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January 16, 2006

scenes from "Explorations in Super8"

by sven at 12:00 pm

I turned in my final project for the "Super 8mm Filmmaking" class at on Sunday (Jan 15). I tried to turn it in twice on Friday (the deadline), but no one was at Radius Studios (grrrrr).

I feel like this class is jinxed. I just wouldn't be surprised at all if my film cartridge somehow got lost in the mail. So, I will now spoil all surprise and describe exactly what I did for this project. I'm hoping that when I get the developed film back, I'll be able to do a transfer to digital and put it online. But, like I said, I'm not holding my breath.

I shot one complete film cartridge. A cartridge contains 50 feet of film, which works out to be around 3 minutes 30 seconds of screen time. To keep track of where I was in the roll of film, I used graph paper to make worksheets -- marking off one square for each frame shot.

I took quite a few "making of" shots with the digital camera... Not everything's covered, but you'll get the idea.

title card

Opening shot: The words "Explorations in Super8" write themselves on a white backdrop. The camera angle changes, showing that the words were actually written on a surface that was at an angle. The closed spaces of the the letters P, O, R, and A -- and of the number 8 -- sequentially turn black, as I put pieces of black paper over them. These cut-out shapes then all slowly tilt sideways. All the cut-outs on the left slide over to the right and are consumed by the black shapes there (the "O" of exploration and the "8"). The remaining "Explorations in Super8" logo appears again later in the film.

exploration #1

The number "1" seems to write itself on top of the logo...

grease pencil on a sheet of acrylic "glass"

...This effect was achieved by writing the number "1" in grease pencil on a sheet of acrylic "glass". I was very pleased with the strategy I came up with for making the glass stand up. As you can see in the photo, each side of the glass is clamped to a piece of wood. These two pieces of wood are held in corner clamps. The corner clamps are then clamped to the table using two more clamps (a total of six clamps).

the "blockheads" present themselves

Eight blocks that I made previously, ones with photocopies of my face on them, present themselves in a half-circle. The middle two swap places. The next two out knock heads and return to their places. As do the next two out. The last blockhead on the left runs over to the one on the far right and tips him over.

blockheads cavorting on the wall and the ground

The blockheads start running around the set willy-nilly. Some slide across the floor; others slide up, down, and across the wall. One comes down the wall and gets on top of a block that's on the floor.

everyone's about to be just two blocks tall

A little comedy: a totem pole of two blocks, a totem pole of three blocks, and a single block all stand next to each other. The middle one looks at the others and seems pleased that it's the tallest. The one on the left rams it while it's not looking, and then everyone is equally two-blocks-tall.

exploration #2

The first exploration used a predominantly white set, where butcher paper was the backdrop. The second exploration dealt with sets that were predominantly black. Using the same trick that I used for "#1", I animate "#2" appearing by writing with a white grease pencil on the glass sheet. In both cases I also animated the numbers erasing themselves.

ghostly skull

My face, floating in blackness, is replaced with a ghostly skull. See my post on "compositing, retro-style" for details.


A spaceship rockets between the stars. As it zooms past, the stars spin in its wake. The spaceship is a drawing cut out of paper; its exhaust is made out of green tissue paper.


The spaceship fires its retro-rockets and gently lands on an alien world. The mountains and hills are made from scraps of blue insulation foam.

panicking robot

A panicking robot runs by in the foreground. The focus changes, and we see the landed rocket in the background.

exploration #3

Having done "light" and "dark", I decided to do "wet" and "dry". Exploration #3 is animation done using sand (dry concrete mix, actually). After I draw the "3", I animate it disappearing -- by vacuuming up a little bit of it at a time.

(For how-to details, read "animating: sand, paint, shadow.")

flag made of sand

Three O's appear. They turn into two eyes and a mouth. The mouth smiles -- and then frowns, and tears fall. The lines that make up the eyes connect themselves to the mouth, and the resulting snake wriggles its way off screen.

New scene: I cover the entire screen with sand. I wipe some away, so that white shows through, and an American flag appears. I make the stripes seem to flap in the wind. The flag dissolves, and the mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb appears. (Clearly I was free-associating here!) The cloud disappears, and random zig-zag lines mark the sand for a while.

exploration #4

On to "wet" animation! A number four paints itself on the glass, and then erases itself.

paint "weaving"

I splatter paint onto the whiteness a little at a time until there's a black puddle. The puddle turns into a checkerboard. The checkerboard becomes a more ornate "weaving" pattern.

paint "whorl"

Circles radiate out from the center. A spiral takes its place. The spiral pattern becomes a wild whorl. The whorl resolves into a painting of a human eye, which blinks once. The paint is gradually wiped away, until it looks like a bagel. Bites disappear from the bagel until it's gone. (I must have been hungry!)

exploration #5

I thought it would be interesting to use this retro medium, Super8, to film digital images. I think there's an impulse, if you're using super8, to try to make everything look "old-timey." Why ignore the existence of digital? Maybe hi-resolution digital captured on low-resolution Super8 will create an interesting visual effect... ?

For the transition to this section, I quickly made a three dimensional "5" in LightWave and set up a scene where it would rotate. Rather than rendering out this footage, I simply advanced the frames manually in preview mode, and snapped a shot each time with the super8 cam.


I experimented with reusing animations that I've made previously. The first one, "star", shows a person looking at the sky... They see something and point at it; they reach out a hand, and catch a falling star. This animation exists as a QuickTime movie. I advanced it one frame at a time on an Apple Cinema Display, taking two shots of each frame with the super8 cam.


The second animation I recycled is called "dot". It was an improvization where a dot morphs into all kinds of random shapes. Both "star" and "dot" can be seen in their original forms at my old "Sven's Animation" site.

filming a QuickTime movie on the laptop

For "dot", I tried filming the movie off of the laptop rather than from the workhorse computer. I shot this using the macro setting -- and have a suspicion it'll probably be all blurry. I tried filming "dot" three times in succession: once at 3 frames for each drawing, once at 2 frames per drawing, and once at 1 frame per drawing.

exploration #6

For the sixth and final exploration, I decided to work with shadow puppets. The shadow of the number six appears, and then disappears.

(For how-to details, read "animating: sand, paint, shadow.")

robot walking away

A shadow robot waves, shakes its head, and walks off screen.

Random geometric shapes -- squares, rectangles, triangles, circles -- appear and disappear in interesting patterns. A circle and triangle form themselves into a timer, which goes through two revolutions.

"the end" - part 1

At this point, my best guess was that I had 10 - 20 seconds of film left. I brought Gretchin over to the studio and had her help me with the final shot. I wanted to have this last bit be live-action, and I needed her help to actually run the camera.

Gretchin -- fine calligrapher that she is -- wrote "by sven" for me on my the back of my hand...

"the end" - part 2

I show the camera the back of my hand: it says "by sven". I turn my hand over and "2006" is there, written on my palm. Just as I finished showing my palm to the camera, we think we heard the camera run out of film...


posted by sven | January 16, 2006 12:00 PM | categories: movies, stopmo