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.