History of Animation and Film

Motion Pictures and technology have come a long way in the past 150 years. These two industries may seem to have nothing in common, but if you look at any movie or television show out there today you will soon realize that there is a lot of science that goes into its creation. Film and technology have been working hand in hand since the middle of the 1800’s. It’s hard to say what the world would be like today without some of the discoveries and inventions that came about through this peculiar union.

The 19th century is considered the century of science. In the field of physics and optics the scientific leaders found time to study the persistence of images on the retina. In 1824 Peter Mark Roget (Examiner Physiology, University of London) discovered that images were retained by the retina of the human eye for fractions of a second before being replaced by the succeeding ones. Because of this discovery the first inklings of animation or moving pictures had begun. Only one year later John A. Paris created the thaumatrope; a disk with a complimentary image on each side and strings attached at each end of its horizontal axis. When spun the two complimentary images appear to merge. For example on one side there would be a picture of a bird, and on the other a picture of a cage. When the disk was spun your eyes would be tricked into seeing a bird in a cage.

On January 14 1889 a man by the name of Reynaud received a patent for his invention he called theatre optik (optical theatre).

With the use of a projector and mirrors images were brought to a screen. The pictures were painted on a long ribbon. This was a true film with a canvas support that unwound from one spool and rewound on another. This was the first incarnation of the projectors we enjoy every time we go to a movie theatre.

The union between technology and motion pictures is not one sided as it may seem. Motion Picture creation has also helped science in answering some of the questions it has posed. In the 1870’s Edward Muybridge created a stop motion of a horse running by using multiple cameras designed so that a horses foot would trip each shutter. This was done to see if a horse when it runs ever has all of its hooves in the air at one time. By the use of this technique the question was answered. Looking at each frame separately one could see that at certain times all the horse’s feet would be up in the air.

Technology has played a part in the art of storytelling by use of images in many ways. The invention that significantly advanced it was that of the little camera capable of manually taking anywhere from sixteen to twenty photographs per second. For the first time in the history of man, everyday people were able to visualize moving pictures of themselves and the world around them. The little camera was invented in 1895.

Since the later half of the 19th century scientists were researching ways that could get 3 dimensionality, sound and color with film. At that time though many were pleased with just the movement of black and white pictures. For Thomas Elva Edison this was not enough. In 1888 Edison meets with Muybridge and purchases 90 of his photographic plates to begin experimenting with moving pictures. His intention was to couple live action with the sound produced by his phonograph. In the later part of the 1880’s Edison commissions William Kennedy Laurie Dickson to build a film camera. Dickson develops the Kinetograph, which coupled recorded images with phonographic sound. The result of this invention was the penny arcade first installed in 1894. William Kennedy Laurie Dickson performed many experiments in the pursuit of sound, with his Kinetograph. One of his first experiments was of his co-worker Fred Ott sneezing.

1902 to 1926 was the era of the silent film. During this time Edison sought to link sound mechanically with moving film images. Films were silent but there would often be a pianist or organist playing music to accompany the images being projected on screen.

In 1904 a Frenchman Eugene Lauste records sound onto a piece of photographic film. This was a major step in the pursuit of merging motion pictures with sound.

From 1907 to 1913 technology brought us many inventions when it came to film and sound. The Vivaphone, Synchroscope, the Chronophone, the Cameraphone and the Cinephone were some of these inventions. After 1913 Western Electric develops along with Lee DeForest a method of recording and reproducing sound electronically on disc. In 1921 DeForest improves this method of recording sound on film and patents his invention the phonofilm. All of this culminates with Warner Bros using the AT&T method of sound on film dubbed Vitaphone to create the first film to include music on an amplified sound- track. The movie was released in 1926 and called Don Juan. In 1927 there was another breakthrough in sound because of technology. The movie The Jazz Singer, also by Warner Bros. featured the first spoken words. The first words on film were “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.” said by Al Jolsen.

Color in film has been pursued since the beginning of the 20th century. The way to add color to film was by hand painting the black and white filmstrip. In order to add color to each frame portions of an image would be cut out to create a stencil for a print that would be placed below it. Each color wanting to be applied would have to have its own separate stencil. It was a very laborious task since in most cases six different colors would be added to each black and white base print. This process of adding color to film is called PathÃ?© Color and dates back to 1905. Hand coloring over time got very sophisticated and continued into the early 30’s.

Natural Color films started to be developed in 1906. The term natural color refers to films that recorded color from the subject being photographed as opposed to being hand painted afterwards. Additive and Subtractive are the two different processes of natural color. Additive color systems used black and white film to record color elements that were later projected through the corresponding color filters. The problem with this system was that less light would be projected on the screen making the film look darker. The first Technicolor process used the additive system. In 1906 a two-color process for film was invented called kinemacolor (C. Albert Smith, Charles Urban). An additive process it used the colors red and green. The kinemacolor camera technology filmed at 32fps through alternating red and green filters to achieve the 16fps color silent film. The downfall of this technology was that it used to much film and a lawsuit for paten violation and World War I, since this process was used in Europe.

Subtractive color process was the other way of getting natural color films. Two-color kodachrome came to be in 1915. This process recorded color images on separate frames, (red, green) which were achieved by having two negatives in the camera. Both of the negatives would be printed on either side of a 35mm film that had emulsion on both sides. After that the film would be treated chemically with a blue/green image on ones side and a red/orange on the other. This process is similar to Technicolor process 2, which uses a single film color reversal process.

Out of all of the technological advancements and inventions that shaped the art of film, computers had the biggest impact. Computers have been around since the 40’s but they did not start to impact the film industry until someone at MIT had the great idea of hooking up a computer to a (CRT) monitor. Being able to see on a screen the computers output made the idea of computer animation a reality. Without being able to use a monitor, the digital age of today would not have occurred. Digital is a set of on/off pulses that can be understood by a computer. With the information from a film or tape being able to get into a computer, many things could be done to that video or audio. Some of these things are non-linear editing, image manipulation, sound editing and much more. Virtual reality is another invention that brought on the special effects used today in almost every film. Virtual reality is a computer-generated environment with which the user can interact and that can change according to the user’s commands. 3d generated environments and research of 3d technology came about at NASA’s JPL lab.

We are now in the beginning of the 21st century and technology is advancing and growing everyday. The technology that brought us to what we have today only took a little over a century to achieve. The most significant of the advancement in technology only took about two decades. Film and technology have changed our world in way we ways we haven’t even considered. Technology is advancing faster and faster day by day, there is not telling what the world and the film industry will be like another 100 years from now.

Works Cited

Bendazzi, Giannalberto. Cartoons: One hundred years of cinema animation. Hong Kong: Indiana University Press, 1999
Hart, Martin. Old Color Movie Processes. 2003. The American WideScreen Museum. Mar. 15, 2004. http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/oldcolor/oldcolor.htm
Mintz, Steven. Digital History. Mar. 16, 2004. College of Education University of Houston. Mar.15, 2004. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/historyonline/film_chron.cfm
Mitchell, Doug. Timeline of Sound and Film. N/A. Middle Tennessee State University. Mar.15, 2004. http://www.mtsu.edu/~dsmitche/rim458/Timeline/timeline.html
Zettl, Herbert. Video Basics: Fourth Edition. San Francisco State University: Wadsworth, 2004

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