So how do we get from panoramas and race track betting to a technique that can be used for motion pictures?

To the Moon and Beyond2

Well in 1964 a short film titled “To the Moon and Beyond” premiered at the World’s Fair in New York City. In was shot in Cinerama 360 which was a 70mm single film process using fisheye lenses and projected onto a domed screen. In attendance was Stanley Kubrick who was getting ready to shoot his grand space opus. Kubrick hired the special effects company behind “To The Moon and Beyond” to create some preliminary test shots for the 2001.

Douglas Trumbull

Douglas Trumbull

One of the special effects artist working at that company, a young Douglas Trumbell, cold called Stanley Kubrick and asked to work on the film. Kubrick accepted and Trumbell spent 2 and half years working on the special effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

For the Stargate Sequence Trumbell was inspired by the work of Animator John Whitney who also worked on “To the Moon and Beyond”. John Whitney was the animator that worked with Saul Bass on the spiral graphics for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo - which happens to be the first film to use a computer for animation (the computer happened to be a world war 2 artillery targeting computer). During the 1960s Whitney had been experimenting with leaving a film camera shutter open for long durations while moving artwork on motorized tables.

Trumbell took Whitney’s experiments and combined it with slitscan concept. His approach was to to put the slit outside of the camera. The camera was placed on a movable platform, aimed at a 4 foot slit - behind the slit were a wall of gels patterns on a moving table. When the shutter was released and the camera would dolly in toward the slit while the gels behind the slit were moved from left to right. After each 60 second exposure, the graphics on the gels would be advanced just slightly creating the animation of flying through a stargate made of light - a fitting process which bends the relationship between time and space for a scene where Doctor David Bowman is doing the same thing.

This method of creating slitscan effects would continue seeing use in special effects for the next 30 years including the Dr. Who intro.

Star Trek the Next Generation would also use slit scan techniques for when the Enterprise made it jump to warp speed. But once digital effects came into prominence, the painstaking slow slitscan technique fell by the wayside.