During the year between my Coral Gables High School graduation in 1977 and my first year at the University of Floria in 1979, I saw two films that made my head explode and permanently rewired my filmmaking brain from that point forward.
A small group of us had started making Super-8mm films in the summer of 1976. Mostly these were comedy spoofs on the James Bond movies, but a few of us (not me though) really got into stop-motion animation. The idea was that you would put the movie camera on a tripod, click off one single frame, move your actors forward a few inches, click the next frame, and so on. Played back at 18 frames per second (IIRC), this would produce the illusion of motion.
My friend Steve Stipp was a master of this. He and some of the others in our group made a series of ever-more-complex, stop-motion ‘driving’ animations. The actors would sit on the ground with their hands on an imaginary steering wheel, snap a frame, move forward, etc. They would often wear out a pair of pants in one afternoon, which is why we started calling them Bum Run movies.
The key was to anticipate how things like spin-outs and other special effects would have to take place on a frame-by-frame basis, and Steve got incredibly good at this. Some of the results were astonishing.
And then one day in 1978, a few of us made a trip to a real post-production house in Miami called Magic Lantern. While we were there, one of the guys offered to screen us a couple of special effects films that were going viral twenty years before the term had been invented. He said they had some really cool effects and asked if we’d like to see these black-market, bootleg copies. We didn’t just say yes — we said HELL YES! and so they got out the 16mm projector and screened two indie-made, experimental short films from a guy no one had heard of before. His name was Mike Jittlov.
The first one they showed us was called The Wizard of Speed and Time. This was precisely what we had been doing; and while Wizard was not much beyond our technical level it was so far past the boundaries of our imaginations that we simply gaped at it in open-mouthed amazement.
Now remember: there were no computer effects of any kind in what you are about to see: no Photoshop, no AfterEffects, no Unreal or Blender or Maya — and no digital compositing. Everything in this movie — including such modern, one-button effects as the glow around the letters — had to be done one frame at a time, in the camera. There is no visual post-production of any kind in Mike’s films.
I found a 4K scan of the original 1979 version of The Wizard of Speed and Time (link to source here), added a few sound filters in Adobe Audition, and then did an AI upres/cleanup using Pixop. So enjoy this copy of The Wizard of Speed and Time, because I liked his next one even better…
When the first reel was over we could not believe our eyes. But it was Mike’s second short, called Animato, that left me absolutely thunderstruck.
Fun Fact: Animato was the name of his three-short demo reel; the piece I had always referred to as Animato is actually named Fashionation.
Now kids, you may not think it’s too much of a big deal in these days of 30-layer AfterAffects templates, but every single movement in what you are about to see was done by hand, one frame at a time. None of us had seen anything like this before. I was so blown away by what I saw that I never forgot the music that he used to accompany the visuals. I have replaced the scratchy, badly damaged audio in the best version of Animato that I could find, replaced it with a clean version of Petula Clark’s track, synched it to the picture, and done what I could to enhance both audio and video to the best of my limited abilities.
If you want to know where the idea for The Stratosphere Lounge came from… well… I know a place. And this is it:
THANKS MIKE. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of guys like me wouldnt be here without you.
Oh, and PS: The single most magical thing about these films in the mind of twenty-year-old Yours Truly? They were shot in the mystical, mythical land of miracles; a place I determined to call home after seeing these amazing works of art.
Remember your heritage, Los Angeles.