Home Made 8mm Digitizer

The 8mm film look is making a comeback, but distributing it is an issue. [Heikki Hietala] wanted an easy way to digitally capture the 8mm movies he made. So, he built an 8mm digitizer from an Arduino, a cheap Canon camera and the guts of an old 8mm film camera. When you throw in a few 3D printed components and some odd electronics, you get an impressive build that captures 8mm film with impressive speed and quality.

This build started with a Canon Ixus 5 camera running CHDK (the Canon Hack Development Kit) to lock the settings down. This points at the film strip through a macro lens so each frame of the strip fills the frame. An Arduino then triggers the camera to take a photo using a USB cable. The same Arduino also controls a motor that winds the film and triggers the film gate from the camera that he salvaged. By reversing the function and triggering it with a servo motor, he can easily blank off the edges of the frame so no stray light shining through the film material causes any problems. Once the camera has captured every frame on the strip, he feeds the captured images into Blender, which processes them and spits out the final movie.

This is a very impressive build overall. [Heikki] has obviously put a lot of thought into it, and the whole thing looks like it runs very efficiently and quickly. The captured video looks great, as you can see from this sample. The decision to use a salvaged film gate was a smart one: there is no point in reinventing the wheel if engineers of previous generations have solved the problem. Kudos to [Heikki] for also documenting the process in a lot of detail: he has produced a 5-part series on his blog that shows how and why he made the decisions he did. This series goes over the overall view of the project, using CHDK to control the camera, 3D printing parts, wiring the Arduino and writing the code that controls the system.

This sits nicely alongside the 8mm to video camera hack that we wrote about recently. This one doesn’t involve taking apart the camera (except for the sacrificial one that supplied the gate), and you still get that wonderfully grainy, jumpy look of 8mm film.

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I Built Myself a 16×20-Inch Camera in 10 Hours

[Giles Clement] was avoiding work in a bar, nursing a pint, and doodling a sketch for a camera. He looked at his sketch, thought, “gee, that looks better than answering emails,” and called his friend. An hour later they were at home depot buying supplies, and ten hours of furious work later, they had a camera. Nothing gets a project done like avoiding work! (See it all happen before your eyes in the video below the break.)

The camera is built around a 500mm f/4.5 Goerz Dogmar lens from around 1918 and was apparently used for aerial recon out of blimps. The frame of the camera is pine and plywood. [Giles] had heard that building the bellows for these cameras had taken other hobbyists months and thousands of dollars. Rather than elaborately folded fabric, he supported his 6 mil plastic bellows on telescoping rigid rods. To view the image while he’s focusing it, he sanded a plate of glass with 100 grit sandpaper to serve as a view screen.

Once the camera was completed, they prepared the plates and exposed photos. The first step, from what we could tell, was to disregard all chemical safety practices. The second step was pouring a substance called collodion on an unsanded glass plate and tilting the plate back and forth until the whole plate had an even coat on it. Then it was put in a bath of silver nitrate to sensitize. Once sensitized the plate was placed in the frame of the focused camera and an astonishing amount of strobe light emitted. After that it’s back to the chemical baths for more safety hazards. The whole process has to be done under fifteen minutes or the plate cures before it can be used. The photos that come out are seriously cool. It’s no wonder these old styles of photography have seen a comeback.

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The Filmomat Home Film Processing System

The death of film has been widely reported, but technologies are only perfected after they’ve been made obsolete. It may not be instant photography, but there is at least one machine that will take 35mm film and 5×7″ prints and develop them automatically. It’s called the Filmomat, and while it won’t end up in the studios of many photographers, it is an incredible example of automation.

The Filmomat is an incredible confabulation of valves, tubes, and pumps that will automatically process any reasonably sized film, from 35mm to 5×7 color slides. The main body of the machine is an acrylic cube subdivided into different sections containing photo processing chemicals, rinse water, and baths. With a microcontroller, an OLED display, and a rotary encoder, different developing processes can be programmed in, the chemicals heated, developer agitated, and film processed. The Filomat is capable of storing fifty different processes that use three chemicals and a maximum of ten steps.

The video for this device is what sells it, although not quite yet; if enough people are interested, the Filmomat might be sold one day. This is likely the easiest film developing will ever get, but then again a technology is only perfected after it has been made obsolete.

Thanks [WhiteRaven] for sending this one in.

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DIY Lego Slit-Scan 2001 Stargate

[Filmmaker IQ] has a bunch of great tutorials on the technical aspects of making movies, but this episode on copying the stargate Stanley Kubrick’s famous 2001: A Space Odyssey using Legos is a hacker’s delight.

The stargate in 2001 is that long, trippy bit where our protagonist Dave “I’m sorry Dave” Bowman gets pulled through space and time into some kind of alternate universe and is reborn as the star child. (Right, the plot got a little bit bizarre.) But the stargate sequence, along with the rest of the visual effects for the film, won them an Academy Award.

Other examples of slit scan animations you’ll recognize include the opening credits for Doctor Who and the warp-drive effect in Star Trek: TNG.

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Shedding Light on the Mechanics of Film Projection

Do you know how a film projector works? We thought we did, but [Bill Hammack] made us think twice. We have covered the Engineer Guy’s  incredibly informative videos many times in the past, and for good reason. He not only has a knack for clear explanation, the dulcet tones of his delivery are hypnotically soothing. In [Bill]’s latest video, he tears down a 1979 Bell & Howell 16mm projector to probe its inner workings.

Movies operate on the persistence of vision (POV) principle, which basically states that the human brain creates the illusion of motion from still images. If you’ve ever drawn circles and figure eights in the nighttime air with a sparkler or perused a flip book, then you’ve experimented with POV.

A film projector is no different in theory. Still images on a strip of celluloid are passed between a lamp and a lens, which project the images on to a screen. A device called a shuttle advances the film by engaging its teeth into the holes on the edge of the film and moving downward, pulling the film with it. The shuttle then disengages its teeth and moves up and forward, starting the process again.

shuttersFilm is projected at a rate of 24 frames per second, which is sufficient to create the POV illusion. A projector’s shutter inserts itself between the lamp and the lens, blocking the light to prevent projection of the film’s physical movement. But these short periods of darkness, or flicker, present a problem. Originally, shutters were made in the shape of a semi-circle, so they block the light half of the time. Someone figured out that increasing the flicker rate to 60-70 times per second would have the effect of constant brightness. And so the modern shutter has three blades: one blocks projection of the film’s movement, and the other two simply increase flicker.

[Bill] explains how the projector reads the optical soundtrack. He also delves into the mechanisms that allow continuous sound playback alongside intermittent projection of the image frames. You’ll never look at a projector the same way again.

Want to know more about optical soundtracks? Check out this Retrotechtacular that explores the subject in detail.

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Retrotechtacular: The Early Days of CGI

We all know what Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) is nowadays. It’s almost impossible to get away from it in any television show or movie. It’s gotten so good, that sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between the real world and the computer generated world when they are mixed together on-screen. Of course, it wasn’t always like this. This 1982 clip from BBC’s Tomorrow’s World shows what the wonders of CGI were capable of in a simpler time.

In the earliest days of CGI, digital computers weren’t even really a thing. [John Whitney] was an American animator and is widely considered to be the father of computer animation. In the 1940’s, he and his brother [James] started to experiment with what they called “abstract animation”. They pieced together old analog computers and servos to make their own devices that were capable of controlling the motion of lights and lit objects. While this process may be a far cry from the CGI of today, it is still animation performed by a computer. One of [Whitney’s] best known works is the opening title sequence to [Alfred Hitchcock’s] 1958 film, Vertigo.

Later, in 1973, Westworld become the very first feature film to feature CGI. The film was a science fiction western-thriller about amusement park robots that become evil. The studio wanted footage of the robot’s “computer vision” but they would need an expert to get the job done right. They ultimately hired [John Whitney’s] son, [John Whitney Jr] to lead the project. The process first required color separating each frame of the 70mm film because [John Jr] did not have a color scanner. He then used a computer to digitally modify each image to create what we would now recognize as a “pixelated” effect. The computer processing took approximately eight hours for every ten seconds of footage. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The Early Days of CGI”

How Green Screen Worked Before Computers

If you know anything about how films are made then you have probably heard about the “green screen” before. The technique is also known as chroma key compositing, and it’s generally used to merge two images or videos together based on color hues. Usually you see an actor filmed in front of a green background. Using video editing software, the editor can then replace that specific green color with another video clip. This makes it look like the actor is in a completely different environment.

It’s no surprise that with computers, this is a very simple task. Any basic video editing software will include a chroma key function, but have you ever wondered how this was accomplished before computers made it so simple? [Tom Scott] posted a video to explain exactly that.

In the early days of film, the studio could film the actor against an entirely black background. Then, they would copy the film over and over using higher and higher contrasts until they end up with a black background, and a white silhouette of the actor. This film could be used as a matte. Working with an optical printer, the studio could then perform a double exposure to combine film of a background with the film of the actor. You can imagine that this was a much more cumbersome process than making a few mouse clicks.

For the green screen effect, studios could actually use specialized optical filters. They could apply one filter that would ignore a specific wavelength of the color green. Then they could film the actor using that filter. The resulting matte could then be combined with the footage of the actor and the background film using the optical printer. It’s very similar to the older style with the black background.

Electronic analog video has some other interesting tricks to perform the same basic effect. [Tom] explains that the analog signal contained information about the various colors that needed to be displayed on the screen. Electronic circuits were built that could watch for a specific color (green) and replace the signal with one from the background video. Studios even went so far as to record both the actor and a model simultaneously, using two cameras that were mechanically linked together to make the same movements. The signals could then be run through this special circuit and the combined image recorded all simultaneously.

There are a few other examples in the video, and the effects that [Tom] uses to describe these old techniques go a long way to help understand the concepts. It’s crazy to think of how complicated this process can be, when nowadays we can do it in minutes with the computers we already have in our homes. Continue reading “How Green Screen Worked Before Computers”