Source: International Photographer (June 1940)
By MAURY HUGHES
What is a lap? Many people, especially wives, will immediately think it is the place where hubby's stenographer sits to take dictation. In motion picture parlance it is used to indicate an overlap dissolve whereby one scene smoothly blends into another, suggesting a lapse of time or to eliminate uninteresting footage in moving characters from one sequence to another.
Many old time cameramen remember laps as a constant source of annoyance, inasmuch as in those days it was necessary to photograph a scene, make a fadeout at a designated point in the action, keep a record of the counts, rewind the film and can it until such time as the next action was filmed, which may have been days or weeks. In the course of production this often resulted in a file of eight or ten cans awaiting completion. The advent of sound eliminated this condition, even if it did bring other complications, so the production cameraman is no longer bothered with "laps." Sound created many new specialized jobs in the industry and a not unimportant one is the making of laps, wipes, trick effects and montages. All this brought into more active use the optical printer, which is nothing more than a re-photographing machine, making a copy of the positive film through a lens.
To the layman or the average theatregoer, a lap dissolve passes unobtrusively by on the screen without his being aware that it happened. A lap dissolve serves the purpose of smoothly advancing the story. To obtain this smoothness calls on the expertness and ingenuity of the operator and the laboratory technician, greatly aided by the film manufacturers' introduction of new raw films designed for the processing of duplicate negatives.
When we realize that a lap dissolve is a dupe negative that is cut right into the original negative it can readily be seen that it must compare with the original in register, quality and synchronization. It must be in register so that the size or position does not jump. It must compare in photographic quality so that gradation and density will remain constant when printed on the same light as the original and of course it must remain “in sync” with the sound track.
Where laps aim to be smooth and not jarring, a wipe or wipe-off strives for a noticeable or theatrical effect. Wipes are often used in productions for this purpose but find their greatest effectiveness in trailers, announcements, etc. They embody the same pains taking care and procedure as laps but in addition make use of the travelling mat. This travelling mat carries the design of a particular wipe effect and it requires two sections; the first, or take-off mat, is used so that it covers or causes not to be exposed that section of the raw film where the second image will be placed. The second or bring-on mat is the direct opposite of the first, being black where the other is transparent. The types and designs of these mats are myriad and range in length from one-half to six or eight feet. Each one is designed for a particular purpose or effect.
The optical printer is the instrument used for the cooperation of the various mediums to obtain the desired results.
Many a novice in the motion picture industry has been initiated by being sent for the "Film Stretcher" and it often resulted in quite a search, as those "in the know" shunted him from studio to studio in search of this mythical device.
Today the optical printer might reasonably be called a "Film Stretcher" because of its adaptability of operation. Many a foot of film has been lengthened by "stop frame" or by photographing a duping print forward and backward, action permitting, of course. The optical printer's uses as well as its designs are many, but fundamentally the same. Many operators have devised gadgets such as mechanisms for flips, pushoffs, angle shots, peeloffs, composite shots, etc.
A montage would be a monstrous undertaking if attempted in a regular camera on the set, but the optical printer renders these interesting effects a comparatively simple operation. Productions have been considerably enhanced by the introduction of cleverly executed montages.
To try to enumerate the many uses of the optical printer is almost impossible, as its versatility lends itself to many operations, and in eliminating laps from the production cameraman's worries, it has earned its place in the industry.
Maurice (Maury) Hughes dates his film experience to 1914, in the laboratory of the Selig Polyscope Studios in Edendale, when Tom Mix was in his prime. It was during this period that "The Spoilers" was filmed. This studio, along with others, experienced the difficulty of procuring the necessary chemicals from Germany during the World War.
Jim Crosby, an old timer who had gone into the laboratory business in Hollywood, then had Hughes come over and work with him. From there he entered the cutting department, working mostly on independent Western pictures. At the same time he was assistant director on a number of them. From there he graduated into the camera department and photographed Westerns on location. Hughes then thought he would like to try the trailer business, so he went to the old Fowler Studios, working as cameraman and in the laboratory. For the past nine years he has been in the camera department of the Pacific Title and Art Studio in Hollywood.
Hughes has seen many changes and it is his belief that the optical printer has been the emergency doctor in many successful operations performed on film and that many strides in the motion picture industry can be attributed to the work done by the skillful cameraman engaged in this type of endeavor.