The People at King Camera

Christopher M H King

I was born in Checkendon, Oxfordshire England. I'm still deeply fond and familiar with the English countryside of that area.

Television entered my life for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and started my fascination for moving images. The "Saturday morning pictures" in our local cinema awoke in me a love of animation. I have fond memories of "Woody the Woodpecker" and the Fleisher Brothers' "Popeye".

After my school days were over, my first experience of the animation industry was at Nick & Mary Spargo's Nicholas Cartoons at Maidensgrove in Oxfordshire. A very happy summer job as cel painter and general helper in the camera room.

My, less than exciting, academic results prevented me from getting a sensible job. However luck did not desert me, and I began a job at Caravelle Film Studios on the Slough Trading Estate. This brought me into contact with many different levels of film production. Graphics for television, title sequences, optical effects, special effects, live action, even acting in a TV commercial for which I was paid 20 Guineas!

In the late Sixties I emigrated to a new life in Canada. Film Technique in Toronto had offered me an animation cameraman job through the kind influence of an English mate of mine Pete Turner. I was totally entranced at the age of twenty by life in that bustling metropolis. The Mies van de Rohe buildings at the heart of that city made my spirits soar.

I absorbed film making techniques and played with equipment that we could only dream of in the UK. Despite my lack of achievement at grammar school and with the encouragement of good friends I decided to continue in higher education. A year at Centennial College, getting me back up to speed, was followed by 3 years at York University in Downsview to the north of Toronto. There I thoroughly enjoyed my student life, supporting myself by freelance camera work for animation companies. By the summer of 1973 I got my BA degree in Mathematics and Computer Science. During the period of my further education I was very lucky to work at the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal.

At the NFB, I was introduced to the joys of computerised motion control courtesy of some very clever people from the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). Our DEC PDP11 computer, talked to via a teletype keyboard, was a revelation for someone who had spent many, many hours winding handles on manual rostrum cameras to achieve movement.

However this technology was only affordable by government departments with large budgets. It took a while for this technology to filter into the commercial environment. Cinera, an animation company in Toronto, managed to get a version of this DEC based system attached to their Oxberry camera in 1974/75. I freelanced there and at other companies including the CBC until the end of 1976.

1973: I started to make short films based on still photography and rostrum motion techniques. I was very grateful to the CBC/RadioCanada, NZBC in New Zealand and ABC in Australia for buying them. The soundtrack music was provided by Howard Shore (music director "Lord of the Rings").

These film making successes spurred me into travelling to exotic locations and photographing the people and the scenery. My last effort in 1977/78 took me to Turkey and the land of the fairy chimneys "Cappadocia".

1977: Back in the UK, I freelanced at General Screen Enterprises in Uxbridge. Whilst there I heard of the work of Mark Roberts in developing and making motion control systems. This led me to the door of Peerless Camera Company in Covent Garden. There Kent Houston had a MRMC computer installed on a Neilson Hordell Rostrum camera. I worked for Kent doing an interesting variety of animation shooting.

The connection with Peerless led to me filming animation for Pink Floyd's "The Wall". We shot using a Panavision Anamorphic Lens that was rigged by Mark Roberts to zoom under the control of his Motion Control Computer. This technology innovation led to Kent and myself being interviewed for an article in "American Cinematographer".

I was very lucky in the late Seventies and early Eighties to work as a freelancer on a good variety of animation projects. Returning to my roots I filmed "Willo the Wisp" for Nick & Mary Spargo, which was hard work, enjoyable and not a computer anywhere to be seen.

The level of contacts that I built up for camera work made me and my wife Adele, realise that we were in a good position to start our own business.

1983: With the kind assistance of Barclay's Bank and Mrs. Thatcher's initiative to assist small business start-ups with a government backed loan, King Camera Services opened for business in London with a magnificent Oxberry Master Series Animation Stand and Camera (vintage 1961) and an entirely new Mark Roberts Motion Control computer system. This had a DEC industrial processor board at its heart and twin 5.25" floppy disk drives! This system was built to last and is still in operation, albeit in a new home, at a film school in Fulham.

Since those tentative times in the early Eighties, I enjoyed operating King Camera in London with the assistance of my wife Adele at the studio & the office in Reading.

As of March 2013, we ceased production in the studio & until 2023 I happily continued a digital rostrum business from the office in Reading.

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