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FSX Time-lapse

November 24th, 2011 · No Comments · Gaming, Production

Part of developing airports for FSX, which I do for my website MegaScenery Earth Airports, is that I need to make sure the way AI aircraft taxi around the airport follows realistic taxi patterns and, more importantly, that it even works and I don’t have aircraft going in circles or not finding a parking location and just vanishing off the runway/taxiway. Normally I would do this by injecting aircraft into the simulation and watching them land, takeoff and taxi, but that only works with individual aircraft. When you get multiple aircraft taxiing about at the same time things can break down.

So in order to make it less painful to sit and watch the sim while it… simulates, I did some research into time-lapse tools for screen capture programs. This led me to a little freeware tool called Chronolapse which allows you various options for capturing screen shots of your computer screen and then also does the job of outputting the video for you. Nice! Getting it setup and running was a snap, just plug in the number of seconds between captures, the capture format and the destination directory and you’re all set to go. A progress bar at the bottom lets you know how much time you have between the next capture in case you want to try to do anything that doesn’t get seen during the pause between captures.

Even better is that if you have multiple monitors you can capture those as well or ignore them and capture the main screen only. This means even though I plan to mostly let this run while I’m not at the computer, if I am I can still work on my other two monitors and not interfere. You do have to watch out that you don’t start up a program or activate a window that will overlay the main screen for too long, but that’s about it.

To test out the capabilities of this whole method, I decided to use my modified Rotterdam X scenery, which I have been tweaking over the last few days to properly recreate the ground movement patterns outlined for the airport.  I also decided to check the stability of Chronolapse working alongside FSX so I let the simulation run in real time for 16 hours straight. This didn’t work well at first, FSX crashed some times and other times I would end up with a window over the screen when I came back to check on it. Once I figured our what programs not to have running to make sure no windows popped up, I started from a clean reboot with all non-vital background apps shut down and let ‘er rip.

16 hours later I had 11,357 PNG images in my destination folder totaling 13.9GB. Each individual PNG file was roughly 1.5-2MB give or take a few hundred kilobytes. Had I set the destination format to JPG each image would have weighed in around 200-600KB. The dimension of these images are 1680×1020 as 30 pixels were cropped during capture to hide the FSX window bar – although now that I think of it I could have just used the Autohotkey I have to expand the FSX window (see this thread on AVSIM for more information). These images were captured at a rate of 5 per second.

Some of the images needed to be tweaked, as I wasn’t perfect in keeping stuff from popping up over the screen as I worked alongside the simulation later in the run. This simply meant loading up an image from before and copying the spot and pasting it in the affected image to cover up the foreign window. This was made easier by the fact that the camera was static – a moving shot would have made things much more difficult to cover up.

To process the images into HD video for publishing I used Vegas Pro 9. First I did some testing using explainer video to quantize the amount of video data that would be required for rendering HD 108oi at the highest quality settings for the MPG codec. So I took 713 images, which comprised approximately one hour of captured footage, and loaded them into Vegas at 0.1 seconds per image. The result was a 1:11 video that came to 224MB and was too choppy to be used for public consumption but decent for use in debugging AI movements for development. Next I compressed the timeline to speed up the video and outputted a 35 second video weighing in at 112MB that was fast enough to be smooth, but would still mean over 9 minutes of video for the whole time lapse. So I took the compressed timeline and punched up the velocity envelope to 300% to end up with a 6 second video at 19.8MB that wasn’t too fast to blur everything.

So from there it was pretty much multiply everything by 16 to get final output times and sizes, which I felt were all reasonable. While the times of course turned out to be pretty precise, I was surprised that the file size output came up slightly less than projected – but no complaints there! The final videos, each taking around 20-30 minutes to render, came out to 3.46GB, 1.76GB and 312MB respective to the order I gave in the last paragraph. I was tempted to add some ambient music and some low-level ATC chatter in the background but ultimately couldn’t be bothered. Then after I uploaded to YouTube I remembered I could add audio from their library, so I found some nice ambient tunes to go with them. No “oontz oontz oontz oontz” I promise 😛

Speaking of next time, while I said this is primarily for development purposes I might take some time down the road to do some real time-lapses like you see in the stunning Skyrim video below. Would need to invest in a better in-game camera add-on for FSX however as I can’t get movement in the sim to go slowly enough to capture nice moving/panning shots like the video below over long periods of time. For now, it’s back to development!

But quickly, speaking now of development, this video did also serve its purpose for that goal as well. I noticed several aircraft disappear while holding short waiting for 2-3 aircraft to arrive. To solve this I installed AI Timeout Patcher. Then I also noticed some GA aircraft holding short using the farthest hold marker which is too far from the runway to give them ATC clearance, so I tweaked the AI pathing network a bit to make that trip (hopefully) too costy for them. Then you can also spot a Piper Cub being stupid turning around in big circles – not much you can do about that. Stupid AI Cubs can’t turn worth shit…. Finally you may see an outgoing aircraft duck through the refueling area to work around an incoming aircraft (not really a big deal IMO) and some un-coded airline traffic is parking way back in the general aviation area.

Okay, now for some real time-lapse:

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