Fort Vancouver Mobile - A video overview

Courtesy of: Research Assistant Aaron May of Washington State University Vancouver's Creative Media and Digital Culture program. Produced in 2011.

Video highlights from the apps (36-minute version)

This montage provides a sampling of some of the video media in the Fort Vancouver Mobile apps. This app is much more than just a video distribution system, but these videos show the variety of content, from expositional segments to new journalism to those intended to prompt the development of interactive narratives.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New partnership with XID Services

XID Services Inc. has joined our development team to collaborate on a free plant identification system at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site to be delivered through the Fort Vancouver Mobile app. 
In short, this company, led by Dr. Richard Old of Pullman, Wash., will provide a rich database of all of the plants on site, and a touch-based plant identification interface. Dr. Old has been the weed identification specialist for Cooperative Extension Service at Washington State University since 1976. The rest of the FVM team will help to parse the vast amounts of XID data down to this specific site and customize this part of the app to meet the needs of the visitors to the fort. Old's system allows customization of text and images, which gives the potential for site-based imagery and detailed information about the plants (from weeds to trees) and their historical connections to the site. Welcome to the team, Richard!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

FVM on Feet on the Street

Research assistant Brady Berkenmeier and the Fort Vancouver Mobile project were featured recently on the KLTV Longview Public Access program Feet on the Street:

Thanks for spreading the word, Brady!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

R.A. Long High School planning a Fort Vancouver Mobile field trip

We still are trying to work out the logistics, but it looks like a group of more than 100 students from R.A. Long High School in Longview, Wash., will be coming to the fort on May 3 with the intention of trying out the Fort Vancouver Mobile app. The app still will be in the last stages of beta testing at that point (with a broad release set to coincide with the Brigade Encampment in mid-June), but we are excited about the idea of getting a group of this size to all experiment with the app at once, and to see how it functions under those conditions.

WSU Pullman Research Showcase / WSU Vancouver Research Showcase

The Fort Vancouver Mobile project will be shared with the greater academic community at two Washington State University research showcases in the coming weeks. 

The first, at WSU Pullman on March 25, will be part of a larger presentation by the Creative Media and Digital Culture program. This is going to be an impressive display of all sorts of projects, no doubt (the plans for the multi-tiered video wall are amazing), including examples by students and faculty throughout the program.

The Fort Vancouver Mobile project also will be on display on its home court of WSU Vancouver during the school's annual research showcase on April 14.

The Canon XF100 HD it is ...

After many weeks of research and testing, and much discussion, Forrest Burger and Troy Wayrynen came to a consensus and recommended that the Fort Vancouver Mobile project purchase the Canon XF100 for its next phase of development. 

This was a tough decision, with three great cameras to choose from (and many more that were eliminated during earlier discussions). 

The final two contenders were the Panasonic GH2 (a digital SLR) and the Canon XF100. Forrest and Troy spent a lot of time on this project, and we are very thankful for that effort. ... Forrest even produced a short video clip to compare the final two:

FVM Camera Tests from Forrest Burger on Vimeo.

As you can see, the GH2 can give a much greater focus to the primary subject in the video, blurring out the background much better than the Canon. It even arguably presents a better overall picture, although the Canon was not calibrated in as much depth as the GH2 before testing, making the comparison potentially unfair. 

The Canon is more of a self-contained unit, though, which better fits the needs of this project. For one, that means much less accessories to buy (and almost as importantly, to keep track of), and out of the case, this camera would be easier for either videographer to pick up and just start using, without a lot of trying to remember what part did what. While the GH2 and Digital SLRs in general provide a distinct film look that is very alluring, they also require different lenses, and separate sound equipment, and more post-production work that makes shooting in two-person teams cumbersome and adds significant time and complexity to the editing process. 

With the project's budget for the camera at $5,000, paid for by a Clark County Historical Promotion Grant, this camera was in-between the lower-end equipment, $2,500 and less, and the higher-end equipment, $7,500 and up, which is somewhat of an awkward spot to be with commercial quality aspirations. This camera's cost, $3,000, though, allows us to buy other accessories that will improve the quality, including filters and a Canon WD-H58w 0.8x Wide Converter Lens, without sacrificing much in terms of end product. We also are purchasing a high-quality tripod, in the range of $1,200, and a separate sound recorder, which should help dramatically improve the overall quality of our mobile media. 

In the end, after all of the examination and evaluation, Forrest and Troy said, the Canon XF100 seemed a clear choice for this project. So that is the direction we will go. ... I'll post some comparison footage, when we get the camera for good and start using it with this project. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

An analog model for this project and beyond

The Fort Vancouver Mobile project is breaking ground in many ways related to interactive and immersive storytelling with mobile devices, but my hope is to keep pushing our thinking into even broader realms. I ran across this program at Barnard College, called Reacting to the Past games, in which users play different roles and respond in uniquely personal ways to a historic moment. I have participated in similar events, such as the Model United Nations program. And I think the next big leap for us to make in this field of mobile storytelling is to launch users into life-like roles within a nonfiction historical context. That will take a lot more work, of course, and much more grant money to pull off professionally. But that is the vision I'm following.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Interactive response coding completed

Just heard from Android developer Joe that the coding for the call and response parts of the FVM app is complete, and he has set up a spartan web page to track how that is working.
Eventually, we plan to have a beautiful companion site, or part of a site, to showcase such responses in a public viewing space.
So, for example, when a user is asked in the app what archaeology field school members found in the dig pit, a common response during beta testing has been: "A dinosaur bone" (hint: a dinosaur bone was not found there). That response now will flow into a feed of other responses by users, such as "a cannon" and "a mast," (other things that also were not found there; if you want to know what was, try out the app by becoming a beta tester). These responses, plus user-generated images and videos from other interactive portions of the app, will help to become ways that users can expand their FVM experience outside of the fort grounds and share it with others.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Choosing the right camera for this kind of mobile work

Now that we have the experience of producing several videos (and still images) for the Fort Vancouver Mobile project, and another Historical Promotion Grant from the Clark County Commissioners, the time is right to buy a camera and accessories for our future research. We have used borrowed equipment to date, and we think that dedicated equipment is better long-term for the videographers involved and for the sustainability of the project. A video camera is next on our list.   
Tom Turner, of T.Videography, generously consulted on the audio equipment purchases we made last year, and a key consideration in this next purchase is that the new camera works well with all of the various microphones, recording accessories and the mixer that we already have.

Videographers Troy Wayrynen and Forrest Burger have volunteered to research the various cameras within our budget ($5,000, plus $2,000 for accessories) and have narrowed the field to these contenders:

* Canon XF100

Comments from Forrest:
"This camera is interesting, for sure.  Probably the nicest thing about it is the codec it records in...50mb sec, 4.2.2. color space.  My EX1 records in 4.2.0 and do the DSLR's.  That means not quite as much color rendition. That mainly comes into play during green screen work.  So, even though the XF100 only has one chip, the colors should be pretty good."

Lumix GH2

From Forrest:
"I know Troy was pretty high on the (Panasonic) AF100 early on and so was I.  I continue to be since my GH2 has a very similar chip in it.  I think that could be a nice fit for the types of things we're talking about doing.  XLR inputs, focus assist, ND filters, the ability to put really long telephoto lenses on it...all the things you want out of an affordable cinema style camcorder.  But, not necessarily a run and gun type camera that the (Canon) XF100 would be. The XF100 would be more user friendly to a wider user base. ... the (Panasonic) AF100 would produce superior results.  The (Lumix) GH2 produces as nice a picture as the AF100, but with certain workarounds. ...  I continue to be blown away by this little camera, even with its shortcomings (no XLR inputs)."
And ...
"As much as I like the ergonomics of the (Canon) 60D, I have stopped using it for critical shooting and am now working exclusively with the GH2 for paid gigs. The (Canon) 5DMKII and 7D will also experience the same moire issues as the 60D. I use my Sony EX1 when I need a "real" video camera. The 5DMII will most likely be the king in low light due to its full frame sensor, but it can be a bear to focus.  I did an interview yesterday with the (Lumix) GH2, and although my depth of field was wider than it would have been with the 5DMII, the interviewee stayed in focus. That's a big deal when you're working on limited budgets with bare bones crews. The XF100 may fit the bill for our camera, but the low light part is something I believe we need to look very closely at. Also, does it have a "video" look to it or a more "film" look?  The DSLRs definitely have a "film" look about them that I, and many others, love."

Nikon D7000 DSLR

From Forrest:
"Things to consider with Canon and (potentially) Nikon...moire, it can really bite you.  You don't see it when you're shooting but, alas, it can pop up in the editing suite to your dismay and disappointment.  You have to be very careful with what people wear, shooting brick walls, wood siding concrete. Here is a quick test I did this morning with my 60D and GH2. ... In the case of re-purposing content for bigger screens this one issue alone can be very important.  The moire is even more dramatic when you watch the video full screen. ... "
60D vs GH2 moire test
"I'm fairly confident the XF100 will not experience quite as much moire as the Canon DSLR's, but keep in mind, all camcorders/DSLR's will experience some level of moire.  I don't have access to a D7000, but here are a couple of links from some tests I found in a quick search."
D7000 vs. Canon T2i Moire Test (T2i and 7D share same chip)  

As a final note, Forrest added: "For ALL of these cameras we will need lights. Lighting is king in video (and stills), and as much as the DLSRs require less light input, they still need some help to get great images. Without good lighting you risk getting muddy images that even intense color correction cannot fully rectify."
That is something to keep in mind for future grant proposals. Next step in the camera decision, test each contender, in the most difficult lighting conditions at Fort Vancouver: The Blacksmith's Shop. Will post an update in the coming weeks.