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Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Hue Animation Stop Motion Studio Kit with Camera Review


We put the Hue Animation stop-motion animation kit to the test. The kit includes a repositionable camera with a sturdy base and software to use it to create stop motion animations.

Disclosure: We were provided with the Hue Animation kit to review. As always, our opinions are our own.


What is the Hue Animation Studio Kit?

The kit includes:
  • The Hue HD Camera - a USB camera with a sturdy base and with a long flexible neck
  • The Hue Book of Animation
  • Hue Animation Studio software on CD or via download
  • A box which can be used as a stage for stop motion animation

The kit is designed for stop motion animation but the camera can also be used as a regular USB camera or as a basic document camera/visualiser with a projector. 


Unboxing

The Hue Animation Studio kit comes in a small box with a flap that folds down to provide a stage at the back. This is a neat feature as having a backdrop in place makes animations look so much better and kids are keen to get started immediately. It's just cardboard so it won't last forever but it's a great way to get started.

The Camera

The camera itself is brightly coloured and attached to a bendy positionable stand. You can either plug the camera directly into a computer USB port or via a sturdy base. 

The camera is physically very good quality. It gives lots of scope for positioning and stays put once you have it in place. We've done lots of stop motion animation with kids on phones and tablets and keeping the device steady is something you really need to pay attention to. 


The Hue camera acts as a regular USB camera. You can use it with other software. We started by just using it with the Camera app on Windows 10 and taking some photos.

This Bear Yoyos card is slightly curved so it's hard to get a perfect photo, but it came out pretty well:



There's no auto-focus so you do have to use the manual focus adjuster on the camera. This makes sense for other uses of the Hue (see their post on why manual focus is used.) It's definitely important to get the focus right, this can be tricky with kids who just want to dive in and get started, but we can understand the reasons. Auto-focus with a 'lock' feature would be very convenient.

We were able to capture clear pictures of small items. There's no light built into the camera so you might find it useful also use a USB-powered light (note the Hue HD Pro camera from the same range does have LED lights.) We found that the colours were sometimes a bit washed out.



We managed to get some great close up photos of electronics like these pictures of the BBC micro:bit:





I can't read the text on the actual BBC micro:bit components - the chip that says KINETIS is about 4mm square.

Getting Started with the Software

The Hue Animation studio comes with software on a CD. It's unusual for a product to come with software on a CD as most modern computers don't have them. Having a CD might be useful in some cases, but it's not really needed. 

You can download the software instead which is what we did. Be aware that it's not a simple download. You need to create an account, register with the code included in the box, download the software and then provide the license key to the software. We also had to install QuickTime which is required but must be installed separately. 

First Experience

The Hue Animation Studio is very easy to use and packed with useful features. 

I used the kit with a pack of Cub Scouts who had never seen it before and they were able to produce short stop motion videos in small groups using LEGO and clay in 20-minute timeslots. 

It would be good to have a button on the base of the camera for taking photos so children don't have to keep returning to the computer (this should be possible without knocking the camera as the base is sturdy.)

There is a button on the head of the camera but from what we can tell this only works with third party AMCap software. 

A couple of times during a 90-minute session the software stopped being able to see the camera. The software doesn't seem to automatically reconnect like the Windows 10 camera app does. There's a 'Reset Camera' option on the menu which reconnects.

With the Minecraft Stop Motion Animation Studio

We have the Minecraft Stop Motion Animation Studio which includes a stage and characters so we tried that with the Hue camera.

Elbrie's 8-year-old son created an animation using Hue Animation Studio software. He found that having to use the computer to take a photo was a bit inconvenient. You could use a wireless mouse, but we came up with another solution.

We used the MaKey MaKey bit from the littleBits Rule Your Room set to create a button. First, we tried using a pressure mat as the button - you tap it with your foot to take a picture. That worked but was a bit distracting.

Next, we rigged up a momentary touch switch as the input to the MaKey MaKey so you can just press a button to take a picture. You hear a camera shutter sound every time Hue Animation Studio takes a picture so this approach works really well.

We exported the resulting animation as a mp4 video (there are lots of options for export formats and settings, this is just using the default.)

The default video export is at 640 x 480 which is pretty low res these days. You can change it using the Export... menu. We found that it's possible to export photos and videos at 1080 x 720 which is the lowest resolution for HD. (Most people these days would be referring to a higher resolution if they said HD, but this is the definition.)



You'll notice that the lighting changes a lot between frames. This is due to shadows created by the director! We'll look at improving our lighting set up and focus for future projects.

Usefully the individual picture frames are also saved so it's possible to create an animated gif or use another tool to combine the images.



Elbrie's son's studio setup:


The Hue Book of Animation

The kit includes the Hue Book of Animation, a mini book with lots of suggestions on ways to use the Hue camera. This is really useful for kids and families who need some help with ideas to get started. It's also a great way to get the most from the camera by looking for new things to try. 

Tablet vs PC for Stop Motion Animation?

Hue also offers a iOS app for stop motion animation and a flexible tablet stand that can be used to secure a tablet to keep it in position. The stand can be used for securing a tablet in lots of other situations too.

Is a PC/Mac or a mobile device better for stop motion animation? This partly depends on what your child has access to and is used to using. Either option can work really well so if your child has only a PC or only a tablet/phone then go with that option.  

Mobile devices have the advantage of portability and often have a good camera built in.

More advanced software is generally available for the PC/Mac. When using a mobile device it can be difficult to position the camera well and kids have a tendency to knock the device when operating the software, the Hue HD camera addresses this problem well for the PC.

If your child has access to a PC and a tablet then consider whether you would make more use of the additional features of the Hue HD camera (such as use with Scratch) or for the Hue Flexible tablet stand (such as using your tablet in the kitchen to follow recipes.)

Use as a Cheap Document Camera / Visualiser

The Hue camera can also be used as a basic document camera or visualiser with a projector. This is useful for schools and also homeschool groups, clubs, camps, maker spaces and libraries - anywhere where you want a group of people to be able to view a physical object. 

High-quality document cameras and visualisers cost a lot of money. If you can afford one that's great. But if you can't justify the cost of a high-end product then the Hue camera does a reasonable job and for some tasks, it's plenty good enough so there's no need for a high-end device.

You can use the camera with any camera app or with the Hue Animation studio which has options for flipping the camera which can be very useful.

We found that the camera is great for showing small items on a projector. It also worked well for documents with large text if you just want to show a small area at a time. 

Note that the Hue HD Pro camera from the same company offers a longer neck and is designed to enable viewing of A4 and letter sized documents. 

We tried to view an A4 document by raising up the Hue HD and found it hard to position the camera well, the long neck would be really useful here. (The Pro version of the camera also comes with more advanced software with features for use by a teacher.)

I did find that I kept disconnecting the camera from the base when adjusting it, a sturdier connection here would be good. The Windows 10 camera app just reconnects automatically, but the Hue Animation studio requires you to reset the camera from the menu.

Time-lapse Photography

Another useful feature of the Hue Animation Studio is time lapse photography. You can set the software up to take photos at customizable time intervals. We've successfully used this feature, but you'll have to wait for an upcoming review to see the results. 

Verdict

The resolution of the camera is fairly low by today's standards (but common for webcams), but that's not a problem for many of the main usage scenarios for this camera. 

We really liked the sturdy base and repositionable neck and the design of the camera. It's not fragile and I wasn't at all concerned about putting it into the hands of children. 

The Hue Animation Studio software is easy to use and has advanced features including Chroma Key (green screen) and time lapse photography. We'll look at more features in future.

The Hue HD is a practical option for creating stop motion animations using a PC. It's also a good choice for a child who occasionally needs to use a webcam or take photos from their laptop. 

Educators would probably want to opt for the Hue HD Pro camera with its longer neck, but the Hue HD is still useful if your budget is very tight. 



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