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CINEMA, issue 9, summer 2012
GLIMPSE journal | the art + science of seeing
Timeline: Selected Dates in Cinema Art, Science, and Technology
Tahrir Cinema: Film Activism in Egypt’s Revolution
Your Brain on Movies
Cinematic Spelunking Inside Plato’s Cave
RetroSpect: 1868, The Myriopticon
Lauren B. Hewes
Opening Wide: Film Festivals and Fan Communities
Silver Screen Society: New posters for old movies
Brandon Schaeffer, Timo Meyer, Alex Griendling,
Barry Blankenship, and Eren Blanquet Unten
Pancakes with Darth: Shifting Images of Villain from Death Stars
to Department Stores
Inside the Dead Matter: Natalia Almada’s The Night Watchman
Be My Projector So I Can Fail Differently
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The Mental Mechanics of Motion
by Myya McGregory
George Balanchine, New York City Ballet master choreographer, once said, “see the music, hear the dance,” implying that dance is felt. Anyone who has ever attempted any type of movement that could be considered dance has probably been told to “feel the music” or perhaps “stop thinking and just move,” which can be frustrating, since in order to disconnect one’s brain, it must first be engaged. Learning new movements is not necessarily an easy task. Those who do it well make it look easy, but everyone goes through the same mental mechanics.
Here is where the production of γ-aminobutyric acid or GABA comes in. GABA is a neurotransmitter that is produced from the decarboxylation of glutamate in the brain.
Levels of GABA in the motor cortex play a large role in the development of our motor function and how we learn movement sequences. Studies in Current Biology by Stagg, Bachtiar and Berg have shown that the degree of motor learning and a decrease in the the magnitude of GABA are positively correlated. That means that the degree of short-term motor learning increases as GABA levels decrease in the motor cortex. As we try to learn motor functions, we engage the cerebellum which produces the enzyme catalyst that helps turn glutamate, the neurotransmitter that excites our neurons and helps us learn, into GABA which in turn inhibits neural activity.
Streeter et al. conducted a subsequent study that pinpoints what type of activity can increase our GABA levels. His team used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to monitor the levels of GABA in two different participant groups. One group was actively engaged in walking for sixty minutes three times a week for twelve weeks. The other group dedicated that same time to yoga. They found that subjects who participated in yoga had higher levels of GABA in the thalamic system overall. Yoga experts experienced a GABA increase of 26%. Those that were yoga beginners experienced a 13% increase. As you try harder to learn, your brain works to help mitigate GABA, but it’s these increased levels of GABA early on that make the initial learning curve the steepest.
GABA, however, is not completely bad, since it also boosts our mood and helps relieve stress. Therefore, the more you know, the more you can relax and in this case enjoy the calming benefits of yoga.
So next time you’re struggling in a dance class (or a yoga or zumba class, or struggling with any movement based activity for that matter), know that it gets better if you just stick with it — the secret’s in the GABA.
by Myya McGregory
The race to cinema in the late 1800s progressed in the United States at a history-making pace. There were however, many unsung heroes of early cinema abroad what were racing just as fast to change history.
French science teacher Émile Reynaud patented his Théâtre Optique in 1888. While many moving image machines produced blurry, flickering images, Reynaud’s Théâtre Optique did not use a motor with a continuous feed but a moving mirror. The central idea was that the moving images (i.e., the characters) would be projected onto cylindrical mirrors using a lantern. The image would then be sent to a second mirror, across a number of lenses, and finally to a moving mirror that deposited the image onto the screen. In this way, the characters and the background setting were parts of separate images each sketched on 6×6 cm squares of gelatin. The squares were then inked, placed successively on a band, perforated in the center, and looped on a wheel. Each band held approximately 300 to 700 images.
Reynaud used his device to run short cartoons in a live showing titled “Pantomimes lumineuses.” The show was a big spectacle. Famous composer Gaston Paulin composed an original score and commissioned singers and an orchestra to perform it. In many of the showings, Reynaud himself ran the Théâtre Optique to control speed and enhance the dynamics of the animation.
The show was performed for eight years in the Cabinet Fantastique of the Musée Grevin in Montmartre, Paris and it was quite popular. Crowds adored the stories “Pauvre Pierrot,” “Le Clown et ses Chiens,” and a suite of others drawn and projected by Reynaud himself all in the spirit of great entertainment. Reynaud joins the ranks of the unsung pioneers of animation. Can you name any more underrated animators of the early cinema age?
by Myya McGregory
In the wake of the auto boom of the 1920s, Richard Hollingshead Jr., manager of Whiz Auto Products, designed the first drive-in movie theatre. Drive-ins spread from New Jersey across the United States to Italy, France, and China becoming a cool new way to experience cinema.
Experimenting with a large Kodak projector, a radio, and two large sheets, Hollingshead tested different arrangements to ensure optimal audio-visual quality.
Eventually he realized that the position of the car, and not the screen and projector, would pose the biggest problem. Drive-in movie parking could not be the same as parking lot parking. He went back to the drawing board and theorized an amphitheater style. In 1933, Hollingshead had completed his design and patented the layout for the first drive-in theatre.
The drive-in’s rise to fame was not without its obstacles. The Great Depression had taken its toll on the American wallet and technical issues plagued the drive-in. Noise pollution and lagging sound seemed to detract from perks of being able to watch a movie from the comfort of your own car.
As time went on, the drive-in theatre stepped up their technology. In the ‘40s drive-ins began providing each car with its own set of speakers so even those in the back could hear the audio in real-time.
It is quite rare to see a drive-in movie theater these days, however people still relish in the idea of watching a movie under the stars. For those who long for an outdoor movie experience, summertime is the perfect time to research outdoor movie festivals. In California and Pennsylvania drive-ins are even making a slight comeback. So, GLIMPSE readers, are you ready for a drive-in theater revival?
by Myya McGregory
If you follow science news you probably already know about the discovery of the Higgs boson particle. Having eluded scientists for years the so called “God particle” was detected in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
Unfortunately those who need to see it to believe it might be a little disappointed. Most heavy particles live fast and die young. The Higgs boson is no exception. It’s mass is between 115 and 158 GeV and it’s half life is less than a billionth of a second. Much like the famous yet elusive designer, Martin Margiela, the Higgs boson doesn’t want its picture taken.
Known as the God particle because its field is believed to give mass to every other particle before it decays, the Higgs boson is in fact omnipresent. We just can’t see it.
So how do we visualize the Higgs boson particle?
The short answer is: we don’t.
We do however see the effects of its energy and we can watch it decay. The Large Hadron Collider is basically a giant particle accelerator. When the particles hurdle towards each other and collide, they release energy and decay into lesser particles upon impact. As explained in CERN’s animation of their experiment, they hope to excite the Higgs field through the collision of two protons. At that time the Higgs boson will be present, but it will quickly decay into other standard model particles.
by Myya McGregory
Eadweard Muybridge developed the zoopraxiscope in 1876. The zoopraxiscope was a very complicated device that featured a large lense, a lamp, and a motor to show successive images printed on 16″ glass in simulated motion. This invention garnered much praise for Muybridge and he is credited as the father of the motion picture.
The National Museum of American History is exploring an interesting aspect of Muybridge’s work. They question whether his photogrpahic invention was science or art. Muybridge was able to capture incremental elements of motion and expose them in ways never seen before. While at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1880s, Muybridge began the project of documenting human and animal locomotion. Using up to 36 different lenses and two dozen cameras each placed at 30, 60, and 90 degrees to the subject, Muybridge produced 36 negatives. The negatives were enlarged and then inked on glass plates. The succession of images, when showed on the zoopraxiscope revealed an almost scientific precision. Find out more in the Cinema Issue.
by Myya McGregory
Do you remember Polaroid cameras? Once adored by all, they are now widely considered obsolete in a world of digital photographs and instant uploads to Facebook. At the time the concept the concept perfectly captured the idea of instant gratification. People could finally take a photo and watch it develop on the spot.
Instant cameras like the Polaroid essentially contained a miniature developing studio in a box. Keep in mind that in the pre-2000 age “miniature” had not yet reached its full potential.
Developing instant film involved a series of chemical reactions strategically triggered at different times during the development process. The film contained three layers of silver bromide crystals. Each layer would be sensitive to a primary color because a hydroquinone dye the color of its negative would be beneath each layer. This way, the positive color is absorbed.
Bromine leaves behind a silver cation which is reduced by light once the film is exposed. If a given color is exposed, its negative (or complement) cannot filter through. Once the dyes have diffused to the surface of the film, the film is ejected and covered with potassium hydroxide (which gives Polaroids a greasy feel before they are developed). This base reacts with the weakly acidic hydroquinone dyes as it diffuses through the film. The dye molecules then diffuse up to the surface through capillary motion. Potassium hydroxide is then neutralized and unused silver bromide is dissolved by potassium thiosulfate and uracil.
The thickness of each silver bromide layer and the mixture of developers is crucial to determine when the reaction is quenched and how clear the resulting image will be. As the “Impossible Project Team” rushes to recreate the beloved instant sensation, they are coming to find out that Edwin Land and the developers of Polaroid truly had perfected instant film. If only they had foreseen the digital age …
by Myya McGregory
There’s no question. Imax is a leader in theatre, theatre technology, and the viewing experience. As per their new motto, Imax has surpassed sight: “Imax is believing©“
Imax opened its first theatre in 1970 and has since built over 643 theaters around the world. They have been combining great theatre technology with amazing audio technology for less than five decades and have already firmly cemented themselves amongst the ranks of global film innovation giants.
Imax has been instrumental in filming scenes from some of America’s favorite movies: “The Dark Knight”, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”, “Inception”, “The Hunger Games” and many more. If it was a blockbuster with exceptional cinematography there is a 99% chance that Imax was involved.
To project movies onto its enormous screen, film is fed horizontally into a Rolling Loop projector and held in placed by a vacuum. Having recently partnered with Eastman Kodak, Imax has begun testing a new laser projector.
According to Imax the key to better picture quality is more light, enormous film frames, a giant screen and a high performance sound system to match. Every seat in the house is the best.
About the Author: Myya McGregory, a GLIMPSE Journal intern is also a rising junior at Williams College. She is an Economics and Chemistry double major. She enjoys music, dance, and literature.
The history of color photography features many key players and pioneers. In anticipation of the Cinema Issue, GLIMPSE is taking a brief look at some of them, and their contributions to the world of photography.
Paris, France 1864
Louis Ducos du Hauron, a French physicist, developed a motin picture device in 1864. In 1869, he patented a series of practical methods of color printing based on the tri-color theory and the heliochrome system. Using a series of filters, he was able to print color photographs by printing the negatives on sheets of bichromated gelatin that were complementary colors of the negatives themselves. When the positive images were superimposed over the negatives, the resulting image was in color.
Meanwhile, Charles Crocs, another French physicist, developed the similar process in his physics lab. Unfortunately he published his findings 48 hours after de Hauron patented his.
London, England 1861
James Clerk Maxwell, prominent physicist and mathematician, projected a color photograph through a series of filters to show a photograph of the original image in its original color.
West Kill, New York 1851
Levi Hill, an American minister, claimed to be the father if color photography. He presented what he claimed was the first color photograph while experimenting in an early photographic process known as the ”daguerreotype.” Hill failed to patent his eponymous “Hillotype” process but did not give up on what he discovered, making a series of Hillotype photographs in color. Over 160 years later, the Smithsonian Institution now boasts a collection of 62 Hillotypes that have been under severe scrutiny. Using spectroscopy the Smithsonian Institution has finally given substance to the myth. It was found that though Levi Hill enriched his photographs with a series of chemical pigments, the photographs the he produced were in fact faint color photographs.
How about it, all you photographers/photo-appreciators? Who are your favorite historical heros of color photography?
“It’s the kind of thing seen in Hollywood’s ‘Matrix’ franchise.”
The National Science Foundation’s analogy comparing the futuristic blockbuster to current visual learning research might initially seem hyperbolic, but researchers at Boston University and the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan have proved once again that it’s only a matter of time before science fiction can become science fact.
In “The Matrix,” the know-how for martial arts or flying helicopters can be downloaded directly into a passive recipient’s brain, and Voila! The body syncs up and starts performing the “learned” tasks in no time. Back in reality, the December 8th issue of the journal Science published a paper by Kazuhisa Shibata, Takeo Watanabe, Yuka Sasaki, and Mitsuo Kawato in which they present their latest research on visual perceptual learning (VPL). Their findings reveal that it’s possible to target the brain wave patterns of experts like athletes and musicians, and then to induce these patterns in a passive subject’s brain through visual stimuli. The result: participants improve their performance of a task.
Here at GLIMPSE, we continue to marvel at how the strides taken in understanding how we see can fundamentally influence the practice of learning.