Created Jürg Lehni, Moving Picture Show is an installation presented during the 23rd International Poster and Graphic Design Festival in Chaumont where the Jesuit chapel was transformed into a workshop, a scenario of conception, production and a projection space. The installation deals with the current migration from analogue to digital film projection in cinemas across the globe by reappropriating a 35mm motion picture film using high-powered precision laser.
In Moving Picture Show, a scenario of animated drawing and text is created by applying the process normally used by the film industry to etch subtitles into the emulsion layer of 35mm film. By etching away the emulsion using a high-powered precision laser, only the clear base of the film remains and when projected onto the screen the lines appear bright and clear.
Discovering this mechanism triggered the idea for a reappropriation of this principle, by extending the reach of the laser to the full size of a film frame, and changing the software to allow the drawing of any kind of shapes, based on vectorial line drawings. The idea was to build a setup for the exploration of the possibilities and aesthetics of such a production mechanism, allow a revisiting of early experimental film (Len Lye, Norman McLaren, etc.) through the lens of computer technology, while at the same time celebrating the disappearance of this beautiful medium that is 35mm film and the equipment that goes with it. Making a process visible that normally only happened behind closed industrial doors was part of the motivation too.
Together with the tinkerers from Defekt.ch in Zurich who have helped build Rita and Viktor (see also Hektor), and after looking at different ways of changing the original software and even getting in touch with the original engineer, the team finally came up with a plan: They decided to keep the original software to control the transport of the film and found a new way to send the commands to step images forward and backward. This was achieved by sending the original software virtual key-strokes on the F-keys. The original software would only function if it also had the impression that it was at the same time controlling the mirrors that steer the laser by talking to their controller, so they ended up building their own self-made controller, and wrote bespoke firmware for it that would allow them to freely control the mirror’s movements at a very hight speed (the controller would send position commands at a frequency of 12.5k times a second). About a month and endless tests they were finally able to burn first images. In the end, the software that sends the drawing commands to the laser controller (written in Java) was built almost like a printer driver that would take a folder full of PDFs and burn them one by one, 24 images per second, 25’091 images for “Spirit & Letter”, a 18 minute film of animated type based on Donald Knuth’s METAFONT and created by David Reinfurt / Dexter Sinister for Moving Picture Show.
Several contributing designers were invited to engage with the production facility and collaborate on the contents of the show, producing films that were projected repeatedly during the festival. Meanwhile the laser machine, also present in the chapel, was slowly producing new films for future screenings.