Thursday, January 23, 2014

ArtFart Sermons: Don't Be Afraid to Screw It Up.

I was tooling around one weekend sketching while talking with friends and one of them made a point of not finishing a piece because they didn't want to screw it up. I understand that perspective. When I was in college one of my instructor's (McGovern, truly one of the best I've ever known) spoke to my class about underworking and overworking pieces. One thing he stressed through it all was "don't be afraid..."
Being afraid can make us gunshy or stifle our development process. It can stop us from taking a chance in further developing an idea. The irony is this line of thinking can be applied to life, not just artwork.

The sketch I was working on was just me fiddling around while we talked but I used that as an example of how we shouldn't be afraid to forge ahead with a rough idea because the next plateau could be in that particular piece and the chaos you may go through to complete it. I decided to render out my sketch as an example even though that was never originally intended.

Original sketch idea created in ArtFlow. Developed a bit more from an earlier blog entry.

Final render created using ArtFlow and Photoshop Touch for Android.

The beauty of creation is that there are times when we have no idea what the final outcome will be (as the case here). Sometimes, it's radically different than what we imagined at the beginning of our chosen process. There are times it works out beautifully, there are times it doesn't. But don't be afraid. Freedom in creation is knowing when to let the piece show you how to progress as opposed to trying to force the piece into your vision of what it should be. Wisdom in creation is understanding what that means. To know that is to have a better understanding of your art and yourself.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mobile Video Editing Part 3: Adding Sound

Peaceful Days Hot Nights (segments captured with a Nexus 5, Nexus 7, Galaxy S3, Galaxy Nexus)
Song - Heaven In My Own Space by ViBu

In the last post I talked a bit about the YouTube Video Editor. There are many positives to using it as well as the new Android 4.4 Auto Awesome video editor (AA). But there is one major drawback to these tools...adding audio. YouTube has a number of preset, copyright free tracks for use. In some cases these tracks could easily do the trick in completing a project. They're high quality and offer a number of different genres to choose from. The same goes for the Auto Awesome Video Editor. Actually, to be more specific, I've found the AA Editor's music to be a bit better than YouTube's. But what if you produce music or own a track that you'd like to use as opposed to what Google offers? You're SOL because neither tool will allow the use of any sound that's outside of Google's chosen selection. This is to prevent copyright infringement of course. I totally understand as this arrangement stops a potential legal mess before it even has a chance to begin. But it does leave legitimate producers, DJs, performers, singers at a disadvantage if they're putting together a quick project on-the-good and need their own sound. 

In these cases, there are a couple of Android apps that can help. In my first post on mobile editing I mentioned the app AndroVid Pro. Since that writing, this app has been cut from serious use. Certain key functions don't work and the developer doesn't seem interested in addressing the problems. Specifically, "Add Music" doesn't work. As a result, I've replaced AndroVid Pro with Video Show (Pro version). Ignoring the overbearing use of pink in it's UI, Video Show performs well. I recommend the pro version because it removes the obnoxious watermark that's present on all output videos using the free version. This app in addition to Android Studio are my two choices when audio needs to be added to a project or if edits need to be made entirely on my tablet. It's a straightforward process. Load your video, select the "Add Audio" function and re-render the project with the new audio. For those of us that use Google Drive, Dropbox or some other form of cloud storage, the tracks or sounds you'd like to use will have to be downloaded to internal storage to be of any use. Chromebooks treat Google Drive as if it's local storage which is awesome, but unfortunately, some third parties on Android aren't quite there yet. Within both apps are options to control volume as well as some sound editing functions. For my video, my sound was produced on a Roland Fantom G6 workstation and output as a .WAV and a 320kbps .MP3 file. The Fantom features a comprehensive timeline function that allows me to sync sound down to an individual frame. Instead of editing the song to fit the video I did the opposite. I edited the video to be timed with the song. The render took only a few minutes and final output was a 720p HD .mp4 file ready to be played locally or uploaded to whichever service I chose...YouTube, G+, Facebook etc.

The Negatives There is one glaring problem I found after re-rendering video with sound that I simply couldn't figure out how to correct. I believe it has more to do with Android itself than any one app because the glitch was reproduced in every app I tested. Initially I edited the Peaceful Days video on my Nexus 7 and used the YouTube editor on a Chromebook in parallel as a test. The Nexus 7 output through AndroVid Pro, Video Show and Android Studio caused reduced quality especially visible in the last two segments of my video even though the metadata still says it's 720p (Watch the videos in HD on YouTube to see the differences). But the YouTube editor on the Chromebook rendered the entire video perfectly. The version of the video above is the Nexus 7 version because the YouTube editor won't allow me to use my song within it. I figured it was a .mp4 codec problem and updated the codec used in Android Studio but that didn't help. I made sure Video Studio's output setting was set to "original quality" as opposed to "compressed." I also checked AndroVid Pro to make sure compression wasn't being used. None of these changes helped. Within this paragraph is the YouTube Editor version of the same video. Superior quality is clearly present in the last two segments. This is my first time noticing the problem so maybe it's something in the segments themselves. I'll update if I can get it sorted.

In closing, mobile editing on Android is doable. In some cases, depending on your project, it can actually be awesome. But it's not as intuitive as it should be for the everyday user. The irony in this is if you have some knowledge of photography and video editing/output, you can make Android based projects punch above their weight class. The tools are there, the options are there. But it's still clumsy in many ways and not something the average user is going to be able to do well.

Android is capable enough that a streamlined, intuitive solution should have been made available years ago when Movie Studio was still alive. Auto Awesome is good in some respects, but very limited in others. I'd like to see Auto Awesome get a better name first and foremost, but also more tools and more options to control output and add/edit sound. Ultimately, I want to be able to uninstall all 3rd party video editing options in favor of a baked-in Android solution that's maintain by Google. Similar to how Google Music inspired me to dump all 3rd party music players.

I'll revisit the topic later this year when significant updates are made available. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Video Editing Part 2: Using Mobile + YouTube.

In my last update I spoke about using Android apps to edit video on tablets and phones. It's doable but not ideal due to some wonky behavior of the best editing apps currently available. Auto Awesome in the new Android 4.4 Photos app is good for simple projects but it's not ideal for any project that needs more robust features. But there is an alternative that I mentioned in that post but will go more in-depth with here.

The YouTube Video Editor. 

It's still fairly new but it has some good features and a layout I wish were available in Auto Awesome. First and foremost I like the way YouTube shows all available video on the same screen as the timeline. This makes it very easy to drop in footage and get right to work. Editing is very simple with handles on each bit of footage that allow you to adjust the length of the video from the beginning going forward or from the end going backward. Individual segments can be resequenced throughout the timeline with a simple click and drag and segments can be split at specific points using the scissors tool and adjusted for length after the fact. There's also the usual audio volume adjustments, transition effects which are very high quality, text input options and the ability to add music from a selection of free-to-use tracks. I was also able to input a sequence I hadn't originally intended with my logo at the very end and use the speed adjustment features to slow down that particular segment x4. The YouTube editor looks simple at first glance especially if you're familiar with the layout of Premiere or AfterEffects. But after using it for a short project, I can say that it was a very positive experience. So much so that I'll be making it part of my standard arsenal of tools. The YouTube editor made my Chromebook even more useful for my work as a result. 

Addicted to the Challenge
Shot entirely with a Nexus 5 in HD and edited with the YouTube Video Editor

Featured titles, Killzone 3, WipeOut HD, Super StarDust HD and Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown. I'm the player in each. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Why is video editing on Android still clumsy? Are there any solutions?

I was an early adopter of the Motorola Xoom. Yes, I paid the grossly inflated Verizon price for the first official Google tablet that released unfinished. It introduced Android 3.0 Honeycomb and a lot of potential but also a lot of headaches. One of the aspects of the Xoom and Honeycomb that I really liked was Movie Studio. It wasn't as good as iMovie but it had potential and I was able to edit together some simply but cool videos once I came to grips with the limitations of the app and hardware. As Android progressed, Google killed Movie Studio in later releases of the operating system. As I waited for a Google baked replacement, I focused on Sketchbook Pro, Sketchbook Ink, Photoshop Touch and ArtFlow in the meantime.

Recently I needed to produce a very short demo of video editing. I broke out my Xoom, which I still have sitting on a desk charged just in case I need a 10 inch tablet. I fired up Movie Studio and my dreams were dashed, laid low by inferior tech. Movie Studio wouldn't load 1080p video. It was a facepalm moment that left me cursing Nvidia, Tegra 2 and myself for forgetting this particular limitation of the Xoom.  I decided to search Google Play to see what I could find as a viable alternative to run on my Nexus 7 tablets. AndroVid Pro in combination with Android Studio filled that need but not without issues. I was able to merge video, trim video, create scenes from still images, edit audio, remove audio and add effects. For further last second tweaks, YouTube's video editor is simple but very effective. Although these two apps are powerful (when they work), they are not perfect.

In AndroVid Pro specifically, certain functions just simply didn't work for me. For example, I have yet to be able to add music to a video through the app. I can open Astro File Manager, find the music I want, select it but AndroVid Pro won't actually load it. I tried a few different joy. These weren't even specialty files. They're all standard .mp3 files that I created so I have no idea what the issue could be. Attempting the same function in Android Studio worked like a charm with the exact same .mp3 files I attempted to use in AndroVid Pro. But in Android Studio, trying to create a short video from stills doesn't work like it should. In order to create a short 6 second segment, the app will ask how many seconds do you want the frame to last for a slideshow. I selected 6 but it didn't work. Only 1 second rendered. I got it to work when I loaded the same frame three times and had each run for 2 seconds each. I didn't expect that to work as I didn't understand why it didn't work the first time. But that did the trick. Weird.

Below is the final product using AndroVid Pro and Android Studio. Yes, there are hassles and headaches, but there is potential there. The first scene is an animated gif I found through Google. The second scene is a time-lapse video I recorded with a Galaxy Nexus back in 2012. The third scene is a short slideshow of some of my design work from previous jobs. The fourth scene is an illustration I created using ArtFlow.

When Kitkat released, I was a bit confused by the old Gallery app and the new Photo app being included. On the surface it seemed redundant. But upon further investigation it became clear that the Gallery app has more detailed editing features and the ability to trim videos. But the Photos app is tied directly into Google+. Depending on how you feel about G+ will determine whether this is a good thing or bad thing. The Photos app also has a simplified file manager and is connected to Google Drive. The other aspect of the Photos app are the editing features which are different than the Gallery app. The Photos app editing tools are based on Snapseed. Ironically, those tools are also in the photo editing suite of the actual G+ app. Last but not least is movie/slideshow creation suite. Initially I had no desire to use this function because I have AndroVid Pro and Android Studio at my disposal that give me more control over my videos. But the slideshow and video editing functions of this suite looks very simple on the surface, but after spending a few hours tooling with them, I see some potential. Unfortunately, true to form, Google has omitted basic features here that leaves one to wonder "What were they thinking?"

Case in point, I put together a really nice animated photo album earlier today. In previous projects using the editing suite to create slideshows, I was given the option to output in 720p. But with the last project the app downsampled the video to 848x480. I was never given an option for HD. I was never given a warning that my video would be downsampled. I tried to re-render the project but could find no manual option to make the change. Worse, the save function is heavy handed. "Save" should actually be called "Render" because that's exactly what this function does. It won't just save your project. It will actually render it out whether you want it to or not. The next thought might be to work without saving until you're done. Anyone that has used computers for any length of time knows this is a horrible idea. Hardware fails and software crashes all the time. It happened to me earlier this evening. I was working on a reconstruct of the finished project (The Times) that's currently on YouTube to see if I could render it in HD if I started from scratch. I thought, maybe I missed something earlier. As I was nearly done, I needed to grab one more image from Drive. While in the process of using the multitask pane to go back into the Photos project, the app crashed. The new version of the project...gone. An hour and a half worth of work, wasted. Fail. 

The other problem I encountered was in the initial set up of a project. Photos will ask you to select which videos and/or photos you'd like to use. I selected multiple, around 70 or so and touched "Select." But only three loaded. This wouldn't be that big of a deal if I could simply go back into my gallery and multi select the missing images. But Photos doesn't allow this after the project has been created. You then have to select each photo and/or video to load individually. The problem seems to be random too as I quit the project without saving (rendering) and started over again only to have 10 photos missing as opposed to 67 on the next attempt.

This is the current downsampled project on YouTube that's being rebuilt now as I work on this blog. It's a retrospective collection focusing on family, friends and where I currently live. Many of the photos were captured using my GSM Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S3, Nexus 5 and a 2013 Nexus 7. 
As you can see, the resolution is not good. 

I realized during the reconstruct that the time lapse video forces the final project to down sample. It's confusing because I thought I was recording at 720p when making the time lapse recordings. Once I removed that segment, Photos gave me the option to render in 720p. It's a shame though. One of the aspects that makes the Photos editor so potentially powerful is that it can handle still images and video incorporated into the same project. But it's gimped if doing so downsamples the final product. I'm still experimenting with this so I'll try again with different video recorded from my Nexus 5 to see if I can achieve better results. 

Now that I've finished working on the first few test projects, I look forward to working on others now that I know of some of the potholes to avoid. Yes, editing video on Android can be a clumsy affair. It's possible to achieve good results, but not without some serious pains in the ass. With patience and working on these projects on Google's terms, I was able to complete them. But in the near future, I'd love for Google to really flesh out the video editing functions of Android. If I could get a really robust and intuitive 2D animation application as well, I'd be in creation heaven. 

Stay tuned...

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sunday ArtFart Sermons - Digital or Not To Digital, What is the question?

The end of 2013 was a bit of a rollercoaster hence the lack of blog activity. Please forgive me for that. But I never stopped working and have learned some interesting things in the land of creative apps for mobile, specifically Android.

I'm a member of a lot of creative communities on G+ and the pros and cons are often discussed about preferred creative apps. I became a fan of Sketchbook Pro on Android tablets in 2011 as I mentioned in a earlier entry and have been using it ever since. It's very powerful and allows for high end results with very little requirements. Sketchbook Ink is a good app for some vector designs, better than Adobe Ideas, but it lacks some basic functions like primitive shapes and point manipulation. Artflow is fast becoming my favorite though after a couple of updates and talking with the developer not so long ago. It offers features Sketchbook Pro and Sketchbook Ink lacks and similar tools work a bit better from my experience.

The Swordsman - Sketch test created using ArtFlow for Android 

This started off as a really rough sketch that I cleaned up and finalized to see how much flexibility I had within the app. This character was drawn on the same layer as if I were working in a sketchbook so there's no layer trickery going on with hatchings and details. Only the background was drawn on a separate layer afterward. The pencil, pen and brush algorithm is a bit more realistic in ArtFlow than Sketchbook Pro so that's a definite win as the creative tools in Sketchbook Pro are awesome. I never felt like I didn't have control over my lines when I sketched. I could use really loose techniques, even scribbles and it's incredibly easy to clean up the lines without resorted to working on a separate layer to finalize the drawing. That is why I don't have the really loose version of this drawing to show you. The virtual pencils in Artflow are closer to how my actual pencils look on paper, except a bit cleaner, a bit sharper (probably because I'm working in 720p and 1080p on my Nexus 7) Keep in mind that I'm creating these images on a Nexus 7 (2013) which doesn't support pressure sensitivity. I understand the love affair many have with Samsung's Note series of devices because of their pressure sensitivity, but I am no fan of TouchWiz and I like my Android devices to run the latest version of pure Android in a timely manner with no excuses. It helps that my devices sell for a great price as I'm all in with Nexus. For that, I can forego pressure sensitivity for now especially considering the lack of it doesn't hinder my process.

The Swordsman Color Test created using ArtFlow for Android
This is the colored version. I contacted the developer of ArtFlow about the excellence of the app and to ask a couple of questions toward the end of 2013. He released an updated the app afterward and this is one of the first pieces I colored using the latest version. I removed the background as my original idea was to use FormIt by Autodesk to render it. But I'm still learning the app so my skills aren't good enough to make that work just yet. Sketchbook Pro blends colors beautifully as seen in older pieces here...

Woman's Work - Created using Sketchbook Pro for Android
 and here...
Warrior Ikenga - Created using Sketchbook Pro for Android

 but ArtFlow blends colors a bit differently. I think I prefer ArtFlow over Sketchbook Pro in that regard but I'm still testing so my current feelings could change over time.

I admit vectors can be hard to work with at times but I love the clean crisp lines and stylized look of vector art. Sketchbook Ink for Android has a ton of potential but as I mentioned, it currently doesn't support primitive shapes. So I tested the app using a more sketchy look.

The Goober - Sketchbook Ink test
The Goober is one of my first tests of Sketchbook Ink earlier in 2013. The app doesn't allow for the manipulation of points and clean up isn't quite as intuitive as I would like it to be. But there's still potential.

Above I used Sketchbook Ink to create a few custom icons for one of my tablets. The first six icons in the left side folder and the Voice icon were all created in Sketchbook Ink on a 2013 Nexus 7. Output can be a potential problem with certain projects as Sketchbook Ink doesn't allow for outputting in a vector based format. But if this isn't a dealbreaker for you, then there's a lot of fun to be had with this app. It's not perfect and hopefully Autodesk will give it the same care and refinement as Sketchbook Pro but there is enough power within that I think I'll put more time into the app instead of uninstalling it.

Between these three apps and Photoshop Touch, which I'll save for a future entry, mobile creativity is becoming really powerful with the added bonus of ridiculously cheap prices for software and capable budget hardware. I still laugh when people say tablets are only good for media consumption. It diminishes the potential of these devices and shows a disregard for the technology of the past that set the foundation for what we enjoy today. When the Commodore Amiga was in its heyday content creators and artists weren't running HD resolutions with massive terabyte HDDs, gigahertz CPUs, with gigabytes of RAM on tap. Yet they still created some of the best work of the era.

Let your traditional talent shine through the technology. Don't let the technology be your only talent.
- Ubiv Tnomal

Other sketch ideas and works from the end of 2013 and the turn of the New Year...

Created using ArtFlow for Android

Created using ArtFlow for Android

Created using ArtFlow for Android

Created using Sketchbook Pro for Android