From Frederikshavn to Hollywood

Steen Dalin DFF tells the story of a Danish camera adventure

AN OMINOUS PROLOGUE

Timing is everything! It makes me recall a personal example of bad timing. Throughout the 90’s Casper Høyberg and I worked as cinematographers on 3D model animation films. We tumbled around with very heavy, old and clumsy, but classic rack-over 35mm cameras. They turned out to be the ultimate tool of the time. They were absolutely light proof in contrary to more modern reflex cameras with a rotating mirror. How come, we thought to ourselves, since stop motion animation only needs a series of images that rarely exceed an overall duration of 10 seconds. Why not use a still photography camera? On the production of the Indiana Jonessequel, The Last Crusade, some sequences featured ‘Indy’ and co. in railcar dumpers running along in a rollercoaster-like hunt.

These  scenes were made with models as stop motion where Spielberg merely made use of ordinary Nikons. Of course they had the advantage that he and George Lucas had already reinvented VistaVision with a horizontal filmstrip in a 24x36mm format. The Nikons they used were equipped with a bulk film magazine, hosting 100 feet of 35mm film and modified with Oxberry pin registers. Our 35mm film ran vertically at standard Academy ratio and only took up half as much space. My very first camera as a teenager was an upright half format 18x24mm with 72 pictures in a roll. Exactly the same format as standard 35mm motion picture film, so why not try to revive that format? A Polish engineer helped us equip the Mitchell rack-overs with single-image-motors and he was absolutely ecstatic about the idea. On his own initiative he put the entire Technical University of Denmark to work on the project spending half of his family’s fortune on it. But alas! When the prototype was ready, the industry had moved to the digital platforms.

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 The earliest rack-over Mitchell from the 1920’s was best suited for animation. The later ones with a rotating
mirror caused problems with light intake. Aardman Animations in Bristol salvaged their fleet of Mitchells from
discarded Lancaster bombers from the Second World War

 As a summer substitute at Egmont Imagination, located in an old Copenhagen dairy, quite extraordinarily producing commercial 3D animation to a British market, I myself witnessed the development over the next three years: We started out with 35mm Mitchells, which already the next year were replaced by freakish video-frame-grab systems. Before Egmont completely dismantled the animation studios, stop motion had in just a few years gone digital with ordinary and cheap DSLR cameras. So we ended up with a revolutionary stop motion camera at the worst possible time.

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A Danish designed puppet armature skeleton for stop motion animation

 

BACK TO THE FUTURE

However, it seems as though the trio behind Logmar Camera Solutions have executed perfect timing: They unveiled a brand new 65mm handheld camera in April 2018 to be displayed at Cine Gear in Los Angeles a couple of months later. Quite ideal as it coincided with an intense focus on large format at the 2018 Summit. It did not take long before cinematographer-stars such as Linus Sandgren (La La Land & First Man) and Hoyte van Hoytema (Interstellar & Dunkirk) found their way to Logmar’s exhibition stand.

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Linus Sandgren FSF tries out the Magellan 65mm by the
Paramount stand at Cine Gear 2018
 Hoyte van Hoytema FSF NSC ASC with the same camera
on his shoulder

Both have been nominated for Academy Awards and possess great experience in 65mm. They are also both members of the Swedish Society of Cinematographers, one might add. Along with other participants at the Cine Gear, they showed great interest in a wide format camera of such small dimensions, with a total weight of only 12 kilograms including 122 meters of film.

But how can such an advanced machinery anonymously originate from a grain silo on a dock in the small coastal town of Frederikshavn in northern Denmark of all places? It all started in 2014, when mechanical engineer Tommy Lau Madsen retires from the lighting company Martin Professional based in Aarhus, Denmark's second-largest city. Suddenly he has time to cultivate a passion from early childhood: FILM! Not the digital kind of it but good old celluloid. He starts off in miniature by considering the creation of the perfect Super 8 camera. Designed on his kitchen table Tommy is systematic in his approach. Initially he is forced

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Tommy Lau Madsen along with his working tool a 3D CAD
computer

to learn how to operate a 3D CAD software on his computer. Then he acquires a 3D-printer in order to make sure the individual pieces will fit together in multiple experimental setups. To deal with the electronic component of the camera, he requests assistance from Italian Rodolfo Zitellini. Based in Switzerland he now has become an associated member of the company. But Tommy’s camera is not at all an average classic Super 8 camera:

The optical viewfinder has been replaced by a flip-out screen, the same as on any ordinary digital camera. Inside the camera is a small electronic camera reading off the ground glass. It receives the image from a mirror on a super light weight guillotine shutter. The plastic pressure plate of the Kodak cassette has been made obsolete. Instead the film is dragged out of the cassette, looped around a sprocket wheel and finally lead into the film gate, where it is held on tight by a metal pressure plate. During exposure a registration pin ensures optimal picture steadiness as on traditional professional 16 and 35mm cameras. An unprecedented feature in the history of 8mm cameras. Moreover the film gate has been widened so the format is more similar to the present 16x9 format. In addition it comes with an integrated digital sound recorder and Wi-fi connection.

Voilà! The world’s first (and best) modern Super 8 camera has been created since VHS eradicated the small home movie film format more than 30 years ago. In 2014 fifty cameras were produced, although Tommy does not possess actual production facilities. The individual pieces are produced at a machine shop in Dragør near Copenhagen, which also produces camera houses for the medium format camera Phase One. Fitting, adjustments, as well as miscellaneous tests are done by Tommy in majestic solitude. However, distribution and sales are established in collaboration with a company in Los Angeles.

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At first glance Chatham looks like any other digital camera The Super 8 film is pulled out of the cassette to the film
transport integrated in the camera
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Kodak was not the only Super 8 camera in the swinging sixties

Pro8mm is a small business in Burbank specialising in everything to do with Super 8. For many years they have been renovating and rebuilding old Beaulieu and Bolex cameras. To a degree in which they appear better than when they originally left the factory. Moreover they develop super 8 film and provide digitalization of all formats in an extensive program. But that is not all. To accommodate the growing revival of the format, they have developed equipment to slice up 35mm film into 8mm strips. These can then be perforated and put into cassettes so the entire Kodak program becomes available. Positive as well as negative film.

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Magellan & Chatham in the hands of cinematographer Moises Perez at Cine Gear

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

At this point the last person in the trio, cinematographer Orla Nielsen DFF, takes on the responsibility of carrying out trials on the cameras by test shooting and the execution of a vigorous testing scheme. The reason being that a well known player has announced its arrival. Kodak has been inspired by Logmar and have decided to make their own Super 8 camera revival. “They asked us if we wanted in and financed us to develop a brand new Kodak Super 8 camera. The camera is very similar to our Chatham. We made ten cameras for them, which were tested in all sorts of possible ways. Even in climate chambers by German standards and with hundreds of rolls going through each camera. It became a very good camera but in a more classic version. It does not have a sprocket wheel and registration pin – it was too cumbersome and deemed unfit for the use by amateurs. But it comes with the extended wide format, viewfinder screen and all the electronic innovations. Furthermore it has a C-mount, just like the classic Beaulieu and Bolex’es, so more affordable optics is an option. Kodak decided to have the camera mass-produced in China. Our ten Logmar cameras served as an inspiration and have by now been put on the shelf. They are the property of Kodak but are lent out to famous filmmakers in USA, who enjoy making different projects with them”.

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Kodak drew heavily on the experiences of Logmar for their new camera

During the process of working with the Super 8 camera, Tommy and Orla acquired a vast number of international contacts with professional players. By now they have relocated from Tommy’s kitchen table into a brand new office in the restored Kattegat Silo at the docks in Frederikshavn. Gradually a new project was crystallising in the mind of Tommy.

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Logmar occupies an office in the restored Kattegat
Silo at the docks in Frederikshavn

  His own son has often tormented him by asking why in the world would he mess around with a small-scale S8 camera, when he could do something bigger – for example a 65mm camera? Going abroad with the Chatham camera, Tommy often obtains information about the format. But everyone tells him not to embark on such a venture. “There is no future in 65mm film,” just about everyone says. Which only makes him want to try even harder. Why not take the technological innovations from Chatham Super 8 and implement them in a professional 65mm camera? They are quite often too big, too heavy and much too clumsy? The development work with the Kodak camera is about to end so now Tommy can start working seriously at the design on his 3D computer. This time with the help of a professional cinematographer, namely Orla Nielsen:

“We found out, that we were virtually alone on the market. Arri does not rent out 65mm and they can not be bought anymore because Arri is putting faith in digital large format. They made approximately 12 copies of model 765 and that was about 20-25 years ago. They were either rented out or sold and by now they must have been spread out across the world. Panavision still has a lot of cameras to rent out but very few can be operated by hand. Most of them are colossal blimped cameras intended for use in studios. Our camera is not blimped and 65mm certainly does not run silent. But we have minimized the noise by replacing all rotating metal parts with belt drives.

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Orla & Tommy in the new office with the Magellan 65mm

Even the dual registration pins are belt driven so the only thing that can be heard is the film loop. A bit like the Arri 2C, which is used a lot for commercials”. The minimal weight and the small dimensions of the Magellan camera is due to the new features, which have been upscaled from the Super 8 camera to 65mm. Instead of the traditional rotating mirror, the camera is equipped with a guillotine-shutter, which saves both weight and volume. The high responsive mirror of the shutter creates an image on the ground glass. 

That image is picked up by a tiny Sony camera before it ends up on the camera’s fold out screen. Or it is sent by wi-fi to any monitor or smart phone. There is always a well defined image available in high resolution, regardless of light conditions or aperture. And of course the camera can be remote controlled, no matter if it is mounted on a crane or the wing of an airplane. The electronics also control frame rates of 2-54 fps and provide information on film usage. This being an article in a cinematographic journal, we haven't even touched on the built-in sound part with 5 pin XLR. The choice of lens mount was the subject of much scrutiny. At the end the entire series of optics for Hasselblad 500CM was chosen. Besides being a standard item at an affordable cost, these magnificent Carl Zeiss optics precisely covers a 65mm image. Arri and other mounts can be installed without problems. The machine shop in Dragør is still the supplier, but for the new camera a company from Sønderborg in southern Denmark have also been involved. Definitely a 100% Danish produced camera. So far the two businesses have delivered the parts for five cameras, which are being assembled, tried out and exposed to comprehensive test setups in Frederikshavn.

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Carl Zeiss lenses for Hasselblad precisely covers the 65mm image

The collaboration with Kodak resulted in the film manufacturer being an active part of the process of the 65mm camera. Kodak have also been very helpful providing raw stock and film development. It has not yet been decided  whether the camera is to be offered up for sale or if it will be rented out through the various rental houses across the world. The most realistic option would probably be the latter. Such an advanced camera is expected only to be used in top-tier productions and requires massive maintenance. You do not send a Formula One car out on the racetrack without several pit stops.

The camera is still in progress. Among other things, it has turned out that the panel on the right side of the camera can be difficult to operate. So eventually it will be replaced by a much larger touch screen, directly connected to the powerful NVIDIA computer, which serves as the heart of the camera’s electronic control. But since the Magellan saw the light of day in April 2018 and well before the presentation at Cine Gear in Los Angeles, the Magellan has been a fully operational camera.

“Ever since we have constantly been in contact with Linus Sandgren and Hoyte van Hoytema” Orla Nielsen says. “During the production of Dunkirk, Hoyte was famous for hoisting a monster of an IMAX camera on his shoulders. All because the hand held look was his kind of style. Evidently he was very excited about a lightweight camera.” So the future seems bright for the first serious camera in Denmark since the carpenter J. P. Andersen (also known as the Nellerød Man) created his handmade cameras out of Cuban mahogany some time in the last century. I wonder if this endeavour for once might be a case of extraordinarily good timing and in the end will turn out to be successful?

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The Magellan 65mm lightweight camera weighs only 12 kilograms fully loaded

If you have wondered about the eponymous names of both cameras, Orla Nielsen informs us that Tommy’s family always had a soft spot for penguins. The Chatham Penguin became extinct in 1872 followed by the vanishing of Super 8 some 120 years later. On the other hand the Magellan Penguin is only endangered, however still surviving in colonies in Argentina, Chile and the Falklands. You might add that the future of 65mm follows the same path. Despite the digital revolution, it still sustains itself on islands of big budget film productions. The company name Logmar is a bit more tricky. It derives from ancient Scandinavian language, probably medieval Norse. In Island it would be Lögfræðingur which means lawman or lawyer.

Links for more content:

Tommy Madsen & Phil Vigeant from Pro8mm demonstrates Chatham: https://vimeo.com/101753821

Historical footage of the Kennedy-brothers digitalized by Pro8mm: https://www.pro8mm.com/

Test shots with Chatham Super 8: https://vimeo.com/129700087

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Editor: Steen Dalin

Photos: Orla Nielsen, Thomas Hauerslev, Steen Dalin – illustrations from the internet.

Thanks to Torben Glarbo and Anton White Orbaek

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