The following is a outline of a new conceptual imaging project.
There are currently two ways of capturing motion pictures: Chemically, with light sensitive film, or electronically, with analog or digital memory mediums (i.e., video or data tape, flash memory cards, optical discs, etc.)
However, neither the chemical nor electronic method allows for instant, direct human interpretation of the recorded material. Video can be played back instantly, but both electricity and an appropriate playback device are needed for viewing. Motion picture film can be understood by the naked eye even without a viewing device, but requires a complicated and carefully executed series of chemical baths to achieve a viewable image. These chemicals and their associated laboratories are typically not carried around with the photographer.*
To put it simply, the human eye cannot view either media right after it is shot without substantial help. Chemical film can't be seen instantly, and video recordings can be read only with the help of an electrical machine. But why be concerned with producing and viewing an image instantly? And what format can we use to ensure instant, durable images?
The Paper Movie Process
Imagine a motion picture camera that, instead of recording pictures to chemical film or an electronic format, records pictures to a reel of paper using ink. It is essentially a video camera hooked up to a very fast printer with a large, continuous supply of paper. For every second the camera is in operation, 30 frames are printed onto paper without delay. The images can be instantly viewed by the human eye without an electronic playback device or chemical processing, and are ready to be archived without concern of the future availability of playback devices.
Plus, when properly stored, paper and ink will easily outlast video and film by hundreds of years.
The origin of this format, like many modern technologies, is inspired by the cold war. While
viewing a repeat of The Day After in late 2006, I found myself very emotionally engaged in the
movie. For those unfamiliar with it, The Day After was a 1983 made for TV film depicting
the devastating effects of a USA-Soviet nuclear war. As a photography enthusiast, I carry around
a small camera with me wherever I go. While viewing the attack scene, I had an impulse to reach for my camera. But then I thought, no, a video recording would not be possible because
the electromagnetic pulse from the nuclear bomb would disable all electronics. So then I thought
"Okay, I would have to use a wind-up film camera." But the radiation from the bomb might fog the film. So what media would survive the aftermath of a nuclear war, with no availability of photo labs or electrical power? The best choice is ink and paper. I sketched out my first design as the fictional war played out on the TV screen.
After this initial burst of inspiration, I realized that the Paper Movie Process requires electricity, leaving it as susceptible as a video camera. And the effects of fallout on movie film are unknown, and are probably not as disabling as an airport x-ray scanner. Also, both video and film cameras can be shielded from the effects of electromagnetic pulses and radiation.
But in the end, this led to greater thoughts about the problems of archiving film and video recordings. As we abandon chemical film for electronic-based storage, our shared media became more volatile than ever. At the very least, the existence of a device which instantly produces motion pictures lasting hundreds or years might bring to light the problems of electronically stored media.
Media and Playback
For best results, archival, acid-free paper and archival quality pigment inks should be used to ensure centuries-long storage potential.
Paper movies can be viewed in their native format with a device resembling a modified zoetrope or praxinoscope. More likely, they will be scanned or re-photographed with a popular video format of whatever future era it finds itself in.
This device/motion picture system is not finished, and exists only in theory. A paper mock-up of a prototype has been constructed, as seen below. A complicated scanning drum image pickup is employed on this model to better visualize imager/printer synchronicity issues. Work has begun on the first functioning prototype, and results will be posted as soon as they are available.
Your feedback is appreciated. jesse.england AT gmail DOT com
* One notable exemption is the Polavision process, which was introduced by Polaroid in the late 1970's. It used instant film in a proprietary film cassette unlike the form of traditional Super 8. The film cassettes contained light-sensitive film and a pod of developing chemical which, after shooting, was burst and spread over the exposed film after being inserted into the movie viewer. However, since the pictures were not developed as they were being shot and required a complicated developing machine after shooting, it is not a competitor to the Paper Movie Process. Additionally, Polavision film production ceased in 1988.