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Learn How to Create Stargate Sequences Like in '2001: A Space Odyssey' Using Slit Scan

Slit ScanI’m sure most of us are familiar with the scene in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey where Dave is flying through the stargate, but have you ever wondered how the filmmakers achieved that trippy effect? Well, today you can obtain this using animation or editing software, but the mechanical special effects technique is called “slit scan”, and John P. Hess from Filmmaker IQ walks us through how to achieve this effect digitally with After Effects, as well as physically with a camera, a mechanized slider, and LEGOs.

If you’re not familiar with the stargate scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey, here’s a video to demonstrate what the slit scan technique does:


Slit scan photography, in one form or another, has been around since the 1800s, used mostly for panoramic images (for determining winners at racetracks.) The technique is achieved by putting a moveable slide with a slit cut into it between the subject and the photographic plane. The medium used is exposed as the slide moves across one side to the other.

This technique used in Kubrick’s 2001 was developed by the film’s Visual Effects Supervisor Douglas Trumbull. Even though Trumbull attributes the technique’s origin to John Whitney, Trumbull was the one who had the idea to put the slit outside the camera.

Slit Scan 2001 mechanics

Here’s Trumbull talking about the slit scan technique he used in 2001:

So, do you want to learn how to make your own slit scan sequence? Filmmaker IQ offers a great tutorial on building your own rig, so gather your LEGOs and check out the video below:

If you want to make a slit scan sequence without all the hassle of constructing a setup, here’s a tutorial on how to make a digital one using After Effects.

What do you think? Have you ever filmed a slit scan sequence mechanically before? What about digitally? Let us know in the comments.

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  • Are you going to comment on the proress files from the pocket camera released by John Brawley via twitter?

  • Robert Hunter on 08.6.13 @ 8:20PM

    Funny how the effects back then look better than the CGI crap of today.

  • Speaking of Kubrick as a side note — the NASA developed, Carl Zeiss built 50mm .7F lens that he used for “Barry Lyndon” is currently available as a rental. Some German company is actually offering the full rig.

  • Awesome post. I did not know how complex that sequence was to shoot. I think the effects still hold up compared to digital. Digital always takes me out of the film when there is too much of it.

    • No shit, that’s very detailed models and clever lighting. What spooked me is the planet Jupiter. That liquidness, that halation everywhere… Long exposures ftw.

  • I did quite a bit of slit-scan back in the late 70′s – early 80′s.
    The ABC “Star-Tunnel” Movie Open that I did was my most complicated – it took me 108 hours on the Oxberry camera to expose just the star tunnel itself. Each of the five sides of the star tunnel had to be exposed separately, and each color was a separate pass. At least the Oxberry was computerized with a Cinetron computer, so I could just set it up, let it run, and when it stopped, change the artwork.
    The good old days …

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