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Applying a rule from Pixar with a camera from 1961 (gregjeanneau.com)
323 points by jamestweed on Aug 22, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 80 comments

A small point: "Don't give the audience 4, give them 2 + 2", as articulated in that way, does not originate with Pixar and Andrew Stanton. It comes from the film director Ernst Lubitsch, as told to his disciple, Billy Wilder.

Minor nit: [1] cannot find any citation that it came from Lubitsch.

[1] https://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/05/04/two-plus/

Aside from Billy Wilder saying repeatedly--both in print and in person from 1976 onward--that it did? This is picking a nit on a nit, but I'm not sure that qualifies as 'quote investigation,' as by the same reasoning, we can't attribute anything to Socrates because his teachings were only later articulated by his students.

You have to remember that we're talking about a pre-TED-talk era--that is, prior to the boom in independent cinema and 'the democratization of film'--in which émigré directors who worked within the studio system had no real incentive to lecture in public about how they did their work, particularly if, like Lubitsch, they never achieved fluency in English and retained a heavy Germanic accent. Since Lubitsch never produced any written instructive material about his process, it's not mysterious that it would be hard to find a citation for this idea. And while it's possible that Wilder made it up, there's no real evidence to suspect he did. After all, nearly all of the anecdotes we've heard about Lubitsch come from his colleagues.

The quote is usually attributed to "Ernst Lubitsch, as told to Billy Wilder," which is entirely accurate as far as anyone knows, and was good enough for the fact checkers who reviewed the New Yorker's recent profile on Lubitsch [1].

[1] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2022/08/15/ernst-lubitsch...

Maybe it's my lack of artistic background but I don't really understand what point they're trying to make.

I had to look up what this "Don't give them 4" was referring to, and it sounds like it means Don't give the audience the answer, give them context and let them figure it out.

But even given that knowledge, I'm still not sure what point they're trying to make and how their photos relate to giving the audience context and what the camera has to do with it

Instead of shoot one picture, the photographer shoot two connected pictures and let the audience figure out the connection. The man entering subway is an example, one picture is static but two pictures means an action.

I'm not familiar with cameras but the author claim the Olympus Pen ee3 can compose two pictures into one, which is good for the 2+2.

Yes, exactly. The reason it didn't work (and he felt it didn't work) is this: if you're doing a comic, you draw the subway entrance and the man, but you don't put in anywhere near as much detail as a photograph allows. That means the difference of 'man/not-man' takes up a far larger proportion of 'observable space', and extraneous differences are far less. 'iconic' means you focus down on what's relevant, and there's too much else to see in photographs :)

If I understand the article, the author says that the camera, instead of filling the full 36mm frame on each shot, only fills half. Regular processing, then, takes these pairs of half photos and prints two on each "regular" print, producing the paired effect. Clever choice of what will go in each frame determines the outcome.

I think you're correct (but it's 35mm). I think mentioning the film size was an oversight by the author, or maybe since the camera was from 1971 we were supposed to assume.

35mm is the width of the film itself. The size of the exposed image is 36mm x 24mm in normal use. The camera in the article exposes frames of (roughly) 18mm x 24mm. Roughly, because of the space between the images that shows up as a black bar in the images in the article.

Yes. It's a little confusing because 35mm =~ 36mm. But, as you say, the 35mm is the physical width of the film including the perforations used to mechanically advance the film in the camera.

Apparently, if you hold this camera horizontally, it shoots a portrait orientation photo of the size you say whereas a "normal" 35mm camera would shoot a landscape orientation photo that is 36mm x 24mm.

36 is the largest number of exposures available on a roll of film (in US the brands most commonly available were FUJI or Kodak). Normally 12, 24, or 36. So the split frame would allow you to take a maximum of 72 exposures. The format is still 35MM. (ok so this was based on memory)

But I did notice that the number 40 was red on the counter implying significance. I quick google search revealed the same question and answer plus additional manuafacturer: AGFA


"Got an offer to buy several hundred rolls of packaged Agfa APX 400 speed film. It is all in 20 exposure cassettes. Where have I been that I don't recall "20 exposure" rolls? Were they a special run for point-of- purchase at some kind of strange outfit like (insert schlock discount store here) or a serious product?...."

"They used to make 20 expsure rolls before they switched over to 24 per roll. That change happened in the 70s I believe, so the film is probably pretty old if it has got only 20 exposures per roll. While thats my best guess, you could be right, and it could have been special order."

The camera is from 1961 so would have reference to 20 exposure rolls.

I really wish I'd typed "36mm" due to knowing what mauvehaus et al. wrote, but it was just a typo on my part... TIL!

> Instead of shoot one picture, the photographer shoot two connected pictures and let the audience figure out the connection.

There's also the Kuleshov Effect[1] which might come into additional play - "viewers derive more meaning from the interaction of two sequential shots [ie the 2+2] than from a single shot in isolation [the 4]"

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuleshov_effect

They are trying to intellectualize the ordinary task of shooting photos with a consumer camera.

During lockdown I wanted to start taking pictures in film again. After going through 2 disposable cameras I wanted something a bit more permanent. So I went to Amazon and searched for the cheapest film camera I could find. That was the AgfaPhoto Analoge 35mm, which costed £30.

I've had so much fun with this camera! The plastic lens produces a noticeable vignette, along with a chromatic aberration on the edges. This means that this camera will never produce high-quality results, but that's absolutely fine! People also react in a different way when I present the camera for taking a picture.

Some examples here: https://imgur.com/a/AyyZNDB

Of course it's more expensive than digital photography. Each film roll costs around £6-8, and it's costing around £17-20 to develop each one. The cool thing about film these days is that labs will scan the negatives, so you still get digital images ready to print.

> costing around £17-20 to develop each one

This is the reason I (a die hard analog photography fan) finally gave up the ghost and switched fully to digital.

I love taking photos and I don’t want to be constrained by cost.

I really love my X100F. I shoot RAW+JPEG but 99% of the time just use the JPEG directly. The film simulations are great and the whole process is so stress free.

It really depends on where you live, in Berlin I get same day color development for 4 euros or so. I do my own b&w stuff and it costs a few cents per roll

I would like to do the same. Then I'll need a dark room to reveal the shots? It's' the old school way, right?

I sprung for a stable of medium format (120 film) cameras some years back. eBay makes it easy to get decent quality cameras made over 50 years ago (many of the ones I bought came direct from Japan — surprise).

It was a modest investment in learning and money to take the next step and develop my own film. B&W at first (easy, forgiving) and then even color (sill easy but less forgiving).

I guess I was not interested in the darkroom + enlarger thing. I did that when I was young (elementary school, middle school) so I know what's involved. It could be fun but is less modest a move up in terms of cost (and space since you do indeed need a dark room — just processing the film was easy with just a changing bag).

Instead after processing the negatives, I go next to flatbed scanner and we're digital for the rest of the trip.

* I put some sample photos up: https://imgur.com/a/8CFskwN

I imagine there are still camera clubs with darkrooms around for those who want to give printing a shot.

But, yeah, for most people a decent home setup is challenging. I had the equipment so when I got an apartment after graduating from school I gave temporarily setting things up in a bathroom a shot. I quickly gave up because I found it really frustrating after having had access to real darkrooms in school--and also realized I was sort of done with the hours in a dark room with chemicals thing.

A darkroom is only needed for printing, but then you also need an enlarger, easel, &c.

For development you either need a darkbag (glorified dark cloth bag with 2 sleeves) or a "daylight development tank" which exist since the 50s and let you develop without any additional equipment: https://casualphotophile.com/2020/08/17/leitz-agfa-rondinax-...

At those developing prices, is it now just cheaper to self-develop, and take advantage of bulk buying the chemicals and paper?

It depends if you also want a developing hobby. If what you enjoy is, say, walking about and taking photographs of natural stuff, then "Ooh, and I get to spend hours in a darkened room developing the photographs" might not be what you like about that.

And you're mostly constrained to B&W. (Yes, you can do color but it requires a lot tighter control of temperature and processes generally. I tried it and wasn't worth it even as someone who did B&W processing/printing for many years.) As you say, darkroom work is a whole other--and largely different--hobby.

For development you don't need paper, that's the next step, printing.

Color printing old school style basically disappeared though.

> While watching her, he realised the pictures would be out of focus because of the settings. He then decided to design a camera that won't let you make a mistake. This camera is the Olympus Pen ee series.

I’m a bit surprised that the author doesn’t explain how the camera prevents out of focus photos (but mentions the auto exposure feature instead).

It's fixed focus, it's also a "half-frame" camera (~APS-C-ish, except it's portrait because the film still runs horizontally of course), meaning half the image size compared to full-frame, so more depth of field with the same parameters. It also has a slow lens - about equivalent to a 40mm, f5.6 full-frame lens.

Looks like the camera has fixed focus. So the distance from the subject is fixed.

Ah, the good old "the plebs sometimes make mistakes so we take away their choices. For their own good!" Fun to see it somewhere else than computers.

I think it’s a little different in the analog camera world: it’s common to buy lenses or bodies with “fewer” features, since there are mechanical and image quality tradeoffs to stuffing everything into a single component.

For example, it’s common to buy a “prime” lens, i.e. one that doesn’t zoom. But you wouldn’t describe that as taking away choice; it’s an intentional choice to prioritize size and other parameters (sharper images due to fewer elements, faster apertures).

Fixed focus cameras have been around forever because they are mechanically simple, reliable, and easy to operate. The thing is that they are usually set with a short hyperfocal distance. This means that the manufacturer is not choosing where the focus is as much as putting everything in focus. This removes any opportunity for mistakes and avoid fiddling with any focus ring and concentrate on other things. The trade off is much more subtle than “manufacturing taking freedom away bad”.

There’s also always been manual focus lenses if you want, so I struggle to see where the problem is.

I don't think the analogy quite carries over. With computers there are only a few major operating systems, so the simplification of design directly reduces choice. Cameras are different. There are a vast range of bodies and lenses to combine, all creating different possible images. And people can easily understand the difference between an automatic and a manual camera, or between autofocus, manual and fixed focus. That's just one more choice.

Didn't know half-frame film cameras were a thing, really cool!

Here's a diptych of a salt mine I shot when I visited Peru: https://www.instagram.com/p/BsjB07glcXs/

Best half frame camera I've ever seen was designed by the same guy mentioned in the article: the Olympus Pen F https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympus_Pen_F

Yea fascinating to read about Pen's history. I only knew it as a low cost mass market digital camera model.


this is a BALLER shot amigo

Thank you!

As someone not really into photography, I got a real sense for why people are passionate about it from this article and an insight into the mindset. That's a good skill!

A warning for those interested in the camera. I recently got a bit interested in photography and bought myself... an Olympus Pen EE2! However, selenium expires with exposure and mine was a dud. (Couldn't test since bought online). If you want to buy one make sure the selenium is still working.

And yes, I took it apart to look for other faults. even tried a recipe to reionize the cells, but it was completely dead. If you buy one a good sign is if it still has the cap.

“selenium expires with exposure”

I can see the rabbit hole expanding before me…

  Would travel to Tokyo. 
  Would spend excessive time in vintage camera shops.
  Would buy this camera. 
  Would be disappointed if selenium is expired. 
  How to be sure? 
  How to fix? 
  How to replace? 
  What else to buy?
  OG LED watch shop!
  Sony/Tektronix o-scopes!

Some older cameras that did have replaceable light meter batteries also used mercury cells which are likely hard or impossible to find. There may be size compatible non-mercury substitutes but they probably won't have the right voltage characteristics to work well.

There are both adapters for Silver-oxide batteries, as well as Zinc-air batteries specifically designed to replace Mercury cells for cameras. See https://shop.criscam.com/products/mr-9-mercury-battery-adapt... and http://www.weincell.com. Some light meters can also be recalibrated or modified to measure properly when using a Silver-oxide or alkaline cell.

I knew that silver-oxide batteries would often work. I had forgotten about the zinc-air hack although they, of course, expire fairly quickly once you start using them.

Mine -- EE3 -- came without a cap but still works! I've been storing it in a case that blacks it out, but this is something that's good to know regardless.

What does selenium do in the camera? Can it be replaced? How to know it's working?

It's a little photovoltaic cell, the voltage output is proportional to the amount of light received.


These days it would probably cost less to buy a decent used handheld light meter than to fix an old built-in meter on a camera like the Pen. For years I've used a Gossen Luna Pro with 'spot' attachment.

For anyone else interested in a light meter for an old camera, my coworker's friend developed a small light meter and spot meter that are pretty interesting (and affordable): https://www.reveni-labs.com/

I actually really like the Before/After example. In the second one when the guy and the bus are gone, all that is left is the light.

One thing one can do with a digital camera and some post-processing is to have a character move in the frame; here's one image of France's first lady walking in a public park for example: https://i.imgur.com/sC31sEf.png

Or roller skating in front of the Musée d'Orsay: https://i.imgur.com/2kIlWSK.jpg

What I would love is to have all of this all done in-camera. It would be great for children to get them interested without having all of the boring 'complicated' computer stuff afterward.

Imagine a camera with a three-way switch, mode A, mode B 'normal', and mode C. Flick a switch to ModeA and then stack multiple exposures until I flick the switch back to normal at which point the camera composites the images into a single photo.

Or Flick the switch to mode C and then take a slices of photos and then arrange them as diptychs, triptychs etc etc. until I flick the switch back to normal at which point the camera composites the images into a single photo.

With screw on camera filters for IR, colour tints etc.

Great product idea. Cameras already have panorama & HDR modes, it's not super far-fetched to imagine selecting an object present on different frames and having the camera compose it, or even having the camera choose the relevant object automatically.

The problem would be to put this in a camera for kids. If I judge by my own, kids are expert at breaking things. So the camera would have to be super strong, and super cheap, so that replacing it when it inevitably breaks isn't too painful.

Interesting constraints...

These look amazing! Particularly, the skater's picture is fascinating


Brings back fond memories of frontback, an app where you juxtapose 2 images (typically from the front camera and the back camera, hence the name). It had a ton of interesting content thanks to that concept.


I like that first escalator shot. It really embodies the 2+2 concept. At first I didn't get that the photos were related, but then it snaps that you are going to the focal point in the first photo.

"I remember as a kid looking at the images on the back of video game cases and wishing I could explore these worlds". Same here. Love the idea and execution.

Also known as a diptych :-)

I own a Pen F (the SLR version of the author’s camera), and they are indeed wonderful little bodies (and lenses, given their size). Having 72 (80 if you’re careful) frames per roll makes shooting on film a little interesting — it’s still fundamentally scarce, but not nearly as scarce as 24/36.

Where can I learn more about this Pixar concept? Fun photos!

"Unifying Theory of Two Plus Two"


See also Inc's writeup: "This Hollywood Director's 2+2 Rule Will Make You Instantly More Persuasive and Charming. This incredibly simple rule for better storytelling is also incredibly powerful."

"We would call this the unifying theory of two plus two. Make the audience put things together. Don't give them four; give them two plus two. The elements you provide in the order you placed them in is crucial to whether you succeed at engaging the audience."


Thanks! This (to me) was way more interesting than the rest of the article :)

And also, somewhat related:

Aerogramme Writers' Studio: "Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling"


Yeah, I love this list. The best rule is #4:

> Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

Reminds me of a User Story.

Aha, it’s actually 4 rules! :P

Andrew Stanton talks about it in this TED Talk from 2012: https://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_stanton_the_clues_to_a_grea...

> Using something entirely mechanical feels magical.

One of the more oblivious grass-is-greener statements I can imagine.

I agree with both statements. I'm an electrical engineer and a programmer in my late 30s. I have a pretty good handle on how complex electronic devices are created, because I've worked on them myself. On the other hand, if asked to create a fully mechanical camera, I'd have a long way to go to figure out where to start. There's so much clever engineering and ingenuity that went into them that is mostly gone now, that they indeed feel magical to me.

That said, modern devices feel magical in their own way, which is why I'm an engineer!

You should give it a try, it's freeing in ways you can hardly describe by text

You can say the same about non-mechanical devices. You can also say that mechanical devices (and non-mechanical devices) are limiting in ways you can hardly describe by text.

It's like how every other tech-bro thinks they want to become a woodworker. But if you offered my dad (a woodworker) $300K a year to not breathe sawdust and hurt his back, he'd do it.

But this has nothing to do with hard work or even physical work, it's a hobby. People do woodwork with hand saws for fun, pottery with their hands for fun, &c. for office dwellers the extra work is the appeal, the end product might not even be relevant.

Lots of car enthusiasts prefer manual shifting even though it offer worse performance. Watch lovers will buy a rolex over a casio quartz watch even tho the casio will be infinitely cheaper and more accurate. Art people will buy a physical painting over a NFT, &c.

Mechanical cameras always have been regarded has magical, you press a button on a box made of coils, gears and springs, and you get a picture. It's a technical marvel that make people dream in a way a "made in china" pcb based camera doesn't

In a world that is completely parasited with electronics it's a breath of fresh air

Sometimes people want a little of something because the novelty is nice.

You really don't need to point out that its impractical and can't be had all the time, because that wasn't the point.

Let people enjoy things.

Short fun little piece with pictures.

Edit: now I remember what it reminds me of—stock photo books. Where the most graphic and interesting photos are buildings and garages or toys and this has nothing to do with anything that’s a Non-Stop server. LOL or Service and Support packages…

This simple, clean and objective article inspired me very much.

This is the good Internet. The type of content that nowadays I will not be find in the first page of a Google search result.

Thank you this was exactly what I was going for! May I ask if I can use your comment as a testimonial?


The rule is "Don't give the audience 4, give them 2 + 2."

If you google it you will see it is not from Pixar, it's a common story telling approach.

You can combine two photos outside the camera, pretty easily.

diptych has existed before pixar

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