I wasn’t expecting much from Super 8, the iPhone app promoting director J.J. Abrams’ hotly anticipated homage to classic Spielberg. But whaddya know — this thing is actually kind of awesome. Like a video version of Instagram or Hipstamatic — which add faux-vintage film effects to still photos — Super 8 makes your iPhone video footage look like it was shot on a little Kodak film cartridge you dug out of Grandpa’s attic. It even adds an authentic-looking scratchy film leader and cheapo credits to really sell the effect. Here’s one I made:
I actually own a bona fide Super 8mm cartridge camera, and I was impressed by this app’s charming skeuomorphic design: the interface is all pebbled black vinyl and big, chunky buttons, just like the real thing. The home screen is presented as a camera “case”: tapping on the big pistol-grip camera launches the viewfinder, tapping on the yellow cartridge with the worn label launches the library of clips. (There also appears to be a mysterious locked compartment which presumably opens up some kind of Lost-ey easter egg if you play around with the app long enough — would you expect anything less from puzzle-fetishist Abrams?)
The app’s designers, QMx Interactive, really committed to this whole “it’s the 70s, and this is a real Super 8 camera” idea. Sure, there are toggle buttons for adding light leaks, scratches, and frame-slips to your footage. But what other app lets you swipe the screen to “turn the camera around” to examine its side (where you can see the little film cartridge window and “eject” it to watch your footage) and front (where you can switch different lenses in and out)? When you’re done shooting a clip, you hit a big green button to “develop” it; and to watch the clips, you enter a “Projector” area where you actually have to swipe to pull down an olde-tyme screen.
It may sound gimmicky and irritating, but it’s actually a completely delightful — rare for a promotional app that Paramount could easily have just shat out without any investment in user experience. Surprisingly, Super 8 isn’t just a shticky toy — it’s a little world unto itself, like a time capsule made by a pre-teen boy who liked to make little action films starring his friends with Dad’s camera. Abrams did that, Spielberg did that, even I did that. And this ingeniously designed app recreates that nostalgic vibe pretty much perfectly.