Kit 15: Reflective Movie Projector

Kit #15: Reflective Movie Projector (2300 yen). There are certain machines that just look cool on their own, when they’re sitting on the table doing nothing. This Gakken kit is one such machine. Keep in mind, though, that Gakken’s mid-range 8mm projector kit (7500 yen) is the really good one; the reflective projector reviewed here is at the lowest end of the range.

Typically, film consists of some kind of transparent or translucent material (glass, or celluloid film) with the pictures etched, painted or exposed on to the material and then displayed onto a projection screen by passing light through the material and on through a lens assembly. In the case of film, as each frame advances in front of the light source (originally in front of a flame, more recently in front of a light bulb), a shutter blocks the light to prevent us from seeing the frame move. Because of the persistence of vision (afterimages left on our retina for a fraction of a second), we don’t notice the flicker caused by the shutter closing and our minds are tricked into thinking that the “moving pictures” are really moving. In fact, the film is advanced one frame at a time and then held in place while the shutter is opened. The shutter closes again and the film advances to the next frame.

I’m explaining all of this for one reason – kit 15 differs from a regular film projector in two extremely important ways. First, there’s no shutter so we see the film advancing between frames. Second, there’s no film. Rather, kit 15 uses a long strip of glossy paper with the images printed on it, and the paper strip is behind the light bulb instead of being between the bulb and the lens. The “light box” has 5 little mirrors that reflect the light onto the paper, and that light in turn is reflected from the glossy paper to the lens and then on to the projector screen. Hence the name “Reflective Projector”. Kit #15 is based on the REFCY projector, which was produced in Japan in 1931. It was unusual at the time because it was the one of the few projectors to use “paper film”. A picture of the projector can be found here.

Kit 15 is another one of the more complex kits with over 40 pieces, and took it 2 hours to build. Functionally though it’s just a gearing system that connects a handle to the film take-up sprocket. A little bar travels around in a circle, and once-per-revolution pulls the film forward the distance of one frame. The kit uses two AA batteries, but those are for the light bulb. The film is advanced manually, and the speed you turn the crank determines the speed of the film. If you turn the crank fast enough, you don’t really notice the blurring caused by the film moving between frames, (shutter or no shutter). But, because the paper is fairly stiff and prone to tearing, I don’t want to turn the crank too quickly. Speaking of the paper – the “film” is made up of a page of 12 strips of pre-punched paper, requiring that I again cut up the book. The strips are connected together using cellophane tape. It took as long to punch out the 300+ sprocket holes in the paper as it did to build the camera itself. The final film is 20 feet long, and takes about 2-3 minutes to watch (depending on the crank speed). One side of the film has clips of Astro Boy flying around, the other side has Honda’s Asimo robot walking and dancing.

The mook is mostly dedicated to one topic this time, with pictures of antique movie projectors; articles on the theory of film and the history of moving pictures dating back to the “painted glass in front of an open flame” era; articles on some of the artists that made additional movies for the mook; and a how-to for using the Mac to print your own home-made movie on an ink-jet printer. There are a few other movies that can be cut out from the book, but they’re not pre-perforated and require chopping up the book even more. The history of animation given in this book regards the older Japanese artists only.

The Otoko no Kagaku Magazine website has a series of links to people mentioned in the mook. The best link of the group goes to George Mather’s descriptions of various forms of motion illusions. Norabbit’s Minutes is one of the animations turned into a paper-strip film for the mook (available for purchase on DVD).

This is one of the more cool-looking kits if treated only as an art piece placed on a shelf. But, I’ll probably try making my own film via Flash, and then printing it out and cutting the frames up. In this sense, the kit can be infinitely modified just by making more movies, although it’s easier to just watch the movies directly in Flash on my laptop. The mook suggests one specific mod, and that is to take an LED from a hand held flashlight in order to make the projected light stronger for viewing. I tried this and it works very well.


As I wrote above, the kit’s pretty much infinitely modifiable in that you can make as many of your own movies as you like. Unfortunately, it’s not like all that many people can watch the movie at one time since there’s only one copy, and the projector uses paper “film” rather than real film, making the projection kind of faint. Further, it’s easier to make and watch an animation if it’s intended to be viewed directly in Flash to begin with. Bottom line is that while we *can* make as many “films” as we like for this kit, it’s not that likely that we will.

Anyway, I did make one film, just for the experience. I call it “Hi Ki Yama”. It’s a demonstration of how some Japanese kanji have been derived from real things. Print out the sheet, cut out the strips, tape the strips together, punch out the sprocket holes, and there you have it – a finished paper movie.

“Hi” = “sun”; “”ki” = “tree”; “yama” = “mountain”. It’s hand-drawn frame-by-frame in Flash, and is intended to look a a little unsteady when played back. It took roughly one day to create.