Science and Film III

Date: 04/01/2017 10:37

Persistence of vision, observed by many inventors and scientists in the past, is a visual phenomenon where a series of static images set in motion creates the illusion of movement. This illusion was first described by a British physician, Peter Mark Roget and the discovery marked the beginning of the development of cinema.

There is a wide range of early technologies that could be considered precursors to the moving image industry and one could spend hours listing them chronologically. Probably the earliest example is a ‘magic lantern’ and its simplest version dates back to the 17th century. However, persistence of vision was first implemented in the Thaumatrope in 1824. Among the ones that followed were so called Fantascope, Kinematoscope and Praxinoscope - just to mention few. 

Across the waters in America, Thomas Edison and his British assistant W.K.L Dickson (the inventor of celluloid film!) devised a motor powered machine, a Kinetograph, that could photograph motion pictures and a Kinetoscope - the viewer. Quite a groundbreaking invention! Have a look at the first moving image shown to audiences in America - Dicksons Greeting (1891).


Back in Europe, the French inventing team of brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière, celebrities in the world of cinema, are well known for a considerable number of pioneering improvements in the field of photography and moving image. What started as a hobby, turned into a a venture with great commercial value and the Lumières continued to revise and improve their work. Their scientific curiosity and technical knowledge led to the construction the first projection system allowing films to be seen by more than one person at the time in 1985. 

The Cinematograph, the most remarkable of their inventions, enabled them to hold the first public screening ever. It does not come as a surprise that Cinematograph was a hit. Unlike Edison's Kinetograph, Cinematograph was hand cranked, more portable and allowed more creativity. Two years later, in 1987 the brothers made a number of short films in the streets of Belfast. Not only is this a great scientific achievement captured on film, these shorts allow us to get a glimpse of what life looked like in 1897. Here's a couple of examples of their early work.

  

Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory by the Lumières (1895) 

 

Childish Quarrel / Querelle infantile by the Lumières (1896) 

Another inventive Frenchman, Georges Méliès, also referred to as a cinemagician, started experimenting with the use of what we now call special effects. He was there that night and attended the Lumière brothers’ first screening. The experience inspired him to get a camera and start shooting his own films incorporating his other great passion - tricks. He was a master of creating illusions and eventually found his calling in the fantastic. His films are considered to be important early science fiction with a bit of fantasy flavour. Here's one of his most famous - Trip to the Moon / Le Voyage dans la lune (1902), a wonderfully restored and hand painted version by Lobster Films.


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