Invented in the late 1800s, kinegrams were a simple form of animation that predated the first animated movies. A team from MIT has now given the technology a digital makeover, in the form of the one-off KineCAM.
In a traditional kinegram, the creator starts with three (or more) sequentially shot photographic prints of a person – or other subject – performing a certain action. Each photo is then sliced horizontally into multiple strips.
The strips from all of the photos are subsequently combined one above the other to form one long composite image, alternating between the three photos from the top downward. In other words, starting at the top, you’ll have a strip from Photo 1, followed by a strip from Photo 2, followed by a strip from Photo 3, then back to the next strip from Photo 1 and so on.
Next, a sheet known as a “striped overlay” is laid on top of the composite. That sheet consists of multiple horizontal transparent slots interspersed with wider opaque sections. Therefore, as the viewer pulls the overlay down across the composite, they can first only see the Photo 1 strips (and thus the complete Photo 1), then only see the Photo 2 strips, and then only see the Photo 3 strips. As a result, the illusion of movement is created.
Led by Ticha Sethapakdi, a team of students from Assoc. Prof. Stefanie Mueller’s Engineering Interactive Technologies course set out to modernize the technique as a final group project. This effort culminated in the creation of the KineCAM.
The small box-shaped device incorporates a Raspberry Pi microcomputer, a cell-phone-like video camera, a thermal printer similar to those used to print receipts, a camera shutter button, a battery, and an LED indicator. All of the parts were already commercially available, and had a combined cost of under US$100.
When activated by a press of the shutter button, the camera records a short length of video. Custom software on the Raspberry Pi then selects multiple frames from that video, digitally renders them into strips, then interlaces those strips to form one digital composite image. A physical copy of that image is subsequently produced by the printer. The whole process takes about 16 seconds.
In order to view the image – and see it moving – the user utilizes a striped overlay that was previously printed onto a sheet of transparent film via a regular inkjet printer.
Given the fact that people can already shoot actual videos with their smartphones, however, what might be the appeal of the KineCAM?
“There’s something very appealing and intimate about having an actual physical receipt – a one-of-a-kind copy of some experience,” says Sethapakdi. “We are open-sourcing this project so that others can modify the camera and adapt the code and design it to do anything they want it to do. We’re happy to let others explore the possibilities.”
The technology is demonstrated in the following video.
KineCAM: An instant camera for animated paper photos