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Film Frames

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This digital experiment was inspired by a serendipitous moment with a book created for stamp collectors. 2013, strolling through New York’s SOHO area along Prince street, my then gf and I decide to detour into a shop of antiques and oddities. A forgotten book on a high shelf caught my eye, a book of cataloged stamps presumably assembled for stamp collectors. This dusty old hardcover offered a wealth of information about each stamp pictured inside. We started to thumb through dates and countries of issue when we knew transformative world events had occurred. We learned something that stood out for us – During the years of about 1915-1923, when the Ottoman Empire had been unstrung, and the new Turkish republic had been formed, we learned that news did NOT travel fast within the far flung borders of the empire. Here’s the scene, the empire had already been pulled apart, then a brief state of limbo existed for Turks, Ataturk then fathered a new republic, pulling hero status from the grasp of current neighbors and… In the south of turkey, an empire based bureaucracy still existed! No one told them the shop was closed for business. The Sultan’s post office was not only still printing and issuing stamps, but designing new ones. We noticed that word of global events cascaded across the empire at a pace that lasted years. The termination of empire era stamps happened in quite an expected and reliable way, as a concentric emanation from Istanbul as a centerpoint. The surprising part was the amount of time it took. It is difficult to imagine such a time lapse as I write this post on a flight to Istanbul, crossing international time zones without any regard, at about 900 km/hr.

Time existed on paper, in the form of little postage stamps from a bygone era. This was our awe inspiring experience, we were watching history unfold around the world through the graphic designers of the mail services.

This seemed a perfect jumpoff for a new digital experiment. Thumbnails of frames from film and video pieces, our “postage stamps”, could show memorable events over the course of the frames. Film/video typically runs at 25 frames per second. At 25 fps, an effect known as persistence of vision (POV) makes a series of still images appear to be in motion. This is the motion picture. The Lumiere brothers and Thomas Alva Edison pushed framerates as quickly as possible to reach the fluidity our eyes are accustomed to in every-day real life. It turns out 25-30fps is the frame rate your human eyes are reporting to your brain right now. If the framerate were any slower, you would notice the temporal lag, pulling you out of the experience due to an obviousness of the technology. Proper playback of a series of stills is so magically awesome that it is easy to take for granted. We wanted to dissect this process in reverse to see what story telling appears, much like the temporal surprise from the stamp collectors book.

I combined a few tools (mainly ImageMagick), wrote a bit of script, and was able to composite images made up of many many miniaturized frames from film. Here are a few results of the experiment. total programming time, 2 hours. NOTE: you should open in a tab so that you can see the oversized composites in their full glory.

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from Ölümden Korkmuyorum

from Zügürt Aga

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from Disney’s Fantasia

sidenote: The stills of Eadweard Muybridge amazed as he made use of the motion picture in reverse, a method of study that is still widely used today, as both stills and slow motion. He exposed invisible details from our sublime world.

eadweard muybridge

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