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article number 305
article date 01-07-2014
copyright 2014 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
A New Form of Enjoyment. We Invent Motion Pictures, 1894
by Henry David Hubbard, U.S. Bureau of Standards

From the 1924 book, A Popular History of American Invention. Original chapter title, “PICTURES THAT LIVE AND MOVE.”

THE genii of the Laboratory gave us a mechanical memory of sounds in the phonograph, and a chemical memory of things in the form of the photograph. The motion-picture goes further and gives us an optical memory of movement, a materialized memory of events in actual motion. What we have seen we can recall.

Memory, like the film, sensitized and exposed, retains the scene. Projection on the screen is like recollection in the brain. We have given the motion-picture apparatus the power of memory and recall. We may select what it remembers and what it recollects; the film producer does one, the theatre manager the other.

What this magical memorizing device means to the world we hardly realize. The “movie” can picture even the impossible, for when we reduce events to a strip of celluloid we can manipulate the events to produce any desired effect on the screen.



All inventions have had their prophets. In a wonderful book of philosophy, On the Nature of Things, by a wise Roman, Lucretius, written about 65 B.C., occurs this remarkable passage:

“Do not thou moreover wonder that the images appear to move,
And appear in one order and time their legs and arms to use;
For one disappears, and instead of it appears another,
Arranged in another way, and now appears each gesture to alter,
For you must understand that this takes place in the quickest time.”

This seems to have inspired Plateau who first seriously engaged in research on making pictures appear alive with action. Another prophet was the astronomer-chemist, Sir John Herschel, the discoverer of “hypo,” which fixing agent he thought might solve the last problem in the invention of the photographic process.

In 1860, the Photographic Times quotes Herschel as saying: “What I have to propose may seem to you like a dream, but it has at least the merit of being possible, and indeed at some time realizable. Realizable—that is to say, by an adequate sacrifice of time, trouble, mechanism, and outlay. It is the representation of scenes in action by photography.”

He further describes in some detail how these may be made to move on the screen. His remarkable forecast of discovery seems most nearly realized in the motion-picture “news weeklies” of to-day.


The modern type of motion-picture is an American invention based on the well-known principles of some simple household toys. These toys were developed by scientific men in England and Belgium. “Living pictures” were on probation during the period from 1829 to 1890, when, at length, success began to come to the efforts of a host of ingenious inventors.

From that time on progress was rapid, and it is chiefly American business enterprise and inventiveness that has developed the motion-picture into the most wonderful art ever evolved by man. It is already the world’s incomparable traveller, historian, entertainer, and schoolmaster; it has become more interesting than the printing-press and its art, more eloquent and intelligible than the spoken word.


Twenty centuries ago it was known that vision does not stop when an object is removed from sight; the vision persists. Ptolemy’s book on optics tells of it, describing a rotating disk with a series of spots which illustrate such persistence.

All our lives we blink our eyes, shut off the view, yet do not interrupt sight. The light sensation is not lost by the twinkle of the eye, so we hardly realize that our eyes are shut every few seconds of our waking hours.

If we swing a lighted cigar in the dark, the point of light becomes a long bright continuous red streak of light. It appears continuous by the phenomenon of “persistence of vision,” which holds the picture long enough for it to appear as a flaming circle.

Motion-pictures were foreshadowed by toys known many years ago. One simple toy, invented by Sir John Herschel, showed that vision persists. Challenging a friend, he said that one could not see two sides of a card at once; his friend spun a coin, showing head and tail sides to the eye at once.

Herschel, however, produced a cardboard disk, an invention of a Doctor Paris, and called the “thaumatrope.”

On one side of the disk was pictured an empty bird-cage, and on the other side, a bird. Twirling the disk by means of strings attached to the sides, Herschel made the bird appear inside the cage.

A very early form of the “thaumatrope” actually showed motion. One side of the disk showed merely an arm holding a bottle, the other a man without his good right arm. On the left side was a string, on the right side a string with a piece of rubber thread attached to it and extending to a second point on the right side of the disk.

Twirling the disk in the usual way showed the man holding the bottle above his head; on stretching the rubber, however, the bottle moved toward the man’s mouth.

MOTION-PICTURES ON PAPER DISKS. Motion-pictures for the home on a number of paper disks, each having a radial slit to permit the projecting mirror access to each series in turn on the principle of the spiral staircase.


Doctor Roget made the first picture toy showing motion, and this was later perfected by Plateau and Faraday. Joseph Antoine Plateau deserves high place in the annals of motion-picture history. He produced the first really successful illusion of motion to the eye by means of a series of pictures illuminated from behind.

He studied the persistence of vision and hit upon sixteen pictures per second as the proper number to make the movement appear continuous.

When about twenty-eight years old he gazed at the sun for twenty seconds, an unwise sacrifice in the interest of science which cost him his eyesight. Later, temporarily regaining the use of his eyes, he invented his famous “phenakistoscope,” a forerunner of the motion-picture projector of to-day.

He became professor of physics at Ghent, but at forty-two became totally blind. Many interesting experiments were conducted by his family under his directions, some of his best work being done while he was sightless.

Crude as we would regard it to-day, Plateau’s device was one of great ingenuity. A semblance of continuous motion was produced by sixteen pictures on the edge of a disk, shown in quick succession by an intermittent light from behind.

He even proposed stereoscopic effects by having two sets of pictures made from eight solid models, each in a distinct pose. By viewing with the left eye the series made for that eye, and with the right viewing the other series, the effect of motion in solid relief is possible.

In 1833 W. G. Homer devised the “zoetrope,” or wheel of life”; an open drum, inside of which was a series of pictures; for example, a man in the successive poses of a dance.

As the drum turned on its axis the eye saw, through a series of vertical slit openings, one picture at a time in such rapid succession that a girl rope skipping, a boy jumping, horses galloping, or a lumber jack chopping wood appeared in action—a striking effect of persistent vision.

The pictures were the beginnings, fragmentary but genuine, of the “movies” of to-day.

THE “ZOETROPE” OR “WHEEL OF LIFE.” In 1833, W. G. Homer devised the “zoetrope,” an open drum within which was a series of pictures. As the drum was turned the eye saw, through vertical slits, one picture at a time in such rapid succession that the effect of continuous motion was obtained. Courtesy United States National Museum.

Before the motion-pictures we know to-day could be invented, two things were needed. First, a sensitive chemical affected at once on exposure to light; second, a transparent and flexible film to hold the chemicals, record the image, and carry the picture through the projecting lantern.

The quick-acting chemical was needed to photograph moving objects which would blur unless the exposure were very short. The chemicals with which early dry plates were coated—the gelatino-bromide emulsion of 1878—were hopelessly slow.

Even a quick exposure lasted a second. In a second an express-train travels many feet, so fast that it would appear as a mere blur on the negative. To-day supersensitive chemicals snap a scene in a thirtieth or a thousandth of a second, or, with spark lighting, in less than a millionth of a second.

But a transparent film was also needed for the motion-picture to show on the screen a thousand pictures a minute, and the pictures had to be taken by the camera at the same rate. It was hard to see how glass plates could ever project the sixteen or eighteen pictures a second required for continuous and smooth motion.

Doubtless something might have been done with glass after a method proposed by Bettini; but the celluloid film, clear, light, and transparent, invented by Reverend Hannibal Goodwin in 1885, was the perfect material. Its discovery first stimulated Marey of Paris, then others, to the remarkable success which quickly followed. The physical basis of the motion-picture is the film; its soul is light.

In 1861 Coleman Sellers, of Philadelphia, patented the first project for a motion-picture of something like our modern type. His “stereophantascope” was a toy with an endless flexible band bearing a series of step-by-step images of motion.

He made a model as a toy for his children, photographed his own two boys, one driving a nail, the other riding his hobby-horse. When the children grew up this forerunner of the machines of to-day was relegated to the attic with the rocking-horse and other toys.

THE PERIPHANOSCOPE OF 1833. It was used with a mirror. The succession of pictures was viewed through the small openings in the disk thus well applying the persistence of vision. Courtesy United States National Museum.


The “birthplace of the movies” was Philadelphia. At the Academy of Music, on February 5, 1870, Henry Heyl, of the same city, publicly exhibited on the screen a series of posed pictures showing the movements of a couple executing a waltz.

While certainly the first life-sized exhibition of animated screen pictures, it was not produced by the photography of moving persons. The wet-plate process of that day required time exposure, and the dancers, one of whom was Mr. Heyl himself, assumed the six successive pose phases of a waltz movement.

The pictures, repeated three times, were placed around the edge of a disk, while Mr. Heyl used a step-by-step motion in strict time with the waltz music of the orchestra.

At the Sacramento race-track, about 1872, some lovers of fine horses, among them Leland Stanford, were discussing the motions of running horses. The point at issue was whether a horse ever has all four feet off the ground at once. Stanford contended it had; others disputed it, saying that the horse would have nothing to support it if all four feet were off the ground.

A wager was made, which they sensibly decided to settle by photography. Stationed at San Francisco was Eadward Muybridge, of the staff of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey and in charge of their photographic surveys. The horsemen made up a purse and engaged Muybridge to settle the point by the camera.

Wet plates were not easy to handle, and instantaneous photography was out of the question. Muybridge placed a long white sloping screen along one side of the track, and a battery of twenty-four cameras along the other side.

As the horses ran by they broke threads stretched across the track, and these successively operated the camera shutters. In all a half million plates were used, some of the exposures being as short as one five-thousandth of a second, too short for the details of the picture, but showing the horse more as a profile or silhouette.

The resulting photographs proved conclusively to the interested horsemen that a galloping horse does, at times, have all four feet off the ground.

MUYBRIDGE’S PHOTOGRAPHIC STUDY OF A RUNNING HORSE. From time immemorial artists and scientists had disputed the question whether or not a horse’s legs in running all left the ground together at any stage. To obtain a scientific answer Senator Leland Stanford financed a series of elaborate experiments conducted by Eadward Muybridge. Photographs were made with a battery of cameras, with shutters successively operated as the horses dashed by. Thus for the first time the movements of a running horse were analyzed. That all four feet leave the ground the pictures here reproduced prove. Courtesy Stanford University, Palo Alto, California.

Muybridge was an important link in motion-picture history, even though he began with the aim of producing separate photographs for individual study. He gave keen attention to the evident possibilities of his experiment.

His book, ‘The Horse in Motion,’ excited nation-wide interest, its publisher, J. B. Lippincott, of Philadelphia, was a lover of fine horses, and gave funds for continuing further, work in that city. The outcome was ‘Animal Locomotion,’ a monumental work in eleven volumes, containing 100,000 pictures of horses, athletes, birds in flight, and other living subjects.

The pictures showed the work and play of men, women, and children of all ages; how pitchers throw the baseball, how batters hit it, and how athletes move their bodies in record-breaking contests.


Muybridge tried to induce Edison to combine the phonograph with a device of his own called the “zoopraxiscope.” With this invention Muybridge had already projected pictures at rates between twelve and thirty-two pictures a second to illustrate his lecture on animal movements.

Edison, busy as a bee, was unable to spare the time, so Muybridge perfected his own device, and exhibited it at the Paris Electrical Exposition in 1881, many years before the kinetoscope. That year Muybridge met Doctor E. J. Marey, a Frenchman keenly interested in graphics. It was a meeting of two enthusiasts.

Together they founded the science and art of “motion analysis,” which in the hands of Frank B. Gilbreth was destined to become an accepted method of great power in the study of motion economy. Edison later met Marey, and, inspired by the Frenchman’s enthusiasm, he perfected the kinetoscope.

HOW MUYBRIDGE MADE HIS PICTURES. In order to analyze the movements of running animals and men Muybridge devised a battery of cameras, the shutters of which were electrically opened and closed. Thus photographs were made of a running animal at intervals of twenty-seven incises; the exposures were about two thousandths of a second each, and sometimes one five-thousandth of a second. From “The Horse in Motion,” by Eadward Muybridge.

Who was this Doctor Marey, and what was his part in motion-picture evolution ? He was a member of the French Academy, devoted to the subject of the graphic method, and author of the greatest work on that subject, under the title of ‘La Methode Graphique.’

Stirred by Pierre Jules Janssen’s photographic gun, which took intermittent pictures of the transit of Venus across the sun’s disk in 1874, Marey, eight years later, constructed his own “photographic gun” by which, with a single lens, he could take twelve pictures in quick succession on plates evenly spaced on the rim of a disk.

In this way he recorded the phases of the flapping of a bird’s wings. Marey was perhaps the first to use a single lens and, in 1887, probably the first to use celluloid film after its invention by Goodwin. His work is classic; his influence on American invention profound.

About 1889 another Frenchman named Raynaud exhibited on the boulevards of Paris his “praxiscope,” under the name of “Théâtre Optique,” using a series of lantern scenes painted on a band of gelatine.

A light beam passed through the gelatine pictures, reflecting them to the eye by means of mirrors. The device was in successful use in Paris and fairly popular until the present motion-picture machine displaced it.

THE PRAXISCOPE. About 1889 Raynaud exhibited in Paris his “praxiscope.” He used a series of lantern-slides painted on gelatine. Light passed through the gelatine pictures, and this was reflected to the eye by means of mirrors. The disk was very popular until the present motion-picture was invented. From Eder’s “Ausfuhrliches Handbuch der Photographie.”


Mr. Friese-Greene, early in 1890, was experimenting on taking photographs in rapid sequence, and speaks of “exposing a negative on a travelling band 3,000 times in five minutes.”

He says: “My blood was fired with enthusiasm, for I thought of taking a scene in Hyde Park, or in the City, where the ceaseless stream of life is never ending, by the machine camera, one day, and producing in the course of a few hours a paper which can be delivered to the public showing, true to nature, all the movements of life, or anything that might be of interest which was photographed at the time.”

It is understood that he was not necessarily speaking of motion-pictures in our sense, but rather “series pictures” to be separately inspected at leisure. His interest reminds one strongly of Herschel’s forecast of 1860, “the vivid and life-like reproduction, and handing down to the latest posterity of any transaction in real life, a battle scene, a debate, a public solemnity, a pugilistic conflict, a harvest home, a launch, indeed anything, in short, where any matter of interest is enacted within a reasonably brief time, which may be seen from a single point of view.”

Thomas A. Edison could always be counted upon to play his part in the mechanical evolution of new inventive arts. When the time seemed ripe for success he gathered the threads of the needed elements. His chief contribution to the motion-picture was perfect photography and precise mechanism.

Stampfer, in 1833, and Devignes, in 1860, proposed the use of film; Marey used it in 1888, and the same year Le Prince proposed the perforation of the film, with a sprocket for the film movement for which he had filed a patent application in 1886.

In 1876 Donisthorpe had exhibited his “kinesigraph,” in which a strip of views was exhibited by intermittent beams of electric light. In 1889 Anschütz, of Prussia, exhibited his electrical tachyscope; at first a disk rimmed with pictures, later a strip of pictures illuminated from behind by an electric spark as each picture passed the eye.

The Edison laboratories appear to have begun work on the kinetoscope as early as 1888, under the direction of W. K. Dickson. The device was patented in 1893. It was really a peep-show in which a single observer could view scenes in motion for more than a minute.

The photography was excellent; the mechanism worked smoothly. The film moved continuously and carried a series of very small photographs, each one lit up by an electric spark for one seven-thousandth part of a second, in some machines about one-half of this time, both speeds being such that the image was sharp and clear.

The machine was probably the last, as Plateau’s was the first, to use intermittent illumination with steady movement of the film. To-day all film moves by jumps both in camera and projector—unless we except the newly perfected ring-prism and disk-prism devices of C. Francis Jenkins.

EDISON KINETOSCOPE 1893. The user views the movie through the peephole on top. The mechanism was not usable in theatres.

Edison’s experiments were prolonged by his attempt to produce a cylinder picture record after the manner of his then successful phonograph cylinders. Cylinder picture records were made as early as 1888, showing the antics of John F. Ott, a mechanic in the Edison shops.

The kinetoscope was not adapted to screen-showing in the theatre, and the type later adopted was that of the Jenkins projector which is now used the world over, and which makes use of powerful light sources and an ingenious intermittent mechanism for the film movement.


So matters stood in the early nineties, with inventors like Reynaud, Muybridge, Marcy, Edison, Jenkins, and others at work. The nature and principle of improvements which had to be adopted to make the full-size theatre projector a success and the camera a practicable portable instrument were generally known.

Mr. Jenkins says that no one inventor ever invented anything, that many hands and heads at work gradually evolve the successful machine.

Notwithstanding this, the priority of producing “the first successful form of projecting machine for the production of life-size motion-pictures from a narrow strip of film containing successive phases of motion,” was awarded to C. Francis Jenkins, of Washington, D. C., by the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, after a searching inquiry into the true priority of invention of the motion-picture machine.

For this invention the Institute awarded him the Elliott Cresson gold medal.

C. FRANCIS JENKINS. Jenkins invented the first practical projector for throwing on the screen life-sized pictures from films taken of living moving objects.

C. Francis Jenkins was once a stenographer in the Treasury Department, attached to the Coast Guard. Active and ingenious, he was interested in representing motion on the screen about 1891.

After work each day, he experimented in his shop. Taking ordinary spool film, sold as a supply for kodaks, he cut it into narrow widths and spliced it with a film cement of his own devising. His unwearied efforts overcoming one obstacle after another finally resulted in his now-famous “phantascope,” which he showed privately to his friends about 1891 and later.

In June, 1894, the success of the “phantascope” was such as to justify a public demonstration. Back to his home town he carried the new machine; Richmond, Indiana, saw the first motion-picture feature—a “first national production.”

It was a stretch of film picturing a dancer, then appearing at a local vaudeville house in Washington, and the film was taken on the present site of the New Willard Hotel.

Much to Jenkins’s disappointment, his mother, good Puritan that she was, objected to the subject; the father, however, displayed due appreciation, both of the subject and the invention.

The town newspaper, the Richmond Telegraph, in its issue of June 6, 1894, told in head-lines the news of the first public motion-picture given by the new machine.

JENKINS PHANTASCOPE. The Phantascope stops only long enough to let each picture appear an instant on the screen.

The positive film in the Jenkins or any other modern machine is really a series of magic-lantern slides. It is the star performer; for the screen is fixed, lights and projector stationary, audience seated. The film alone moves. Its wonderful motion gives a timed sequence to the screen pictures, and this sequence is the soul of the motion-picture art.

Let us study a moment the original Jenkins phantascope of 1894, later deposited in the National Museum. An electric motor turns a wheel rimmed with pegs to fit in holes on the edge of the film. As the pegged wheel, or sprocket, turns, it unwinds the film from the upper spool into the beam of light which throws the picture on the screen.

The film, passing before the lens by jerks, stops only long enough to let each picture appear an instant on the screen, then passes quickly, giving way to the next picture, or frame.

How simple all this seems! Yet the film is at once a troupe of players and their automatic manager. Each film picture dashes into the spot-light, stops an instant to give the audience a view of its image, then gives way to the next.

It is a mechanical feat to jump sixteen or eighteen times a second during an entire evening’s performance.

The entrance and exit of each picture are concealed by a curtain called a “shutter, a metal disk which shuts off the light during change of pictures, as does the curtain for the real stage. Of course all this is the principle of the magic lantern during its heyday: picking up a slide, placing it in the lantern runway, flashing it on the screen, removing it, and placing it on the used pile.

But to change the “slide” sixteen times a second—to present to the spectators, 50,000 separate pictures at the rate of a thousand a minute, is surely a triumph of machine design and operation.

HIGH-SPEED JENKINS CAMERA. Pictures have been taken with this instrument at the rate of 100,000 a minute.

All this was evolved through the phantascope of 1894. Jenkins took his machine to the Cotton States Exposition at Atlanta, where only a few hundred were interested enough to see it in operation—a common fate of new things.

The following year, in France, the Lumiêres projected pictures on the screen with their cinematograph, using a perforated film. Jenkins, by his invention of the phantascope and his pioneer work, has earned a secure place in motion-picture history.

He has perfected the sending of still pictures by radio. His later work deals with the broadcasting of motion-pictures by radio; a remarkable possibility. The author has recently seen the shadowy outlines of his own fingers moving across the screen, crudely transmitted by radio—the beginnings of a new art.


When motion-picture cameras were first used, those who had “rights” took a lively interest in the subjects to be filmed. In the nineties, William H. Selig and others went from town to town taking, here a local fire company in full action, there a passing train or some simple street scene, later exhibiting the pictures in local halls.

The “Empire State Express”—a thriller of those days—thundering across the screen to the rattle of the snare-drum, always brought applause.

But film subjects were fewer than those of the magic-lantern slides, and the young art actually seemed destined to an early collapse; interest died down and its dramatic future was unforeseen. During the Cuban War, however, moving-pictures of battleships ploughing through the sea and troop-ships carrying returning soldiers revived the waning popularity.

About 1894, Alexander Black had the genius to conceive and execute a magic-lantern play. To-day we would find it tame. But during its hour, “Miss Jerry” was hailed with delight, and the novelty of it attracted wide attention.


In no sense a motion-picture play, it was a link between “living pictures” and the modern motion-picture play. Mr. Black says he was trying to tell stories by photographs. A group of camera studies tossed together and named “Ourselves as Others See Us” was his starting-point.

To produce a picture play was another matter; the pictures had to develop the plot progressively and tell the story in a long series of separate photographs.

In “Miss Jerry” there was no attempt to produce the illusion of motion, but rather to blend one picture with the next. Mr. Black projected about three pictures a minute by a stereopticon with a dissolving-view attachment. Camera and scenery were adjusted so that each new picture registered on the screen accurately with the preceding one; only the actors moved from one position to another.

The whole story was told in 250 pictures in about an hour and a half, and a text thrown on the screen filled in the gaps in the story. The settings were not natural, but made on a regular stage. Artificial as it would doubtless seem to us, this was an advance toward the modern camera play with its marvels of realism.

Early film plays were chiefly comedies full of slap-stick and camera trick work, well known in principle before the motion-picture arrived. In the late nineties, however, Mélies, a French producer, devised many new motion-picture tricks which have scarcely been excelled.

In 1900, Zecca, a Pathé director, produced in France one of the first true photoplays, “L’Histoire d’un Crime.” With it the photo-drama arrived, and following Henri Lavedan’s scenario of “L’Assassinat du Due de Guise,” the photoplay became a fine art, speedily arousing the highest enthusiasm.


Ferdinand Zecca, a French director, brought drama to motion-pictures instead of the usual slap-stick comedy.


To the motion-picture “all the world’s a stage.” All nature is its scenery; all men and women its players. The scenario writer may call for an ocean, a forest, a river, a volcano, or an Oriental city.

The location man or scenic artist must produce just what is called for: Alaska snows, Sahara sands, a New York tenement, or a thousand scenes from as many lands. The historical expert must know all the proper names in the language and not fail in giving accuracy to the details of an event.

Building up a motion-picture play is not unlike, in principle, the construction of a house. It is finished bit by bit; a hundred parts are separately developed in a hundred places, without seeming order or sense, until final assembling.

DIRECTING A MOTION-PICTURE PLAY. The director’s stand in one of the scenes taken of “Robin Hood.” One thousand two hundred “extras” took part in this scene. Douglas Fairbanks at the megaphone. Photograph by United Artists.

Between “shots” the big studio is a bedlam of building, rehearsals, coaching, dressing, and business—all working toward the finished, well-rounded “big-feature” play. The director paints his great scenes with living characters; under his direction the players become as mannikins, rehearsing for the final action, every actor tense with the team-work a photoplay demands.

When ready, the director shouts “Camera! Action !” Now every move must be perfect; for the cameras are registering the scene for the world and posterity. Little wonder the motion-picture studio attracts thousands; here the young actor and actress will find opportunity, inspiration, and instruction waiting on them; and yet, even after success is attained, they must be prepared to work very hard.

A veritable army of workers is needed to produce the sets for a modern scenario; practically all kinds of building craftsmen and artists. The resources of centuries of theatre lore are at hand, with countless new devices added.

From the scenario the director plans all “sets,” or scenes, and their construction in the studio calls for considerable skill. The film of “Broken Blossoms” had to be perfect in local color to satisfy the artistic sense of the director. Newly made rooms in the studio must be “aged” by adding signs of wear and old stains.

The property-man from his museum of accessories—his old curiosity-shop—must produce anything from a pair of snowshoes to a jewelled crown. His ingenuity is tested and dependable; the word “can’t” is not in his lexicon. Either he has everything or he will make it or get it. From private homes, museums, junk-dealers, pawn-shops, curio bazaars, and a thousand sources, he harvests in his properties, without which his realism would fail.

The life of the player of the studio is adventurous compared with that of the theatre actor. In the 500 scenes which a modern “superfeature” may call for, some are sure to involve hazardous exploit. Outdoor scenes must be played so as to seem real, and not like acting.


Hubert M. Kitties, substituting for the high-salaried “star,” was in bed for weeks with broken bones after a realistic motorcycle race, in which the story called for a real tumble. Having been a racer he said: “I won’t do a thing half-way,” and he refused to slow down as he passed the camera. His fall was as genuine as were his resulting injuries, while the hero whose place he took went unharmed.

The principals in “Way Down East” are reported to have had pneumonia following exposure during the now-famous snow-storm and ice scene. Mary Pickford insisted on acting through the pelting rain in “Lovelight,” the director shouting instructions from the shelter of his umbrella.

Fairbanks, diving through the court-room window in “The Nut,” was seriously injured. In the “Pride of the Clan” the rescue scene from the sinking boat almost ended in disaster, because of the effort of the star to save her pet kitten.

On the screen, danger is not always make-believe. William S. Hart was hit by a china vase, thrown in place of one of papier-mâché, called for by the director. Wild animals give thrills not in the scenario. Public opinion, however, does not tolerate deliberate sacrifice of life, as in an actual scene showing a horse and buggy falling off the cliff road. But sometimes startling effects come by chance.

A picture play once showed a runaway fire-engine team dashing into the camera, fortunately without damaging the film, and the public had an unusual thrill. Films of real danger and reckless exploit are frankly advertised as such. Probably in none was the risk so evident as when Williamson fought and killed in deep water the barracuta, a shark-like fish, his only weapon being a knife.

On the other hand, the danger is often more real than apparent. A camera man at a great risk once secured a modern battle scene in Mexico; though genuine enough, it was rejected as too tame for the public. A battle picture has become a standard symbol which even realism dare not violate.

But the camera men, whom we know only by their wonderful screen pictures, run serious risks. Like soldiers they are under orders, and must be ready to take any scene from its best point of view; from the cables of the Brooklyn Bridge to following an automobile race at a hundred miles an hour.

THE NORMAN CASTLE WHICH WAS ERECTED FOR DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS’S PRODUCTION “ROBIN HOOD.” An example of the lengths to which modern producers go in building elaborate and expensive sets. Courtesy United Artists.


The play requires the action of the players, but incidental effects must often be manufactured. If a cyclone is needed, an airplane propeller may be used, and the effect on flimsy structure is startling. If a blinding sand-storm be part of the story, handfuls of sand or confetti showered before the camera lens produce a realistic storm.

If the scene be laid in the interior of a steamer’s cabin, the effect of rolling and tossing must be produced; in this case, since the stage is nailed down, the camera man must rock his camera while exposing his picture so that the film gives the realism.

Whether the camera man can or can not get near enough, and though it be too dark for purposes of photography, the final downward plunge of the doomed vessel must positively be shown on the screen. He therefore “shoots” the ship as long as he is able. The scene is later completed in a small tub with a tiny model. On the screen, of course, the exciting incident appears convincingly real.

In a recent screen romance, a stork flew over a house and dropped a little white bundle down the chimney. In the studio, the scene was only a two-foot house with a tiny cardboard stork moved across the scene by wire. A wild-west story shows a “close-up” of the town music-hall. On the screen it appeared full size; in the studio it was eighteen inches wide.

There is no limit to the ingenuity used in preparing films. The “Thief of Bagdad” shows the magic carpet of the Arabian Nights in full visual realization, and the cloak of darkness working its mystifying effects.

THIEF OF BAGDAD. Trick photography gives ingenious effects.

The genius of the motion-picture camera can perform miracles. It can put back the clock, recall the setting sun, and retrace chronological incident step by step in bewildering accuracy. When we reduce events and actions to a strip of patterned celluloid, we become wizards, and with a pair of scissors and a little film cement we can reverse history.

We can cut out sections so that cause and effect are no longer connected, and magical appearances or disappearances result. A condemned man ponders alone in his cell. Suddenly two spectres appear seated beside him, charging him with his crime. To produce this effective illusion, the film technic is simple. The camera stops turning, the two spectres enter the scene, sit down by the condemned man, and the camera starts again. The entrance is omitted, only the sudden apparition is apparent.

We can transpose events at will, or invert them so that events move backward in time. In a pillow fight, the awakening of the children and the bursting pillows when projected with reversed film invert the story, so that the feathers rush back into the pillow-cases, the pillow-cases go to their places, the children lay down their heads and return to sleep.

The camera can be turned upside down to show men walking like flies on a ceiling, or turned through ninety degrees to show an actor walking up a wall. With suitable devices men appear flying through space, the background disappearing. A set may show the side of a house lying flat on the ground; by crawling along the ground the actors appear on the screen as if climbing vertical walls in most dangerous exploits.

The camera may also be slowed down, so that when the resultant film is projected at full speed on the screen, the time between pictures is so brief that the players move with impossible rapidity. On the contrary, by turning the camera crank faster the pictures projected at normal speed show the “slow motions” which so amuse or surprise us.

Double exposures introduce weird effects. Actors converse with themselves in dual roles, both characters being shown on the screen at the same time. Mary Pickford “doubled” Little Lord Fauntleroy and his mother, “Dearest.”

Buster Keaton, in trick comedies, uses many clever devices; one comedy showed him taking the part, simultaneously, of the entire orchestra, the minstrel troupe, and the audience. The film section, taken for each, is separately exposed, the portion of the scene to be reserved for the next exposure being cut off by a mask before the camera-plate.



The regular stage play still has the advantage of color in costumes and Scenery. Successful colored motion-pictures have been shown, and may find their way slowly into general use. At first, like magic-lantern slides, films were colored by tedious hand-work.

As in printing and photography, so in the kindergarten days of motion-pictures came the striving for natural colors. The task of coloring lantern slides is not easy, but coloring a motion-picture film presents considerable difficulty. A thousand pictures must be colored for each minute of the screen picture showing, or 120,000 for an evening’s entertainment.

The cost is enormous. The projection of a lantern slide may stay on the screen for half a minute, but a single unit of the motion-picture series lives before an audience but the twentieth part of a second.

A better natural color effect came with color photography, which would have been more successful but for the slow action of red on the sensitive film. A thirtieth of a second exposure by the camera is as much as can be allowed. In this time blue colors register easily, green not quite so well; but red, at least on ordinary film, registers scarcely at all. A black-and-white film picture of an orange grove shows the fruit black.

Dicyanin is now used to sensitize the film, so that the slowness of the red is conquered, and the road to real color motion-pictures is wide open. So sensitive is dicyanin that photographs may be taken from the clouds in one two-hundredth of a second from a height of over a mile.

Attempts, somewhat successful for quiet scenes, have been made to produce color effects photographically. In London and Berlin, about 1912, George A. Smith showed pictures in color taken by the kinemacolor process.

Alternately through red and green gelatine, ordinary, uncolored film pictures were taken to record in varying shades of gray the green and red elements respectively. These pictures were projected on the screen alternately through the color screens. The red and green pictures thus appeared in turn on the screen so fast that they blended in the eye to produce the natural colors.

Unfortunately, since an object moving across the scene was not in the same position in the red and the succeeding green picture, the object appeared fringed with red on one side and green on the other; a serious defect in any color process intended for motion pictures.

KINEMACOLOR. President Taft was photographed to show the kinemacolor process.

To obviate the failure of the red picture to register with the green picture following, Arturo Hernandez ingeniously placed the red on the face of the film and the green on the back, exposing them to the scene simultaneously by a clever system of reflectors. Promising as this and other two-color methods were, the three-color system gave more perfect results.

In 1861, Maxwell showed that red, green, and blue pictures of a scene could be made to reproduce all the natural colors on a white screen. A. Sauve patented a cinematograph process based on Lippman color photography.

In 1913, however, Gaumont came out with a three-color scheme by which, either across or along the film, three simultaneous exposures were made, of the red, green, and blue elements of the picture. The film itself was not colored, but the projector sent the light beam through appropriately colored screens; the three pictures, super posed simultaneously on the screen, gave a beautifully natural color effect.

Public appreciation of true color realism is great enough to justify rapid extension to all motion-picture work. “The Great Adventure,” a 1922 “superfeature” filmed in England, screens in full natural colors.

The definite approval of colored pictures by the public will effect not a few changes in the studio. There, at present, the powerful lights are too brilliant for white garments to be worn; even for wedding-dresses, yellow and other neutral colors alone are used.

When color photography comes into general favor, all sets, including scenery, properties, accessories, and costumes, will have to be made in natural colors; everything must be true to life, and harmonious in combination and contrast. This will entail a further expenditure of millions of dollars, and call for a new form of artistic skill. In the color play, “Wonders of the Wasteland,” artistic attention was given to the costume and scenic colors, with great success.

IMPROVING KINEMACOLOR. Effects can approximate true colors.


To add sounds to the motion-picture was an early dream of inventors. The many difficulties in connection with it even prevented Edison from perfecting the kinetophone, novel and ingenious though it was. Sounds must be loud enough and rendered with proper modulation to satisfy the audience.

They must be exactly timed with the moving lips, the shot of the gun, or whatever sound source is pictured. To give all the natural sounds, speech, and music which accompanies the drama on the regular stage, would be very costly. Perhaps cost is the greatest obstacle at present until public demand insists on greater realism, or until a far-seeing producer brings us the new art.

Edison’s kinetophone was a bank of several phonographs conforming with the pictures by electrical means. They were assembled behind the screen, and presided over by an attendant. It was not a success.

The discriminating ear was too accustomed to the superb enunciation and tone quality of the legitimate actor to enjoy the thin voice of a mechanical substitute. And yet, the kinetophone was the beginning of a new art that will surely attain the perfection of the motion-pictures themselves.

A very ingenious system of sound rendering was developed abroad in which a steadily moving film records the speech-waves as lights and shades, the varying brightness corresponding to the variations in the sound-waves.

In the projector a light beam passing through the film is varied in brightness in the same manner, and it actuates a selenium circuit so that it carries more or less current following exactly the original sound-wave form.

The trend of machines to-day is toward automaticity, and the sound rendering must be as automatic as the pictures themselves. Probably for several reasons the sounds will not be produced actually on the stage. Light out-speeds sound, and the synchronism of sound and action on the stage would be destroyed in the rear of the theatre.

Again, the softer letters of speech are completely lost even a few feet from the stage. The appeal to the ear must be flawless. Beginnings have been made, and the science of acoustics is now so well able to analyze all sounds and record their curves that the future movie hero of the screen may have a vocality comparable to that of his more substantial brother, the actor.

MUSICAL SCORES ENHANCE MOTION-PICTURES. Scene from Birth of a Nation. Dedication musical composition has taken the place of mundane scores and theatre organs.


An astonishing kind of motion-picture work is the animated diagram, or cartoon. A thousand or more sketches are drawn by hand, each sketch differing a little from the preceding one, and the movie camera snapshots each drawing once or twice.

When thrown on the screen in quick succession the diagrams appear to move as if alive. The animated diagram is the old zoetrope, or wheel of life, raised to a new art by the camera to give it scope and speed.

To prove that it could be done, Windsor McKay made some 10,000 hand-drawn sketches, showing the playful antics of “Gertie, the Dinosaur,” among her prehistoric cousins, rooting up and devouring trees, tossing rocks, and drinking up a small lake.

It took McKay a week to draw the sketches needed to show one opening of “Gertie’s” mouth.

Hand-drawn diagrams of surgical operations show each cut of the knife, and its effect on the inner tissues and organs is seen more intelligibly on the screen than by a direct view. A complex process is made perfectly clear and memorable by this method.

The wonder of the animated diagram is that expert knowledge is made more vivid in a fraction of the time required by words alone. The film diagram of the Quebec bridge disaster was more graphic than a photograph, and the three-minute film-story showed the cause and method of collapse, not as the casual observer saw it, but as the technical expert disentangled the inside story after weeks of study.

How the Hudson River tubes were set in place, the movie diagram explained in a few minutes. West Point students, formerly taught the making and use of bombs by a course of lectures, were found to gain a clearer knowledge of the subject from a fifteen-minute animated film summary than from the whole course of lectures.

A perfect system was needed to convoy our soldiers to France during the Great War. This was rehearsed and perfected by animated diagram. Each ship became a graphic element on a table-map. As the ships were moved through a manoeuvre, the movie camera snapshot each formation in a series which showed the entire movement.

Trained officers then viewed the fleet in action on the screen as each ship did its bit in every emergency—a dress rehearsal to make perfect a naval enterprise unequalled in history.

TRAINING FOR WAR. New inventions in movie making and animation will give our soldiers an advantage in clearer knowledge.

Imagine the strategy of football put into a film diagram with scarcely a word of explanation. Can we imagine the effect on the inside perfection of the plays?

To-day, an inventor may show his device by a sketch which comes to life on the screen, performing as if actually built and in full natural operation in a manner that photography alone could not show.

A thousand uses are being developed for this new art which, for the purposes of designers, inventors, lecturers, students, and teachers, is without rival for explanation, clearness, and interest.

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