FLAIR Motion Control Computer System
The FLAIR Motion Control System is a fully integrated hardware and software package designed and built to control camera robots.
Mark Roberts Motion Control provides a complete package that can control anything from a single motor to multi-axis complex studio and portable motion control robots.
The heart of the computer system is a specialised processor board which is specially developed to allow high speed communication between it and other axis cards distributed through the robot which each axis card controlling one or more motors (axes). This distributed control feature has been fully utilised in FLAIR to simplify the wiring and allow the move generation and positional control of the motors to be shared between many processors.
Typically each axis card directly handles the positional control of 4 motors (although there are cards with more axes), using computerised motor control methods, and so frees up the main processor to handle complex move generation and manipulation.If more motors are needed, more axis cards are added and in this way an 8 motor system can easily become a 16 motor system, or a 32 motor system or bigger. The main processor holds all of the move data and does the move generation and this data is presented to the user via a PC. The program that runs on the PC is Windows based, presenting the user with a simple graphical means of move entry, manipulation and execution.
Moves are entered via the PC screen which utilises the most familiar method of move entry, as a series of keyframes, each one stating a set of specific motor positions at a specific time. Moves can have only 2 keyframes, or 40 or more. To execute a simple move, the user drives the system around to the different positions he wants to move it to, storing each as a keyframe (or waypoint) with a frame count for each position. Once all positions have been entered, the move can be executed, and the motors will run from the start position to the end position, passing through each intermediate position at the stated time.
This is the simplest form of move entry, and the program has many features that allow complete move manipulation from adjusting the overall length of the move, to manipulating the positions of one or more axes via 2D and 3D graphic displays, as well as changing the accelerations and decelerations of axes independently. More sophisticated methods of move entry include:
Where the object of interest called the target has its own 3D path, these paths can be plotted through waypoints, and then viewed and manipulated through a customised graphics screen. This frees the operator or director from having to think of a move as a series of complex series of independent motors, and allow him to concentrate on the real path of his camera, and the path of the target. Additionally the speed of the camera along its path and the speed of the target along its path can be controlled independently to alter the visual effects of the shot without in any way affecting the path shape.
Follow Focus and Fade/Dissolve
Specialised control of certain axes is provided, allowing such features as follow focus either in a normal move, or in target tracking. Once a lens has been set up, the user simply has to inform the system which lens it is using, register the lens position, and thereafter the focus axis will be readable and enterable as an object distance in metres and centimetres or feet and inches. Simply state the distance to the target at any point, and the computer will focus sharply on that object. The system also has a Fade/Dissolve feature allowing the shutter angle to be controlled through the system whereby you can state shutter percentages, or it can be controlled as a fully featured Fade/Dissolve allowing Mixes, Dissolves and Fades to be easily programmed into a move.
This is a mode in which the user interactively controls one or more axes using Mark Roberts Motion Control handwheels, joysticks, or even pushing the axes themselves as the move is running, and then these movements are recorded and can be replayed exactly.
Single Framing and Camera Control
FLAIR has a highly developed camera control system, allowing accurate control of your camera and motor, providing variable ramp lengths and almost infinitely variable camera speeds from 0.1 FPS up through live action speeds to 125 FPS or faster. Single framing is fully featured, allowing moves to be shot continuously, and intermixed with single frame animation, or even motion blur animation where every frame is exposed at the same speed as if the move were being shot continuously. Single framing can be done forwards or backwards, you can put in an automatic delay after each step, specify the number of camera exposure frames with each step, and the number of move frames to progress with each step.
Synchronising to Different Cameras
If you want to synchronise to an external camera, this is easily done and is simple to set up. Once running, the computer will keep careful track of the speed of the external camera, and will match it throughout the move even if it varies significantly. This way you can do matched shots with almost any other camera. The system also provides input triggers to start the move and output triggers that can be operated at any point in the move to an accuracy of 1/800 of a second.
Video control is also provided for machines that support the Sony standard protocol, this control allows recording and reviewing moves and being able to specify the exact time code that the move should start. There is also a variable speed control that allows jogging and fast shuttling of the tape combined with a Time Code read out.
The whole system is very flexible and highly configurable to allow the exact set-up that is correct for your system. Each axis can be configured as to how its numbers are displayed on the screen, what its maximum speed is, its name and even the tuning values used in its positional control. Even the Hand Held Control Unit, which has 30 buttons and 2 joysticks, can be configured so that the box is just the way you want it, and provides you with the control and functions you desire.
Interfacing to 3D Computer Graphics Systems
Move data can be output from the computer, including axis positions for every frame, and also path positions of both the camera and the target. This data can be used to interface and match film action with computer generated video images. There is a full program of future development at Mark Roberts to continue to bring you the best in Motion Control.
Graphical Displays can make full use of the full resolution of the PC, to give clear information about the camera and target paths through space. Of course, full integration with modern CGI tools is vital in current productions, and Flair has all the necessary Import and Export routines built in.
The new user interface is much faster than previous versions and can be run with or without hardware, allowing the user to try moves anywhere, even on an aeroplane.Other new features include Windows Tooltips that explain what different buttons do, simply by hovering with the mouse.