The JOICam

English: David Foster Wallace at the Hammer Mu...
English: David Foster Wallace at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, January 2006. The head shot was cropped out from the original image with fans Claudia Sherman and Amanda Barnes. Česky: David Foster Wallace v Hammer Museum v Los Angeles v Lednu 2006. Portrét hlavy byl vyříznut z původního skupinového snímku s fanynkami. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This article contains Spoilers for Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. So, if you’re reading it, or planning on reading it, you may wish to steer clear. (And if you haven’t read it already, you really should.)

After reading Infinite Jest for the second or third time, I sketched this diagram out based on how I imagined the titular film-in-the-novel as looking. In the book, the film is described as looking as if from the point of view from an infant, with the wobbling, unfocused gaze that infants have, as their eye muscles haven’t properly strengthened yet. While in the book, this effect is from a rotating mount with three lenses as designed by James O. Incandenza, the director of Infinite Jest, I, not having the degree in optics the fictional filmmaker had, I designed this with household objects.

This is something I’d actually like to try with my camera and see the results. I am calling it the JOICam based on what I think the results might end up looking like, even though I know that it would not be anywhere near the exact type stuff.

Basically, the effect is a sort of blurry, unfocusing sort of look that can still make out shapes and such with a sort of Understanding-What-They-Are-ness to them, without being 100% clear nor just a matter of being Just Unfocused. Because if the output were just unfocused, there wouldn’t be anything to that, and anyone could really do it. Not that I’m expecting the output to have the same hold on the viewer as Infinite Jest the film did, but I’m just thinking it might be a buyable substitute, that someone could see it and see the effect I was going for. And, anyway, I’m thinking this would be a neat effect, and it’s something I’d probably try shooting a music video in (after seeing a few tests, after I build it).

First, off, the wooden frame would probably have to be pretty big, I’m thinking the JOICam would end up having to be on the floor, most likely preferably mounted (for reasons that are either obvious from the PDS or will become soon), which might give trouble to the portability, so perhaps either just weights on the floor of the frame (the floor isn’t drawn, because of the pillow) or perhaps some sort of clamping system of some sort, though I don’t know how that would work.

Anyway, the reason it’d have to be tall is for the bungee-support system to work (and also to provide clearance for the tripod, but tripods can collapse down pretty far (mine’s about 3 feet or so, if that, in Collapsed Mode), and also for the operator to use it properly.[1], [2]

On the topic of the bungee-system: This is necessary because the Horrilble Vibrating Massager would make it impossible to actually guide and move the camera in the standard way, since, well, the tripod, which normally would be on the ground and not shaking is now in the air and shaking, With so many bungees (actually — bungee might not be the best material — perhaps just normal rope or string? — because of the bouncing back and forth), the operator would be able to just sort of glide the camera around and pick out the best shots. Perhaps the zooms would be best done with a remote control (that many, at least consumer cameras (and would you really want to do this with a professional camera?) come with), because of the shaking and all. One reason I do like the bungee is the way that pushing against them would give sort of a drifting quality to the framing, since it’s hard to actually get a shot steady, since the bungees would constantly be pulling back to return the camera to the center.

The tripod is mainly there for ballast, to help add weight to the camera, and also provide a place to put the HVM, since you wouldn’t want to actually attach it to the camera itself, since the shaking on that would probably be way too much, where with the tripod, I think while it’d still shake fiercely, it’d be a much less drastic shaking, since the vibrations would be travelling up the tripod, dissepating them a bit. Another place the Vibrating Massager might go is on the frame itself, depending.

The HVM should be pretty obvious. Basically, it’s a old 1950s Vibrating Massager that has a couple of springs that attach it to your hand (or a tripod, say), that is actually very painful to use on both the hand and any part of the body you’d be “massaging”, and as such is probably not the type of Vibrating Massager you’re thinking of, as you would have to be insane to want it anywhere near your genitals. As such, it’s better for making objects vibrate rather than flesh.

The Pillows at the bottom would be there in case the vibrations caused the camera to become loosened from the bungee or tripod, since it’d be pretty bad if a camera fell onto the hard floor. Obviously.

How it’d be operated: The frame would be placed a distance away from the object (probably a bit farther away than most), and the set up should probably be in the widest shot possible so you can be sure that your placement would get the entire area you want to shoot. Everything would then be hooked up, (i.e., HVM plugged in and TV connected via RCA), and then when sure that everything was at least initially secure (securing things would be especially important in a thing like this), the tape would be set to record, the HVM turned on, and then action. (Being sure, of course, to make sure that the lighting and everything was set up before the HVM is put into action.) The operator would control the camera movement and placement by carefully guiding the camera around the system of pulleys, and controlling other things with the possible remote control (or, stopping the shot, changing settings on the camera, and then starting again, to be edited later.

The footage used with this would have to have the audio removed and then resynced with other audio. This is why this technique is best for something like Music Video or straight Silent Film, because it’d be very difficult to even mask the noise coming from the whole apparatus with separate recording equipment, and with baffles built into the frame and everything, mainly because the HVM is Really Fucking Loud. I suppose it could perhaps be done (maybe shooting from another room entirely? Or with directional mikes, perhaps?) but, I still think the best case in this would just to be to loop the dialogue/audio later, since that just seems the easiest all around. Anyway, I don’t think that this techinque is especially suited for Normal, Narrative Film, so I’m thinking that probably isn’t much of a problem, since I doubt a feature would be shot only in JOICam, nor, well, even a short non-music-video/art-film-type film. Since it’d probably be a little distracting, trying to follow what was going on. Although if you could actually figure out a way to justify it in a film like that, more power to you.

That’s about all of the issues I can think of off hand, feel free to ask questions, and I’ll be glad to answer them to the best of my abilities (having not actually built the JOICam yet, of course).

[1] This is a fluke in most/all of the things I diagram. I’m tall, and as such, most things don’t actually work for people my height, so I have to sort of mess around with them to get them to. So, whenever I design things, it ends up being made for someone very tall, which probably wouldn’t work without a custom-building/design-tweaking type deal for someone of normal height. I suppose, in a way, it’s my revenge for constantly hitting my head on doorjams and coaches and not fitting well in most automobiles. Not that anyone but me is really interested in the Theruitar[i] or the JOICam.

[i] A device I’ve also thought about building that would basically be a theremin in a strap-on guitar type shape; the box holding the electronics, however, would have to be very long as to not cause conflicts on the pitch and volume antenna whips — hence the tallness reference.

[2] More in guiding the camera rather than seeing what’s in it, because I didn’t actually draw this, but the viewfinder’d be pretty much useless, so you’d have to have a small TV connected by an RCA cable to make sure your shots were OK.

[3] Unless you’re like me and totally blind anyway.


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  1. Rev. Syung Myung Me

    It probably does need an intro. It’s something I wrote a while ago, and posted because I needed somethin’, heh. It’s based on a scene in Infinite Jest, which, sadly, comes late in the novel and is kind of a spoiler, but basically, the thrust of it is a camera where there’s a wobble in the lenses to mirror what an infant sees before they can focus and suchlike. So, um, yeah…heh.

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