History of film technology
The movie camera was invented in the late 1880s. Motion pictures were initially exhibited as a fairground novelty and developed into one of the most important tools of communication and entertainment in the 20th century. Most films before 1930 were silent.
Development of film technology
One of the first technological precursors of film is the pinhole camera, followed by the more advanced camera obscura, which was first described in detail by Alhazen in his Book of Optics (1021), and later perfected by Giambattista della Porta. Light is inverted through a small hole or lens from outside, and projected onto a surface or screen. Using camera obscura, it was possible to project a moving image, but there was no means of recording the image for later viewing.
Moving images were produced on revolving drums and disks in the 1830s with independent invention by Simon von Stampfer (Stroboscope) in Austria, Joseph Plateau (Phenakistoscope) in Belgium and William Horner (zoetrope) in Britain.
The first 'motion picture' was developed by British photographer Eadweard Muybridge in 1878. Under the sponsorship of Leland Stanford, he successfully photographed a horse named "Sallie Gardner" in fast motion using a series of 24 stereoscopic cameras. The experiment took place on June 15 at the Palo Alto farm in California with the press present. The exercise was meant to determine whether a running horse ever had all four legs lifted off the ground at once. The cameras were arranged along a track parallel to the horse's, and each camera shutter was controlled by a trip wire which was triggered by the horse's hooves. They were 21 inches apart to cover the 20 feet taken by the horse stride, taking pictures at one thousandth of a second. He transferred the captured silhouettes of the horse onto a special disc that could be used to project the images onto a screen. He called the device a zoopraxiscope, and it was effectively the first movie projector. His innovative process was an intermediate stage toward motion pictures and cinematography.
Étienne-Jules Marey invented a chronophotographic gun in 1882, which was capable of taking 12 consecutive frames a second, recording all the frames on the same picture. He used the chronophotographic gun for studying animals and human locomotion. An early projector, along similar lines to Muybridge's zoopraxiscope, was built by Ottomar Anschütz in 1887. His Electrotachyscope used 24 images on a rotating glass disk. In 1894 his invention projected moving images in Berlin.
First motion pictures
As a result of the work of Eadweard Muybridge and Étienne-Jules Marey, researchers in the late 19th century began to realize that motion picture capture and display was a distinct practical possibility.
The first motion-picture camera was invented by the Frenchman Louis Le Prince in the 1880s, while working in Leeds, England. Le Prince had been inspired by Muybridge's pioneering experiments, and he patented his first invention, a 16 lens camera, in 1887. The first 8 lenses would be triggered in rapid succession by an electromagnetic shutter on the sensitive film; the film would then be moved forward allowing the other 8 lenses to operate on the film. Although the camera was capable of 'capturing' motion, it wasn't a complete success because each lens photographed the subject from a slightly different viewpoint and thus the projected image jumped about.
In May 1887, after much trial and error, he was finally able to develop and patent the first single lens camera in 1888. He used it to shoot the first sequences of moving film in the world, what would become known as Roundhay Garden Scene, shot on October 14, 1888 in Roundhay, Leeds.
Le Prince later used his camera to shoot trams and the horse-drawn and pedestrian traffic on Leeds Bridge (the movie was shot from Hicks the Ironmongers, now the British Waterways building, a building on the south east side of the bridge, a blue plaque marks the spot). He initially shot his films on gelatin or glass plates, but later switched to the more reliable celluloid with 1¾ inch width.
Le Prince also set up the first motion picture exhibition in Leeds in 1889, using specially designed film projection equipment. The single-lens projecting equipment used an electric arc lamp to project the motion-picture images onto a white screen. He is regarded by many film historians, as the father of motion pictures.
|“||"Le Prince had indeed succeeded making pictures move at least seven years before the Lumière brothers and Thomas Edison." Richard Howells (Screen vol.47 #2, p.179~200, Oxford University Press, 2006)||”|
Another early pioneer, working at roughly the same time as Le Prince, was William Friese-Greene. He began to experiment with the use of oiled paper as a medium for displaying motion pictures in 1885 and by 1887 he was experimenting with the use of celluloid. In 1889, Friese-Greene took out a patent for a 'chronophotographic' camera. This was capable of taking up to ten photographs per second using perforated celluloid film. A report on the camera was published in the British Photographic News on February 28, 1890. He gave a public demonstration in 1890 of his device, but the low frame rate combined with the device's apparent unreliability made an unfavourable impression.
English anarchist and inventor Wordsworth Donisthorpe, filed for an early patent in 1876 for a film camera, which he named a "kinesigraph." At the time, the necessary materials were not yet available to produce a working motion picture camera, but in 1889, his interest in the possibility was revived when he heard about the successful experiments of Louis Le Prince, who was then working in Donsithorpe's home town of Leeds. In 1889 he took out a patent, jointly with William Carr Crofts, for a camera using celluloid roll film and a projector system; they then made a short film of the bustling traffic in London's Trafalgar Square.
Another, more successful apparatus was invented by the Scottish inventor and employee of Thomas Alva Edison, W. K. L. Dickson. His camera, called the Kinetograph, was patented in 1891 and took a series of instantaneous photographs on standard Eastman Kodak photographic emulsion coated on to a transparent celluloid strip 35 mm wide. The celluloid blocks were thinly sliced, then removed with heated pressure plates. After this, they were coated with a photosensitive gelatin emulsion.
In 1893 at the Chicago World's Fair, Thomas Edison revealed the 'Kinetoscope' to the public. The machine was contained within a large box, and only permitted the images to be viewed by one person at a time looking into it through a peephole, after starting the machine by inserting a coin. The parlours were supplied with film snippets photographed by Dickson, in Edison's "Black Maria" studio. These sequences recorded both mundane incidents, such as Fred Ott's Sneeze, and entertainment acts, such as acrobats, music hall performers and boxing demonstrations. The Kinetoscope peep-show parlor first opened on April 14, 1894, and was the first commercial exhibition of film. Kinetoscope parlors soon spread successfully to Europe. Edison, however, never attempted to patent these instruments on the other side of the Atlantic, since they relied so greatly on previous experiments and innovations from Britain and Europe.
The Pleograph, invented by Polish emigre Kazimierz Prószyński in 1894 was another early camera. It also doubled up as a projector. The apparatus used a rectangle of celluloid with perforations between several parallel rows of images. Using an improved pleograph, Prószynski shot short films showing scenes of life in Warsaw, such as people skating in the park. Charles Francis Jenkins also exhibited his projector, the Phantoscope before an audience in June 1894.
Development of the film industry
In Lyon, Louis and Auguste Lumière perfected the Cinématographe, an apparatus that took, printed, and projected film. In late 1895 in Paris, father Antoine Lumière began exhibitions of projected films before the paying public, beginning the general conversion of the medium to projection (Cook, 1990). They quickly became Europe's main producers with their actualités like Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory and comic vignettes like The Sprinkler Sprinkled (both 1895). Even Edison, initially dismissive of projection, joined the trend with the Vitascope, a modified Jenkins' Phantoscope, within less than six months. 
A slightly earlier public motion-picture film presentation was made by Max and Emil Skladanowsky in Berlin, who projected with their apparatus "Bioscop", a flickerfree duplex construction, November 1 through 31, 1895. However, the equipment was cumbersome and its use was eventually discontinued. Also in 1895 in the USA, Eugene Augustin Lauste devised his Eidoloscope for the Latham family.
In Britain, Robert W. Paul and Birt Acres both independently developed their own systems for projecting a moving image on to a screen. Acres presented his in January 1896, and Paul unveiled his more influential Theatrograph shortly after on 20 February, on exactly the same day the Lumieres' films would first be projected in London. The Theatrograph pioneered the ‘Maltese cross’ system that drove sprocket rollers to provide intermittent motion. After some demonstrations before scientific groups, he was asked to supply a projector and staff to the Alhambra Music Hall in Leicester Square, and he presented his first theatrical programme on 25 March 1896. His device was the prototype for the modern film projector and was sold across Europe.
By 1896, it had dawned on the Edison company that more money could be made by showing motion picture films with a projector to a large audience than exhibiting them in peep-show machines. The Edison company took up a projector developed by Armat and Jenkins, the "Phantoscope", which was renamed the Vitascope, and it joined various projecting machines made by other people to show the 480 mm width films being made by the Edison company and others in France and the UK.
Initially, a lack of standardization meant that film producers used a variety of different film widths and projection speeds, but after a few years the 35-mm wide Edison film, and the 16-frames-per-second projection speed of the Lumière Cinématographe became the standard.
Birt Acres designed the first camera for amateur use in 1898. He called it the 'Birtac Home Cinema', and it used a 17.5mm gauge. Its purpose, in his words, was 'to place animated photography in the reach of everyone'.
By the late 1890s, the first motion picture companies were established in the US, France, Britain and elsewhere.
The most successful motion picture company in the United States, with the largest production until 1900, was the American Mutoscope company. This was initially set up to exploit peep-show type films using designs made by W.K.L. Dickson after he left the Edison company in 1895. His equipment used 70 mm wide film, and each frame was printed separately onto paper sheets for insertion into their viewing machine, called the Mutoscope. The image sheets stood out from the periphery of a rotating drum, and flipped into view in succession.
Besides American Mutoscope, there were also numerous smaller producers in the United States, and some of them established a long-term presence in the new century. American Vitagraph, one of these minor producers, built studios in Brooklyn, and expanded its operations in 1905.
In France, the Lumière company sent cameramen all round the world from 1896 onwards to shoot films, which were exhibited locally by the cameramen, and then sent back to the company factory in Lyon to make prints for sale to whomever wanted them. There were nearly a thousand of these films made up to 1901, nearly all of them actualities.
By 1898, Georges Méliès was the largest producer of fiction films in France, and from this point onwards his output was almost entirely films featuring trick effects, which were very successful in all markets. The special popularity of his longer films, which were several minutes long from 1899 onwards (while most other films were still only a minute long), led other makers to start producing longer films.
In 1900, Charles Pathé began film production under the Pathé-Frères brand, with Ferdinand Zecca hired to actually make the films. By 1905, Pathé was the largest film company in the world, a position it retained until World War I. Léon Gaumont began film production in 1896, with his production supervised by Alice Guy.
In the United Kingdom, Birt Acres was one of the first to produce films as well as being the first travelling newsreel reporter. In 1894 he created a 70 mm format and filmed the Henley Royal Regatta. He went on to make some of Britain's first films with Robert W. Paul with a 35 mm movie camera, the Kineopticon, including Incident at Clovelly Cottage, The Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race and Rough Sea at Dover.
Charles Urban became managing director of the Warwick Trading Company in 1897, where he specialised in actuality film, including newsfilm of the Anglo-Boer War. In July 1903 he formed his own company, the Charles Urban Trading Company, moving to London's Wardour Street in 1908, the first film business to be located in what became the home of the British film industry. Mitchell and Kenyon was founded by Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon in 1897, soon becoming one of the largest film producers in the United Kingdom. Other early pioneers include James Williamson, G.A. Smith and Cecil Hepworth, who in 1899, began turning out 100 films a year, with his company becoming the largest on the British scene.
The Babelsberg Studio near Berlin in Germany was the first large-scale film studio in the world, founded 1912, and the forerunner to Hollywood with its several establishments of large studios in the early 20th century.
Initially, commercial screenings of motion-pictures for the public were put on in existing theatres and music halls as a novelty, but the main methods of exhibition quickly became either as an item on the programmes of variety theatres, or by traveling showmen in tent theatres, which they took around the fairs in country towns. It became the practice for the producing companies to sell prints outright to the exhibitors, at so much per foot, regardless of the subject. Typical prices initially were 15 cents a foot in the United States, and one shilling a foot in Britain. Hand-coloured films, which were being produced of the most popular subjects before 1900, cost 2 to 3 times as much per foot. There were a few producers, such as the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, who did not sell their films, but exploited them solely with their own exhibition units.
The first public motion-picture film presentation in the world was done by Max and Emil Skladanowsky at the Berlin Wintergarten theatre, who projected with their apparatus "Bioscop", a flickerfree duplex construction, from November 1 through 31, 1895.
The first theatres dedicated to motion-pictures were established at the turn of the century, soon becoming known as cinemas. The Vitascope Hall in New Orleans was opened in 1896 as one of the first such establishments. It showed two exhibitions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Another early establishment was the Islington Palace, originally built in 1869 as part of the Royal Agricultural Hall complex. The concert hall was converted into a full-time cinema in 1901, a year after it showed its first film.
The Nickelodeon was the first successful permanent theatre showing only films, and opened in Pittsburgh in 1905. By then there were enough films several minutes long available to fill a programme running for at least half an hour, and which could be changed weekly when the local audience became bored with it. Other exhibitors quickly followed suit, and within a couple of years there were thousands of these "nickelodeons" in operation worldwide.
Turner's camera used a rotating disk of three colour filters to photograph colour separations on one roll of black-and-white film. A red, green or blue-filtered image was recorded on each successive frame of film. The finished film print was projected, three frames at a time, through the corresponding colour filters.:42
When Turner died in 1903, Urban passed on the development of the process to George Albert Smith, who developed a different method that he called Kinemacolor in 1906. The system used two colour filters in taking the negatives and in projecting the positives. To capture each image through both filters, the camera had to run at twice the normal speed and the rotating colour filter mechanism was added to the shutter. The filters' two segments were filled with red and green dyed gelatine and exposures were made through each one at alternate intervals. Panchromatic film was used in the process, and the film negative was produced in the standard way.
The first motion picture exhibited in Kinemacolor was an eight-minute short filmed in Brighton titled A Visit to the Seaside, which was trade shown in September 1908. On 26 February 1909, the general public first saw Kinemacolor in a programme of twenty-one short films shown at the Palace Theatre in London. The process was first seen in the United States on 11 December 1909, at an exhibition staged by Smith and Urban at Madison Square Garden in New York.
In 1910, Kinemacolor released the first dramatic film made in the process, Checkmated and the first documentary film, With Our King and Queen Through India in 1912. Kinemacolor projectors were installed in some 300 cinemas in Britain, and 54 dramatic films were produced. Four dramatic short films were also produced by Kinemacolor in the United States in 1912–1913, and one in Japan, Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (1914). However, the company was not a success, partly due to the expense of installing special Kinemacolor projectors in cinemas.
Another method was produced by William Friese-Greene in Brighton; he called his additive color system 'Biocolour'. This process produced the illusion of true colour by exposing each alternate frame of ordinary black and white film stock through two different coloured filters. Each alternate frame of the monochrome print was then stained red or green. Although the projection of Biocolour prints did provide a tolerable illusion of true colour, it suffered from noticeable flickering and red and green fringing when the subject was in rapid motion.
After experimenting with more advanced methods of additive systems (including a camera with two apertures (one with a red filter one with green) from 1915 to 1921, Dr. Herbert Kalmus, Dr. Daniel Comstock, and mechanic W. Burton Wescott (who left the company in 1921) developed the subtractive color system for Technicolor. This system used a beam splitter in a specially modified camera to send red and green light waves to separate black-and-white film negatives. From these negatives, two prints were made on film stock with half the normal base thickness, which were toned accordingly: one red, the other green. They were then cemented together, base-to-base, into a single strip of film. The first film using this process was Toll of the Sea (1922) starring Anna May Wong.
Perhaps the most ambitious film made with this process was The Black Pirate (1926), starring and produced by Douglas Fairbanks and directed by Albert Parker. The system was refined through the incorporation of dye imbibition, which allowed for the transferring of dyes from both color matrices into a single print, thus avoiding the problems at attaching two prints back-to-back and allowing for multiple prints to be created from a single pair of matrices.
Technicolor's system was extremely popular for a number of years, but it was a very expensive process: shooting cost three times that of black-and-white photography and printing costs were no cheaper. By 1932, general color photography had nearly been abandoned by major studios, until Technicolor developed a new advancement to record all three primary colors. Utilizing a special dichroic beam splitter equipped with two 45-degree prisms in the form of a cube, light from the lens was deflected by the prisms and split into two paths to expose each one of three black-and-white negatives (one each to record the densities for red, green, and blue).
The three negatives were then printed to gelatin matrices, which also completely bleached the image, washing out the silver and leaving only the gelatin record of the image. A receiver print, consisting of a 50% density print of the black-and-white negative for the green record strip, and including the soundtrack, was struck and treated with dye mordants to aid in the imbibition process (this "black" layer was discontinued in the early 1940s). The matrices for each strip were coated with their complementary dye (yellow, cyan, or magenta), and then each successively brought into high-pressure contact with the receiver, which imbibed and held the dyes, which collectively rendered a wider spectrum of color than previous technologies. The first animation film with the three-color (also called three-strip) system was Walt Disney's Flowers and Trees (1932), the first short live-action film was La Cucaracha (1934), and the first feature was Becky Sharp (1935).
The real push for color films and the nearly immediate changeover from black-and-white production to nearly all color film were pushed forward by the prevalence of television in the early 1950s. In 1947, only 12 percent of American films were made in color. By 1954, that number rose to over 50 percent. The rise in color films was also aided by the breakup of Technicolor's near monopoly on the medium.
Initially, there were technical difficulties in synchronizing images with sound. However, there was still significant interest in motion pictures for films to be produced without sound. The era from the 1890s to the late 1920s, is commonly referred to as the silent era of film. To enhance the viewers' experience, silent films were commonly accompanied by live musicians and sometimes sound effects and even commentary spoken by the showman or projectionist. In most countries, intertitles came to be used to provide dialogue and narration for the film.
Experimentation with sound film technology, both for recording and playback, was virtually constant throughout the silent era, but the twin problems of accurate synchronization and sufficient amplification had been difficult to overcome (Eyman, 1997). In 1926, Hollywood studio Warner Bros. introduced the "Vitaphone" system, producing short films of live entertainment acts and public figures and adding recorded sound effects and orchestral scores to some of its major features.
During late 1927, Warners released The Jazz Singer, which was mostly silent but contained what is generally regarded as the first synchronized dialogue (and singing) in a feature film. The early sound-on-disc processes such as Vitaphone were soon superseded by sound-on-film methods like Fox Movietone, DeForest Phonofilm, and RCA Photophone. The trend convinced the largely reluctant industrialists that "talking pictures", or "talkies", were the future. A lot of attempts were made before the success of The Jazz Singer, that can be seen in the List of film sound systems.
- List of color film systems
- List of film formats
- Silent film
- Sound film
- The Story of Film: An Odyssey
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- Note: It has been claimed that this was actually accomplished first by Charles Taze Russell in 1914 with the lengthy film The Photo-Drama of Creation, which consisted of projected slides and moving pictures synchronized with phonograph records of talks and music. There is apparently no evidence that the synchronization was anything more than loose and approximate — adequate for providing musical accompaniment or narration appropriate to the scene being shown on the screen, but not lip-synchronous on-screen speech or singing — or that any simultaneous filming and sound recording was involved.
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