Waltenspül - Cinematographic Model Worlds as Analog Simulations

Sarine Waltenspül
Am Sande 5 
21335 Lüneburg

Dr. des. Sarine Vera Waltenspül is a media historian who conducts research on the interaction of techniques and aesthetics in feature and scientific films. She is co-leading the SNFS research project Images of Air and Light: The Moving Image and the Camera as a Scaling and Analytical Instrument (2017–2022), based at the Research Focus on Transdisciplinarity at the Zurich University of the Arts. Prior to that, she wrote her dissertation Cinematographic Models in Transfer at the Institute for Media Studies at the University of Basel. She was involved as a PhD candidate in the research project Size Matters (2013–2016) and was a publishing manager at Hungerkünstler Verlag. Recent publications: „From Images of Lines to Images of Particles. The Role of the Film Camera in Flow Visualization“ (2019, with Mario Schulze); „Inszeniert? Zum Verhältnis von physikalischer und visueller Akkuratesse im Film“ (2018).

Forschungsprojekt - Cinematographic Model Worlds as Analog Simulations

In 1924, Joseph A. Ball, physicist and engineer at Technicolor, suggested the following formulas to calculate the exact frame rate when filming miniatures: »If f, m, l and t are the symbols representing the fundamental quantities, force, mass, length and time as it is in the model and if f’, m’, l’, and t’ are the corresponding quantities in the imaginary world on the screen we can write the fundamental dimensional equations: f = l/t2 f’ = m’l’/t’2«. (Ball 1924, 120) The formulas were actually developed in the course of the early model experiments with fluid dynamics in the 19th century. Originally, they served to translate calculations from model experiments – or simulations – to full-scale objects like ships or airplanes. Thus, Ball transferred a scaling technique from physics to the field of cinematography to visually scale up models. In the case of dynamic models – i.e. in combination with fluids like water or air – scaling is a challenge in physics as well as in film productions, irrespective of whether models, computer simulations or a combination of both are used. However, the interfaces between ‘analog’ and ‘digital’ scaling are not just the problems that arise in dealing with them, but also the corresponding solutions. For it is not only when working with material cinematographic models that methods from fluid dynamics like the formulas are used. They also form the basis for dynamic simulations used for computer-generated imagery (CGI). 
My dissertation, which I am preparing for publication during my fellowship at MECS, examines this issue and other cinematographic scaling techniques at the intersection of materiality and mediality, the analog and digital, illusion and intended fractures, as well as the techniques, dispositifs and contemporary aesthetics that were developed in the course of the work with scale models.