When Management Graphics adapted their film recording technology to support motion picture film formats, it was quickly adopted by movie studios to bring special effects from their computer memory images on to film. There were some problems however, and one of the most serious was the difficulty in obtaining the full brightness range found in typical scenes, especially when they included lights—candle light, desk lamps, car headlights, streetlights. Any light source, even a glimpse through a window to the bright outdoors, would cause a large flare in the final film frames, washing out detail in the scene. Our customers complained, and we started down a path to research and solve the problem.
We understood what the fundamental issue was: halation, an effect caused by the glass faceplate of the cathode ray tube used for creating the image. The bright spot on the phosphor screen was internally reflected at the glass surface which then illuminated the phosphor coating. If phosphor were black, this would not be a problem, but phosphor coatings are white, as are most materials made of fine powder, and it resulted in this internal reflected light overexposing the film. In the absence of a black phosphor, there were few other ways to mitigate the halation effect.
One of our customers was incorporating our film recorder into a full workstation system. Quantel, a company in Newberry, England, had become successful in the early years of digital video and was looking for a way to expand its editing tool offerings into the motion picture market. Quantel’s engineers understood the halation problem as well, but they didn’t want to rely on our figuring out a solution: they had an aggressive development schedule.
My father, an early adopter of nearly everything, took on a project to digitize a collection of historical family photos that had accumulated over many generations and that were now in his possession. It was the early years of digital photography when scanning technology was barely up to the task, and computer image file formats were crude by today’s standards.
Nevertheless, he forged ahead and built a repository of over 700 scanned photographs dating back to the 1800s. He recognized a weakness in the collection—there was no context, no annotations, no identifications of the people portrayed. Old photographs lose their value when this information, originally held in the memories of those who were around at the time, is not recorded.
My father knew this and wanted to somehow attach the information about the photo, in the scan of the photo. I know this, because he asked me (an imaging scientist) about how to do it. Unfortunately, at the time, there was no standardized way to embed such “metadata” within existing image file formats. He was a man ahead of his time.
This is adapted from a tribute that my father made at the memorial of his father, Theodore Olson, after whom we are both named, who died in 2002 at the age of 97. I post it here for the online access of posterity, and to provide a portrayal of the scientific mindset of a family patriarch that influenced not only his students, but his entire family and several generations beyond. Here is my father’s rendition of our family history.
The start of this story goes back almost 150 years. In about 1860 in Norway, Hans Opjörden left home and went to Oslo. Hans had the misfortune to be the second son in his family, and that meant that his older brother would inherit the family farm. Hans left home and headed off to Oslo, where he went to work in a shipyard building boats. After a while he decided he really wanted to sail on the boats instead of just building them. At this time Norway was a province of Sweden. Shrewdly, Hans changed his name from Opjörden to Olson (with a Swedish spelling) and got Swedish sailing papers.
He went on several voyages and along the way befriended a shipmate named Peter Magnus Peterson. We can imagine a conversation between them based on what subsequently happened. Hans confided that he’d really wanted to be a farmer but had no prospects of getting land—and that being a sailor was not his “dream job”, but was good paying employment.
In 1965 we moved into a newly-built house on the outskirts of the town of Long Lake Minnesota. Today considered an “exurb” of Minneapolis, at that time it was a rural community at the very edge of urban influence. I turned twelve on the day we moved in and was starting to explore the possibilities presented to a teenager in those years.
When we consider the impact of computer graphics we usually think
of Hollywood motion picture special-effects, or beautifully crafted images and
commercials from high-end marketing firms, which both seem like products of the
east and west coasts. We don’t think of midwestern
artists or public university departments as being part of that world. Yet this is exactly where much of the
pioneering work in computer graphics was done and its commercialization was
On April 8, a friend joined me to observe Hale-Bopp at my
nearby and nearly-dark site at Lake Zumbra.
We enjoyed watching the very young moon set, then went about preparing
to take some pictures. I was hoping to get a shot taken at a smaller lens
aperture so the stars would have less distortion than in my earlier photos.
I thought that the view of comet Hale-Bopp over a cityscape would make a striking photograph. There were only certain view angles and observing times that worked however. To get the comet to hang over downtown Minneapolis in March, the time worked out to be around 3:00 am along a northeast line of sight. Surprisingly few vantage points existed; the streets headed off in the wrong direction, or the view was obscured by trees, buildings or streetlights.
This picture was taken with a Kiev-88, which is a
Russian-made clone of a Hasselblad (a
high quality camera that was taken to
the moon). It uses the larger size 120
format film. A colleague suggested that
this unused camera should be stored in my office instead of his. And since I had no use for it there, I
decided I should try it out on one of my comet photo outings.
Another challenge in making photographs of the night sky
On a summer camping trip with my family some years ago, I attempted to make a star trail picture showing Mt Hood in Oregon as reflected in one of the nearby alpine lakes. Unfortunately, that remote location was not quite remote enough, and I found that other campers were intruding on my composition.
Taking pictures at night is often a
solo experience, and while it is true that there are times when one is quite
alone, there are plenty of times when the abundance of humans on the planet provides
company, desired or not.