Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Movie Production Series (Part 1)

When we watch a motion picture, we are actually seeing many thousands of separate still pictures."
- ARTHUR KNIGHT ("Motion Picture" article from World Book Encyclopedia, 1981 ed.)

A motion picture is made up of thousands of still pictures called frames. In each frame, the scene or subjects in the scene are slightly different in position from the previous frame. For every second of time, 24 frames of film flicker onto a screen to produce moving images. We cannot discern each still image but instead see continuous motion. This is because of a condition of the human eye known as persistence of vision. Persistence of vision was first discovered in 65 B.C. by the Roman poet Lucretius and proved by Ptolemy of Alexandria about 200 years later. Simply put, persistence of vision means that when the human eye views an object under a bright light, the visual image of that object will persist for one tenth of a second after the light is turned off. Therefore, as each frame appears, it does not fade out until the next frame appears. In reality, the screen is black, when between frames, more often than when it is illuminated with a frame.

Motion-Picture Camera.
A special motion-picture camera is used to take movies. It is similar to a still camera in that it exposes light which reflects off objects and passes through the camera lens onto the film. It is different from a still camera in that it takes the pictures at a much faster rate of 24 frames, or pictures, per second.

(film camera)
Film camera.
Photo compliments of Roessel CPT Inc. at

In order to accomplish this faster frames per second rate, a motion picture camera must perform several very precise operations. The film cannot just roll past the lens. Doing so would create terrible motion blur resulting in one big blur. Instead, the camera starts and stops the film from passing by the lens while opening and closing the camera shutter in conjunction. The shutter regulates the length of time that the light get exposed on to the film. When the shutter is open, the film stops, remaining motionless, to allow it to be exposed to the light passing through the lens. Once the shutter closes, the film moves to the next frame. A device called a claw is inserted in the sprocket holes, which run down along each side of the film, in order to advance the film. When the claw has advanced the film to the next frame, it stops and a register pin holds the film motionless and in place as the shutter opens and the new frame is exposed. This cycle is repeated 24 times per second, which is extremely fast.

(film camera animation)
Animated and labeled film camera's internal mechanism

The film used in a motion-picture camera is a flexible strip of Celluloid coated with chemicals that are sensitive to light. Such film is available in several standard widths expressed in millimeters. Film widths for motion pictures shown in a movie theater are either 35 millimeters (1 3/8 inches) or 70 millimeters (2 3/4 inches). The sprocket holes running down each side of the film are how motion-picture cameras and projectors grab and advance the film.

In the movie theater, a motion picture is projected onto a screen by a device known as a projector. The projector uses a powerful beam of light to flash exposed frames of film onto the screen. Just like the motion picture camera, the projector must start and stop the film 24 times per second. The shutter remains open as the light shines the frame onto the screen. When the shutter closes, shutting out the beam of light, the drive sprockets advance the film. Again, the viewer's persistence of vision fills in the periods of darkness inbetween frames to make the action appear smooth and continuous.

The screen found in a movie theater has a special reflective surface which produces a clear picture with bright colors. To make it highly reflective, the screen can either be covered with tiny beads of glass or painted with titanium dioxide or a mixture of white lead and white zinc.

The 1800's was a time when many people tried to make a device that would make pictures appear to move. The first successful scientist was a Belgian named Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau. In 1832, Plateau developed the phenakistoscope. The phenakistoscope consisted of two disks placed on a rod. The lower disk had pictures painted on it in equal increments. Each picture slightly advanced the previous picture's action. The top disk had slots cut in it. As both disks rotated at the same speed, the pictures appeared to move when viewed through the slots in the upper disk.

The first actual photography of motion occurred in 1877 when Eadweard Muybridge made instantaneous still photographs of a running horse. Muybridge set up 24 still cameras in a row alongside a racetrack. Each shutter of each camera was connected to a string. As the horse would run by, it broke each string which tripped the camera shutter exposing that camera's film.

(Eadward Muybridge) (Horse-in-motion still photographs)
Eadward Muybridge The first photographs of motion
Photos courtesy of Michael Linder at

In the late 1800's, the inventors Thomas Armat, Thomas A. Edison, Charles F. Jenkins, and Woodville Lantham of the United States; William Friese Green and Robert W. Paul of Great Britain; and the brothers Louis and Auguste Lumiere, and Etienne Jules Marey of France all made discoveries and advances in developing a device to produce motion pictures. No one knows exactly who was the first to produce and project motion pictures.

Edison began working on a device to make pictures appear to move. Two years after he began, he succeeded in 1889, after Hannibal W. Goodwin, an American clergyman, developed a transparent Celluloid film base. This film was able to be run rapidly through a camera while photographing a series of pictures. Previously, pieces of glass were coated with a film of light sensitive chemicals. Obviously, the glass was a little large and clunky and could not be run rapidly through a motion-picture camera like the flexible Celluloid film. George Eastman, a pioneer in photographic equipment, manufactured the celluloid film.

With this new flexible film, Edison or his assistant William Kennedy Laurie Dickson invented the kinetoscope. It is unknown which one of the two actually invented it. The kinetoscope was a large cabinet which housed 50 feet (15 meters) of film which revolved on spools. A person looking through a peephole in the cabinet would be able to see the moving pictures.

(Thomas Edison with Home Kinetoscope)
Thomas Edison with his Home Kinetoscope (22mm).
Photo courtesy of Michael Rogge at

In 1894, in New York City, London, and Paris, coin-operated kinetoscopes were set up in Kinetoscope Parlors. Even thought these Kinetoscopes were successful, Edison had little hope in motion pictures believing them only to be of passing interest. However, other inventors in the United states and Europe disagreed and went on to develop better motion picture cameras and projectors.

The first motion picture to be publicly projected onto a screen occurred on December 28, 1895 in a Paris cafe. Like most other early filmmakers, the Lumiere brothers showed simple scenes in action at the cafe, there was no story to the film. The motion picture simply relished the idea of capturing vivid motion and projecting it onto a screen. Soon movies were shown in all major European cities.

(Cinematographe Lumiere)
Lumiere Brothers' poster.

Now Edison realized the importance and commercial possibilities of motion pictures. He soon adapted a projector invented by Armat and called it the projecting kinetoscope. Edison presented the first public projected motion pictures at Koster and Bial's Music Hall in New York City on April 23, 1896.

Courtesy Of The Book Motion Pictures:"How MotionPictures Work"

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Red Starr said...

"In reality, the screen is black, when between frames, more often than when it is illuminated with a frame. " I really didn't know that...interesting stuff here! I am a movie them all!

Ash said...

Fantastic post! I really like how your blog often deals with the artistry that goes into making a film.


Kathy said...

Wow, that's a lot of information! Very interesting.

Johnskibeat said...

It reminds me of the scene from Fight Club where Brad Pitt's character cuts in one filthy slide into the filmstrip...
I have such a purile mind!

P.S. I'll have a review of The Bourne Ultimatum by the weekend... it's gonna be a cracker! Drop on by.

Edit Suite 8 Team said...

brilliant post. good read. thanks.

NeoAuteur said...

Very informative! Thanks for sharing.