THE SECRET NUCLEAR BUNKER 2014
Deep beneath the Essex countryside lies a concrete souvenir of the Cold War era. Black & White negative super 8 film, home processed and DIY digitized.
CABLE CAR 2013
Take a high-wire ride across the River Thames aboard The cable Car. Black & White negative super 8 film, home processed and DIY digitized. It may look a bit rough, but this film marks a huge technical achievement. The film was developed in my own home-made spiral tank and then digitized using my home-made film-scanning machine too.
WALL of DEATH 2013
Marvel at the death-defying antics of the Ken Fox Wall of Death Troupe. I decided to take DIY film-making adventure to the next level and have just started dabbling with home-developing. This little experimental film represents my first tests using B&W negative film and mixing up some Caffenol C-M developer.
ENFIELD, MY KINDA TOWN 2013
In homage to the 1960s-1980s travelogue films of Harold Baim I decided to make a film about my own home town; the North London suburb of Enfield. To get the right look, I decided to shoot on real film. This was all shot on 5 cartridges of Kodak Ektachrome 100D super8 film over an extended period between between autumn 2011 and early 2013.
SOME OLD SUPER8 FILMS FROM MY COLLEGE DAYS 1989-1992
These films were mostly shot on a Bell&Howell camera I had back in the early '90s. Much of the footage from my inter-rail trip around Europe would later get used in my college film projects.
HOME MOVIES FROM TRIP TO CALIFORNIA 2008
I bought a Braun Nizo S800 camera in 2008 and took it with me on this family holiday. All this was shot on one roll of Ektachrome 64T. This film was transferred to video using using my own cobbled together frame by frame telecine system. I learnt a lot about DIY telecine techniques from various websites and felt moved to have a go myself.
+++UPDATE SEPT 2011+++ Some clips from this film have now been used (by arrangement) in the promo video for the new Lana Del Rey song 'Video Games'.
OUR 8mm WEDDING 2009
On our wedding day I handed my Nizo S800 (loaded with a roll of 64T) to my friend Ellis Pritchard. I think Ellis did an excellent job with the cinematography. I'd loved to have done a bit of filming too, but I was otherwise ... engaged. This film went to Andec lab in Germany for processing then on to Uppsala Bildteknik in Sweden for HD Flashscan telecine (8mm to Quicktime) conversion.
A NOTE ABOUT SUPER 8 CAMERAS
I've had several different super8 cameras in the past. My first one was a Bell&Howell FilmoSonic, then a Sankyo ES-88XL. When I got back into super8 in 2008, I looked on Gumtree and found the Nizo S800. The Nizos were made in Germany and are amongst the best cine cameras. Braun/Nizo also hired top product designers of the day such as Dieter Rams: these are elegant and very stylish cameras that feel very good in the hand. I'm currently using one of the smaller Nizos; my 'new' 156XL.
The Super 8 format is 4x3 ratio (just like television in the pre-widescreen TV days), but I'm experimenting with a Panasonic LA7200 Anamorphic Adaptor to shoot a film in 16x9 (modern widescreen TV format). Here's my Nizo 156XL with the Anamorphic lens adaptor attached...
I've now made a simple baseplate that now lets me focus the camera without the anamorphic adaptor spinning around...
All super8 cameras are old, my Nizos are from the 1970s and the format pretty much died (from mainstream use anyway) in the 1980s when camcorders became cheap enough and the home video era took over. It is getting harder these days to find good cine cameras in working condition. Cameras can be found easily on ebay, but I'd say from bitter experience that many of these are probably non-functional.
A NOTE ABOUT SUPER 8 FILM +++ UPDATED JAN 2013+++
Contrary to popular belief, it is still possible to buy and process super 8 film. Kodak still make several varieties of filmstock in Super 8 cartridges. The classic Kodachrome40 is long gone now, and Ektachrome 64T came and went, and for the last couple of years I've been using Kodak 100D reversal. However, in a shock announcement in December 2012, Kodak announced the end of 100D, their last available colour reversal cine film stock. BUT on the same day they announced a new negative super 8 film (Kodak Vision 3 50D), so they have somewhat given and taken away simultaneously. Over recent years, Kodak has also been increasing the cost of Super 8 film considerably; in addition to processing and scanning costs, I'm sure this will dissuade many people from using the format.
For the above reasons, I've recently been shooting (non Kodak) Argenti APX100 Black and white negative film. This film is relatively cheap, but can be home-processed relatively easily (see below).
|3 rolls of Kodak 100D reversal film stock, discontinued by Kodak in December 2012, marking the end of reversal (ready to project) colour cine film from Kodak.|
A NOTE ABOUT PROCESSING SUPER 8 FILM
Once the cartridges are shot, they have to be developed. For the best results you send your cartridge away to one of the few remaining labs, where they have all the machines, chemistry and technicians to do this properly. In recent years I've been sending mine to Andec Labs in Berlin. It takes around 3 weeks to send your films to Germany (from here in the UK) and get them processed and returned. The returned film comes back on a small plastic 50 foot spool.
But, if you're very impatient/adventurous, and don't mind your films looking a little 'unique' you can process your films at home. I've recently been trying this, and have chosen to shoot Argenti APX100 Black and White negative film to make the processing easier.
I read about home-brew Caffenol developer. (A home mixed developer solution made with coffee!) and had to give this a try. I have used this method to make my short experimental film Wall of Death
To further pursue the home developing of cine film, I have now hacked together my own DIY version of the Lomo spiral processing tank. This actually works! I call it the 'Lomalike' tank and I've written all about it on a blogpost here.
|My very own DIY cine film processing tank.|
SOME NOTES ABOUT DIGITIZING SUPER 8 FILM
In the old days, it was enough to run your processed film on your projector and gather around to watch it playing out on a wall or projector screen. The more ambitious film-maker would cut the less successful scenes out and splice the pieces of film back together again; usually using a small plastic tape splicer device and some special sticky-backed splicing tapes.
However, these days I want to have the film digitized so that I can edit using the editing software I am most familiar with (Adobe Premiere and After Effects) and ultimately I want to show the films on-line.
The process of converting the film to more usable digital video is generally called telecine or film-scanning. The cheapest DIY approach is to project your film and 're-film' it with a camcorder, the most expensive way is to send your film to a fancy post-production house with a proper film scanner. There are many options in-between on the cost vs. quality continuum.
Suffice to say I spent a long time working on the DIY route. There are some very smart people who have taken this a lot further than I have, and fortunately they have been willing to share their findings. Roger Evans runs a company called Moviestuff, he seems to have pioneered the 'frame by frame' method of capturing of cine film to PC. He sells the equipment to do this pretty well too, but I decided to modify my old Chinon movie projector and have a go myself. Based on this method, the set-up I was using a couple of years ago, was pretty much this...
1: Modified Chinon 2000GL projector. Adapted to run slow (around 3 fps with pulsed motor control circuit) also with low voltage cooler-running light source to prevent film burning. A magnet attached to the rotating shutter disc triggers a reed switch every time a frame is stationary in the gate. A hacked mouse circuit provides a USB click to the host PC to trigger capture of each frame.
2: 120mm diameter plano-convex condenser lens to capture aerial image thrown by projector. Lens held in place by home-made foam board mounting.
3: Borrowed Canon XM2 3CCD mini DV camcorder captures images at PAL resolution, connects to host PC via IEEE1394 (Firewire).
4: Host PC (Windows XP) runs Cinecap software. Incoming mouse clicks from projector ensure frame by frame capture to hard disc.
It worked of a fashion, and certainly gave better results than the projector/wall/camcorder approach, but this was system was very hard to set up properly. Getting the projector to create the 'aerial image' on the condenser lens and the camcorder aligned to capture this was very time-consuming and fiddly. This is the arrangement I used to digitize my California08 film.
FILM DIGITIZING, JUST PAY TO GET IT DONE FOR YOU
For a while, not really being satisfied with the DIY method, I researched the available commercial options for telecine. I sent my films for Enfield My Kinda Town to 18-frames.com in Germany, I sent a USB memory stick too, and they used a Muller HM HD machine to telecine the film and create a reasonably priced and reasonably high resolution .avi movie and save it on to the memory stick. They returned the USB stick and rolls of film to me and then I can see the footage for the first time and begin editing. The results were stable and very clean, probably better than I will ever get for all my DIY construction efforts. The Muller machine they use looks like this...
ANOTHER DIY FILM SCANNER
However... Since then, I've returned again to the idea of DIY film digitizing over the last couple of years, and have built a new device for doing this.
This device uses an Arduino micro controller and a little breadboard circuit to control four stepper motors and trigger the shutter of my Canon DSLR camera. There are two stepper motors each driving a 20 tooth sprocket wheel to advance the film one frame at a time in front of the camera. These sprocket wheels and the gate/LED lamp housing I designed and sent to Shapeways for 3D printing.
It's not fast, and the frame registration isn't perfect, but I actually did get this working!
The digitizing process was automated but took around 3 seconds per frame to capture, so that's about four hours to digitize a 50 foot reel of film. The real killer though was the time spent stabilizing the images in post production.
My most recent Super 8 short films Cable Car and The Secret Nuclear Bunker have been digitized this way.
|My very own DIY film digitizer. Arduino, stepper motors, 3D printed parts and a Canon DSLR camera.|
WHY BOTHER USING THIS OLD FILM STUFF?
Buying and having the film processed and digitized isn't cheap, but this makes you become very choosy about what you shoot... To use this medium you have to be patient and accept that the results are very unpredictable. The only thing you can be sure of is that the film you shoot will be special to you and certainly wont look like run of the mill video or DSLR video footage. For all the cost and frustrations of working with this stuff, it's actually quite fun!