Cinematic Firsts: The First Moving Pictures - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Cinematic Firsts: The First Moving Pictures

Moving pictures? It's witchcraft I tell ya, witchcraft!!!!

When do you think the first motion picture was filmed? I shall tell you, it was 1888. But the story of its creation, or rather its ability to be created began over 60 years earlier.

On December 9th 1824, Peter Mark Roget (he who would later go on to be forever associated with the thesaurus - Roget's Thesaurus) wrote a paper on persistence of vision to the Philosophical Transactions, which was published in 1825, as Explanation of an optical deception in the appearance of the spokes of a wheel when seen through vertical apertures.

It was a catchy title indeed, but title notwithstanding its context was contemporary discussion surrounding the thaumatrope, an optical toy that was popular at the time. You likely know what it is - a disk with a picture on each side attached to two pieces of string. When the strings are twirled quickly between the fingers the two pictures appear to blend into one due to the persistence of vision.

Roget's paper is the first recorded document referring to persistence of vision. Eight years later, almost simultaneously, Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau and the Austrian professor of practical geometry Simon Stampfer invented the Phenakistiscope, the first practical device to create a fluid illusion of motion.

The phenakistiscope usually came in the form of a spinning cardboard disc attached vertically to a handle. Arrayed radially around the disc's center is a series of pictures showing sequential phases of the animation. Small rectangular apertures are spaced evenly around the rim of the disc. The user would spin the disc and, like Roget's "spokes of a wheel", look through the moving slits at the images reflected in a mirror. The scanning of the slits across the reflected images keeps them from simply blurring together so that the user can see a rapid succession of images that appear to be a single moving picture.

The phenakistiscope is regarded as the first form of moving media entertainment, much like a GIF animation it can only show a short continuous loop. This would be improved upon with the invention of the zoetrope, which is basically a cylindrical variation of the phenakisticope, suggested almost immediately after the stroboscopic discs were introduced in 1833. The definitive version, with easily replaceable picture strips, was introduced as a toy by Milton Bradley in 1866 and became very successful.

The following year the invention of chronophotography, combined with the technology of the zoetrope, would give the world the first "moving photographs".

Chronophotography involves using a series of different cameras, and was originally created and used for the scientific study of movement. The photographic technique captures movement in several frames of print, one from each camera.

These prints can be subsequently arranged either like animation cels in a zoetrope or layered into a single frame, like thus...

In 1878, Eadweard Muybridge arranged a series of 24 fast-motion cameras like this...

Why did he do this? To photograph a Kentucky-bred mare named Sallie Gardner running. That's why.

Muybridge arranged the cameras along a track parallel to the horse's path, 27 inches (69 cm) apart, with the shutters controlled by trip wires triggered by the horse's legs. The photographs were taken in succession one twenty-fifth of a second apart, with the shutter speeds calculated to be less than 1/2000 s.

The photographs would show that a horse has, at moments, all its legs of the ground when running, which was Muybridge's primary aim to discover. However, rather than contain the images as cels or constrain them in a zoetrope, Muybridge decided he'd like to project his work, so came up with the concept of the zoopraxiscope.

This was built for him in 1880 and used 16" glass discs, with the images transferred onto the glass for projection.

That same year Muybridge projected the moving images of Sallie Gardner at a Gallop on a screen when he gave a presentation at the California School of Fine Arts.

At just over 1 second of continuously looped footage it certainly wasn't a butt numbing affair, but Muybridge's zoopraxiscope is considered an important predecessor of the movie projector, and this exhibit is the earliest known exhibition of projected moving pictures. Which is, essentially, cinema.

Now if only there was a single camera capable of taking all the images, rather than having to use 24 different ones. And that is where we'll pick up the Cinematic Firsts story next time.

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