Comments on Tim Printy's 'internal mask' hypothesis

Martin Shough

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Since much of the material on this site was written, researcher Tim Printy has broached a very interesting idea on his website. His method is simple in principle: The positive film image of a fake UFO is prepared, perfectly clear elsewhere than inside the UFO image itself. This mask is placed in contact with the unexposed film inside the camera so that when the shutter is opened the fake will copy itself in negative onto the newly exposed emulsion, superimposed on the landscape background. Printy points out that this method could undetectably produce a fake UFO photograph on location and in real time, such that the negative could be developed and examined by witnesses on the spot.

The method

It seems to be true that this method could explain the Trindade photos, in principle (but see discussion here), and avoids all the depth-of-field issues that are such a problem for the glass-plate/acetate theories discussed here. Aside from the practical mechanics and logistics, and aside from anomalies that might be detectable by microscopic analysis of the negatives (which we do not have; they are known to be extant and are the property of Barauna's widow, but I understand that she has firmly refused to part with them), the only limitation of this method would be that because each mask is only able to prevent light from reaching the emulsion the fake UFO image could never contain highlights brighter than the sky background. In fact this appears to be consistent with the Trindade images, which are greyish with no specular highlights.

It is also, of course, consistent with Barauna's description of the object as grey in colour and partially sheathed in vapour. It should also be remembered that the sky was described as bright but overcast. This is consistent with the photographs, which show high cirrus or altostratus as well as scattered low clouds, and indeed a solitary narrow shaft of direct sunlight can be seen striking the island in P3, illustrating that the general illumination of the scene is by cloud-filtered sunlight. But it is true that if Barauna was alert to the fact that his fake UFO could not have specular highlights, whatever the weather, he might have planned to describe the UFO as foggy grey just in case some future photogrammetry should question the absence of a specular reflection.

So how would the hoax have been carried out? Leaving the detailed mechanics of camera-work to one side for the moment, in the simplest scenario Barauna could take numerous trial shots with different masks in place at convenient times during the trip to the island. He would inevitably be working blind to a large extent, but back home in his darkroom he would be free to select the best of the successful shots and arrange them in a phony order that appeared to tell a consistent story. In order to explain why the negative strip has been cut, thus destroying evidence that the original sequence was inconsistent in some way, Barauna tells us that he treated two of the frames with reducer because they were slightly overexposed.

This plan would give him the greatest latitude for getting impressive-looking results and the smallest risk of being found out. But there are strong reasons for believing that he didn't do this:

Firstly, the garrison Commanding Officer, Capt. Bacellar, testified to Naval Intelligence that he personally examined what he believed to be the same sequence of UFO negatives on a still-wet roll of film containing innocent shots taken on deck earlier that morning (Barauna had been filming the motor-pinnace being winched aboard prior to departure). Some have argued that these negatives could have shown almost any tiny mark or blemish that looked like a UFO to the casual eye, just good enough to fool the exciteable people on board, leaving Barauna free to create the high-quality hoaxes at his leisure when he got back home.

But aside from the inherent unlikelhood that Capt.Bacellar was fooled in this way (see here) it is hard to escape the conclusion that the film Bacellar was shown must have contained what Barauna intended to be his 'finished' hoax negatives. Barauna probably would not have anticipated being asked to develop the film on the spot, but being a smart operator he must have realised that as soon as he claimed to have photographic evidence relating to an incident on the deck of a military ship his film might well be confiscated. Indeed it seems reasonable to speculate that this might have been part of his plan, to produce the perfect hoax with pictures taken in 'real time' and an officially-certified unbroken chain of evidence. It's consistent with this that he and several collaborators created a drama on deck (ex hypothesi) and deceived ship's officers into believing that a UFO had been widely sighted, instead of keeping quiet and sticking to the much safer option of breaking the story later after returning to Brazil.

But in fact Bacellar did not impound the negatives. There was some talk of them being confiscated according to Barauna, but instead Bacellar "carefully examined" them on board and then allowed Barauna to take them home, with the undertaking that he would not make the pictures public without the prior consent of the Navy. One can speculate that Barauna was actually relieved and decided that he now had the best of both worlds: He had an official authentication and he could take the film home to deal with at leisure in the safety of his own darkroom.

However careful he had been, the real-time sequence on the intact roll seen by Bacellar and others on board might have shown up inconsistencies or flaws if studied closely - he couldn't have been sure because he was working blind. Indeed Barauna himself tells us that two out of six shots were failures and that he cut the negative strip, so the hoax (ex hypothesi) probably did not work out quite perfectly in real time, presumably because the 'UFO' was not correctly positioned and overlapped a foreground cable or something like this. Barauna was very lucky that the film was not confiscated. But now he could substitute other negatives if necessary to make sure of a good set of prints.

However, the substitution of better negatives, from other film rolls, taken at other times and even on other days (the ship was at the island for three days), would introduce the risk of subtle differences in solar angle, sky conditions and so forth that might contradict the claimed sequence. In fact the sequence of cloudscapes, the light conditions and the sea conditions all tend to interlock with definitive evidence provided by the angle of the sun-shaft on the left of the complete print of P3, suggesting that no substitution did take place.

Brad Sparks has been able to show (private communication) that measuring this angle provides a useful 'clock'. The solar position is consistent with P3 having been taken at a time just after noon on 16 January 1958. From this it is possible to construct a chain of comparisons which locks all four photographs into the same time frame. The shadows on the same length of rail shown in the foregrounds of P2 and P4 are identical; the shadows on the knotted rope in the foreground and on the island terrain are identical on P2 and P3; the island rock shadows are identical on overlapping areas of P1, P2 and P4. Thus all four photographs indicate the same solar time. There appears to be no evidence that conflicts with the claim that the sequence was taken in 'real time' at more or less exactly the time and place officially recorded for the UFO incident - just after noon on 16 January.

One inconsistency has been claimed (by Kentaro Mori) between the sky conditions in P1 and P4. He has argued that the change in the cloud pattern between P1 and P4 suggests a time lapse of at least minutes, rather than the ~30 seconds or so estimated by witnesses and favoured by Capt. Brandao in the Navy Intelligence report. Mori points out that the shadows on the rugged island suggest the same solar angle and therefore the same time of day, yet he feels that the apparent cloud changes could not be caused by any likely winds in such a short time. To resolve this paradox he even wonders if Barauna could have taken these photos at the same time on different days. Yet a detailed analysis of the cloud patterns and prevailing winds suggests that there is no paradox.

The angular displacement of identifiable features common to both cloudscapes indicates that P1 and P4 were probably taken with a lapse of a couple of minutes or more between them, but not on different days. It is possible to argue that two minutes is inconsistent by a factor four or more with witness-estimated durations of about half a minute or so, but this is not a strong argument in the present context. As mentioned, the shadow-detail on both photos is essentially indistinguishable and the sea conditions are the same. If they were taken on the same day then the unchanging solar angle certifies that evolution of the cloud pattern must have been fairly rapid, and, whatever one's instincts about this, analysis shows that this evolution would be consistent with the upper values of the known range of variation for winds aloft in the Espirito Santo Basin sea area in January (derived from Brazilian Navy Navigation and Hydrography Division computer models). The implied interval is also consistent with a claimed wave-pattern displacement.

The mechanics

So if the hoax pictures were taken in real time, over no more than a couple of minutes, how did Barauna manage to get even four convincing shots in the short time implied, when a different mask would be required for each one?

This might not be too difficult. One way we can imagine it being done would be to make a whole film roll of 12 masks, by photographing a series of 12 fake UFOs all in the top 'sky' half of the frame, against a bright white ground. A strip of positives is then made by a contact exposure onto another roll of film in the darkroom. (Zero background density could, as Printy suggests, be helped if necessary by clearing the whole strip of positives with reducer). Then you break open a new film roll in the darkroom and rewind the roll of positives and the unexposed roll on the spool together. In operation, the lead edges of both the unexposed negative strip and the mask strip engage the take-up spool together and automatically advance in synchrony. All Barauna has to do is keep the sky in the top half of each frame and hope the 'UFO' doesn't get superimposed on the mountains.

This superposition might still be detectable at high magnification by anomalies in the grain structure in the region of the UFO image. The Navy Intelligence analysis is known to have included study of the negatives at high magnification and Barauna himself advised them that only a microscopic study of the granulation would rule out a montage. Such a microscopic study was arranged by the Navy with the Cruzeiro do Sul Aerophotogrammetric Service. This study might in principle have noticed such an anomaly, but did not. First-generation prints are all we have today, but under magnification they show no anomalies in grain density (Brad Sparks, personal communication).

It is true, as Tim Printy points out (personal communication), that if the grain size of the mask images is relatively very fine, then they might in principle behave as would the continuously-gradated tone density of a real object. It is also conceivable that if the mask strip is not properly tensioned and tight against the negative emulsion then the mask might curl free of the surface sufficiently for a very fine grain to be further smoothed by diffraction blurring. I suppose that might also account for slight asymmetrical distortions in the image. But this is all highly speculative and difficult to verify without experiments using the same (unknown) type(s) of film emuslion.

One possible objection is that a double-length of film might be too much bulk for the film spool. If so then perhaps Barauna could cut both lengths in half and wind just six exposures onto the spool. But if Bacellar (and others, reportedly) definitely saw the UFO images and the boat-winching shots on the same strip, as he himself told the Navy Intelligence investigators, then there is a difficulty with this idea. Bacellar testified that he  

saw in the film immediately after it was developed, still wet, the images he identified in the prints as the object photographed, and also that the pictures preceding the sequence connected with the object’s passage corresponded with scenes taken aboard a few minutes before the incident

Bacellar might not have known that a full roll was 12 exposures, but he describes examing each of the 4 shots showing the object plus the 2 which missed it. That already accounts for a half-roll of 120 film without considering the earlier deck shots he also saw on the same strip. So I do think we'd have to show that the film spool, and/or the spool recesses in the Rolleiflex, could hold a full double complement of 24 frames, or nearly so, for this to work. Is this possible? It may be that different-gauge spools are available to accommodate different film lengths. If not, Barauna apparently had some mechanical ingenuity and may have been able to customise the proprietory mechanism to accept a double length of film. More research is needed to answer such questions.

One other possibility to consider, if only to rule out, is that the Rollei was equipped for 'darkslides'. These are contraptions for arranging special one-off film formats in the darkroom, so that the whole thing can then be carried around ready to use and clipped onto the camera back, where the slide is opened once safely in position. You don't use a roll film at all in this case, and different slides could be prepared with different masks. But obviously this wouldn't be a procedure you could do quickly or undetected with people around you, so the shots would have to be taken at an earlier time. However, this theory runs foul of the inference made earlier: Barauna must have anticipated the strong possibility that 'the film' would be confiscated and analysed officially, and might even have planned that it should be. So he would logically have had to make sure that the 'real' fakes were on the 120 film strip with the boat-winching sequence, and he must therefore have made the UFO shots more or less in real time around noon on the day of departure, as reported. So, back to square one!

The doubled-up film roll method described above is a neat and self-contained  method that gives a quick result in 'real time', has a minimum number of things to go wrong and requires no mechanical fiddling around between shots. As for getting rid of the mask strip during development, I suppose he could have rolled it up and stashed it inside the torch that he and Viegas took into the 'darkroom', or just put it back inside the camera, or disposed of it in some way. There are many possibilities. But the obvious problem with this scenario, once again, is the risk - even, the reasonable expectation - that the film will be confiscated by the military, straight from the camera, possibly along with the camera itself.

It is essential that Barauna gets to develop the film himself in secret because otherwise his deception will be rumbled instantly by whoever does so. This seems inconsistent with the creation of a furore on deck designed to involve military personnel in the hoax. The risk of confiscation or of any kind of close oversight that would reveal the trick would have to be considered very great. This is especially the case because (ex hypothesi) Barauna had to have known beforehand via some Navy source that a confidential investigation had been underway into UFOs sighted at Trindade Island since the beginning of January, since (again ex hypothesi) his hoax photos reproduce the description of a "Saturn-shaped" object officially reported by six witnesses on the island on Dec 31 (see discussion here).

Bear in mind that confiscation of the film was a priori a much more likely outcome than being asked to develop it on board, because the Almirante Saldanha had no photographic darkroom. Apparently there were chemicals still on board, presumably left over from time before the major refit of Feb 1957 when the ship had had a darkroom (unless Barauna had brought his own), but Barauna had to use a toilet in the infirmary.


Tim Printy's idea is good in principle, and the method of practical application suggested here can't be disproved on the basis of any known evidence from the prints themselves. The problems arise with the various circumstantial constraints for which we have evidence.

There might be some other method of rigging the camera to accept a series of internal masks of course, in such a way that they could be rapidly introduced into the film plane without having to open the camera (thus fogging the unexposed frame as well as any adjacent frames) and without having to meddle detectably with the film spool. With sufficient ingenuity anything is possible. But I don't know what such a method would be, and there is no extant evidence of a hoax.

The best we can say is that if the Trindade affair was hoaxed in this way then it was planned and prepared during a brief window of opportunity, no longer than a few days before sailing, and was near-perfectly executed in lucky circumstances. Barauna could count himself very fortunate indeed to get away with it.

Martin Shough Aug. 2004

Printy, Tim, UFO over Trindade Island: Scientific evidence or trick photography?

Shough, Martin., A Response to Time Printy's "UFO over Trindade island: Details Overlooked or Ignored"

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