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How Does Analog Film Actually Work?

We’re going to go out on a limb here and assume that you, at one point or another in your lifetime, have watched at least one film. If we happen to be wrong in that assumption, then we welcome you to the world, recently thawed-out cave person. Cheers on learning to read so fast, grasping the concept of the internet, and wheezin’ such copious amounts of j-…uice. Bur those who have enjoyed a flick from time to time: Have you ever thought about how the actual film works?

In a video recently shared by Sploid, fledgling YouTube channel What Is… gives us a beautiful explanation of the ins and outs of the physical components of film stock. The narrator goes over the basic attributes of film such as frame size and the perforations (the holes along the side that allow the camera to move the film) and the materials used to make it. Originally, nitrocellulose was used as a base, but as anyone who’s seen Inglourious Basterds can tell you, it’s quite flammable. Nitrocellulose, also known as guncotton, was also used in things like flash paper, rocket propellant, torpedo warheads, and naval mines so the introduction of the much less flammable acetate film stocks in the 1930s were a welcome change. Acetate stuck around until the 1990s when polyester-based film stocks eventually took over as the preferred material.

The video goes into further detail in how the magic of film actually happens with a simplified model of film’s layers and the special nature of every film nut’s favorite light-sensitive chemical: silver halide.WhatIsFilmLayers042316

In simple terms, red, green, or blue light reacts with different layers of the film that’s coated with chemicals to create a negative image. When projected, the combined layers result in a color image. The end of the video touches on how the advent of digital media is making things easier and cheaper so the production and use of actual film will eventually become a thing of the past. We doubt it’ll ever go away completely, though, since at least a portion of the art of filmmaking lives in the film itself.

Has What Is… caused you to contemplate what’s going on in a camera or projector? What other topics would you like them to cover in the future? Let’s discuss in the comments below!

Images: What Is…

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