Carbon arc projectors

Technically-oriented discussion of classic films on everything from 35mm to Blu-Ray
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Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
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Carbon arc projectors

Unread post by Daniel D. Teoli Jr. » Thu Jan 11, 2018 8:27 am

Anyone ever see a film projected from a carbon arc projector?

What was it like? How did they handle the rod changes.

Richard P. May
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Re: Carbon arc projectors

Unread post by Richard P. May » Thu Jan 11, 2018 9:53 am

Yes, that's what was used when I started in the business. What did it look like? A movie on the screen. As long as the carbons were adjusted properly, a nice white light. Changing the carbon rods was done between reels, similar to putting the next reel of film on the idle projector.
I know there will be people commenting on this, advocating carbon arc vs. xenon. I won't argue for one or the other, it's just the way things were done at the time.
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Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
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Re: Carbon arc projectors

Unread post by Daniel D. Teoli Jr. » Thu Jan 11, 2018 10:47 am

Thanks!

I was just curious if the light was a different hue or look than bulbs or if there was a flicker in the arc light. It sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Arc light and nitrate film!

wingate
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Re: Carbon arc projectors

Unread post by wingate » Thu Jan 11, 2018 11:18 am

There were nitrate fires in cinemas.
In the UK there had to be a projectionist on duty by the running projector all the time.There were metal gates by the port which would be brought down if required.
In the fifties I have clear memories of the picture fading to brown because the projectionist failing to attend to the arcs.

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Re: Carbon arc projectors

Unread post by barry byrne » Fri Jan 12, 2018 7:52 am

These were the usual means of projection when I was young.

In properly run cinemas the projectionist managed the carbons and the gap very carefully to ensure even illumination through all shows. Some of the third rate places ran down the carbons below acceptable levels to cut costs, which led to some flickering and low light levels.

I still regard the Xenon lamp as a pretty recent innovation, which may explain why I follow this site.

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Re: Carbon arc projectors

Unread post by sethb » Sat Jan 13, 2018 9:13 am

A carbon arc lamphouse produces a perfectly fine white light --- if the carbons are aligned properly and gapped correctly, and if the lamphouse mirror is clean and focused properly, and if the rectifier (which converts AC to DC for the lamphouse power source) is adjusted correctly. That's what experienced, good projectionists did!

Xenon bulbs also produce great illumination, and probably more light (and heat) than a carbon arc setup. Of course, they are also a lot more expensive to run! But I have seen more than a few Xenon bulbs explode inside the lamphouse, likely as the result of fingerprints on the bulb glass, which can create hotspots because oil from the fingertips on the glass absorbs heat. (The bulbs are supposed to be installed while wearing gloves.) In addition to being very dangerous, that also creates one heck of a mess to clean up. SETH
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Re: Carbon arc projectors

Unread post by Jack Theakston » Sat Jan 13, 2018 9:37 pm

Having run both extensively, the difference between the two is negligible (maybe +1 for Xenon because the arc is generally more stable). But running carbon is fun, to say the least.
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Re: Carbon arc projectors

Unread post by silentfilm » Wed Jan 17, 2018 12:29 pm

If you can catch Peter Flynn's documentary The Dying of the Light (2015), you can see a lot of carbon arcs in action. You can also briefly see Jack Theakston...


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Donald Binks
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Re: Carbon arc projectors

Unread post by Donald Binks » Wed Jan 17, 2018 4:18 pm

Whenever I had to visit the bio box at the cinema at which I worked (usually lugging cans of films up all the stairs!), I was always fascinated when I arrived there early some mornings before the daily performances and found the projectionists fiddling around with the projectors, focusing the carbon-arc rods. They used to have a special film they put through which aided in this focusing.

I somehow think that all the care that used to go into the projection of films by those who cared about what they were doing, is now a lost art - at least judging from my last visits to the cinema which I must admit are a few years ago now.

We also had Brenograph projectors which did wondrous effects - I wonder how many people are around now who would know what I am talking about? :D
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MoviecollectorOH
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Re: Carbon arc projectors

Unread post by MoviecollectorOH » Wed Jan 17, 2018 10:30 pm

Donald Binks wrote:Whenever I had to visit the bio box at the cinema at which I worked (usually lugging cans of films up all the stairs!), I was always fascinated when I arrived there early some mornings before the daily performances and found the projectionists fiddling around with the projectors, focusing the carbon-arc rods. They used to have a special film they put through which aided in this focusing.

I somehow think that all the care that used to go into the projection of films by those who cared about what they were doing, is now a lost art - at least judging from my last visits to the cinema which I must admit are a few years ago now.

We also had Brenograph projectors which did wondrous effects - I wonder how many people are around now who would know what I am talking about? :D
I must admit I cheated a bit and looked it up. :twisted:

This brings to mind a starfield/nebula projector like this. Maybe it could be customized to slow it down some to match the Brenograph, but basically these operate on the principle of rotating discs too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOelqeNkOsk



This one may or may not be sufficient in a large theater, it is designed for a 50 ft. x50 ft. coverage space. Actual results would probably depend on the color of the ceiling/light absorption, and how large the area to be covered is.
Last edited by silentfilm on Thu Jan 25, 2018 12:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Daniel D. Teoli Jr.
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Re: Carbon arc projectors

Unread post by Daniel D. Teoli Jr. » Wed Jan 24, 2018 1:52 pm

Thanks for all the great replies. Fascinating stuff! I ordered the Light DVD. Glad this stuff was archived.

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