Way, way back in 2008 I was home from school for a few weeks when I caught an ad for a national BattleBots competition happening in Miami. BattleBots was one of my favorite shows growing up, so my mind was blown when checked it out and found out that even though the show ended, the competitions were still happening. Not only that, but it wasn’t just adults that were competing. High school kids were building impressive robots and duking it out in the arena.
This instantly seemed like a cool doc – follow some students around as they navigate their teenage years while building metal smashing robots. But I wanted to go beyond just the fights you see in the arena, I wanted to look at the design process, the construction of the robot, and what happens in between the fights when you have 20 minutes to fix your robot before the next match.
When I graduated the following year I was looking for a project to do and this seemed like the perfect fit. So I spent a year following different kids and teams around, culminating in the 2010 national competition. That’s Bots High.
It was a huge learning process and as I look back at the film there’s a million things I would have done differently. It’s flawed. It wasn’t the indie darling I had hoped for, but it’s a fun, innocent look at kids building robots and being kids.
It’s incredible how much technology has changed in just five years, and fun to imagine how much different it would be with the tools available today.
This was shot before DSLRs were viable filmmaking tools. Before GoPros. Before drones.
I used Kickstarter to help raise funds, but this was in the early days before Zach Braff and Veronica Mars made it a household name, so it took a lot of explaining to people how this crazy site worked.
Fast forward to 2015. Thanks to the persistence of BattleBots creators Greg Munson and Trey Roski, BattleBots is back on TV, primetime on ABC. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, a good number of people from Bots High are competing on the show.
In the real life universe of robot building, Bots High is the closest thing to their origin story.
Boy genius Will Bales is one of the main characters in Bots High, along with teammates Alex Mattaway and Tyler Bond. Together they created Fluffy, the not very cuddly robot that occasionally bursts into flames from its own power. The film follows Will and his school as they try to build bigger, faster, and more powerful robots while combating procrastination and the lure of helping the opposing girls team. In BattleBots they team up again for HyperShock.
Their first match was against Will’s father and siblings.
At least that match didn’t end in (intentional) flames.
Marc DeVidts, creator of the seemingly unstoppable Icewave, wasn’t in high school during Bots High. However, he was the mentor to the other main team featured in the film, My Mechanical Romance, with Liz and Danielle. He has one of my favorite productivity quotes.
The robot is not done, therefore there is work to do.
Since the events of Bots High he went and co-founded Double Robotics, now a multi-million dollar telepresence robotics company. They have a very nice looking demo video. See if you can spot Greg, BattleBots co-creator.
Nola’s the glue that keeps everything together. One of the founders and head of Starbot, a sort of maker space catering to high school kids, she helps facilitate the building of robots for different schools and organize competitions. She also gets kids (especially girls) inspired in science and engineering. In BattleBots she competed with an all-girls team from Carrollton, one of the schools in Bots High where two of the featured teams are from.
Before it was a flame throwing multi-bot, the very first version of Witch Doctor made its appearance at the national competition in Bots High in the open division. It quickly became famous for tossing robots across the arena and into the Lexan walls.
There’s a follow up video with Bots High that catches up with Will and the teams the following year. In it is a battle between Will’s new robot and Witch Doctor, with some surprising results.
The biggest sparks that flew in Overhaul’s battle against Lock-Jaw happened after the fight, when Overhaul member Adam Bercu refused to shake veteran builder Donald Hutson’s hand for a hit after the buzzer.
Before schooling the two time super heavyweight champion on buzzer sounds, Adam was one of the original teammates of Witch Doctor. He also shook hands.
Special Shout Outs
Greg Munson, co-creator of BattleBots, served as announcer at the games in Bots High.
Other co-creator, Trey Roski, would step in to save the day from autonomous robots.
You can buy or rent Bots High right now on VHX, which is my preferred platform since the majority of your money will go to me, the filmmaker, to make more cool projects. Or learn more about the film and find more ways to watch at www.botshigh.com.
Adobe just released a slew of updates across the board for their Creative Cloud apps. One of the big ones in Premiere that I’ve been looking forward to for a while is the Morph Cut transition. This transition is designed to stitch together a jump cut in an interview to mask the cut. Well, that’s the idea at least.
The only thing similar to this that existed before is Avid’s Fluid Morph in Media Composer. Fluid Morph works really, really well. So well that I downloaded the trial of Media Composer to clean up some jump cuts from Dolphin Lover, then export them back to FCPX.
But since I’m a Creative Cloud subscriber, it’d be nice to have this tool permanently in my arsenal. So I exported the same clips I ran Fluid Morph on to try out Morph Cut and compare how it handles the edits.
Check out the side by side comparison in the video above.
My impression from this test: Avid’s Fluid Morph is still hands down the better option. I’d say out of all the cuts, Adobe Morph Cut maybe did an acceptable job on a third of the edits, and they were definitely the least noticeable jump cuts.
The biggest issue is Morph Cut won’t work under 12 frames (what I found from my testing). The trick of masking the cut is to make the transition really quick – usually 6 frames in Avid works really well. When I would do a six frame transition in Premiere, I’d get this error.
When the transition is too long, the video and audio stop syncing because the transition is starting while the A side clip is still talking, giving away the effect.
Bottom line – Morph Cut works on very subtle jumps but still has a ways to go before being as reliable as Fluid Morph.
It’s been a long time under wraps, but glad I can finally announce that my short doc Strike: The Greatest Bowling Story Ever Told is now on The New York Times, kicking off their new curated Kickstarter documentary series. Check it out below and please share it!
I’d say it’s been a hell of a week, but the week isn’t over yet. Last Thursday was the second and last screening of Dolphin Lover at Slamdance. Shortly after that we received an honorable mention for short documentary from the jury, which was awesome.
Clearly this thing is getting some traction that a 4 minute parody video would be produced about it. It started snowballing from there. Over the weekend all the major British tabloids picked up the story (because how could they not). Now this wasn’t original reporting – it was just a mesh from the few original sources and interviews, plus oddly some of my videos pulled from Instagram merged into an ‘exclusive’ clip. Sometimes they didn’t even cite sources (*cough* Mirror). Quotes usually stay the same, but it sometimes becomes a game of blogger telephone.
From there things just kept picking up speed. On Monday I woke up to interview requests from the UK, Australia, and some US outlets. Online the game of telephone kept moving rapidly (with some original reporting). Here’s a sampling:
A man's summer-long fling with a dolphin named Dolly is the subject of a new documentary short called Dolphin Lover http://t.co/nP5kVATNGZ
There’s still more press to come. There’s been a lot of lessons learned in viral strategy. We definitely weren’t prepared for this and have been adjusting the website, videos, YouTube channel, and other media as we go. I’m noting it down – will round it up in a future post.
Though we live in a digital world, for anyone that’s run a Kickstarter campaign, the reality of manufacturing and shipping is a frustrating, hair pulling event.
Obviously if your campaign is for a product this is to be expected, but I’m specifically focusing on films because, you know, that’s what I do. DVDs, posters, t-shirts: most Kickstarter film campaigns have physical goods involved which need to be made and eventually shipped.
As a one man band this can get costly and time-consuming. For Strike, one of the rewards included a bowling pin. But I only had to ship 5. Thinking about buying the boxes and packing material for such a low quantity, I knew it would either be pretty costly, eating up about 15%-20% of the cost of the reward, or I’d have a shit ton of boxes and packing material lying around from buying bulk.
So once I finally got the bowling pins and DVDs and posters together, it sat for a good month or two as I delayed trying to figure out how to ship them.
Then came the magic of the internet. I had been seeing ads for Shyp for a few weeks, mainly since they launched in Miami. For $5 they come to your house, pick up what you need to ship, and take care of the rest. You just pay the carrier fee (they price shop based on the weight and go with the lowest) on top of the $5 service charge.
I gave it a shot with something else I had been meaning to ship. Now I assumed that it was a $5 service fee per package. So when the Hero (Shyp’s name for their package pickup team) arrived I chatted about the service fee and found out that no, it’s not per package but per pickup. That’s the cost for them to go to your place. The number of packages doesn’t matter. He gave an extreme example that you could move your apartment for $5. Don’t think I’ll go that route next time I need to move but good to know.
As soon as I heard that it’s unlimited packages it wasn’t hard to guess where my thoughts went.
So I got back onto Shyp and started adding every reward that needed shipping. The annoying part was individually taking a picture of each shipment and typing every address out on my phone. A bulk upload feature would be nice but I realize this is probably an unusual use for the app.
I submitted to Shyp, the Hero arrived, we put each shipment into it’s own bag and he took it all away. Later that night I got an email confirmation saying everything had shipped along with tracking numbers. Weeks of procrastination finally over with a simple app.
You can use this promo link to sign up to get $30 credit towards a shipment (if you do ship I’ll also get $30 credit. Win / Win).