Arisia '08 tech

from Hobbit's very limited little viewpoint and optics train, and with some side mini-essays on photography

[Most images are links to larger counterparts.]

When you're busy actually *doing* the tech, there are far fewer moments that trigger the thought of grabbing a camera.
Still, I came back with upwards of a hundred pictures, not even all taken by me. Here are some of them.
There are other repositories referenced here and there -- chase the links scattered throughout.

If you start noticing the inferior attributes of many of these pictures, be sure to read the "photo notes"
down at the bottom. This is still being a learning experience.

Loadin and Build

The main logistics truck, about midway through the process of filling it Wednesday night. Packed to the ceiling, and it went all the way to the tail even though all the big films stuff stayed home this year. Has Arisia's pile of stuff really expanded that much? I was wondering what we'd done wrong in the Tetris game this time; there should have been lots of room left. Oh well, by tomorrow it wouldn't matter.

After we filled the truck, our esteemed logistics leaders filled all of us with pizza.

[Squeezed off in way too much of a rush, and embarrassingly blurry, so no linked large version. The other lesson from the evening is to not have a camera in your jacket pocket when you're hip-checking roadcases around in a truck. Fortunately, these two concepts are not interrelated -- no damage.]

Upon arrival at the hotel the next day, we found the *other* truck from NJ parked by the ballroom. With another little problem. Fortunately a bit of work with a hand pump got enough back into it to move around a little.

Build proceeded, pretty much per the usual. I got many questions whose answers were already in the diagrams, which was good in that I'd already thought of those things but bad in that the crew was having a little trouble finding the info. But it got done, and seemed pretty painless overall. The truss and cranks were a refreshing alternative to pipe trees, albeit a little hard to access once cranked up to trim. Taller ladders would have helped, of course.

Events: Friday

With build mostly completed and nobody else left in the ballroom at 3am, I began thinking about the next day's first event and indulged in a little late-night art-faggery to start creating its environment.

The camera saw a *lot* more red than my eye did from the one odd "warm blue" gel I had in a par-can on the left. Weird.

But the next morning, surprise! Our room was opened one more airwall level back, necessitating a quick repoint of all that starry stuff. Which actually worked out better since it was now a much less oblique shot to the wall.

Build continued, and the folks running the Sith Ball showed up to begin loading in their props. Big props.

Jabba sez: "Heaugh heaugh heaugh. ... You gimme drink ALL tekknaa soooodahhhh, you die in Bantha poo-doo. Heaugh, heaugh."

Okay, you'd want to give this fella *caffeine*?!

I warped briefly into an entirely different universe and found myself buried in tribbles. Far behind me, Johnny Zed was setting up his gear...

and the room soon became a clubby environment, that alternated short stage presentations with dancing on the floor.

The event was heavily patrolled by Imperial storm troopers, especially since it involved money changing hands, but even they couldn't resist a few gleeful spins across the floor. Fortunately, there weren't any blaster accidents.

"Johnny, hon, I don't think His Excellency is enjoying himself quite as much as he could, and you know the last thing you want him to be is bored or we'll all find ourselves on a one-way trip to the sand-worm pits. Anything you can do for him?"

Hmmm, maybe I should back away from the laptop and use the Force.

There we go, Jabba be jammin' now. With his tongue. Eewww.

Meanwhile, back in the real world or at least back in the service corridor, Jim was constructing scaffold platforms.

One kit of which got assembled at the next changeover, and the followspot that the Rocky folks needed placed up on top.

At this point, we left the room in the hands of Teseracte's tech people, and wandered off to quietly party. And take the canonical down-into-the-lobby vertigo images.


Having observed a few funky and variable things about pre-defined camera white balance settings recently, I insisted on a white-balance card placed on stage with as "neutral" a wash as I could throw on it. Vanna, we miss you.

I didn't get any shots of the Masquerade itself, but there are
   many more
   Arisia picture
   around the net
by now for your viewing pleasure. [See below for even more of them.]
A list of all the "official" masquerade photos is here, suitable as input to your favorite bulk-download tool.

But I did manage to snag one or two of the halftime belly-dancing...

which included an amusing pirate medley.

Hopefully someone else grabbed pix of the Hamster Dance!

Next turnover was into the Club Dance, with Zed setting up again right in the same place as last night. But where the Sith Ball was relatively reserved, here [per grand tradition] is when we really shoot our wad.

    Along with a few attempts to capture the dancefloor.

Zed kept things pretty hoppin' until way into the AM, as usual.

We agreed to wind it down around 5am, though, and got a group shot of the last holdouts along with your humble run-crew.

In my hand I hold the Power of Mundane Illumination, aka the remote for the house-lights controller. That helps us get back to the real world, as much as we may not want to go. But this year I actually got to sleep by 6am.


"Red Shift", radio plays. With some extra channels allocated, the cyc units and a couple of parcans made a very nice red-to-blue gradient across the cyc and ceiling, without being too horrendously *pink* in the middle -- hopefully just what they'd asked for.

But that evening's more involved event was the Goblin Ball, themed somewhat after the ballroom scene from "Labyrinth". I had forgotten what that looked like, having seen the movie a long time ago, but found some fairly indicative stills kicking around on the net.

For this we lowered the trusses a bit, emptied my R68 folder, and used almost every Leko along with Carl's LED stuff to paint the ceiling blue.

Very, very blue.

Under this cold, somewhat otherworldly light the dance got organized and was quite well-attended -- especially for the Sunday night when the con committee was afraid that everyone was going to blow town that evening.

On the back wall I had a couple of white "bubbles" drifting around with something reminiscent of a maze image inside, like some scenes from the movie.

All we were missing was hundreds of drippy candles, for which all those flicker-bulbs we used to load into the sconces at the Park Plaza would have been great. But Carl created a nice approximation in his drape-wall of "nodes" using a subtly flickering candle-flame-colored chase, and I tried to get something vaguely fire-like but relatively muted up on the cyc from the remaining two wiggles. Really, the Imperial Ballroom would have been the *perfect* venue for this event.

Lots of fun for the sound folks, too, with a full live band.

The radical contrast in color temperature between the Goblin room and area "C" next door. Inside the dance, cloudy white-balance just barely cut it to restore anything like color accuracy. What I failed to do was take a raw shot of the room and then try to process it various ways later.


We had all of Monday to tear down, and the staff den sent down an excellent tray of wraps for lunch. Feeding frenzy. Because really, it's all about the food, right?

Jim, just being himself.

Once the stage was clear, time to bring down the cyc. Which had, for maybe the first time since the Park Plaza, gotten a good full-width, full-height hang but this time on the enhanced pipe-n-drape rig that Arisia has. The cyc [and thus the rear edge of the stage risers] had to be about two feet out from the wall because of the silly sconces behind it.

With enough people and good organization, wrangling this 36 x 16 foot monster is fairly easy. Click the animation for a step-by-step description.

As stuff got packed into cases, Jim made a placement map too start sorting gear by ownership and destination.

One of the big food-room coolers was dropped off in the ballroom, accompanied with the directive "This one is too far gone, please kill it." Jim was like "ooh, ooh!" and immediately ran off to fetch one of the four-foot iron pipes.

But when he wound up and tried to, well, kill it, the results were entertainingly anticlimactic.


The plastic walls were a bit too tough and yet flexible to yield to this.

Seth then took a crack at it along another axis, with much the same result. Bounce.

Coming down *on* the lid placed a fair dent in it, though, and made it easier to simply kick the lid off its flimsy plastic hinges and get rid of it.

[Shamelessly linked over to Dan Noe's Smugmug repository, the rest of which can be seen here and contains much *better* pictures from the con and especially the masquerade and bellydancing]

But Dan really captured the fatal blow, down onto the edge which didn't have nearly the flexibility to resist the impact. About this point Jim realized that if this activity continued we would have a styrofoam snowstorm to clean up, so he declared it dead.

Bad. Leaks much worse now.

Okay, back to work -- finishing the truck load for Storage, which left a little while later. Since at this point we were using the smaller truck, there were two runs that night with a pass by NESFA to return their gear.

While we were waiting around for the logistics crew to get back, about the only thing still going was the dead-dog in the somewhat skanky wreckage of the con suite.

Then there was a logistics management dinner and confab, which the rest of us grunts had to sort of wait for, but finally we did the last big push to load the heavy stuff to go back to NJ, and wrapped it up around 2am.

Photo notes

Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my ...

This was all [well, except for Dan's stuff!] shot on a Canon G9 which I acquired over the holidays. It's one of the new generation of point-n-shoots which has features to rival some recent dSLRs, like RAW mode and optical image stabilization and refreshingly fast operation and processing. Its optics train will still never rival that of a true SLR, but then again it fits easily into a jacket pocket. The reviewers seemed to like it, and the sample shots on the net are crisp and not overprocessed like from some other units which was one of the major attractions for me. Anyway, even though I've been playing with it for a while, reviewing the results from Arisia weekend helped me correct several mistakes and invalid assumptions.

Frankly, most of the shots here came out disappointingly soft, some barely salvageable in postprocessing, making me wonder what the heck I was doing wrong or even if I possibly had a defective autofocus. Being disinclined to blame my tools, more investigation was clearly needed. I had done a bunch of testing while on vacay, discovering fun things like the user-settable custom shooting modes that set up everything you want as soon as you switch to one of them. With a choice of its native and frankly huge 12 megapixel mode, or 8, or 5, I figured I'd shoot in 8Mp to save a little file space and because that seemed to be enough resolution for most of my purposes. Heck, I'd been doing plenty of satisfactory stuff with the old 5.1Mp Sony DSC-V1 for several years, despite its other quirks. Part of that testing was close examination of a neutral grey field out of focus, at various ISO settings, to determine relative CCD noise. The 8 Mp mode seemed a bit less noisy than the others, especially at higher ISO like 400 and up, so I left the G9 set on that and went my merry way.

Well, the reason 8Mp mode looks smoother, with less single-pixel noise, is because it *is* smoother but for the wrong reason. The camera doesn't do interpolation over the quarter-pixel widths or whatever from 12 down to 8 very well, and simply softens all the edges. Here's proof, and a comparison to the Sony's output. After Arisia, I set up and shot this little scene no less than 24 times across both units and made little collages from the central focus-plane elements of each:

My baseline is 5Mp size and images shot in the larger modes were resized down appropriately in GIMP and then given a tiny bit of USM to compensate for the softening that resizing that invariably brings in. But GIMP does scaling much better in general when set to bicubic interpolation.

The results of the "rabbit" test are here. The 8Mp softening in the Canon is obvious, where 5 and 12 modes [even after post-treatment of the latter] are much crisper, especially in the bunny-ear fuzz, the matchbox lettering, and around the stark black and white of the box. I can see this in the non-resized files and the higher [albeit noisier] ISOs, too. The Sony tends to do quite a bit more more pre-sharpening, sometimes adding obvious halos, and saturates colors a little more -- but it's always done that, which is why full-resolution crops from its output looked a little, uh, "nubbly" to me as I dropped them into Prius webpages and such. I really like the fact that the Canon does almost none of that, leaving me to do what I need to in post.

The take-away is to just shoot with the Canon in full 12Mp mode, or maybe 5Mp if I'm someplace where I don't care as much about detail. Just not 8.

There's some pretty serious posterization into black in some of the earlier Arisia shots, because a part of my usual processing scripts would automatically bump the black level a little to compensate for the lack thereof that the Sony always seems to produce. The Canon evidently gives a truer, linear black all the way down to zero and thus doesn't need or want that correction -- especially with my habit of shooting a tad on the dark side to avoid blowing highlights out to white. I left some of the earlier over-blacked pix in place as an example, and fixed the scripts midway through to skip that step before continuing on.

Another hint I confirmed from various photo sites is that it's better to set the image stabilizer in "shoot only" mode, and *not* have it running continuously while you're waving the camera around setting up. Once it hits an edge it tends to drift slowly back toward the center, leading to a situation that causes the IS to *still be moving* as you fire. That bit me a few times already, even while on a tripod and using a timer -- the stabilization is sort of magical and fun to watch working in the screen at high zoom, but you really want it centered and ready to truly deal with camera shake at the critical moment when the shutter opens.

_H* 080128