Topic 1: Early development of cinema

● first people who pioneered motion pictures ● first apparatuses which enabled the projection of pictures ● developments at the beginning of the 20th century (first genres, first techniques, nickelodeon boom, first production companies)

Let’s go all the way into the past, before the age of digital cameras, smart phones and CGI, before motion pictures were invented, when the fascination with capturing and reproducing motion brought various inventions and devices that could do just that.

Here are examples of some of the earliest inventions that could reproduce the illusion of motion, some breakthrough developments leading to the construction of the very first film camera, and some of the earliest films made.

Early inventions and pioneers of cinema

The Phenakistoscope

An early animation device, invented in 1832, that allowed the viewer to watch a quick succession of still pictures drawn on a disc as a looped short animated sequence. You look through the moving slits at the disc’s reflection in a mirror, the user could see a rapid succession of these images as an illusion of fluent motion. See more demonstrations here.

The Zoetrope

Another device creating an illusion of motion from a series of static images. The term zoetrope is from the Greek words zoe, “life” and trope, “turn”. The earliest elementary zoetrope was created in China around 180 AD. The modern zoetrope was invented in 1833 by British mathematician William George Horner. He called it the ‘Daedalum’ (‘the wheel of the devil). It didn’t become popular until the 1860s, when it was patented by makers in both England and America. The American developer, William F. Lincoln, named his toy the ‘zoetrope’, which means ‘wheel of life’.

The Praxinoscope

The successor to the zoetrope. It was invented in France in 1877 by Charles-Émile Reynaud. Like the zoetrope, it used a series of pictures placed around the inner surface of a spinning cylinder. Instead of the thin slits through which the viewer could look, the praxinoscope had an inner circle of mirrors, placed so that the pictures reflected in them as the wheel turned. Someone looking in the mirrors would see a rapid succession of these images producing the illusion of motion, with a brighter and less distorted picture than the zoetrope.
In 1889 Reynaud developed the Théâtre Optique, an improved version capable of projecting images on a screen from a longer roll of pictures. This allowed him to show hand-drawn animated cartoons to larger audiences, but it was soon eclipsed in popularity by the photographic film projector of the Lumière brothers.

Eadweard J. Muybridge: Motion capture photography

The important breakthrough came in 1878, when Eadweard J. Muybridge used multiple cameras to capture the motion of a real moving object (a galloping horse to prove that its four legs are all in the air at one point of its galloping to settle a bet). Muybridge’s multiple photographs of moving objects were the first big step in the development of movie cameras, as instruments with the ability to make rapid, clear expositions of moving objects onto photographic film.

Edweard. J. Muybridge Zoopraxiscope

In 1879 Muybridge invented this device to allow the projection of his rapid photography images onto a bigger screen as short moving pictures to audiences.

Videos about Edweard J. Muybridge’s life (1) and legacy in modern art (2):

The Kinetoscope peep show device

An early motion picture exhibition device. Though not a movie projector—it was designed for films to be viewed individually through the window of a cabinet housing its components—the Kinetoscope introduced the basic approach that would become the standard for all cinematic projection before the advent of video: it creates the illusion of movement by conveying a strip of perforated film bearing sequential images over a light source with a high-speed shutter. First described in conceptual terms by U.S. inventor Thomas Edison in 1888, it was largely developed by his employee William Kennedy Laurie Dickson between 1889 and 1892.

The Mutoscope peep show device

An early motion picture device, patented by Herman Casler on November 21, 1894. Like Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope it did not project on a screen, and provided viewing to only one person at a time.

  • 1895

  • The breakthrough: 1985 Cinematograph

    Although there is a discussion about who invented the patent originally, the cinematograph is a first portable film camera, film projector and film developer in one, developed by Auguste and Louis Lumière and presented first time in 1895, which is now considered as the year when film and cinema as we know them today were born.

  • 1895 – The historical first: the first real motion picture ever made
  • Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory, also known as La Sortie des usines Lumière (original title), Employees Leaving the Lumière Factory and Exiting the Factory (US titles), is an 1895 French short black-and-white silent documentary film directed and produced by Louis Lumière. It is often referred to as the first real motion picture ever made. The moment which is taken as the beginning of Film. Watch here with other of the brother’s first movies:

    The Vitascope

    An early film projector first demonstrated in 1895 by Charles Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat as Phantoscope. T.A. Edison took over the patent and it was presented as his invention:

    The oldest surviving celluloid film Roundhay Garden Scene is not the first real motion picture in history, but an oldest surviving celluloid motion picture, made in 1888 by a British inventor Louis Le Prince. It was recorded at 12 frames per second and only a few frames survived, which you can watch here:


    Although many people believed Film was just a short term attraction, from the earliest beginnings there was an explosion of experimentation of early enthusiasts who saw Film as a great new medium of expression, which lead to the first experiments with filmmaking techniques and genres, development of tricks, visual effects, editing, narrative techniques and so on.

    One of the world’s first film posters: L’Arroseur Arrosé, (1895, Fra) directed by Louis Lumière:

    The magical masterpiece: A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la lune) (1902, Fra), Georges Méliès

    The film was written and directed by Georges Méliès – a theatre magician with incredible visual creativity with which he immediately realised the amazing potential of the moving pictures.

    The film runs 14 minutes if projected at 16 frames per second, which was the standard frame rate at the time. It was extremely popular at the time of its release and is the best-known of the hundreds of fantasy films made by Méliès.

    A Trip to the Moon is the first science fiction film, and utilizes innovative animation techniques and special effects, such as multiple exposures, stop trick, time-lapse photography, dissolves and hand-painted colour in his films.

    He was a true pioneer and an imaginative film-maker that helped others to fully realize the amazing potential that film had to transform reality.

  • The Nickelodeon
  • The Nickelodeon was an early 20th century form of small movie theaters in the USA that were incredibly popular until the film industry reorganized itself and became centered on the production on multiple-reel feature films. Nickelodeons showed a programme of one-reel films for the entertainment of the audiences, with live piano, organ or sometimes a whole orchestra playing music to accompany the scenes on the screen with appropriate musical cues.

    The Great Train Robbery (1903), Edwin S. Porter

    Twelve minutes long, the film used a number of innovative techniques including cross cutting, double exposure, composite editing, camera movement and on location shooting.


    There is a long journey from placing the cammera in one spot, simply shooting the action in front of it to complex camera movement, multiple points of view, cutting, cross cutting and many other various types of camera shots and angles.
    Be ready to give examples of how the above films employed innovative techniques.

    Hours of fun to be had :)

  • Links
  • – early development of cinema timeline, divided into several chronological sections
    – the pioneers and technologies, describing in simple terms the important names and dates
    – Encarta encyclopedia gives you another well presented overview of the early development of cinema. Facts about the Nickelodeon era and early patent and production companies
    – general overview of the early developments from 1895 up to the 1920s

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    as always, feel free to leave a comment, ask, recommend : )



    6 thoughts on “Topic 1: Early development of cinema

    1. A lot of people from our class use this and yet almost no one posted any sort of thanks. Ill do it then – great source of study material, thanks for it, its great that some of our teachers actually want to do more than is necessary :-) especially given the current situation on our school.
      – Martin

    2. I am looking for information about the development of cinema.
      somebody could help me out and tell the Web sites where you can learn the history of cinema?

    3. Wonderful material for engaging the learner’s attention during an English lesson as well as demonstrating the way meaningful content can be integrated into the program.

      Thank you!!

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