The Musical Time Machine (1977)

Concept and creative process

The titles for the series ‘The Musical Time Machine’, presented by Vince Hill, featuring great music of the past, present and possibly future, computed by the musical time machine. Designer Alan Jeapes made the multi-screen technique his own signature design style. It was a technique he revisited a number of times during the course of a long and distinguished career as a BBC Senior Designer, discovering, as the technology developed, ever more visually inventive ways of manipulating large numbers of images in order to achieve a specific design for a programme title sequence, as can be seen in the titles for ‘Call me Mister’, ‘Tribal Eye’, ‘Spender’ and ‘Trade Union Studies’ to name but a few. His design for ‘The Musical Time Machine’ was a visually and technically complex sequence of multiscreen images and was an impressive example of what can be achieved with a selection of specially shot transparencies. A large selection of musical instruments was photographed in the studio on a black background and mounted in groups in separate black mounts. These were filmed backlit on a computer-controlled rostrum camera as separate layers superimposed over one another, with the camera tracking in on each layer at a different speed. At specific synch points in the music, determined by a frame count of the music track, additional instruments were superimposed, zooming up and past camera at varying speeds, as well as the programme logo which maintained a central trajectory with a streak effect at the end of the zoom. The visually intriguing end result belied the complexity of the preparation and filming of a multi-screen effect such as this. With today’s digital technology it would be far easier to achieve on a Flame or similar device. In 1977 it was captured all on 35mm film and also in-camera, without the need for editing or complex film opticals.

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