Monday, June 30, 2008

Industrial Light and Magic...Thomas Smith

Pretty much dinosaurs of the past are the well-crafted [mostly] educational films distributed usually through the Encyclopedia Britannica Films and the product of independent producers and well-established companies like the Bell System, Centron Productions, Coronet Films, and the Handy [Jam] Organization. For the student they provided an interlude to a boring teacher's daily lecture and emulation of the school audio-visual geek. Actually, these old items are highly prized now and the focus of preservation providing a bundle of nostalgia and insight into social phenomena. The following sample is called "Solar System" by Thomas Smith [Star Wars fame] which " his academic film masterwork, which took over a year to create, over 13 weeks to film, and utilized "traveling mattes," with as many as five separate films running in the background, showcasing wonderful models and graphics."

Thomas Smith said...

"I made that film in 1976 with Richard Basehart as narrator and a classical music score recorded in the Soviet Union... this was the film that turned my career toward visual effects. We shot it in a large rented space in the back of a West Los Angeles dress factory. We hung large black curtains to keep out light out from the factory but we could still hear the sewing machine whirring away behind the curtain. They were making bathrobes at the time, out of fluffy material. It took months of preparation before we could shoot our first frame of film. We laid down a forty foot stretch of track of parallel plumbing ipes and put down a camera support whose movements were on a geared guide so every increment of movement could be controlled with the turn of a wheel. Nearly all of the shots involved a moving camera. It was like animation with three dimensional model planets instead of cell images. We found the best material for the planets was hard wood. So we hired a Hollywood cabinet shop to make nine spheres for us, about 18 inches in diameter. These were sanded and painted to match images in astronomy books and observatory photos. Shooting one frame at a time meant we never got more than a few seconds of film shot in a day. One long shot involved the camera moving in on Mars. The first long day's work was ruined. As the camera came in on the red planet, a large piece of fuzz came into frame, sitting on the planet. It had drifted down on the sphere from the dress factory."

"Solar System"

Older films on many subjects may be seen at the Prelinger Archives via the Internet Archive.

Prelinger Archives was founded in 1983 by Rick Prelinger in New York City. Over the next twenty years, it grew into a collection of over 60,000 "ephemeral" (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) films. In 2002, the film collection was acquired by the Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Prelinger Archives remains in existence, holding approximately 4,000 titles on videotape and a smaller collection of film materials acquired subsequent to the Library of Congress transaction. Its goal remains to collect, preserve, and facilitate access to films of historic significance that haven't been collected elsewhere. Included are films produced by and for many hundreds of important US corporations, nonprofit organizations, trade associations, community and interest groups, and educational institutions. Getty Images represents the collection for stock footage sale, and almost 2,000 key titles are available here. As a whole, the collection currently contains over 10% of the total production of ephemeral films between 1927 and 1987, and it may be the most complete and varied collection in existence of films from these poorly preserved genres.

Prelinger Archives

Furthermore, here is cool animated geometric film by Philip Stapp entitled "Symmetry" made in 1966.

"...Philip Stapp was one of the greatest animators working in the 1950-1975 era, using stylized, often pointillist abstract imagery, in a floating world sometimes surrealist, at other times reminiscent of Japanese "ukiyo-e" illustration. His spectacular 'Symmetry' is his greatest film, a fantasy of dancing images breaking apart, spinning, and converging."


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