Making Trick PICTURES with a Home Movie Camera (May, 1932)

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Making Trick PICTURES with a Home Movie Camera

by Walter E. Burton

Half the fun in making home movies lies in getting unusual shots that will mystify friends viewing your production. Taking such trick pictures is quite simple and easy, as told here.

IF YOU purchase, borrow, or receive as a present a motion picture camera, you will find the mere process of photographing everything in sight thrilling enough for the first half-dozen reels. Then you will look about for new fields to conquer. Perhaps you will undertake the making of your own dramas or comedies—movies with a plot or at least a basic theme.

Whether you set out to tell a story in pictures, or merely are trying to make short scenes that will cause your friends to say “How in the world did he do that?” you will find the production of “trick” movies an absorbing pastime, and not necessarily a costly one.

Fantastic Scenes Easy to Fake You are, for example, making a picture in which a tired business man relaxes a bit and sees the vision of a fairy—or maybe a certain chorus girl—dancing lightly on the desk before him. The photographing of the man sitting before his desk and of a girl of miniature proportions dancing on the desk top at the same time may seem an extremely difficult task. In reality it is extremely simple, once you know the trick. This is how it can be done: Miniature Chorus Girl Dances on Desk Arrange the man and his desk in front of a photographically black background, as illustrated in Fig. 3. A piece of dead black cloth or other material will do, if it does not exhibit highlights. Plush, for example, is unsuitable because its glossy texture reflects some light.

One of the easiest arrangements is to place the man and desk at some distance in front of a large open doorway leading into a dark room.

Now place the fairy or chorus-girl dancer on a black platform the same height as the desk, and several feet behind it. Set the camera with its lens at the desk and platform level, and focus so that both the near-by desk and man and the distant dancer are sharply defined.

Now according to the laws of perspective the dancer will be rendered in small size, compared to the man; and she will appear to be dancing on the desk top. Few spectators will notice that most of the background is black.

Producing Sand and Rainstorm Scenes The producing of rain and sandstorm pictures may appear difficult enough to be beyond the amateur cameraman’s resources. But this is not necessarily the case.

Consider the rainstorm first. If you place your camera at a fairly high elevation so that the area being photographed is not great, and squirt water with a hose so that it falls in drops just ahead of the camera lens, and directly on at least part of the scene as shown in Fig. 4, you will obtain a^* realistic storm effect. Of course, you must wet the players and surrounding objects beforehand. An electric fan or two will produce enough wind to give the effect of rain being driven before a gale.

Don’t make the fatal mistake of photographing a rain scene in bright sunlight. Choose a cloudy day.

Electric Fan Blows Sandstorm The production of a sandstorm is similar in method, except that sand is used instead of water, and is driven by an electric fan placed near the camera, and out of the lens field (see Fig. 10). You can throw dry sand in front of the fan with a small shovel, or let it run through a large funnel into the blast.

The terrain being photographed must be sandy, and the actors sand-spattered. In producing both rain and sandstorm pictures, you may not be entirely successful the first time, but practice will make for perfection.

How to “Shoot” Moving Subjects In the theatre you have probably observed time and again the effect of following actors who are driving a car, riding a bicycle, flying a plane, walking or moving by some other means. How were these pictures obtained?

The shooting of such scenes is easy with simple equipment. For instance, if you desire to photograph Junior while he is sailing back and forth in his swing, you need only arrange a strong outrigger to support the camera in front of the swing, and a similar projection at the rear for a counterbalancing weight, as illustrated in Fig. 1.

Fasten the camera securely, lock the button at the “on” position, and start the swing. The resulting film will show Junior at all times in focus, but obviously swinging because the background is in apparent motion.

Auto Shots Made From Platform This method can be extended to include an endless number of applications. With a camera platform attached to the front of an automobile as shown in Fig. 9, good motoring shots can be made. It is advisable to remove or let down the wind shield when possible.

For following or preceding walking actors, a small truck, called a “dolly” in studios, is necessary. A child’s coaster wagon, preferably one with rubber tires, is elaborate enough for amateur purposes. Fig. 2 illustrates how this stunt is worked.

Anyone who has attempted to develop a glass negative in warm weather, and seen his hopes slip away with the overheated emulsion, will know instinctively how to make a “dissolving” picture.

Making Dissolving Pictures On the screen the spectators see a face or other object that gradually melts into a confusing mass. The effect is highly amusing, and is obtained by arranging a positive transparency of the picture so that it will melt and slide off its support while it is being copied with a movie camera.

Glass photographic plates are superior to film for the positive, because the emulsion on them is easily affected by heat.

Arrange the glass-plate positive so that it is suspended in a glass-sided vessel into which warm water can be introduced steadily, or which can be heated over a flame. (See Fig. 11.) Focus the camera on this positive, and arrange back illumination so that the light is evenly distributed. Device for Making Moving Titles Take a few feet of the picture before it starts to melt. Then increase the temperature of the water until the effect is complete. A little experimenting with old negatives will teach you the trick.

There are dozens of ways to make moving titles—those which are too long to be included in a single frame on the film. To devise a moving title board that is mechanically simple, first have a tinsmith make a sheet metal holder for the printed title, and a frame in which it can be moved lengthwise, as illustrated in Figs. 7 and 8. Supports of heavy wire projecting beyond each end of the frame have pulleys through which a strong linen cord runs. This cord is looped several times around a heavy wire crank set into the frame, and the ends are attached to the opposite ends of the title-card holder.

Thus, by turning the crank, the operator moves the card past the camera lens as rapidly as desired. A good way to judge the speed is to read the title as you operate the crank.

Whenever possible, use a tripod for supporting your camera while making moving pictures. You will be rewarded by scenes that do not make spectators seasick to view them. But you cannot always carry a tripod with you. The best substitute is a good supply of ingenuity.

Tripods Easily Improvised A 3-in. piece of threaded rod that will screw into the tripod socket, and a washer and wing nut to fit, will be found useful for attaching the camera to various objects. Some of the clamping devices on the market can be used, but care should be exercised because of the considerable weight of the average movie camera.

If you make pictures from an automobile frequently, you will be repaid by installing a permanent mounting somewhere. A small iron bracket on the dash, where the camera can be aimed through the windshield or door, is one possibility.

Keyhole pictures sometimes lend a bit of humor to a reel. All you need to make such a scene—one that looks as if it had been photographed through a keyhole—is a piece of black paper and a means of fastening a small disc of it in front of the camera lens.

Unique Pictures With Keyhole Mask Cut out an opening the shape of a keyhole, in the center of the paper disc. Then place the disc, with the keyhole in normal position, in front of the lens. The larger the hole, the farther from the lens you must place it. Another method is illustrated in Fig. 6.

In making the exposure, give a little more time than the lens stop indicates. In photographing keyhole scenes, as well as other types where “freak” effects are desired, be logical. That is, do not shoot a landscape scene through a keyhole mask. Make it a burglar at work, someone stealing up the porch steps, or something similar. How to Make Objects Disappear The ability of the motion picture camera to stop while some detail of the scene or action is changed opens the way for performing all kinds of magic tricks on the screen. A man sits at the table, reads his menu and speaks to the waiter. Instantly the grapefruit appears before him, followed by the other dishes in rapid succession.

This effect is obtained by having the diner and the waiter hold their poses rigidly while the camera is stopped and the grapefruit set down. Then a foot or two is taken, and the actors are free to move. Again, the camera is stopped and another object placed on the table, and so on to the end.

Conversely, objects can be removed from a picture by the stop-motion method. You see a child walk behind a large cardboard box, or perhaps crawl into it. Then a truck comes along and flattens out the box, leaving no sign of the child. It’s easy if you stop the camera long enough for the child to move out of the picture.

Double-exposure effects, such as photographing a person inside a glass tumbler or flask, are obtained in a manner similar to that employed for the fairy dancing scene. Make the exposure when the main objects are placed in front of a black background. Of course, it is necessary to run the film through the camera two or more times.

Multiple-exposure work requires an accurate film footage meter. Walter Baer, a Pittsburgh photographer, has found that an old alarm clock makes a good meter. He removes all of the works with the exception of the hands and their connecting gearing. To the minute hand shaft he fastens an extension shaft that fits into the key socket of his camera.

By measurement he has found that, for the type of camera he uses (Filmo), a revolution of the hour hand indicates 36 feet of film, one revolution of the minute hand, three feet, and one-half minute equals a single frame on the film.

Action which normally is only moderately interesting on the screen becomes highly absorbing if it is reversed. A cat walking down the porch steps in regular order is not nearly as startling as one that proceeds up or down the steps backwards.

All you have to do to make such pictures is turn your camera upside down! Then, after the film is finished, cut out the section showing the scene, turn it end for end, and cement it in place.

Fancy diving, a man plowing a field, a motor car—in fact, any action that normally proceeds in one direction makes good material for this kind of trick.

If you want something really novel, use two cameras, one mounted upside down, and film the same scene with both of them. Then mount the two versions of the scene in series. On the screen the action will be seen to proceed normally, then suddenly reverse and repeat the same steps backwards.

An attempt has been made to suggest rather than describe how the amateur motion picture camera can be employed for photography other than the uninteresting run-of-mine variety. By exercising your imagination, and studying the unusual photographic effects, you see in motion picture theatres, you can add an endless number of other ideas.

  1. Toronto says: January 10, 20094:22 pm

    I especially like the ‘good motoring shots’ idea.

  2. Dave says: March 31, 20093:00 am

    Indeed. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

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