Making images move
- Peter Mark Roget (1779 – 1869)
- Joseph Plateau (1801 – 1883)
- Emile Reynaud (1844 – 1918)
- Roget’s thesis: 1824
- Thaumatrope: 1826
- Phenakistiscope: 1829
- Zoetrope: 1834
- Praxinoscope: 1878 and the Theatre Optique in1882
- Flip book or kinograph: 1868
As we are completely surrounded by media today from around the world, instantaneously, all the time, it is challenging to imagine that, at one time, many of the things we take for granted now were not part of daily life. There was a time when things like hand-held devices, computers, digital games, television, film – and animation – had not been invented.
Animation or motion pictures were not simply “invented,” nor did animation come from a clear evolution. Its development is from a combination of many elements; disparate pieces that eventually came together. The main areas were:
- Research with the “Persistence of Vision”
- The development of cameras and photography
- The evolution of projectors and film
PERSISTENCE OF VISION
The Persistence of Vision is a phenomenon that was first observed by Ptolemy, a Greek scientist and philosopher. He lived in Egypt in 130 AD. Apparently, late one night, as he watched several guards patrol in the darkness, he observed their lamps swinging back and forth as they walked. He noticed that, as the lamps moved, a path of light left an impression in his vision; that is, their motion paths “persisted,” remaining in his sight for several moments.
Other scientists are known to have observed the same phenomenon, like Chevalier d’Arcy in 1765. He whirled hot coal on the end of a rope and remarked that the glowing ember remained visible for about one-tenth of a second. On further observation, he commented that, in order for the illusion to work, the action had to be followed by moments of darkness. For instance, he had to close his eyes or look away to notice the persisting image.
This phenomenon came to be known as the “Persistence of Vision:” a property in the human system of vision, humans retain a fading sense of a visual impression for a fraction of a second (after the source of the impression has actually gone away or has been removed).
It is because of the Persistence of Vision that we are able to experience certain illusions. For example:
- If you were to look at a light flashing every tenth of a second, you would perceive the intermittent flashes as a continuous light, rather than a light that is being interrupted.
- Consequently, if a series of individual still pictures are presented to you in rapid succession, they would seem to blend together into a single continuous image. If the still pictures depicted a progressive phases of a movement, the sequence would seem like a continuously moving image, and not a rapid succession of still pictures (which they really are).
- Therefore, we rely on the Persistence of Vision in order to make motion pictures work.
We have now come to understand that, in addition to physiological conditions and sensory receptors in the human eye and brain, there are perceptual processing and encoding at play, with sensory and short-term memory, and patterns of perception and thought. Such aspects help to create the illusion of motion.
PETER MARK ROGET
Peter Roget was a very important figure in the understanding of the Persistence of Vision. Not only did he bring us the thesaurus, yup, he is that Roget, but he also wrote the definitive academic paper that initialized the craft of making moving pictures.
In 1824, he published a research paper for the British Royal Society, “Persistence of Vision with Regard to Moving Objects.” It was based on research that he did where he spun a spoked wheel behind a shield that had vertical slots cut in it for viewing. The slots on the shield allowed a viewer to see only one spoke at a time as the wheel turned.
From these observations, Roget stated four basic principles that related to the phenomenon:
- A viewer’s vision must be restricted, focusing on one area or series of pictures at a time.
- The eye will then blur many images into one image.
- A certain minimum speed of presentation is required to produce this blurring effect.
- A significant amount of light is essential in creating a convincing continuous image.
To summarize, Roget said that if a series of sequential images were presented rapidly enough with sufficient illumination, the human eye will blend the series into a single motion. Although, in order for the effect to work, the images must be interrupted regularly.
Subsequently, Roget’s findings led to the development by others of a wide array of optical toys.
The first optical toy to rely on the Persistence of Vision was “thaumatrope,” which was invented by John Ayrton Paris in 1825.
The device has also been attributed to Sir John Herschel, Charles Babbage, Dr. William Fitton, and Dr. William Wollaston.
The thaumatrope consisted of a single image on both sides of a disk, with a string on two ends.
By spinning the disk on its tight string, the two images seem to merge. For example, if a bird is drawn as a high-contrast image on one side of the disk and a cage on the other, upside-down when the disk is twirled, the bird will appear to be inside the cage.
Joseph Plateau invented an adaptation of the thaumatrope, the “phenakistiscope” in 1829.
Plateau was a Belgian artist and scientist. His doctoral thesis, “On Certain Properties of the Impressions Produced by Light upon the Organ of Sight,” was influenced by Roget’s thesis.
He drew a series of 16 drawings on the perimeter of a disk, each representing gradually changing phases of a figure or object in motion. Each drawing was located between two slits. When a person spun the disk in front of a mirror, and, while peering through the rapidly moving slits to view the reflection of the successive images, the pictures would seem to blend together and give the impression of a single continuous action.
Similar to what would later develop as film cameras and projectors, the disk’s cardboard backing acted as a “shutter” and the slits behaved like an “aperture,” to provide the necessary interruptions required for the human eye to perceive sequential images as movement.
Because of his work, Plateau is considered to be the first animator.
He was best known as a physicist, but also as an artist. His father was a landscape and flower painter and enrolled his son into the Academy of Design in Brussels. His parents died when he was 14 and he was left under the care of his uncle, who felt that Joseph should become a scientist. Nonetheless, he continued to pursue art alongside science. The two disciplines complemented each other, proving to be an excellent combination for his research of vision.
On January 20, 1833, his invention was announced as the “phenakistiscope” or “fantascope.” In July of that year, Rudolph Ackermann, a fashionable London publisher, put the disks on the market. It was called the “phantasmascope,” designed by Professor Plateau of Brussels
The objects were simple. The first disk showed a dancer spinning in a pirouette.
He later discovered that figures in motion did not have to remain in one spot. They could move across what we now call the “frame.”
On other disks, he achieved startling three-dimensional illusions, like a simple spiral of colored circles that grew larger as they approached the outer edge of the disk. Some images gave a psychedelic impression of balls that changed color as they emerged from the center of the disk.
Tragically, Dr. Plateau spent the last 40 years of his life blind. The condition developed because of gazing at the sun while conducting his optical experiments in the 1820’s.
Following Professor Plateau and the phenakistiscope, a wide range of new entertainment devices based on the persistence of vision appeared, and most of them used a slotted disk. In 1898, there were said to be 109 scopes seen in Paris, London, and Brussels, ranging from the animatoscope to the zoetrope.
In 1834, William George Hoener first proposed the “daedalum,” or “Wheel of the Devil.” The idea is not taken seriously until 1867, when Hoener developed a newer version, the “zoetrope,” or Wheel of Life (zoe, or zoo is Greek for “animal of life;” trope is “things that turn”).
It was an improvement on the phenakistiscope because several people could view the movement at one time.
Supposedly invented by an anonymous American during the Civil War, the “kinograph” appeared in 1868.
It was a variation of it was the “filoscope,” which was patented in 1896. It used a lever to make flipping the pages easier.
Emile Reynaud invented the “Praxiniscope Theatre” in 1878. It used a zoetrope drum with mirrors to project moving images.
The ” Theatre Optique” opened in Paris in 1882, where Reynaud projected hand-painted images on a screen before an audience.
LIMITS OF OPTICAL TOYS
In class, you made a thaumatrope. The device is limited, as two images blend into one. Animation does not occur with a thaumatrope.
On the other hand, it was possible to produce magnificent animation with a phenakistiscope, with 12 or 16 images to make a sequence. The area that you draw within is quite small though.
The zoetrope provides a larger “frame” for images, but again, you are limited to working with only a dozen or so images.
Undoubtedly, you have noticed the obvious effects that the shutter makes, causing poor image quality. Looking through the slots, the cardboard intermittently blocks the view. To compensate for this visual noise, you had to design the images as bold, dark lines, using simple and recognizable shapes.