Dirty Little Boy

Making the Rewards - Part 1

We gave Little Boy a cute name, but he is a high-precision piece of industrial machinery and bears very little similarity to his name. 

Little Boy is the seed from which our future plans will grow. And much like a seed, he was covered in dirt when we found him.


The standard base for both photographic and motion picture film is Cellulose Triacetate (CTA). To start a coating run, large spools of CTA are threaded through the machine.


The emulsion consists of many layers of sensitized chemical compounds and gelatin. Each layer in coated in precise thicknesses onto the CTA base.


The extruder deposits layers of emulsion in the proper order. Tolerances are in the range of nanometers (1mm = 1,000,000nm) and even the slightest miscalibration can ruin the entire coating run.


For a few moments, the fluid layers are separated only by laws of rheology. As the film moves through the chiller, this separation is reinforced, "gelling" the layers as they continue into the drying tunnel.


Before the coated film can be spooled, it must be completely dry. The roller system serves to lengthen the tunnel to provide appropriate drying time based on the specific speed of the film through the extruder.


Little Boy can produce a single mini-Jumbo in about 2 hours. The mini-Jumbo is approximately 23cm wide and 750m long with a usable area of 20cm x 660m. We will need 10-12 mini-Jumbos to produce our Primo Lotto.

The Cleaning

Little Boy was decommissioned in 2006 and sat unused until 2012 when our team first entered the LRF building to assess the condition. The building and room kept the machine safe from major damage, but the effects of time are unavoidable. Metals oxidize, dust accumulates, residues from its past usage have a chance to crystallize and colonize.

Before he can make the Primo Lotto, Little Boy needs to be thoroughly cleaned from top to bottom. The cleaning is a simple activity but must be done with extreme precision and completely by hand. The tools are brushes for some parts, sponges for delicate parts, Marseille Soap, and strong backs.

The cleaning has been problematic because the current lack of heat inside the L.R.F. means that we have to use portable heaters to reach temperatures a few degrees above zero. Cleaning is also complicated by the size of the Drying Tunnel - very tall but very narrow. Due to the cold, protective suits and masks have to be worn over layers of clothing. Few on the team are small enough to squeeze into the machine to clean parts at the back.

The Drying Tunnel


The gallery below shows various dirty details inside the drying tunnel and Renzo in his cleaning outfit.


The cleaning process is completed with a run of simple bulk gelatin. This is useful to verify that everything is running well before using expensive emulsions.


We are currently on schedule to complete the bulk gelatin run, and once everything is given the OK by the factory team, we move on to coating...


David Bias

New Yorker. Crazy for old cameras and analog film. But I love sci-fi. Go figure.