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An optical printer with two projector heads, used in producing movie special effects. Starting from the left, you can see light shining from the lamp house, then at A is the first projector's film gate, at B a lens that projects the film in A onto the second projector's gate C. At D is the lens of the camera, the camera's finder is at E and the adjustable shutter control at F. In the heavy base G all the electronics needed for controlling the printer are located.

An optical printer is a device consisting of one or more film projectors mechanically linked to a movie camera. It allows filmmakers to re-photograph one or more strips of film. The optical printer is used for making special effects for motion pictures, or for copying and restoring old film material.

Common optical effects include fade outs and fade ins, dissolves, slow motion, fast motion, and matte work. More complicated work can involve dozens of elements, all combined into a single scene.

Contents

History

The first, simple optical printers were constructed early in the 1920s. Linwood G. Dunn expanded the concept in the 1930s, and the development continued well into the 1980s, when the printers were controlled with minicomputers. Prime examples of optical printing work include the matte work in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars.


In the late 1980s, digital compositing began to supplant optical effects. By the mid-nineties, computer graphics had evolved to rival and surpass what was possible with optical printers, and optical printing is now all but gone. Improvements in film scanners and recorders allow for a complete feature film to be processed by computers, have special effects applied, and then be processed back in to film.

Today, optical printing is mostly used as an artistic tool by experimental film makers, or for educational purposes. As a technique, it is particularly useful for making copies of hand painted or physically manipulated film.

Artifacts

As in any analog process, every optical "pass" degraded the picture, just like a photocopy of a photocopy. Also, since a new, different piece of negative was exposed and printed, matching the exact colors of the original was a problem. For economical reasons, especially in the 1950s and later in TV series produced on film, printer work was limited to only the parts of a scene needing the effect. The original footage was spliced mid-shot with the optically-printed portion, resulting in an obvious change in image quality when the transition occurs.

Other problematic artifacts depend on the effect attempted, most often alignment inaccuracies in matte work. For this reason, many shots intended to be manipulated via optical printer, were often shot on larger film formats than the rest of the project. Larger film (such as the Vistavision format) has better clarity and less grain when reprinted and also reduces alignment problems.

See also

References


Simple English

An optical printer is a device. It can be used to copy rolls of movies. It is made of one or more movie projectors, which are linked to a movie camera. It allows filmmakers to re-photograph one or more strips of movie. The optical printer is used for making special effects for motion pictures or for copying and restoring old movie material.


Common optical effects include fade outs and fade ins, dissolves, slow motion, fast motion, and matte work. More complicated work needs dozens of elements, all combined into a single scene. Ideally, the audience in a theater should not be able to notice any optical printers work, but this is not always the case. For economical reasons, especially in the 1950s, and later in TV series produced on movie, printer work was limited to only the actual parts of a scene needing the effect, so there is a clear change in the image quality when the transition occurs.

The first, simple optical printers were constructed in the early 1920s. Linwood G. Dunn expanded the concept in the 1930s. The development continued well into the 1980s, when the printers were controlled with minicomputers.

Sice the late 1980s, digital compositing began to replace optical effects. Since the mid nineties the conversion to digital effects has been almost total. Optical printing today is used most widely by artists working exclusively with movie. As a technique, it proves particularly useful for making copies of hand painted or physically manipulated movie.








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