Émile Reynaud

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Émile Reynaud
Born(1844-12-08)8 December 1844
Died9 January 1918(1918-01-09) (aged 73)
OccupationScience teacher, inventor

Charles-Émile Reynaud (8 December 1844 – 9 January 1918) was a French inventor, responsible for the praxinoscope (an animation device patented in 1877 that improved on the zoetrope) and was responsible for the first projected animated films. His Pantomimes Lumineuses premiered on 28 October 1892 in Paris. His Théâtre Optique film system, patented in 1888, is also notable as the first known instance of film perforations being used. The performances predated Auguste and Louis Lumière's first paid public screening of the cinematographe on 26 December 1895, often seen as the birth of cinema.

Poster for the Théâtre Optique


Charles-Émile Reynaud was born on 8 December 1844 in Montreuil-sous-Bois (now a suburb of Paris). His father Benoît-Claude-Brutus Reynaud was an engineer and medal engraver originally from Le Puy-en-Velay and his mother Marie-Caroline Bellanger had been a school teacher, but stayed at home to raise and educate Émile from his birth. Marie-Caroline was trained in watercolor painting by Pierre-Joseph Redouté and taught her son drawing and painting techniques. Brutus gave him little tasks in his workshop and by the age of 13 Émile was able to build small steam engines. In 1858 he became an apprentice at a Paris company where he repaired, assembled and developed optical and physics instruments. He then learned industrial design at another company, before working as an operator for photographer Antoine Samuel Adam-Salomon. By 1862 he started his own career as a photographer in Paris. He became an assistant to the famous Abbé Moigno in 1864. Moigno gave lecture-screenings with the magic lantern and converted Émile to Catholicism, since his parents had raised him without religion. When his father died in December 1865 Émile moved with his mother to Puy-en-Velay where Brutus' cousin Dr. Claude Auguste Reynaud further educated Émile in Greek, Latin, physics, chemistry, mechanics and natural science. In December 1873 Émile Reynaud started giving weekly scientific screening-lectures for the students of the industrial schools of Puy-en-Velay, free of charge and open to the general public. He used personally made photographic magic lantern slides in two projectors, sometimes dissolving from one projection to another.[1][2]

After Reynaud read a series of articles on optical toys published in La Nature in 1876, he created a prototype praxinoscope out of a discarded cookie box.[2] He applied for a French patent on 30 August 1877 for his then unnamed device (settling on the name Praxinoscope before the English patent of 13 November 1877) and returned to Paris in December 1877 to manufacture and market his invention.[2][3]

On 21 October 1879 Émile Reynaud married Marguerite Rémiatte in Paris. They had two sons: Paul (1880) and André (1882).

Similarly to Georges Méliès, Reynaud's late years were tragic after 1910 when, his creations outmoded by the cinematograph, dejected and penniless, he threw the greater part of his irreplaceable work and unique equipment into the Seine. The public had forgotten his "Théâtre Optique" shows, which had been a celebrated attraction at the Musée Grevin between 1892 and 1900. He died in a hospice on the banks of the Seine where he had been cared for since 29 March 1917.

Projecting praxinoscope, 1880, superimposing an animated figure on a separately projected background scene
Reynaud and his Théâtre Optique (patented 1888), in 1892


The 5 Pantomimes Lumineuses were painted directly onto a transparent strip of images of shellac protected gelatin and manipulated by hand to create a circa 15 min show of circa 500 images per title. The 3 Photo-peintures animées (animated photo-paintings) were directed with the Photo-Scénographe, a camera inspired by the Chronophotographe à bande mobile of Étienne-Jules Marey.

Release year Date Film Images Length Duration Actors Status
28 October 1892 1888 Un bon bock 700 50 m 15 mn few images preserved
1890 Clown et ses chiens 300 22 m c. 10 mn lost
1891 Pauvre Pierrot 500 36 m c. 15 mn all preserved
December 1894 1893 Autour d'une cabine 636 45 m c. 15 mn preserved
1893 Un Rêve au coin du feu 400 29 m c. 12 mn lost
Photo-peintures animées
1896 1896 Guillaume Tell Clowns Footit and Chocolat few images preserved
1897 1896 Le Premier cigare Félix Galipaux
Not released 1898 Les Clowns Price Clowns Price of the Alhambra

Praxinoscope strips (1877–1879)[edit]

Series 1[edit]

  • L'Aquarium
  • Le Jongleur
  • L'Équilibriste
  • Le Repas des Poulets
  • Les Bulles de Savon
  • Le Rotisseur
  • La Danse sur la Corde
  • Les Chiens Savants
  • Le Jeu de Corde
  • Zim, Boum, Boum

Series 2[edit]

  • Les Scieurs de Long
  • Le Jeu du Volant
  • Le Moulin à Eau
  • Le Déjeuner de Bébé
  • La Rosace Magique
  • Les Papillons
  • Le Trapèze
  • La Nageuse
  • Le Singe Musicien
  • La Glissade

Series 3[edit]

  • La Charmeuse
  • La Balançoire
  • L'Hercule
  • Les Deux Espiègles
  • Le Fumeur
  • Le Jeu de grâces
  • L'Amazone
  • Le Steeple-chase
  • Les Petits valseurs
  • Les Clowns


Stereoscopic praxinoscope Stéréo-cinéma, 1907

Books and references[edit]

  • Dominique Auzel, Émile Reynaud et l'image s'anima biographie d'Émile Reynaud
    • éditions du May (1992), ISBN 2-906450-72-3 (photos en couleurs)
    • And at Dreamland éditeur (2000), ISBN 2-910027-37-6 (photos en noir et blanc)


  1. ^ "Biographie".
  2. ^ a b c Myrent, Glenn (1989). "Emile Reynaud: First Motion Picture Cartoonist". Film History. 3 (3): 191–202. JSTOR 3814977.
  3. ^ Laurent Mannoni Light and Movement, 1995, pp. 232–233

External links[edit]