The String's the Thing - the Birth of Movies

Scientfic curiosity gives birth to moving images.
In film history, we hear a fair amount about the French Lumiere brothers and George Meliès for their pioneering work in motion picture film. But for me, the original hero of movies was master photographer Eadweard Muybridge of California. His still photography of Yosemite National Park have stood the test of time. Yet the real master stroke of his career came when he was asked by a client to help him clarify an important question about the stages of a horse's gait while galloping: is there any moment in which all four hooves are off the ground?

To find out, Muybridge had a rider gallop a horse down a straight track lined on one side with evenly spaced cameras to take a shot of the horse as it passed each camera. Did he have a person at each camera on the ready to snap the picture? Certainly not - that would be too imprecise. Instead, he ran fine strings from each camera's shutter arm across the track so that the horse's hooves would break the string and trigger the taking of the picture. The answer to the "flying horse" question is answered by looking at Muybridge's photos above. Muybridge, focused purely on a question of motion using pictures, did nothing further with this application except to apply it to the gaits of other animals such as buffalos. However, a magical spark was ignited, and he inadvertently gave birth to a technology and art form that have mesmerized us for over a hundred years.

Watch an animation of
Muybridge's photos here.
by Eric Pomert signup
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