Finding Fractals In The 1930’s

The mesmerizing properties of fractals are surprising as their visual complexity often arises from simple equations. [CodeParade] set out to show how simple a fractal is by creating them using technology from the 1930s. The basic idea is based on projectors and cameras, which were both readily available and widely used in television (CRT projectors were in theaters by 1938, though they weren’t in color until the 1950s).

By projecting two overlapping images on the wall, pointing a camera at the resulting image, and then feeding it back into the projectors, you get some beautiful fractals. [CodeParade] doesn’t have a projector, much less two. So he did what any hacker might do and came up with a clever workaround. He made a simple app that “projects” onto his monitor and all he has to do is point an external webcam at the screen. The resulting analog fractals are quite beautiful and tactile. Rather than tweaking a variable and recompiling, you simply just add a finger or move the camera to introduce new noise that quickly becomes signal.

Better yet, there’s a web version that you can play around with right now. For more fractals implemented in hardware rather than software, there’s this FPGA with a VHDL Mandelbrot set we covered.

22 thoughts on “Finding Fractals In The 1930’s

  1. Kudos! That’s just wonderful! ❀️
    As if a stream of phantasy floats into reality!

    The music and the narration/voice are also contributing well to the atmosphere, by the way! πŸ™‚

    Thanks for the article also! πŸ˜ŽπŸ‘

    1. That’s just film masking techniques being applied.

      It’s impossible to do this fractal technique on film, because you’d need to develop and project the film as you’re filming it.

  2. I saw this on YouTube a few days ago. It is remarkable work, but there is one problem: video projectors were not available then. CRT projectors and Eidophors appeared only in the 1950s. The Eidophor in particular was much too expensive for three of them to be used in tihs way.

    1. Yeah, plus the video cameras of the 30s were far too insensitive, requiring a LOT of bright, hot lights to make a image at all. (The Felix the Cat figure RCA used as a test subject was blasted just under melting point.) A close-up of a regular CRT display, much less a dim projection image, was almost certainly have been too dim to be imaged.

      1. The first tubes developed in the late 1920’s weren’t efficient, but they quickly improved through the mid 30’s. In 1934 they added an accelerator grid which works essentially like night vision goggles, amplifying the photoelectric charges and improving the sensitivity by a factor of 10-15x. It was sensitive enough to work by ambient light outdoors.

        And if you stretch the definition, the image orthicon tube was introduced just as the decade ended, and it could record pictures by candle light.

  3. I remember going to a presentation where somebody was going to do a live show with video feedback. The guy was struggling a lot in the beginning to get an interesting pattern going. When he finally succeeded after 10-15 minutes of patient tweaking, some dude from the audience came up and took a picture with a flash, which instantly caused the display to reset again.

  4. Not mentioned in the video, but this kind of fractal is called the Multiple Reduction Copying Machine (MRCM), also known as the Collage Theorem, a kind of Iterated Function Machine. Think of an endlessly-repeated Xerox.

    But I’m getting that from books from the 1980s. And again, inventing this kind of thing requires not just technology, but insight. It’s not enough to say, “well, it was physically possible to build this in the 1930s.” If someone got the idea, maybe, but where would they have gotten the idea? Julia & Fatou’s ideas were in the 1910’s, but it wasn’t until the 1970s Mandelbrot in gave us the “Julia Set” we know today–apparently Gaston Julia’s drawings looked nothing like that. And though maybe somebody could have stumbled on these images with video feedback, it requires multiple projectors. When Nam June Paik did his feedback in the 1960-70s, he used multiple displays with a single camera, because TVs were cheap while cameras were expensive. So even he didn’t make the same kind of fractal result.

    It’s like the cute scene from the Return of the Jedi of primitive Ewok tribes with hang gliders. Sure, there’s no technological barrier to a primitive tribe building a hang glider, but there’s also no way for them to get the right idea without a cheat from a time traveler or a modern screenwriter saying “let’s give primitive tribes hang gliders!”

    1. >without a cheat from a time traveler or a modern screenwriter

      Or simply having a universe full of star travelers, and having seen flying machines before.

      Kinda like how you can go to the deepest darkest jungle where people live like it was still the stone-age, and find them wearing t-shirts with baseball league logos because at some point missionaries went in and told them not to walk around naked, and started sending in clothes.

  5. I don’t know when I first did this with a camera and monitor but back then someone said something about “like a Sun Graphics workstation cranking out fractals in real time”. I was only 10 at the fair-event when cable TV came to town. They had a camera and you could see yourself on TV! I wanted to aim the camera at the TV screen but he said “it would burn out the camera” so I had to wait till the 80’s to get into this.

    Unlike computed visuals I have 8 knobs and a few switches and the position of the camera including a roll of full rotation to play with in real time to the beat or whatever is theatrical.

    Search up pattern motorized light box in the 1930’s. They had gears and lots of variation on a tall version of a floor model radio of the period and plans to make these for the masses. Home light show sans trip to lift you out of the great depression. Searching at length I found Thomas Wilfred which is who I thought of with the vintage cabinet light show.

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