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.

How was the effect done in the days before non-linear video editing? One frame at a time, with the camera on a rail, advancing toward a slit that has moving artwork behind it. And as a demo, [John Hess] makes his own slit-scan machine out of LEGO. You should really watch the entire episode, but click here if you just want to get straight to the Lego hack.

And just in case you want to re-make the actual stargate exactly, here are the original images that were projected behind the curtain, extracted on an old SGI computer by reversing the technique.

20 thoughts on “DIY Lego Slit-Scan 2001 Stargate

          1. That’s actually a correct pluralization. “Octopus” comes from Greek, not Latin, so the “-i” isn’t correct. Technically, “octopodes” works too, but nobody uses that, so “octopuses” is the best.

      1. In fact, there is not logical pluralization of lego. There is only 1 company called Lego and the meaning of the name is “play well”. Even though “play wells” could be a thing, it isn’t what is meant by it. Lego makes bricks or parts, so lego bricks are fine.. Legos isn’t.

    1. Okay, let me get this straight. I’m assuming you’re at least halfway intelligent and would balk at the fact “creationism” has been re-labeled “intelligent design”. If you’re in the know, you would cringe at “estate tax” being re-labelled “death tax”. These, and many more changes to our language are due exclusively to private interest groups and corporations’ PR efforts. It’s straight out of Bernays, and it’s straight out of Orwell. By any measure, you’re an idiot if you accept these changes to our language.

      But when Lego does it, that makes it okay.

      I’m just kidding. We wanted more comments for this post, and we know you’re all completely predictable. Legos it is.

  1. Wonderful video. I’ve always wondered about how they did the effect before computers could do it back in the day. How about the worm hole effect in Star Trek TMP? I heard it was done with laser and smoke.

    PS is there such screensaver that can simulate stargate effect for Windows or Linux?

  2. The modern Doctor Who titles are done with computer animation, but up to the late 70s, at least, they used video feedback. Point a camera at a screen showing the camera’s output and play with the zoom, roll, pitch and yaw angles, and you can create interesting and unpredictable effects. I have done it myself with an old analogue home video camera, and can testify that it takes a lot of patience to produce anything nice – but the results appear in real time, not one frame at a time.

      1. From the linked article:

        “The pilot title sequence was created by Bernard Lodge, who filmed and manipulated the “howlaround” feedback of a TV camera pointing at its own monitor.”


        “Inspired by the stunning hyperspace sequence climaxing Stanley Kubrick’s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, Bernard Lodge re-designed the Doctor Who titles again in 1973. For series 11, “howlaround” was dropped in favour of a technique known as “slit-scan”, in which multiple exposures of light refracting in plastic were filmed through slots in black card on a rostrum animation stand.”

        So maybe OP’s description of “late 70’s” is off, but it did start off with video feedback, and was not changed to slit-screen until 1973 – and who knows when that made it to America, which may be the “late 70’s” referenced by the OP.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.