I’ve always been fascinated with vintage cameras and other image-producing objects. This little doodlewash is of something called a Magic Lantern or Laterna Magica, which was an early type of image projector that used pictures on sheets of glass and either sunlight, candles or oil lamps to project light. It was developed in the 17th century and commonly used for educational and entertainment purposes.

Today, it sits downstairs in a box as I managed to acquire one on eBay a few years back. I was so excited that I neglected to realize the obvious. That nobody needs a magic lantern in the 21st century and this was a ridiculous waste of money. But it looked so cool! Modern objects just don’t have the class and attention to detail, choosing cheap over charming most of the time.

When I was in grade school, I was deemed to be rather smart and therefore enrolled in an independent study course. What this meant was that twice a year I could choose any subject I wanted to explore in more depth and detail. One of my independent study subjects was animation, and I was so excited to get started.

I first tried drawing on individual film cells with a marker, but quickly lost interest. After about 5 cells, I had only managed to produce a stick figure that appeared to be squatting to relief himself. This was not satisfying and simply wouldn’t do for my directorial debut, so I immediately began looking for other options.

I discovered that the school actually had a video camera, so the notion of doing a stop-motion animation was born. This was many, many years ago, so the camera was the size of a small suitcase and weighed more than I did at the time. I wasn’t daunted because every stop-motion director worth a grain of salt knew that a tripod was required for absolute precision.

My main character was an egg-shaped ball of white fur, appropriately named Fluffy, and he had just two large googly eyes, dowel rods for legs and light blue shoes “borrowed” from Mr. Potato Head. It was just as I was beginning my epic shoot that I realized the script also required arms, so a couple pipe cleaners were jammed into the side seams.

Fluffy’s story was a bit weird because in my enthusiasm I pre-made all of the props out of the first cool thing I saw – a stack of notecards shaped like various musical instruments. So, we began the story in a music shop, obviously, and Fluffy went around trying out each of the instruments. Perhaps it was his last-minute pipe cleaner arms or his googly-eyed lack of depth perception, but he systematically breaks each instrument he attempts to play.

After fleeing the shop, we hear a foreboding voiceover from a police radio, calling in the crime to dispatch. Okay… so I played the part of the police officer and my voice was anything but foreboding then, or even now for that matter. But you get the point. It was bad. Real bad for Fluffy.

As sirens wailed, Fluffy did the only thing he could think to do. Rush back into the scene of the crime and attempt to repair all of the destroyed instruments. Through the magic of stop motion, he was able to put everything back like he found it and escape before the authorities arrived. I was then asked to play this masterpiece of cinema for each of the other classes during a day long premier in the library. Apparently teaching kids it’s okay as long as you get away with it, was a lesson worth skipping regular class for.

Although I would end up working on a movie later in life, I never fully realized my childhood dreams. Perhaps that’s why I bought an expensive antique magic lantern. It reminds me of a time when I used to dream big and was never daunted by the idea that I couldn’t do something. It’s funny how as adults we always question ourselves and yet as kids we always assumed anything was possible. Sometimes I wish i could go back to that time. A time when a white ball of fur named Fluffy could be the next big movie star, and I actually believed in magic.

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40 thoughts on “Magic Lantern

  1. Never stop dreaming BIG Charlie! I believe it is our imaginations that can take us on FABULOUS journeys if we keep dreaming! Awesome Doodlewash – not an easy subject to paint. 😊🎨🎉

  2. YOU need to write a book about your life that you illustrate with your doodlewashes!! That’s another awesome story!

    I have a friend who, long story short, inherited a bunch of antique cameras, daguerre types (I totally botched that spelling, I’m sure), tin plates, etc. It is such a cool set of stuff!

  3. I’m with Teresa–you should be writing a book. Start…right now. Also: I want to see this short animated feature of the stick figure squatting to relieve him/her/itself. Sounds like a grade school crowd-pleaser. Great colors on your sketch, by the way.

    1. Thanks Kirk! The idea of writing a whole book freaks me out. I’m lucky to get through these blog posts! And I don’t know what happened to any of my animations…it was all pre-pre-pre-YouTube era. I think the Fuzzy animation is on a large Beta tape somewhere, but if it were ever uncovered, nobody would know how to play it!

          1. No pressure from me of course. But as a writer who works hard to find an audience, I cannot help be notice how people respond to your stories. They are good and easy to read.

  4. Great doodlewash. I will ignore the comment about not believing in magic, (whaaaaat?!) , enjoyed your story very much and will only say that if the power goes out at least you will be able to spin your wonderful stories with dancing images courtesy of…your Magic Lantern. ;D

    1. Hehe…I really just meant actually believing. I still believe in magic, but my adult brain won’t let me actually think there’s a unicorn hiding around the corner anymore. And yes!! ❤️😃I sort of hope the power does go out not. Then I can use it and say. “See?! THIS is why I bought this thing! I knew it would come in handy one day!”

  5. My older daughter and her cousin spent a lot of time doing stop animation with Legos one summer…wonder if my sister-in-law still has that film. They did not grow up to be filmmakers either!
    I’m glad to see everyone else endorsing my idea that you should be writing a book too. Actually everything still is possible. We just become indoctrinated by a school system that says you always have to be perfect.
    And it’s worthwhile to own (and draw) wonderful objects, even if they have no practical use. (K)

    1. That sounds cool!! Stop motion AND Legos?!! Love it!! ❤️😃 Thanks Kerfe! I’m sure new exciting things are yet to happen for me. But at this point, blogging better make the book write itself because I don’t think I’d have the time or energy to do both and keep doodlewashing!! Hehe…there needs to be more hours in a day!!! 😊

  6. A handsome curio and excellently executed and entertaining post, as per usual. I would SO buy The Doodlewash Diaries, by the way… this has to happen! I’m slipping a banknote in your pocket as we speak 😉

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