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Mise en Scene in 2001 A Space Odyssey

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Saved by Sam Webster
on November 5, 2009 at 1:27:51 pm

2001 A Space Odyssey can be considered as one of the films at the forefront of innovative use of technology and visual effects. These effects help make up much of the unique mise-en-scene in the film and should be considered when discussing the aspects of this film that contribute in making it a cinematic masterpiece.


Slit-Scan Photography


Slit-scan photography was traditionally used in still photography to create blurry and deforming effects in photographs (3). Douglas Trumbull adapted the technique of slit-scan photography to be used to create the “star gate” sequence in the film. Below is an example of the slit-scan technique used in still photography (1).




To simplify the process of this technique, we can go through the steps needed to create a single frame of film by way of slit-scan photography. A card of varying colors is placed on a camera rigging platform. This card will become the colorful stream of light seen during the “star gate” sequence. A camera which can be moved up and down is placed above the card. This set-up can be seen illustrated in figure 1. (2)


Figure 1      Figure 2     Figure 3


In figure 2 we see another card placed on top of our rainbow card. This black card has a slit cut in it so that a small strip of the color can still be seen. The red box projected on the card is the view of the camera when the exposure of film begins. The camera is then moved down towards the slit while at the same time the card with the slit is moved forward. Figure 3 shows the camera and card positions at the end of the frame exposure. The small red box is the area the camera records at the end of the exposure. This process of moving from the large red box to the small red box creates a single frame of film. Figure 4 displays the wide field of view the camera begins with, represented by the outer large red frame, and the smaller field of view the camera ends with at the end of the frame exposure, represented by the smaller inner red frame. (2)


Figure 4 


Figure 5 is an example of what the image would appear to look like after the entire single frame exposure was complete. This process creates a single frame which would be 1/24 of a second of film (with a film projection rate of 24 frames per second). In order to create a 10 second sequence this process would need to be repeated 240 times. (2)


Figure 5 


The distance which the colored card moves over the course of exposure changes the “speed” of the color movement when consecutive frames are viewed (3). In the specific case of 2001 A Space Odyssey, a flat card of color was not used but rather a rolling cylinder with varying color patterns was displayed through the slit to be captured (1). The changing color patterns coupled with the changing movement of the slit over the exposure period helps create the psychedelic flowing color warp seen in the clip below of the “star gate” sequence of the film.




This type of photography is important because it represents a world of film making prior to the world of high powered, readily available computers. The effects used to create the "star gate" could be easily manipulated using a computer program in special effects creation today, but Kubrick's special effects team worked vigorously to create this spectacle in camera.



Major Edit Topics:


-practical visual effects (eg. pen floating early in film)

-front projection

-unique set construction


Works Consulted


(1)DeMet, George D. "The Special Effects of '2001: A Space Odyssey." 2001: A Space Odyssey Internet Resource Archive. July 1999. Web. November 3, 2009.

(2)Kelly, Martin. "The Underview on 2001 Slitscan." The Underview. 2008. Web. November 3. 2009.

(3)Rickitt, Richard. Special Effects: The History and Technique. Googlebooks. Watson-Guptill, 2000. Web. November 3, 2009.

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