Thursday, June 25, 2015

Stills In The Night

   At one time, pulling a still image off a film or video wasn't such an easy task. Around 1971, I purchased a camera specifically designed for this task though the results (for me anyway) were less than stellar.

Behold! The Testrite Cinelarger for Super 8! You loaded 620 roll film in the bottom and the selected frame of film in the chamber at the top. Allow me to demonstrate.
First open the back and load the 620 roll film in the camera.

Be sure to wind the film between each exposure or you'll get more than one image per negative and that will make you sooo mad!

Here is a closeup of where the Super 8 film is loaded. Place the frame to be photographed over the aperture and anchor the strip of film on the tooth. 

On camera original film, the base (or shiny side) should face up in order for the image to read correctly on the negative. If making copies from a print of unknown origin, you'll just have to check how it reads (left to right, for example) and put the correct reading side up.

Now, close the door Richard. That little white circle is translucent white plastic to disperse the light evenly across the film.

That little tab over my finger opens the shutter. The instructions were a bit vague as to how long an exposure was needed for what kind of light. It was very much trial and error (and screwed up photos) but you could eventually find a proper light source and exposure time.

Normally, my shutter tab would fit into an indent and stay open until I snapped it closed. Age has impaired this so I had to hold it open by hand.

After much fussing with exposure, I finally was getting consistent results although I found that wide shots weren't as sharp as closeups were.


The spaceship, taking up most of the frame, came in clear but the background image is rather soft. Of course, taking a tiny Super 8 image and blowing it up that much wasn't going to win any prizes for clarity.

This closeup of my physics teacher Mr. Matier held up a lot better.

   What set me on this tangent was that as I've been posting my earliest films on YouTube I wanted to refresh my memory of the people and circumstances under which they were made. For many years, I used the Cinelarger to grab stills from most of the films, make prints and jot down notes about them. I pulled out the albums and peeled up the photos to jog my memory when I thought I had all the facts straight. Fortunately, I had these stills and their notes to double check.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

WASTEd Video

   Back in May, I wrote about some of the very early short films I did in high school. The oldest of them was SOLID WASTE an extra credit class project for biology. It was a rather half-assed lecture about pollution and ecology inspired by the emerging environmental movement. The main distinction of this film for me is the first role for the orange clay creature named Utley. The animation for him was tricky since the Ansco Super-8 camera couldn't shoot single frame exposures needed for the task. I just moved the figure and snapped off a short burst on the camera and hoped it was quick enough to look animated.
   When the time came to show the film in school, my friend Joe Aimetti and I tried to synchronize sound to it using a Wollensack reel-to-reel tape recorder. Not obvious to us then but the difference and inconsistency of speeds between the projector and the recorder made tight synchronization a futile affair. Years later, in 1973, I bought a Eumig sound projector, had a Super-8 duplicate made with magnetic sound stripe and recorded the track you hear on this video.
   The environmental movement seems to have survived despite our efforts. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

MORE FILM FUN

   Now that I got the early eight films trimmed I'm putting together a project from 2012 that I hoped would have been done long before 2015. Within a week in July of 2012, I flew into Newark to meet with my brother and his family to ride up near Newburgh, N.Y., then to Plattsburgh to visit Martin and Kathy Baumgarten, down to Long Island to see my sister Joanie and brothers Larry and Tom, go to my 40 year high school reunion with school friend Mindy Kronenberg then back to Santa Barbara to drive home to Lompoc. Whew!
   The trick was getting the stills, video clips and HD video assembled as a coherent whole and onto a disk for the various visitees to watch. I think I have it together now but there's still a bit more assembly to do and titles to plug in. 
   During my visit to Martin, I found his cellar converted to a film laboratory complete with cameras and equipment that has since gone the way of the cathode ray tube. Here are a couple of his treasures:

Martin in his lair. 

Kodak's yellow box, a familiar sight to photographers for decades.

Watch that first step!


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Stack Of Shorts

    This week marked a major turning point in my film-to-video work. I finally got the reel of eight short films I did between 1970 and 1973 into the computer for editing. One in particular, CHEMISTRY OVERSIMPLIFIED, was a priority since I had promised to get a copy of it to the lady who appeared in it back in 1971. We met at our 40th high school reunion in 2012 and I fully intended to get it to her within a few months, if that long. Well, some bouts of pneumonia, some hospital stays and various other calamities kept me from following through until a couple of weeks ago. Once I had my desk rearranged for transfers in April, I kept testing the video cameras and through trial-and-error got some decent results.


   Art and Jill in CHEMISTRY OVERSIMPLIFIED. I never thought my eyeglass frames would come back into style.

   The other films are crude but considering the technology available to a 16-year-old high school student with a paper route and nearly zero instructional material I just "Ed Wood"-ed my way along. 
    Below are stills from the various other films I fought through the projector. With some coaching from long-time friend Martin Baumgarten in Plattsburg and some silicone spray, the 40 plus-year-old Kodachrome Super 8 and Ektachrome magnetic-striped print made the transition to video.


    Utley makes his first appearance in SOLID WASTE, a short project for biology
    class about trash and the environment. This was made in early 1970 and had
    a soundtrack added in 1973 when I got a Eumig sound-recording projector.

  THE SPRITZER FAMILY 1971 was shot in one night. The class assignment was to make a two-minute animated film. My Lafayette camera couldn't shoot single frames but a classmate's father had one that could. However, she would lend it to me but it had to back the next day. I had some rickety cardboard sets so ran the characters through a simple sitcom-like plot that leaned on camera-shaking explosions or falls to make up for the time-consuming animated scenes. 

  
   DAN (1972) was another film made with a borrowed camera but it was available for more than one night. However, it couldn't focus close enough on the camera stand so most of it was a bit-soft looking. Not to worry, the story was rather soft too. Again, without benefit of any animation literature (I would have devoured Preston Blair's animation book if I had known about it) I muddled through and had occasional help from classmates in painting the cels. The animation stand was lit with four blazingly hot lights but fortunately the scenes were short. I kept the artwork and reshot a number of scenes in 1973 when I got my own camera that shot single-frame.


   Bill Higgins was one of those high school eccentrics who was very intelligent but enjoyed playful antics too. He and his friends would hang around a table in the school library saying or doing odd things. I spotted him balancing this artificial flower on his nose, foot and finger and asked him to let me film him doing it. That's all there was to it. I don't know who came up with the ending of him being impaled by the flower stem but I guess it seemed like a logical conclusion. For all you folks who live in areas with high summer humidity, this was shot in June of 1972. Bill wasn't shy about displaying the dark armpits on his shirt (he claimed to use spray deodorant after donning it) that were a result of the muggy weather.


   After a year in the Air Force, I pulled out the Spritzer's battered set and gave them another go. This time, they're beset by green Eek-Eeks and Utley saves the day. Although I had my sound projector for a few months, I didn't animate any specific dialogue for them but added some lines when recording the track. Probably shot in late summer of 1973.

    My brother Tom (former TOM VS. JOE LaRITA star) played a white glove-wearing living cartoon character who can't get to sleep due to noises and interruptions. He finally decides a pistol to the head should do the trick. Filmed in July 1973, it was around this time that interest in classic cartoons, particularly the Warner Brothers shorts, was building as the first generation of TV-babies reached adulthood. I would say we were subconsciously patterning this after Chuck Jones' GOOD NIGHT, ELMER with a dash of Bob Clampett and Tex Avery.

   There's more to come as I clean and lubricate the other films for transfer. STAR TRIX hasn't entered the picture yet but is on the horizon.   


Saturday, April 11, 2015

COULD BE SHARPER IMAGE

   I'm edging closer to starting my film-to-video transfers but the testing for the right exposure and focus has been testy. What appears to be sharp focus in the camera monitor has been slightly soft during playback on the computer. Finding and keeping the correct exposure has been uppermost in my mind. The other problem is that as advanced as the video resolution has gotten in recent years, it still does not capture the exact look of film. Nowhere is that more obvious than watching the screens on the film chain where you actually see the projected film image then looking at the computer monitor. The darker areas on the film suddenly become black and the highlights flare. So I'm forced to decide what's more important in the scene and set the exposure accordingly.

   At present, I'm using 400 foot reels of film shot beginning in 1970 to do these tests. Since they are about 15 minutes or so in length, they give me time to do my futzing with the camera and computer settings. Below, you'll see a few stills grabbed from these old films taken during my Air Force days from 1972 to 1976. Like so many guys back then, my hair length was skirting the grooming regulations. Nobody at that time even considered piercings and any tattoos were strictly for the Navy.

Art and John Baden on set at Vandenberg's Documentary Photo section 1973.

Denim-clad Art in Frisco October 1975. Mike Eller from the Vandenberg Information Office is manning the camera.    

Sunday, April 5, 2015

EASTER TASKS

I had to put my iMac in the shop last week. Partly for adding more memory but mostly because I picked up some malware in my net travels and couldn't use it anyway. The weather was nice and after a couple of pleasant rides to San Luis Obispo to the Mac Superstore, the iMac is back on the desk ready for its intended tasks of film and tape-to-video transfer. The image on the screen is from a 2005 screening of 1930's Scrappy cartoons (see Harry McCracken's Scrappyland blog http://www.scrappyland.com/blog/ for more on Scrappy). 

 At present, piping VHS and Hi8 videos into the computer are the easiest formats to do, you can see the Super 8 projector set up nearby. As soon as I register the image and get the focus right I'll be able to get to work on footage dating back to 1970. In fact, there are number of elderly folks who weren't so elderly back then hoping I get to work on these films ASAP. And I will as soon as I get the power cords, RCA cords and various equipment working together in concert. Oh, and doing so without blacking out downtown Lompoc.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

HE'S (REALLY) DEAD, JIM.

   As everyone in the Trek universe knows by now, actor Leonard Nimoy has passed away. Oddly enough, I don't feel grief-stricken or deeply saddened by the news. We all knew he wasn't in the best of health recently (most likely compounded by the shameless incompetence of mainstream medicine) and he was, after all, past 80. It could also be that 33 years after seeing him "die" in WRATH OF KHAN his real death is a bit anti-climatic (cue Monty Python: "there's nothing so anti-climatic as coming home to dead cat"). To me it, his death was more like closing the back cover on a favorite book. There were many high and low points and abrupt turns in it but we enjoyed the read. 
    I've attended a fan gathering or two, especially while I lived in Santa Barbara briefly in 1986. I even went to one mid-1980's fan convention in LA where William Shatner appeared and I'm certain this was the event that inspired the "Get A Life" sketch on Saturday Night Live. At the time, Shatner did not do Trek conventions very often and since this one was in Hollywood's backyard near LAX it wasn't a long haul for him to get to it. There were lots of media there and I distinctly remember asking a female journalist a question and she gave a cold stare before walking away without uttering a word. "Hey, lady, you're not all that. Besides, I have to eat with these hands." Damn, always a great response decades too late.
    But I digress. The poster above was from Leonard Nimoy's appearance at the Arlington Theater (oh, pardon me, Theatre) in Santa Barbara but nowhere on it is a year listed. According to the text, Mr. Nimoy would be taking a look at "his 20-year odyssey through the STAR TREK universe". He took on the role of Spock in the STAR TREK pilot in 1964 but since STAR TREK IV (1986) would also be screening at the Arlington, then the March 6 night in question must have been 1987. Hell, Google it and correct me.
    Anyway, I paid my $5.00 and sat in middle of the half-filled theater (or theatre). Mr. Nimoy padded out with thick glasses and sweater looking somewhat like a dark-haired George Burns. He seemed a bit underwhelmed by the smaller-than-expected audience but forged ahead. While Bill Shatner seemed rather self-aware and kept the LA crowd at arms length, Nimoy was laid-back and comfortable with the folks in attendance. He made no surprising revelations or ripped into his producers and co-workers. It was a pleasant evening though I have to admit that it didn't resonate as deeply as his performances did. The fact that I can't remember any specifics of this show but can summon up lines from his series and movies probably says it best.
    I hope Mr. Nimoy finds his new odyssey "fascinating" because he helped to show us that there are always possibilities.