Thursday, July 30, 2015

THE SPRITZER FAMILY GO WEST

   After figuring out the exposure situation on the Yashica, I began shooting various films that this new camera could handle. That especially included animated films and one of the first revived The Spritzer Family. Their 1971 debut was hurriedly shot in one night but now I could take my time. It clocked in about half a minute longer than the original but had a bit more dialogue and more of a story. Utley was added to the family as well as Junior, their son. They were menaced by the dreaded Eek-Eeks and only the timely arrival of Utley finished them. June's mother, the Old Lobster, survived her seeming demise at the end of the original Spritzer Family film. She was the one who summoned Utley but is later seen fleeing the vengeful Eek-Eeks.
   I brought their ramshackle set from New York with me and got down to business as usual. It never occurred to me to start from scratch with a brand new set made of sturdier material. I guess it was a bit of loyalty to their origins or perhaps not wanting to clutter up my barracks room little cardboard buildings. When I was working on Star Trix we had an open closet inspection and the starship crew got some funny looks from the First Sergeant and his staff. 

OF MANNY MOUSE AND MEN

As mentioned in my previous post about the Yashica LD-6, it was after shooting MANNY MOUSE in July 1973 that I discovered how to get the exposure brighter using the backlight switch. The discovery was like a bulb lighting up, which is exactly the scene in this film where it happened. Of course, it was a bit bizarre when Manny supposedly turned the light off to go to sleep and the room suddenly lit up. By the time the film was processed and the goof was discovered, I was 3,000 miles away back at Vandenberg. However, once I found out how to get the exposure right, I was off and running with new projects. Besides, MANNY MOUSE lived in a world of his own so turning the lights on to sleep seemed pretty normal after all. 

 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

THE CAMERA THAT CAME TO DINNER

    About two weeks after high school graduation, I was on my way to Air Force basic training at Lackland AFB, Texas. Texas is no place to be in July and after my six weeks there in 1972, I never returned. 
     My movie projects were abandoned for the time being and I nearly didn't get into any job photo-related at one point. Fortune smiled on me, however, and I ended up being sent to Lowry AFB, Colorado for motion picture laboratory school. Although I thought I signed up for motion picture camera school, having it your way was not an option in the military. I sent for my Lafayette Super 8 camera but it arrived damaged and unusable. The sights and delights of Denver 
were lost for those three months since my finances weren't covering many luxuries.
    When I finally arrived at my permanent assignment at Vandenberg AFB, California, I started saving up for a new movie camera and this is what $133 got for me:


This is my Yashica LD-6 Super-8 camera. Featuring a 6 to 1 zoom and through-the-lens viewing, it had a power zoom, three speeds, single frame shooting for animation and built-in lap dissolve feature. It could fade out on a scene, backwind the film 54 frames and fade in again allowing me to transition from scene to scene in the camera. It could also be used for my favorite disappear/reappear effect except now the character could slowly fade out of the scene instead of instantly popping out.


The camera took a 50 foot film cartridge which translated to about four minutes at 18 frames per second. The faster speeds of 24  and 36 fps meant you ate up footage faster so pretty much all my films were shot at 18. I always kept aware of the footage meter, of course. Below it is the remote control port, the knob above the meter was to focus the eye piece for your particular vision. On the right is the door release where the film cartridge was loaded.


For the first six months that I owned the camera, I left the backlight switch in the center position but always felt the exposure was a bit dim. Actually, I was the dim one because when I shot a scene that I wanted dim I switched it to the + position and everything was brightly lit at normal exposure. The fader could be used independently of the lap dissolve switch for standard fade-ins and fade-outs. 


Ahhhh! The number 1 indicates that the camera is set for single frame exposure which allowed me to finally do my own animation without borrowing anyone else's camera. The R means normal Running film speed, RL is Running Lock so you could start the camera and step into the frame yourself. L stands for, well, you can guess what the L is for.


    I generally used the power zoom although I quickly found out that all these power features ate up the six AA batteries very fast. Later I bought a rubber zoom stick so I could manually zoom in and out.
    When shooting outdoors, the top-mounted flood lamp was removed and a neutral density filter slid down inside the camera to balance the color for sunlight. If you were shooting indoors with lights not mounted on the camera, the key was inserted to remove the ND filter to balance the color for tungsten light. The red button on the side was for the battery check which emitted a green light. The dimmer the light, the weaker the batteries.
    This was the workhorse camera that saw the further adventures of the Spritzer Family and the maiden voyages of STAR TRIX. It helped launch Capt. Coors, Ordinaryman and many short one-shot films throughout the 1970's. It was my companion on leave to the east coast and anywhere else I wanted to document. I haven't run any film through it in years but I'm sure it will respond whenever I call upon it. Not bad for $133. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

DAISY PUSHES BACK

   About late May or early June of 1972, I was winding down my various projects and preparing to leave for Air Force basic training on July 7 (43 years ago today, whoopee!). I decided to shoot one last short film capturing classmate Bill Higgins' flower balancing (or valiant attempts) that entertained the library staff and visitors (we hope). This being a normal New York late spring, the humidity was quite high and Bill's shirt displayed it quite well. He claimed that he used spray deodorant but only after putting his shirt on. It was grungy before grunge surfaced elsewhere decades later. 



    There were a few scenes shot in the school library but I think we were asked to leave. We took our act to the small group instruction room up the hall but had to contend with the highly reflective projection screen on stage. Eventually we got enough scenes of Bill actually balancing the flower and called it a day.   
    I don't remember who came up with the unhappy ending but any sequels to this will have to take place in that big library in the sky. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Oui, Oui, Senior (12th Grade Stuff)

   During my senior year in high school, I was finishing the last episodes of "Tom Vs. Joe LaRita" and working on (rather half-heartedly) a class project. This one was for a hand-drawn animated film called "Dan". He was a French hunchback (obviously to us Long Island students, hunchbacks were French because of Notre Dame and we never heard of any Brazilian Hunchbacks) who sailed to America and was abused his whole time here. The film ended with him meeting Danielle, a female hunchback, but she disappears before anything got spicy started. He mutters an incomprehensible "After all that, I don't get the girl?" and punches the camera. 
    As a "class project" this was supposed to involve everyone in the art class but with negligible progress made by January 1972 the clock was ticking. The only ones who seemed to be interested at that point were Joe Aimetti and I so we started to work with what was done up to that point.
    Without the animation "how-to" books available today, we had nothing to guide us. The mentality seemed to be "draw a lot of pictures, film them and that's animation". I remember we obtained sheets of acetate from somewhere to use as cels. The first time we inked the drawings on the cels, we used the wrong kind of ink and when it dried it blew off the surface like dust. We used model car paints for the color and we knew enough to paint them on the reverse side of the ink so the color dried flat. The panoramic background was rolled up and was a bitch to photograph because we didn't have a real animation stand for that purpose. I still have a lot of the cels in a shoe box but I dread opening it to check their condition. "hybrid" of the 1972 film.


    After I got to Vandenberg and bought my Yashica, I rephotographed some of the blurriest scenes and added them to the original class version of the film. Upon rewatching the film after uploading it, I realized that the majority of the film was rephotographed. Since the Yashica LD-6 could do in-camera lap-dissolves, there are a couple here that weren't available to us in 1972. So the version you have is a "hybrid" of the 1972 film. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

POST MOD-ELING CLAY

   I'm a bit wonky about embedding the videos from YouTube to the blog here but I may have figured it out AGAIN. 

   
Anyway, here's the second film I did in high school outside of the "Tom Vs. Joe LaRita" series. This is from 1971 and features the clay family who would eventually play host to Capt. Klurk and the crew from "Star Trix" in 1974. The Spritzers and their shabby set remained constant up to their last film in 1975. I learned a lot from Jim Ereaux's meticulously built Star Trix sets and applied it for my 1980's ST epic.

   Next up is "Chemistry Oversimplified" another extra credit class project from 1971. Joe Aimetti handled the camera, Jill Hutchinson was the science genie whom I almost handled as the frustrated scientist.



   The film was shot silent with sound added in 1973 when I got my first Eumig sound projector. Jim Ereaux provided the Boris Karloff-style narration. The sound-striped print was made in 1973 prior to my reshooting the closing credits due to the originals being over-exposed and blurry. Unfortunately, the new credits ran slightly longer so I had to try to fill the space on the soundtrack to finish the film. Hopefully, this will be the last such belated fix I'll have to make but who knows what's lurking in all those film cans.

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.