” There is no one creator of film…”-Narrator, 1986 documentary Film Before Film

The documentary Film Before Film explores those optical illusions that acted as pre-cursors to the filmic medium. In its 83 minutes the viewer is offered a vast array of visual objects and tricks that entertained children and adults alike for centuries. While individuals such as Edison, Friese-Green, Dauguerre, August and Louise Lumiere and Muybridge helped create the basic tenants of film; it was many of these pre-cinematic objects that laid the groundwork. From cards that reveal special scenes when lit from the back to secret images at the bottom of tea cups, there was no shortage of visual entertainment in the centuries leading up to the discovery of cinema. Below is a closer examination of  a few  examples presented in the film:

Diorama: ” a theatrical experience viewed by an audience in a highly specialized theater”. Historically this tradition began in  Paris in 1822 with Louis Jaques Mande Dauguerre (one of the fathers of photography). According to sources each landscape that was presented was, “painted on linen which was transparent in some places allowing light to shine through”. This along with other lighting effects would cause the scene to change subtly before the viewers eyes.

Dauguerre's Diorama

Zoopraxiscope: a device in which to view images painted on a circular disk. While most of these discs contain painted images there is one which contains photographs; Muybridge’s horse experiment. Legend has it that in 1879 Muybridge assisted the then governor of California Leland Stanford (for which the university is named) in winning a bet. The wager concerned whether or not all four feet of a horse left the ground when it galloped. The images found on this original disc are of the horse as it galloped past several cameras  to capture the action. Although the original machine is not known to survive, parts of it are still extant and can be found at the Royal Kingston Museum. For more information about the zoopraxiscope and Edward Muybridge please visit: http://www.kingston.gov.uk/browse/leisure/museum/museum_exhibitions/muybridge/machinery_and_equipment/zoopraxiscope.htm

Muybridge's Zoopraxiscope

Phantoscope: one of the first projection devices for motion picture film, the phantoscope has a nefarious past to say the least. Created by C. Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat in 1895, this device helped usher film from its peep show beginnings (a la the kinetoscope) to the era of full-scale projection. However, when a an argument broke up the duo Armat saw an opportunity for profit and sold the rights for the device to Thomas Edison. With a few changes it was then re-branded the Vitascope and marketed under Edison’s name.

What once was the phantoscope became the vitascope

Zoetrope: William George Horner created the Zoetrope in 1834. Originally named the “daedlum” or the “wheel of the devil” by the inventor the object was forgotten for over 30 years before it was re patented by another company. William F. Lincoln and American renamed the “daedlum”  the”zoetrope” or “wheel of life”. This simple drum rotates in a circular motion when placed on top of a stand. The drum contains vertical slits which when peered into, as the object moves, reveals a set of images set in motion.

The Zoetrope

Magic Lantern: perhaps the one visual device most closely connected to the creation of film, the magic lantern was created as far back as the 1650s (there is some debate surrounding the actual invention date). The idea behind the magic lantern is that slide images are projected onto available space using light. The magic lantern was used both for educational endeavors as well as entertainment. While many of these slides were static, effects were often created to make the images look as though they were moving. Much later into the device’s creation inventors began creating moving slides which created an illusion similar to the motion picture.

The Magic Lantern