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Section two: Expanding time
TOPIC SECTION:
Expanding time

We’re so used to seeing special effects in feature films that an effect now has to be truly spectacular to excite interest. A recent example is the ‘bullet time’ effect used in the Wachowski brothers’ 1999 film The Matrix, where opponents suspended in space, fight each other in extreme slow m

This spark drum camera, devised by Lucien Bull in 1904, took 54 pairs of pictures at 2000 frames per second.
Credit: NMPFT/Science & Society Picture Library
otion, as the camera circles rapidly around them. Time almost stands still; bullets travel so slowly, they are easily dodged.

Visual effects supervisor John Gaeta achieved this effect by adapting the method employed a century earlier by Eadweard Muybridge. Gaeta set up 120 35mm motor-drive still cameras circling the action. He triggered these sequentially by computer, effectively recording images at 600 frames a second, even though each individual camera worked at only five frames a second. The resulting pictures were then copied in time sequence and combined with computer-generated backgrounds and bullet effects to produce the final high-speed circling slow motion shots.

Earlier, in 1980, the British artist Tim Macmillan devised a camera that produced a similar effect, which he calls ‘time slicing’.  His camera held a length of film in a ch
the flight of insects to the detonation of nuclear bombs
annel, in front of which was a series of pinholes that produced separate images along the film when exposed.  The result was a perpendicular tracking shot of a moment in time.  Macmillan later developed cameras with improved optics to track around small creatures like insects and birds, as well as larger subjects, and introduced the effect to film and television - it was first seen on BBC’s Tomorrow’s World in May 1993. Macmillan’s time slice work now encompasses art installations, special effects and commercials.

Macmillan and Gaeta are the latest of many filmmakers to have developed ways of slowing the depiction of time. The techniques are extr
Vinten HS 300 - the first high-speed camera capable of taking 300 frames per second using an intermittent mechanism.
Credit: NMPFT/Science & Society Picture Library
emely useful for scientists studying phenomena ranging from the flight of insects to the detonation of nuclear bombs.

Some fast-occurring events last for seconds; others just milliseconds. Different technology is needed to record each.  At the ‘low end’ are high-speed film cameras working at up to 360 frames a second, slowing time by a factor of 15. These are suitable for slow motion filming of wildlife or machinery. The cameras traditionally employed have faster versions of the shutter and intermittent claw mechanisms used in conventional film cameras. The film is pulled though the camera in a sequence of jerks using a mechanical claw inserted into the sprocket holes along the film edge. However, at higher speeds this can cause unsteadiness and even shred the film.

Other methods are used to achieve speeds of up to 40,000 frames a second.  In such cameras, the film moves continuously and a rotating glass prism behind the lens projects the image onto the film. As the prism rotates, a new image is recorded next to the previous one.  This type of camera is used widely in the study of vehicle crashes, packaging machinery, ballistics and rocketry. Much higher rates of up to 25 million frames a second are possible in rotating mirror cameras, which record images onto a short length of film in an arc.
Today, much high-speed research work has been taken over by video and digital cameras.  The first high speed video motion analysis cameras, capable of 120 frames a second, appeared in the 1970s and by 1980 Kodak introduced their SP2000 system that recorded up to 2000 frames a second.

 
 
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Topic section: Tracing time
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From the beginnings of photography, almost without realising it, photographers recorded moments in time, as well as images of people and places. Before long, photographers made conscious attempts to trace the passage of time.  > more

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Section three: Compressing time
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Time-lapse photography allows us to record series of images over a long period of time, revealing the changes that occur in the natural and man-made worlds..  > more
 
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