Video Special Effects at the Powerhouse Museum - 1996

I think this page deserves a special in-depth, at-length discussion about why I put it up - after all, it is a bit strange that I put up a page about a few special effects clips from back in 1996. But it's important that you know a little about the context of these clips and why they were so special to me. And as usual, I hope you enjoy watching them and hopefully feeling the same sense of amazement that I did at the time.

Back in 1996, I was studying at Cabramatta West Public School - they were just behind my back yard at the time, we basically lived right next to them. I was in Year 2, Class 2T with teacher Mr Mitchell Thomas. I won't spare any praise here - after all, I credit my first exposure to Electronics to his class, where he bought in some batteries, a motor, a few light globes and battery holders from Tandy. No one else seemed interested, so I had a go - creating a spinning colour wheel and showing that it somehow becomes white when spun at high rates, and engraving my name into plastic things with the sharp-ish tip of a motor spindle. But that wasn't all - one day we had an excursion to the Powerhouse Museum. This is where all the fun on this page began.

Once we got there, we were told that we had to follow instructions and do certain things ... things like not stepping on blue areas. While my teacher went and bought a Video Tape from the attendants desk, we stood there looking at lots of bluescreens. We didn't quite know what it was for, until he came back with a tape and we were ready to roll. We walked up to a cabinet, all plexiglassed up, about the size of a full size communications cabinet - with a hole for a cassette. He stuck the tape in - and we were told to do our thing - there was a tiny preview monitor and instantly, we were transported into another world. Somehow all that blue became something else - something moving sometimes, something static, something colourful - but all of it made by electronics. There was no human operator to be seen - just a rack full of gear.

I was totally shocked. I stared at the cabinet for a while - I remember seeing many cables and knobs and lights - but I had no idea what sort of digital video effects gear was inside. It was surely expensive - but it was miles ahead of the other display on offer at the time - which was an audio distortion or voice changer.

I don't remember having much of a part in the effects - the teachers had to choose some people to go onto the set, and only a certain number of people were allowed, but to this day I still remember that day. It was inspiring. It was so inspiring that I asked the teacher to borrow the tape, and later that night, he came over to my house and personally delivered me the original tapes. My parents were furious - furious that I had somehow made my teacher come across town to our house, to bring me some tapes - and furious for somehow owing him something because I borrowed something from him. But silently, and swiftly, I made a copy of the originals using my VCR and I kept my only copy with my other cassettes.

A few years ago, I came around to digitizing all my memories, and funnily enough, I came across this tape and digitized it too. It brought back so many memories. My main thought was - "How many other students would have seen this display at the time that I did?" "How many of them were left amazed? Inspired?" Being only in Year 2, some of us were barely speaking fluent English - but we were already seeing leading edge technology at work. We could see ourselves on the screen. If anyone else has recollections about something this fun and exciting, they're welcome to contact me about it :). Unfortunately, after 14 years of storage, the tape didn't fare so well - part of the reason may have been the original recording equipment but the sync signals on the control track aren't so great, and I don't have a timebase corrector, so we got a lot of dropped frames and stuttering on some of the captures, but some of it did come through just fine.

Sure, nowadays, you don't think much of it anymore - after all, chroma keying is something that can be done at home on your own personal computer - many video editing softwares also provide effects which can be setup with just a few clicks - but this, to me, isn't as inspiring as to see the whole rack of rather "analog" equipment operate in realtime. And back then, technology wasn't so advanced - video on the personal computer was only just beginning to be realized ...

The clips:

[VIDEO MP4] Singing 1 (2.92Mb)

[VIDEO MP4] Singing 2 (2.35Mb)

[VIDEO MP4] Falling off a Building (1.08Mb)

[VIDEO MP4] Stuck in a Rock Crusher (1.83Mb)

[VIDEO MP4] Rockclimbing, the Easy Way! (1.19Mb)

[VIDEO MP4] Almost eaten by an Alien (2.70Mb)