musings of a budding social entrepeneur

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

the birth of motion pictures

Movie Pioneers

Leland Stanford unwittingly started a chain of events that contributed to the development of motion pictures. To settle a wager regarding the position of a trotting horse's legs, he sent for Eadweard Muybridge, a British photographer who had recently been accclaimed for his photographs of Yosemite.

Although Muybridge initially considered the task impossible, he made history when he arranged 12 cameras alongside a race track. Each was fitted with a shutter working at a speed he claimed to be "less than the two-thousandth part of a second." Strings attached to electric switches were stretched across the track; the horse, rushing past, breasted the strings and broke them, one after the other; the shutters were released by an electromagnetic control, and a series of negatives made. Though the photographs were hardly more than silhouettes, they clearly showed that the feet of the horse were all off the ground at one phase of the gallop. Moreover, to the surprise of the world, the feet were bunched together under the belly. None of the horses photographed showed the "hobbyhorse attitude" - front legs stretched forward and hind legs backward -so traditional in painting.

The photos were widely published in America and Europe. The Scientific American printed eighteen drawings from Muybridge's photographs on the first page of its October 19, 1878 issue. Readers were invited to paste the pictures on strips and to view them in the popular toy known as the zoetrope, a precursor of motion pictures. It was an open drum with slits in its side, mounted horizontally on a spindle so it could be twirled. Drawings showing successive phases of action placed inside the drum and viewed through the slits were seen one after the other, so quickly that the images merged in the mind to produce the illusion of motion.

In 1880, using a similar technique with a device he named the zoogyroscope, or zoopraxiscope, Muybridge projected his pictures on a screen at the California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco." Motion pictures were born...


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