Creative Nottingham logo
Creative Nottingham logo
Artwork by Patrick DolanMore Information

Guest Blog – Optical Toys part 1

Joe Freedman

Hello creative Nottingham

As a technical kind of person there is one area of my work that I always love to come back to: toys. These can be things like pro equipment, automata, gadgets or simply toys.

You know- for kids.

I’d like to show you a few things that I have been researching lately that I either have been using or intend to use as part our Origamibiro performances. I have some featured on my own blog already but maybe I should talk a little more about how they relate to the performance itself.

Working alongside live musicians in an av performance means that I am constantly one step behind. Providing they have practiced and honed their skills for enough years on a specific musical device or ‘instrument’, musicians can react, complement and change their directions in a performance as much as they want. The VJ will have libraries of clips on their laptops which they will access in order to react to changes in the music. If the Vj is any good then everyone should be looking at the screen and not at him and then he can then fill the hole where a definable and identifiable performance would traditionally be. But what if I want to step away from the laptop? What if the devices I therefore use instead/alongside should be as indentifiable/understandable by the audience as those devices the musicians use? What does the ‘traditional’ VJ approach and my own work have in common?

How about persistence of vision?

A year ago I began to think about using flickbooks as a way to provide animated textures live. I would fill a sketchbook with textural ink drawings and then flick them as a sequence in front of a camera. I would record the video through my laptop and then play the loop back. The intended result would be a combination of building up individual components to create a complex layered image whilst simultaneously demonstrating how moving image in its simplest form is created. Unfortunately it didn’t really work- I needed to keep the book steady, keep it lit for the camera, avoid stray pages hitting the lens. I needed a machine. It turned out there was one, approximately 100 years ago. It was called the mutascope.

So I built one.

Go here for the full story. Amazingly it nearly worked except that the sequence I chose was too abstract and the image was too difficult to read. There was also no way I could whip it out on stage as it was way too cumbersome. I had a rethink and decided I needed some precision workmanship (click on the link on the page to see it working).

These retroscopes are designed, lasercut and built in the U.S. by an extremely skillful and conscientious guy called Joe Freedman. He is currently investigating how to build a larger version with more frames- initially for me- and also to hopefully to go into production. I’d love to post some initial designs up but I don’t think Joe would be happy to show it until he is happy with the design himself. It is very exciting and also a massive relief for me because I don’t think I can face building another one of those things- it nearly killed me!

Come back for part two in my exploration of optical toys. In the meantime I’ll leave you with a link to an amazing site detailing the history of the mutascope and its many manifestations.

If you click on many of the images you will get small movies of the mutascopes in action. Fantastic