Precursors of film
Film as an art form grew out of a long tradition of literature, storytelling, narrative drama, art, mythology, puppetry and shadow play. In addition, the technology of film emerged from developments and achievements much further back in human history.
Projection of images can occur naturally when rays of light pass through a small hole and produce an inverted image on a surface in a dark area behind the hole. This phenomenon is known as camera obscura or pinhole image. It's oldest known recorded description is found in Chinese Mohist writings dated to circa 400 BCE. However, people have probably witnessed and made use of occurrences of the phenomenon since prehistoric times. It has been suggested that distortions in the shapes of animals in many paleolithic cave paintings were possibly based on distortions seen in pinhole images formed through tiny holes in tents or in screens of animal hide. Some ancient sightings of gods and spirits, especially in temple worship, are thought to possibly have been conjured up by means of camera obscura or proto magic lantern projections. In Arab and European science the camera obscura was used in darkened rooms since circa 1000 CE to study light and especially sun eclipses.
Very occasionally the camera obscura was thought of as an instrument for live projections of performances to entertain an audience inside a darkened room. Purportedly Arnaldus de Villa Nova did so at the end of the 13th century. In 1589 Giambattista della Porta imagined how the camera obscura could be used to project hunting scenes, battles, games or anything desired. Real or artificial forests, rivers, mountains as well as animals could be used for scenes on an outside stage and projected into a dark room with spectators.
The use of a lens in the opening of a wall or closed window shutter of a darkened room to project clearer images has been dated back to 1550.
In 1572, the oldest known suggestion for the camera to become mobile was described as a lightweight wooden hut to be carried around on two wooden poles. More practical solutions followed in the 17th century in the shape of tents and eventually as portable wooden boxes with a viewing pane and a mirror to get an upright image. The camera obscura became increasingly popular as a drawing and painting aid for artists.
Magic lantern and other image projectors
Whereas the camera obscura features live projection of any direct input, film features the projection of images that were recorded or created in advance. Shadow play can be regarded as a step in this direction. The casting of shadows of actors, dancers and/or hands (shadowgraphy) has probably been practiced since very early prehistoric times. Shadow puppetry was hinted at in Plato's Allegory of the Cave (circa 380 BCE), but more likely developed in India around 200 BCE. Indian "tholu bomalatta" shows are performed behind a screen with flat, jointed puppets made of colorfully painted transparent leather. The puppets are held close to the screen and lit from behind, more or less projecting the moving figures on the screen while hands and arms are manipulated with attached canes and lower legs swinging freely from the knee.
The "trotting horse lamp" [走馬燈] has been known in China since before 1000 CE. It is a lantern which on the inside has cut-out silhouettes attached to a shaft with a paper vane impeller on top, rotated by heated air rising from a lamp. The silhouettes are projected on the thin paper sides of the lantern and appear to chase each other. Some versions showed more motion with the heads, feet or hands of figures connected with fine iron wire to an extra inner layer and triggered by a transversely connected iron wire. The lamp would typically show images of horses and horse-riders.
Several scholars and inventors, like Giovanni Fontana (circa 1420), Leonardo da Vinci (circa 1515) and Cornelis Drebbel (1608) possibly had early image projectors before the invention of the Magic Lantern. Athanasius Kircher's 1645 first edition of Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae included a description of his forerunner to the magic lantern: the "Steganographic Mirror". This was a primitive projection system with a focusing lens and text or pictures painted on a concave mirror reflecting sunlight, mostly intended for long distance communication. Kircher also suggested projecting live flies and shadow puppets from the surface of the mirror. The book was widely distributed and may have offered some inspiration for Christiaan Huygens' invention of the magic lantern in 1659.
Moving images were possibly projected with the magic lantern since its invention; Christiaan Huygens' 1659 sketches for slides show a skeleton taking his skull off his neck and placing it back. Techniques to add motion to the painted glass slides were descibed since circa 1700. These usually involved parts (for instance limbs) painted on one or more extra pieces of glass moved by hand or small mechanisms across a stationary slide which showed the rest of the picture.
In 1770 Edmé-Gilles Guyot detailed how to project a magic lantern image on smoke to create a transparent, shimmering image of a hovering ghost. This technique was used in the phantasmagoria shows that became very popular in several parts of Europe between 1790 and the 1830s. Other techniques were developed to produce convincing ghost experiences. The lantern was handheld to move the projection across the screen (which was usually an almost invisible transparent screen behind which the lanternist operated hidden in the dark). A ghost could seem to approach the audience or grow larger by moving the lantern towards the screen, sometimes with the lantern on a trolley on rails, just like a tracking shot in films. Multiple lanterns not only could make ghosts move independently, but were also occasionally used for superimposition in the composition of complicated scenes. By experimenting with superimposition dissolving views were invented and became a separate popular magic lantern show, especially in England in the 1830s and 1840s. These typically had a landscape changing from a winter version to a spring or summer variation by slowly diminishing the light from one version while introducing the aligned projection of the other slide. Another use of dissolving views, projected with a triple lantern, showed a sleeping figure while images of dreams were superimposed above its head and dissolved from one scene to another. This is similar to the use of a dissolve in film.
Between the 1840s and 1870s several abstract magic lantern effects were developed. This included the chromatrope which projected dazzling colorful geometrical patterns by rotating two painted glass discs in opposite directions.
Occasionally small jointed shadow puppets had been used in phantasmagoria shows. Magic lantern slides with jointed figures set in motion by levers, thin rods, or cams and worm wheels were also produced commercially and patented in 1891. A popular version of these "Fantoccini slides" had a somersaulting monkey with arms attached to mechanism that made it tumble with dangling feet. Named after the Italian word for animated puppets, like marionettes or jumping jacks.
An earthen bowl found in Shahr-i Sokhta, Iran, and dating back to 3200 BC has five sequential images of a jumping ibex painted along its side. There is no evidence that its creator intended to produce moving images or had any technique to create the stroboscopic effect needed for animation. However, these images should be able to show a primitive animation loop if the bowl would be spun around its centre while a stroboscopic effect prevents blurring of the images.
The theory of Thaumatrope induction was presented by Peter Mark Roget in 1824 in his paper Explanation of an optical deception in the appearance of the spokes of a wheel when seen through vertical apertures. This explained the concept called 'persistence of vision'. Two years later, the first of many gadgets to create the illusion of movement was marketed by John Ayrton Paris. The card, called the Thaumatrope, gave an optical illusion when spun. Michael Faraday also began to experiment with visual illusions at this time, creating a revolving wheel.
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 Zoetrope, a.k.a., the Daedalum was a revolving cylinder which gave the illusion of motion to the pictures inside. Charles-Émile Reynaud developed an early animation device in 1877, which he called the Praxinoscope.
Other mechanisms followed: in 1832 Joseph Plateau created the Anorthoscope and Phenakistiscope; in 1833 Simon Stampler developed the Stroboscope; in 1853, Franz von Uchatius invented the Kinetoscope which projected moving drawings;
Plays and dances had elements common to films, including scripts, sets, lighting, costumes, production, direction, actors, audiences, storyboards, and scores. They preceded film by thousands of years. Much terminology later used in film theory and criticism applied, such as mise en scene. Visual moving images and sound were not recorded for replaying as in film.
Shadow dancing, using projected light in combination with acting or dancing, is an ancient art in many world cultures, and includes projection from a light source. Puppetry, another ancient art form, shares elements with animation and claymation.
In 1740 and 1748, David Hume published Treatise of Human Nature and An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, arguing for the associations and causes of ideas with visual images, forerunners to the language of film.
In 1861 Samuel Goodale patented a hand-turned stereoscope device which rapidly moves stereo images past a viewer; and in the same year Coleman Sellers II built the Kinematoscope - a series of stereoscopic pictures on glass plates, linked together in a chain, and mounted in a box. The simple and convenient flip book was patented in 1868 and has endured as a commercial product.
The first "moving picture" photographed in real-time, rather than consisting of a series of posed photographs, was created in the US in 1878 by British photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Under the sponsorship of Leland Stanford, he photographed a horse named Sallie Gardner in rapid motion by using a series of separate still cameras. The experiment took place on June 15 at Stanford's stock farm in Palo Alto, California, with the press present, and was meant to determine whether a galloping horse ever had all four feet off the ground at the same time. The cameras were arranged in a line parallel to the edge of the track and spaced 27 inches apart. Each camera shutter was triggered by a thread as the horse passed and each exposure was made in only one thousandth of a second. Muybridge would publish many cards, plates and books of his chronopotograph sequences. He also had an artist paint sequences onto a glass disc that could be used to project the images onto a screen with a device he called a zoopraxiscope, which can be regarded as one of the first movie projectors. 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.
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 Frenchman Louis Le Prince began work on such a project 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.
By May 1887, after much trial and error, Le Prince was finally able to develop and patent the first single lens camera in 1888, leading to the birth of the modern motion-picture film over the next decade. Le Prince shot 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.
- Needham, Joseph. Science and Civilization in China, vol. IV, part 1: Physics and Physical Technology (PDF).
- Ruffles, Tom (2004). Ghost Images: Cinema of the Afterlife. pp. 15–17.
- Burns, Paul T. "The History of the Discovery of Cinematography". Archived from the original on 2013-12-31. Retrieved 2014-01-04.
- Smith, Roger. "A Look Into Camera Obscuras". Retrieved 2014-10-23.
- Larsen, Kenneth. "Sonnet 24".
- Ilardi, Vincent (2007). Renaissance Vision from Spectacles to Telescopes.
- Snyder, Laura J. (2015). "Eye of the Beholder".
- Rawlings, Keith (1999,2003,2011). "Observations on the historical development of puppetry". Check date values in:
- Yongxiang Lu. A History of Chinese Science and Technology, Volume 3. pp. 308–310.
- Kircher, Athanasius (1645). Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae. p. 912.
- Gorman, Michael John (2007). Inside the Camera Obscura (PDF). p. 44.
- Rossell, Deac (2005). The Magic Lantern and Moving Images before 1800.
- Heard, Mervyn. PHANTASMAGORIA: The Secret History of the Magic Lantern. The Projection Box, 2006
- "Luikerwaal - Mechanical Slides".
- The Athenæum. 1845-01-04.
- "Luikerwaal - Fantoccini Slides".
- CHTHO produces documentary on world’s oldest animation. Tehran Times. 04-03-2008.
- First Animation of the World Found In Burnt City, Iran, Persian Journal, 2004
- Oldest Animation Discovered In Iran. Animation Magazine. 12-03-2008.
- todayinsci.com Goodale patent docs
- Clegg, Brian (2007). The Man Who Stopped Time. Joseph Henry Press. ISBN 978-0-309-10112-7.
- Faszination der Bewegung: Ottomar Anschütz zwischen Photographie und Kino p. 185, Deac Rossell. ISBN 3-87877-774-4
- Industry, liberty, and a vision: Wordsworth Donisthorpe's kinesigraph, Stephen Herbert, p. 13, ISBN 0-9523941-3-8
- Adventures in CyberSound: Le Prince, Louis Aimé Augustin, Dr Russell Naughton (using source: Michael Harvey, NMPFT Pioneers of Early Cinema: 1. Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince)
- Brendan Bruce (2013). On the Origin of Spin: (Or how Hollywood, the Ad Men and the World Wide Web became the Fifth Estate and created our images of power). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. p. 23.