Archives: michael paul smith

There was a very briefly run blog out there once called BlueSpill.

Well, it’s still out there, sure, but it hasn’t been updated in quite a while. It is, however, very much worth a visit if you are interested in handmade Visual Effects or in the history of the special effects or animation industries. It covered in several posts many devices and processes used by filmmakers in the pre-digital industry to create effects, and many of the explanations are quite good.

For example, there was a post about the Max Fleischer innovation called The Rotograph that is actually the best, clearest description of this technique I’ve found in any medium. Take a minute to follow that link and read it – it shows how Max Fleischer used this:

To make a Popeye cartoon that looks like this:

Now, I was reminded of this technique because of a post today on Boing Boing pointing to a miniature photographer named Michael Paul Smith who is reconstructing a remembered version of the place and time he grew up using models photographed against live backgrounds:

Flat bed Truck 1940 by Michael Paul Smith

Per the photographer’s explanation of this photo:

The houses in the background are about 2 blocks away from where I was shooting. At that distance, the model and real houses look as though they are the same size.
It’s always a challenge to find an exterior setting with that kind of unobstructed view. Also with no cars, people or signs in the way.
The Universe smiled upon me that day.

Take some time to click through Michael Paul Smith’s flickr pics, they are full of wonderful model photos taken against real backgrounds. Keep in mind that there is no digital manipulation in most of these images, just keenly constructed miniature sets cleverly aligned with actual backgrounds.

I’m currently working on a short film project that is meant to be set in some difficult to reach locales, and some environments that might be too dangerous to film in or that don’t quite exist. I’ve been looking for ways to film some of it without the budget that might be needed to fly people to a distant location, or pay for access to unusual environments (for example, something like an offshore oil rig). Seeing Michael Paul Smith’s photos today reminded me of the Rotograph and got me wondering how much of an environment might be built using something like this.

Maybe build the set, align it with an appropriate exterior, put portions of the set on movable bases that can be moved slowly at different speeds using electric motors, and maybe film foreground layers of the set separately from background layers, so those elements can have live actors filmed in live environments at the proper distance from the camera inserted in there in post. That sentence makes more sense to me right now than it probably does objectively, but I wanted to get it down here so I remember what I’m thinking.

When I have this sorted properly in my head I’ll make another post with a better description of the idea, and then I’ll try it and post the results.

In the meantime, read through BlueSpill and look at model set photos, and enjoy!