Let's dive into the slit scan technique.
I'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.
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:
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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August 6, 2013 at 3:22PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
Sweet Article, V.
August 6, 2013 at 5:34PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
Funny how the effects back then look better than the CGI crap of today.
August 6, 2013 at 5:20PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
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.
August 6, 2013 at 7:11PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
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.
August 6, 2013 at 7:55PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
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.
August 7, 2013 at 1:08AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
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 ...
August 8, 2013 at 4:25PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
You mean this?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFdk5a2Vl-g
August 10, 2013 at 11:04AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
August 12, 2013 at 7:24AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM
Crap, I thought you worked on the late 60s ABC Movie of The Week 'stargate' sequence. I had an entire spiel set up in my head about how the music of Burt Bacharach and the visuals of this sequence were just a divine combination, not to take ANYTHING away from the sequence you actually did.
January 1, 2014 at 10:10AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM
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February 17, 2014 at 7:35PM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM
Very interesting article. Note that you can also do slit-scan image easily with an iPhone App. On my side, I am using ScanCamera for iPhone. You can find my images here:
May 2, 2014 at 8:56AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM
Smartphones. Is there anything they can't do?
December 27, 2014 at 5:09PM
2001 came out when I was 16. It was, er, interesting. I didn't try to make an in-camera movie effect with my Super 8, but did succeed in making slit-scan single frame stills on my 35mm still camera. Psychedelic, man. Far out.
Also made cool spiral light studies by pointing the camera up and hanging a penlight over the camera on a string, start it swinging in a circle (which actually ends up moving all over, in a predictable, mathematical way) opening the shutter and waiting until the penlight quit swinging.
All analog of course, and I had to wait 1) until the roll of slide film was used up and 2) for Kodak (remember them? they were once a Dow component) to develop it.
But it was a fun teenage project.
December 27, 2014 at 5:08PM, Edited December 27, 5:08PM