I got the idea to start another personal project around the end of November, revolving around my Hess Trucks that I’ve been given over the years. Part of the idea came from my Dad who mentioned that he should put them all together to take a picture of all of them . I decided to take it a step further and do a series of individual pictures/videos that would end when I get the newest one for this year.
I have received them from my grandfather since 1990 when I was around two years old. Then my mother would get them when my grandfather couldn’t get them anymore. So I have almost everyone since then except 2008 where we(Mom) waited to long and we didn’t get it. Somehow I was able to get the small front loader truck that came with the Hess truck for that year, though I don’t remember how I acquired it.
To start this project up I first developed a template that I would use to display each truck on my Instagram, which I had recently joined after the recommendation of my co-workers. I looked around to see if anyone had done something similar or used any video production tools with Instagram. There wasn’t much out there but I did find a good video on doing Instagram videos with After Effects where I learned the video size limit and some exporting specs. The exporting specs didn’t work perfectly for my version(s) of After Effects. I wasn’t getting any sound in the beginning, but rendering with Media Encoder I was able to find an easy way to get my videos in a usable format.
After some research I completed my design in Photoshop after one revision and some feedback from some friends. I then brought it in to After Effects to set up the animations and use some quick temp images of my Truck to test the layout and animation. I also did some test renders to see how my videos would work in Instagram sharing the videos privately to make sure it would actually work.
While working on the design and animation I was also developing my set that I would be using to take these pictures. My original idea was to make my set as simple as possible so that I could quickly take make photos without having to adjust much. The location was my basement where I could set it up easily leave it up with out it interfering with anything. The stage was just a few crates stacked on top of each other with a green table-cloth draped over it to make it seem nice.
The lighting was originally going to be just the ceiling light, which are the long fluorescent bulbs, that I was going to cover to diffuse the light. This did not work at all, too bright even with reams of paper covering diffusion and too noisy when doing video, just really bad overall. A co-worker suggested getting some cheap LED lights which sounded good though I thought maybe that might be a bit much for this simple(seemingly) personal project
What I wound up using where four Verilux lights that I had/commandeered to use. They boast being “original natural spectrum® floor lamp”, and the natural lighting did worked well for me. Along with some extra paper covering they worked out well for still photographs and where passable for the type of video I was going for. They do have a two way switch on them to control the light level but the difference was barely perceptible to the eye…
The last part I needed for the project was camera and tripod. Unfortunately I no longer had possession of my pretty good Canon point and shoot(yeah I know…) camera but I did have a new Moto X 2nd Gen. Cell phone. So along with my current tripod and a smartphone tripod holder I ordered from Amazon I was set to take my pictures.
The actual production process for making these Instagram videos evolved over time and varies a bit depending on which truck I was photographing but the basic outlined stayed the same. I set the truck up on my stage and would take pictures from various angles around the whole truck. I would usually start from a high angle to make sure I could get all of the truck on the stage. Then I would turn it around taking pictures and then do the same at a lower angle to get closer to the truck. The low angle worked well for getting the license plate years and the smaller trucks, motorcycles, buggies and other smaller vehicles that came inside the bigger trucks. I would repeat the same process for taking pictures with the lights off for the Trucks that worked well in the dark.
While taking these photos I learned a few things about light, composition, and mechanics of phone camera as well. There was never a perfect light setup(not too surprising) even when just rotating the same Truck around to take a picture from a different sides. I always had to move at least one light to compensate for something. My goal was to have the shadows as minimal as possible but somewhere along the way I let that goal go to just try to get good reflections and as even lighting as possible. This was not always achieved and even with the exposure control on my camera some Trucks where still blown out. This was really hard with video since the my camera phone requires a lot of light to get the truck in focus, so almost all the video footage was over exposed. Fixing it in post helped a bit but I could only do so much.
Composing the pictures was for the most part straight forward, once I had done a few trucks. However not all of them where the same shape and many where not trucks at all. I have said “trucks” this whole time since that is how they are marketed but many of the ones I have are over sized helicopters, cars, or have a space vehicle on their trailer. The Helicopters where particularly hard since I wanted to get the blades all in frame and stay completely on my stage. This was where I wished I had a bigger set for some extra wiggle room for framing that would have been helpful for the larger trucks as well. I was able to work around it with mainly just using photos that were zoomed in or some post work to extend the stage.
Instagram Video Production
Producing the video was pretty simple but it took time to go through all the photos I took. I had around 150-200 pictures for each truck that I had to go through. I started out going through the photos I wanted to use ahead of time and separating them out before I hand. However by the time I got to the late 2000’s I was doing some of the videos the day I shared them, so I would find the picture I wanted to use from my main folder separate them and import them for use all in one go. But by then I knew what pictures I was probably going to use for each slide section anyway.
Each still picture frame went through four different pictures, so eight in total. The ending two usually being the year license plate and some times with the in the dark photo. The top large frame was designed for videos or still pictures depending on the truck, ideally I wanted to make a video featuring the major electronic feature of that truck. So all of them have lights(not all working), many have sounds, and some have motorized parts. I edited together the various sounds that each made to have them go off during the video. I was able to feature all the sounds of each truck until the latest years where they had too many sounds to fit together in a coherent way.
Some of the sounds also worked in tandem with how you would move some of the trucks, car or shuttle/plane. One racer car even had its own sound, so I was able to have it run across the stage and use its sound effects. I did this also with jets/shuttle although they didn’t actually fly across the set so I had to animate them in After Effects and add their sound effects. I think the newest one, 2014, worked out well since I was able to composite the cruiser taking off the launch pad and have the scout ship follow it.
Sharing and Recap
Getting it out there was just a simple as transferring the final video for each truck on my phone and telling Instagram to upload the video. I wrote out little blurbs about each one to accompany the video ahead of time, then shared it to via Instagram to my Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. I had planned a schedule so I knew which year to post on what day so that I didn’t have to post more then two a day.
During the posting process one thing I think I did too much of was hash tags. I had them already setup in a text document and just threw them on at the end. I think it would have been better to integrate them more into my description of each truck and not have as many.
In the end it was a fun and self-educating project to put together. It was also a lot more work then I was expecting but still rewarding. Not sure if I will do it again next year but if I do I will definitely start earlier.