My Stop Action Return to the Screen

Over the weekend I was a “featured extra” for a cool ongoing film project led by Adam Sekuler (program director at the NW Film Forum), known by the working title of Stop Action Set. All I’ll say is the role involved an umbrella and wearing a bunny head. You’ll have to come see the finished work to find out more.

As explained on the project’s web site:

Every month for the next year, the cast of 8 dancers will attend a planning meeting, where director Adam Sekuler will present to the group a location and several obstructions. That night, the cast and crew will determine the plot of the film to be shot in 5-hour sessions the following Saturday and Sunday using only a digital still camera. During the next three weeks, Spaghetti Western will create a score, and Adam will edit a short film. At the end of 12 months, the project will have created 12 short films, which will be edited into 1 full-length film.

This is month seven of the project, which will wrap in September or shortly thereafter.

The filming process used for Stop Action Set is a kind of pixilation deal, where live actors are stop-motion animated. Though first used as early as 1911, pixilation was made famous by Scottish-Canadian master animator Norman McLaren in his short films Neighbors (1952) [NFBC, Wikipedia] and A Chairy Tale (1957) [NFBC, Wikipedia].

In this case, instead of using a film or video camera they’re using a digital still camera, a really great idea since it gives enormous flexibility and mobility to the camera person, and the images can be stored on tiny memory cards instead of video tape or lugged to a processing lab and all that follows from that. The memory cards can also be freed up by downloading the images to a laptop on set…which this weekend was actually the woods. Ah, the miracles of the digital age.

The gigabytes of stills are later compiled in (I presume) Final Cut and any extra frames (or dud takes) are selectively dropped so that the whole thing flows as though it were film/tape.

You can view a Quicktime of the first short film (made in October, 2006), entitled Writer’s Block, at the official web site. Though the later films are not posted for viewing online, you can see stills and basic breakdowns of what elements comprised each month’s opus to date…er, but they’re a month or so behind.

This month’s film (sorry, dunno the title) was shot in the “wilds” of Interlaken Park. It was a good time (especially since the weather cooperated), everyone was really nice, the whole thing very laid back and collaborative — and as an added bonus I got to spend the day in the woods. What more could you want?

This marked my semi-decennial return to screen acting. I was a lead in Jim Sikora’s entertainingly demented Super 8 opus, Stagefright Chameleon (1988) — featuring mad poet, outsider artist, and bona fide Guinness World Record holder Lee Groban, as well as music by tondant shaman (my band at the time) and Illusion of Safety. It was released twice on VHS by FilmThreat on Bring Me the Head of Geraldo Rivera (short films by Jim Sikora) and Small Gauge Shotgun (short films by Danny Plotnick and Jim Sikora) — which Seattle-ites can rent from Scarecrow Video. Then in 1999 I played, um, a serial killer in an unfinished film by Cole Drumb based on a short story by Andrew Vacchs and shot as a single take from the victim’s POV. Yes, very creepy. In 2000 I was in an impromptu bit shot for Cal Godot’s Alex the Great [director's site, streaming preview] but it stank and was mercifully immediately forgotten by all concerned.

Update:  I was all but cut out of Stop Action Set.  Serves me right.

Forthcoming Book by Ray Zone to Detail Origins of 3D Cinema

Cover of 'Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952' by Ray ZoneThis December, the University of Kentucky Press will publish Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952, a new book by Ray Zone. The 224 page clothbound book will retail for $42, and include 50 photographs.

As described on the publisher’s web page:

Though it may come as a surprise to both cinema lovers and industry professionals who believe that 3-D film was born in the early 1950s, stereoscopic cinema actually began in 1838, more than 100 years before the 3-D boom in Hollywood was created by the release of Arch Oboler’s African adventure film, Bwana Devil, filmed in “Natural Vision” 3-D.

Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film, 1838-1952, is a comprehensive prehistory of the stereoscopic motion picture. In the late nineteenth century, stereoview cards were popular worldwide, and soon filmmakers wanted to capture these “living pictures” with motion, sound, and color. Writing a new chapter in the history of early cinema, Ray Zone not only discusses technological innovation and its cultural context but also examines the aesthetic aspects of stereoscopic cinema in its first century of production.

The book will also include an introduction (which you can read here) by Lenny Lipton, who holds some 30 stereographic display patents, is currently CTO of RealD, and author of the excellent technical book, Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema: A Study in Depth (NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1982). (You can download a PDF version of Foundations of the Stereoscopic Cinema — with the addition of 5 pages of errata not otherwise available — via Stereoscopic.org.)

It would appear that Zone’s new book will leave off at the ’50s 3D film explosion, which is certainly a very rich vein of largely unwritten history that deserves its own full treatment — one that he will hopefully explore in a later volume. (R.M. Hayes’ 1989 book, 3-D Movies: A History and Filmography of Stereoscopic Cinema, deals with the period but is so cursory and, frankly, so riddled with errors as to be not much use…although the encyclopedic filmography has some value for the serious nerd.)

Stereoscopic Cinema and the Origins of 3-D Film will be a valuable addition to fascinating but neglected history. The only other book I’m aware of to deal at all with this period is actually a long-out-of-print Master’s thesis written in 1975 by H. Mark Gosser, Selected Attempts at Stereoscopic Moving Pictures and Their Relationship to the Development of Motion Picture Technology, 1852-1903 (NY: Arno Press, 1977). Perhaps there are others I don’t know of.

Cover of '3-D Filmmakers: Conversations with Creators of Stereoscopic Motion Pictures' by Ray ZoneRay Zone knows his 3D stuff. In addition to having written numerous articles about 3D film and comics appearing in pubs like the LA Times, American Cinematographer, and The Hollywood Reporter, he is also the author of 3-D Filmmakers: Conversations with Creators of Stereoscopic Motion Pictures (MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005), an excellent (if pricey) collection of interviews with producers, screenwriters, directors, and cinematographers working in 3D film mainly in the ’70s and ’80s, but also including pioneer Arch (Bwana Devil) Oboler.

Zone has also had a hand in some 130 3D comics, plus a huge array of other 3D/stereoscopic products — even including, according to his web site, 3D underwear.