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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2 foot tall POV globe

[Ytai] let us know about his POV globe, all four parts of its current progress. While he says he was inspired to write up the project from a YouTube clip, we know the real reason. Regardless, the plan is to have a 2 foot diameter globe with 256 LEDs spinning at 50 revolutions per second streaming images from an SD card using SPI. While the project isn’t completed yet, we know [Ytai] will pull through like he has in the past, and you can be sure we’ll keep you up to date on his progress.

Spin Peggy, get 3D POV

We put a temporary ban on posting POV projects after receiving several LED spheres back in May. But we had to lift the injunction after seeing this superb Volumetric 3D POV display by [Wes Faler] and [Don Smith].

Their creative use of several readily available components adds to the alluring setup; the central elements being just a box fan and Peggy kit from EMSL. The video after the jump doesn’t really do the project justice, but if you missed it at Maker Fair Detroit and can’t make your own it’s the best you’re going to get.

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