory card reader (dirt cheap) and copy directly into your computer. This is much faster. Edit your footage with Windows Movie Maker (free with windows) - my daughter coped well with this software at the age of 8. I think that Digital Blue's Movie Creator was never designed with lengthy movie clips in mind and suffers as a result.

Digital Blue Movie Creator Software
A new version of this software was produced with each camera and is not backwards compatible. However, you can install all three versions of the software on the same computer. The software is basic and once you go beyond basic editing it is extremely frustrating to use, especially if you are used to more sophisticated editing software. However, if you are aware of its limitations then you can work well with it. For stop motion, keep your clips short - it is easier to combine several clips than it is to shorten long clips. Make sure you know how to add sound, narration, background tracks - some sounds carry across all clips, others end when the clip ends. The software comes with its own sound effects but can be enhanced by adding your own - I tend to add small collections relevant to the projects we are working on and then remove them when we have finished - otherwise it all gets a bit cluttered. Kids can add their own sounds if they know how to traverse directories and are given clear instructions on how to import the sounds into Movie Creator. The kids love the video effects that come with the software (version 3 added quite a few more) but can go a bit crazy with them. I let them have a session of just playing around with the video effects in the hope that they will learn "less is more" when it comes to creating their projects. If you are looking for more conventional video editing software then give Windows Movie Maker (free with Windows) a go - digiblue videos can be imported and edited easily in this software.

Getting Started

The digital blue comes with perfectly adequate guides to get started, but if you have lost yours or prefer a more step by step approach try out these excellent guides written by Duncan Whitehurst, ICT Advisory Teacher for Pembrokeshire.

Making a Simple Plasticine Animation Using Digital Blue Movie Creator
Using the Digital Blue Camera to Make a Simple Movie

In my opinion, the key to successful film making with children is to make sure you have a thorough understanding of the process and the software yourself first. The best way to do this is to give it a go.

Using a tripod

For 3-d animation the stand that comes with the Digital Blue is perfectly adequate. But for 2-d animation the camera requires mounting so that it is face down; the best way to do this is with a tripod.

In order to use the Digital Blue with a tripod you first need to remove it from its stand. The stand appears to be integrated with its USB cable and I would not recommend trying to separate the two. You will therefore need to purchase a separate USB cable (USB-A male to USB-B male). These should not cost more than a few pounds. But before you rush out to buy cables and tripods, take a look at the underside of your digiblue:

Digiblue underside showing tripod and usb fitting  

As you can see from the picture, the digiblue's USB socket is very close to the tripod mounting. This makes it extremely difficult to use a tripod whilst simultaneously connecting the camera to a computer.

There are ways of doing it though. Initially I used a full sized tripod with a mounting plate. I substituted the standard mounting screw with a 2 inch long, 1/4 inch thread bolt, a couple of washers and a nut. This was secure and worked well. I have also experimented with using angled USB cables and extra camera screws.

However, after much research my perfect solution is...

The perfect solution

   

The following equipment is required:

Vanguard VS-91 table top tripod (also available at Amazon, but this is the cheapest I have found it and they delivered very quickly)
Hama camera screw (make sure it is this version as they are longer than Hama's other camera screws - there are 5 in a pack)
standard USB-A to USB-B cable (2 metres long) (nothing special about this one, just happened to be a good length and was cheap)

The Hama screw fits into the base of the Digiblue and provides extra clearance of 25mm. The tripod screw then screws into the base of the Hama screw allowing plenty of room for the USB cable to be connected. With the tripod fully extended in a vertical position the Digiblue is held horizontally 27cm above the desk to which it is clamped. This gives a viewing area slightly smaller than A4 (ideally I would have liked the full A4). The camera can be made to zoom in a few centimetres by adjusting the height of the tripod.

Although it lacks the flexibility of the full sized tripod this Vanguard is far less cumbersome and the children do not knock it nearly as much. It is very easy to setup and fits in perfectly with my express animation approach. Armed with this kit you can move on to 2-d animation which in my opinion is the easiest and most successful method for an afterschool club.

Another solution

And another option (cheaper) I have tried out is a photography clamp from Maplin. The flexible goose neck is long and holds the camera well. You do however need to find something to clamp it to. We have clamped it to a table top and then placed our backgrounds on the floor. We have also clamped it to a chair which we have then placed on the table top. The camera can be held much higher than with the Vanguard but in both of our clamping attempts so far it has been awkward to get behind the camera. Working in front and to the side is fine, but means that the "animator" views the scene upside down or sideways - the "cameraman" sees the scene correctly - IYSWIM. And, although clamping the camera higher means that you can work on bigger scenes, bear in mind that the digiblue picture quality suffers the further it moves away from the scene - better lighting may fix this but with limited time, lighting is sacrificed.

For film making ideas with children, please see my section on Film Making for Kids.

 


HOME