My first try with the RD motor on Bolex

The Bolex’s  footage counter showed 90.  I dearly wanted to get the film out for processing.   Seven or so feet to go.  I hate wasting film.   Like many independent film-makers I have a shot-list as long as my arm,  and I hastily ran through it.  For such times I generally choose to do very easy shots,  but I thought I could perhaps try a slightly harder one today.  It was a shot of a tile falling off a roof on a stormy day.  I had initially  thought of doing it for ‘real’  (though that wouldn’t work today… sunny July 1st !)    No,  it would be easier anyway to do it as a miniature.   So I set up a miniature card tile with blutak on a circular pane of glass (about £8 at my local glass merchant).    It revolves by hand in a wooden grooved stand I’d  rigged up.   The background is a slide composite projected on to white card.   With the “tile”  lit obliquely by another slide projector,  I quickly realised that the slowest speed on my Bolex wasn’t going to give a small enough f-stop on the lens to put both planes in reasonable focus.  I was getting f2 but I really needed something like f4 on the 26mm Switar.  DSC09978

Then I remembered an add-on  RD  MF-14  motor that had yet to be put into use.   This unit goes at 4 fps giving more light.  So this was bolted on the camera and switched on. Now as the motor hummed into action I rather slowly turned the glass panel.   I found this quite difficult, trying to be smooth, but maybe a slight jerkiness could look more realistic.  We shall see !  I managed a few takes.   If successful I plan to add some superimposed rain later.

That was about 4 o’clock this afternoon.  I got the film out and cycled down to the post office.  Now awaiting  Andec’s  email.  Then the postman… These bits of excitement you miss with digital !

By the way, I got this idea of the circular glass from the gravity-free pen shot in  “2001″.   Wonder how Kubrick attached the pen to the glass prior to the air hostess retrieving it ?


Single Frame Panning in Go Motion

Last time we looked at Closeup Panning using a long rod protruding from the pan-and-tilt head.  Now this same technique can be used for general Single-Frame Panning.   Filming this way has added control for some subjects such as miniatures.  Or maybe a time-lapse shot of a town or landscape is more effective with a pan.  If you look at the rear side of my board below you will see I have marked the slot for each frame to be exposed.

Firstly  I cut a thread along the short portion of 6mm rod at the rear end of the main rod.  Then I found a short piece of brass bar that was drilled centrally and tapped so it screws on to this portion.  So now when the rod protrudes through the slot,  it is possible to use the bar to rule a series of lines.  Note that I have faired the motion at one end,  very small gaps so as to gently finish the pan.  Because the camera moves slightly to and fro as it tilts,  the brass bar needs to be screwed in and out occasionally.

Here you can see a wider view. I was panning over a projected slide of a river-bank  scene with a live action insert of the water.  This was achieved with a 16mm Analyser projector,  one of the later modified Spectos.   How to create mattes ?  Blutack ! Note the glass panel positioned midway between the projectors and the screen  (which is white paper that can have crayon detail added) .  After adjusting the colour filtration on the projectors,   lower light levels meant that I had to use quite a long exposure per frame.

Now,  although Single Frame filming is a very controlled method, panning across something can pose a problem.  Depending on the detail of the photo, artwork or object you are filming, and the speed of the pan, you could end up with a certain staccato effect.   Some motion-blur often enhances the realism of a shot.  Go Motion is the answer.  According to Wiki they first used it in “The Empire Strikes Back” (but didn’t  “2001″ have some ?) and Go Motion has created effects in many films since.  Now largely superseded by digital techniques,  it continues to be used at times for animating Wallace and Grommit !  Unlike Stop Motion,  the idea is that the camera takes the exposure while the object (or camera) is moving.  It is necessary to have a camera  that can take long exposures.   For my pan shot with the Bolex H16  I set each exposure for 2 seconds,  using the Bolex Animation Motor.    To get some motion-blur I simply moved the brass bar a bit during each exposure towards the next mark.  But as you see, the smaller gaps made any go motion superfluous.

Accurate exposures are possible to do without an animation motor.  You should decide on a time exposure of at least 5 seconds,  any less and you risk fluctuation.  With a seconds-clock close by,   operate the camera with a long cable release.  A go motion Assistant could be handy !

Close-up Panning made easy

Remember that challenging game at the local fete… you have to pass a loop of wire along a length of curly wire,  without sounding the bell or buzzer.  Sometimes it can feel like this,  trying to execute a complicated pan in closeup across a photo or miniature.  Errors in framing or smoothness are magnified later on the screen.  So one mistake and you have to start all over again…  and spend some more film.

I’ve  made myself a tool that makes the job much, much easier.  It’s  based around a Bolex pan and tilt head,  though other tripod heads may be suitable as well.


I took  out the  handle and bored the hole through to the front.  Into this hole I have inserted a yard of M10  threaded studding.  Make sure it is not bent.  The studding is secured in the head with 2 nuts and 2 washers.  I’ve  allowed a short length in front of the head,  see above.   Over the studding to the rear of the head  I have fitted some steel tubing.  This is secured both ends with M10 nuts and considerably strengthens the studding so it doesn’t  bend in use. pan-cu-6-300x200  The rear portion of the studding has been filed thinner,  removing all the thread.   This accepts a coiled spring followed by a short length of tubing.  Finally I reduced  the last length of the studding to 6mm in width.   This can in turn be threaded and I will say more about this in my next post,  but it’s not necessary now.  In this sketch, all measurements are approximate,  and you may have other ideas.

Now get a piece of hardboard about 15 inches square,  and strengthen the sides with strips of wood about an inch by one and a half thick.  Lightly nail on,  so that this wooden frame can be reused.  Set up vertically on a stout support such as the back of a chair, clamping  with strips of wood.   Or perhaps clamp to a table-top.

Individual set-ups will of course vary.  But the general principle is that the end of the studding must almost touch the hardboard.  Fit the tube and insert a piece of chalk into the end,  so that the spring pushes it against the board.  Do a dummy-run of the pan,  carefully and slowly,  making sure that the framing in your viewfinder is perfect.  Behind you should appear a curly chalk line !

Now remove the framed board,  and cut out the chalk line with a sharp knife,  widening it to about  6 mm.    Remove the chalk and its tube,  and clamp the board in position as before.   Loosen the nuts on the pan head and shift the rod backwards,  so that the rear end pokes though the slot.   Tighten the nuts.  Recheck the camera move:   the path is now controlled by the rod in the slot.  I have fitted a bungee towards the rear of the rod to balance the camera and make the pan smoother,  and it will be convenient to hold the rod with one hand near this position.  pan-cu-4-300x200 Now it’s time to film the shot for real.   All you need to do is concentrate on the tempo and any necessary pausing during the shot.  You can note these positions on the board so it isn’t necessary to peer through the viewfinder.   The framing is done automatically.

All this may seem a lot of fuss,  but believe me this gadget has already saved me  film and frustration.  Next time I’ll show how it works for single-frame too.


Miniature 16mm Projector for a tenner


There are times when it’s  good to use a movie projector to show single frames.  Possibilities for creating different images are endless,  particularly in the field of animation and miniature filming.  Having converted various super-8 and 16mm single-frame projectors for different purposes,  I decided to make a very small 16mm projector that could be put anywhere…. in the corner of a rostrum or within a miniature set.   In this way,  a live action image can be incorporated in artwork or still slide images,  or perhaps a model building etc.

Firstly,   I needed a precision 16mm movement that was small enough,  and I decided on a very old Bell & Howell projector.  There were thousands of these 600 series machines made,  long before the  larger ‘modern’  B&H models 652 onwards with big lenses.  Many very old models are still found at car boot sales and so on,  often without all the bits.    I have yet to find a series 600 that does not produce satisfactory images…. the movement was a  classic design.  How to check for picture steadiness ?   One way is to put a light in the lamphouse and project an image of a film of known steadiness onto a wall or card, adjusting the frame control so the frameline is sharply visible.  Mark a couple of points with pencil.  Turn the inching knob  to transport  a foot or so of film,  examining the pencil marks to see if they wander.  Alternatively,  run the projector if it wants to run and  if  it’s safe to do so, ( or join the inching knob shaft via a flexible shaft to another projector).   It is important to note here that old projectors may not be electrically safe.   Therefore,  do not operate the motor switch etc  except when the mains is disconnected.  Turn the motor on and off at the mains.

Satisfied with the steadiness and kindness to film (quite easy to check)  I dismantled the projector apart from the section holding the movement, gate assembly and lens mounting.  CAUTION:  Great care must be taken when removing the motor because the gearing  that works the intermittent movement is made of very soft material.  Once this is damaged the projector is useless.

You can perhaps see that I have sawn away superfluous metal housing.  Whenever I do this sort of job I seal all the innards with sticky tape,  so no swarf can enter.   I have also fitted very small spool arms that carry  the 16mm wide  standard 8mm camera spools (I have filed the centre to fit)  .   The metal belt that turns the take-up spool is shortened.   The light source is a 12 volt 35 watt GU4 halogen mirror lamp (about 35mm diameter) which I have attached to one of those 12 volt desk lamps that were popular until recently.  I have found that no extra cooling is necessary, and the film keeps flat in the gate for long periods.   The condenser lenses have been removed as they are not needed.

The lamp is held in place by 2 clips, one shown
The lamp is held in place by 2 clips, one shown

The lenses on these old Bell & Howells are quite good,  though not as fast as their later  lenses.  Also they tend to soften slightly at the edges,  but this is not necessarily a bad thing when you are trying to hide the seams of the image.   I can’t  remember how much I paid for this old Bell & Howell,  probably no more than a fiver since both transformer and lead were missing.  And the lamp I suppose a similar amount,  so not bad eh for  £10 ?    The light output is of course not very great,  but sufficient for small images a few inches across .   I may connect a flexible cable to the inching knob so it can be turned at a distance.   I have fixed the projector to a sturdy base so it can be clamped anywhere,  and have added a tripod screw hole.