This is my blog about my interests in photography and film-making, also my travels as well as other items that I feel may be of interest. I also run the Photography equipment website, Filmcam....................................... IF YOU WANT TO ENLARGE ANY IMAGE BELOW SIMPLY CLICK ON IT !

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Printing Special Effects In-Camera

I think maybe I should explain more about the step-printing gadget I showed you last time.

I now feel a little guilty sawing up that elderly Kodak, but at the time it was about cheapness. Maybe guilty's the wrong word, as this gadget has proved itself alot over the last few years. You can use virtually any 16mm spool-loading camera, as long as it can be persuaded to run two strips of film through the gate. With the Kodak, I first tried attaching a spool of film on the spindle I'd fixed above the gate. It worked, but I felt there was rather alot of drag, so I later arranged for the film to run up from a bin, into the box and down through the gate. It's touched at the edges only by concave rollers and black velvet. After leaving the gate it plunges into a second bin. By the way, if printing from single-perf film it has to run tail-end first, to enable the two emulsion layers to be in contact.

A step-printer is a good tool for making various effects. Because the camera film and the film to be printed share the same claw, the results should be rock-steady. In the other example right we can see how an unmodified camera, in this case a Bolex H16RX, can be used for bi-packing. Say you need moving foreground objects in your studio-shot, perhaps a train passing, or a bat flying by. First film a silouhette of the train or bat against some bright sky. Don't ask me where to find the bat ! Process the film. Now in the darkroom, interleave this matte shot with the start of a new unexposed roll. If it's a 100ft roll there will only be room for a few feet more, and some of that has to be leader. Most foreground subjects don't need to be contacted emulsion-to-emulsion because slightly soft edges enhance the effect. So the matte shot is printed normally head-first. In subdued light (or not, as I'll explain next time) manually load the camera with the two thicknesses of film around the sprockets. Important: Allow one frame of extra loop above and below the gate for the added effects element. (In the photo I've just loaded some clear leader to show you.) Interleave the films on the take-up. Run the camera for a second or so to check that all is well.

Now shoot the actors, and your moving foreground will appear magically on the film. Don't forget to remove the short strip of film in the dark prior to processing ! Not all subjects can be treated this way, but many can. Semi-silouhettes can also sometimes work.

Two points:
Because of the extra thickness of film, there is a discrepancy of focus that won't be seen in the reflex viewfinder. In practice I've found it doesn't amount to much, but I think to be on the safe side it's best to increase the depth of focus by using a smaller aperture.
The "clear" film around the matte foreground element will absorb some light, perhaps half a stop.

Monday, November 8, 2010

New Life for 16mm Antiques

16mm film has been around since 1923. Many of those early spool-loading movie cameras are in surprisingly good shape. Are they still OK to use ?

Well, if you see one you fancy the first thing to check is the spring motor. It's likely that everything is siezed up after generations in somebody's attic. If you're handy with such things it may be worth relubricating. More often than not, though, you'll find the motor does run, albeit noisily. Most of these early 16mm cameras had not much film put through them. After all, it was probably more expensive then than it is today. So, usually the cam and claw etc are not very worn.

Another factor to consider is this. All 16mm film these days comes in single-perf. Early cameras were designed to take double-perforated film. It's a shame they stopped double-perf, so useful for doing special effects for instance. You can still find it secondhand.... look for 2R on the label. However, you'll probably need to adapt your 16mm antique to take single-perforated stock.

I've done this with a couple of Kodaks, and it's quite simple. Firstly, remove the gate. Tape over every crack and cranny in the film chamber so that no metal filings can penetrate further. Now carefully file off the sprocket-teeth on the side nearest to you. They are fairly soft. Smooth off with emery. The claw is double too, so you have to remove the nearest outer one with a junior hacksaw. It's hard steel but brittle, and after a few cuts it can be gently broken off with pliers. I found that the picture steadiness was unaffected. Finally, vacuum out all the filings and remove the tape.

Some years ago I bought a 50-footer Kodak and made it into a step printer, see right photo. It's built into a metal box with a separate compartment containing a low-wattage lamp. You can see where I've removed the sprocket teeth and one claw. The film to be printed is held in precise contact with the camera stock, and after passing through the gate it collects in a bin below. Ideal for doing short lengths of film and the images are steady and pin sharp. I have also widened the camera gate to allow the edge markings to print through. With the doors closed it's possible to do the printing in subdued light. That black gaffer tape is simply to help stop stray light while loading the two strips of film.

It may seem a bit crazy to use such antiquated cameras for filming. However, they can be picked up cheaply, and the lenses can produce interesting results. Lens coatings were unheard of in those days. Stephen Spielberg went to the trouble of removing the coatings from his lenses to achieve that special look in 'Saving Private Ryan'. With these 16mm antiques there's no need !