Elements and beginnings (1895–1936)
Roundhay Garden Scene
, which is just over two seconds long and was made in 1888, is believed to be the world's earliest surviving motion-picture film. The elderly lady in black is Sarah Whitley, the mother-in-law of filmmaker Louis Le Prince
; she died ten days after this scene was filmed.
The earliest precursors to film began with image projection through the use of a device known as the magic lantern, which utilized a glass lens, a shutter, and a persistent light source (such as a powerful lantern) to project images from glass slides onto a wall. These slides were originally hand-painted, but, after the advent of photography in the 19th century, still photographs were sometimes used. Thus the invention of a practical photography apparatus preceded cinema by only fifty years.
The next significant step toward the invention of cinema was the development of an understanding of image movement. Simulations of movement date as far back as to 1828—only four years after Paul Roget discovered the phenomenon he called "Persistence of Vision". Roget showed that when a series of still images are shown at a considerable speed in front of a viewer's eye, the images merge into one registered image that appears to show movement. This is an optical illusion, since the image is not actually moving. This experience was further demonstrated through Roget's introduction of the thaumatrope, a device that spun at a fairly high speed a disk with an image on its surface.
The three features necessary for motion pictures to work were "a camera with sufficiently high shutter speed, a filmstrip capable of taking multiple exposures swiftly, and means of projecting the developed images on a screen". The first projected proto-movie was made by Eadweard Muybridge between 1877 and 1880. Muybridge set up a row of cameras along a racetrack and timed image exposures to capture the many stages of a horse's gallop. The oldest surviving film (of the genre called "pictorial realism") was created by Louis Le Prince in 1888. It was a two-second film of people walking in "Oakwood streets" garden, titled Roundhay Garden Scene. The development of American inventor Thomas Edison's Kinetograph, a photographic device that captured sequential images, and his Kinetoscope, a device for viewing those images, allowed for the creation and exhibition of short films. Edison also made a business of selling Kinetograph and Kinetoscope equipment, which laid the foundation for widespread film production.
Due to Edison's lack of securing an international patent on his film inventions, similar devices were "invented" around the world. In France, for example, Auguste and Louis Lumière created the Cinématographe, which proved to be a more portable and practical device than both of Edison's as it combined a camera, film processor, and projector in one unit. In contrast to Edison's "peepshow"-style kinetoscope, which only one person could watch through a viewer, the cinematograph allowed simultaneous viewing by multiple people. Their first film, Sortie de l'usine Lumière de Lyon, shot in 1894, is considered the first true motion picture. The invention of celluloid film, which was strong and flexible, greatly facilitated the making of motion pictures (although the celluloid was highly flammable and decayed quickly). This film was 35 mm wide and was pulled using four sprocket holes, which became the industry standard (see 35 mm film). This doomed the cinematograph, which only worked with film with a single sprocket hole.