Aaron Lindquist
Director, Editor, & Writer

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The First Cinematographers

The Lumiere Brothers, Auguste and Louis, showing their invention to scientists (1895).

The Lumiere Brothers, Auguste and Louis, showing their invention to scientists (1895).

Muybridge, Edison, Lumiere Brothers

Toward the end of the 19th Century, motion on film became a celebrated cause for a minority of photographers and inventors. In England, a still photographer named Eadweard Muybridge's natural curiosity incited his experiments with motion in 1877. Using multiple cameras, he captured the motion of animals and created the sense of movement by projecting the images onto a spinning disk, culminating in his invention of the Zoopraxiscope in 1879.  

In the United States, Thomas Edison, inspired by Muybridge, patented the Kinetograph in 1891, although much of the credit for the invention goes to W.K.L Dickson, a photographer who devised the photographic and optical elements of the camera.

The Kinetoscope

The Kinetoscope

Together, with the Kinetoscope, a viewer could watch a sequence of images unfold through a peephole inside a box, often found in a penny arcade.

In France, Auguste and Louis Lumiere, or the "Lumiere Brothers" as they would become known, invented the Cinématographe in 1892, which allowed motion to be filmed and projected from the same device.

For the first time in history an audience could watch the developed "movies" projected onto a screen. 

Société Lumière, the factory that birthed the invention of projecting light onto a screen, thereby dethroning Edison's Kinetoscope and changing the future of cinema.

Société Lumière, the factory that birthed the invention of projecting light onto a screen, thereby dethroning Edison's Kinetoscope and changing the future of cinema.

Georges Méliès (1861-1938) was an early adopter of Lumiere's inventions. His films imbued cinema with an encyclopedia of special effects and camera tricks, making audiences see him as a magician. 

Georges Méliès (1861-1938) was an early adopter of Lumiere's inventions. His films imbued cinema with an encyclopedia of special effects and camera tricks, making audiences see him as a magician. 

While each inventor had competitors, they are the names we accept as the pioneers of cinema. They went beyond the imagination of their time and created a medium that is still in its infancy.

 

How Motion is Achieved

Muybridge, Edison and the Lumiere Brothers achieved motion on film using similar, but different techniques. While their designs appear primitive today, they were state of the art when they were made. Audiences were drawn together by their magic.
 

In Spite of History

The odd circumstance of all four men is that none had an interest in filmmaking beyond their initial inventions. Muybridge was content to experiment and perhaps found solace in his discoveries after the tragedies that took place in his life. Edison saw moving pictures as a distraction from his other inventions and it took the growing popularity resulting from the Lumeire's ability to draw disparate groups together (as one audience) to convince him it was an enterprise worth further investment. The Lumiere Brothers, for their part, had no interest in sharing the technology they invented with other filmmakers and were more concerned with inventing color film than further development of their primary invention. The four men we consider most responsible for the beginnings of cinema might have cut short the life of a new medium, had it not been for the audiences they inspired.