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The Dream Factory – 100 Years of Cinema in India by HK Verma – Chapter 1

December 27, 2012

The Begining

Man has always been obsessed with the idea of showing his world in motion.

Twenty five thousands years ago, a painter drew a many legged boar on the wall of a cave in Altamira, in Spain, in trying to capture this illusion, and so did another artist in the Welsh caves. The desire to produce a picture of the world around him has occupied man for many hundred of years. Movement has played an important part in these attempts.

The earliest forms of artificially produced moving image took the form of shadows cast by a fire or lamp on to some sort of screen-the Chinese shadow plays are an example. With the invention of the magic lantern, a further advance was made with the use of articulated metal figures and painted transparencies which could be projected on a screen and given a semblance of motion. These slides, operated by levers and gears, were in use throughout the nineteenth century and at some selected places even now.

Animated by a similar desire, The Egyptian Pharoah, more than three thousand years ago, had statues placed between massive columns. These statues, as they progressed from the first to the last, were carved so that one arm was gradually rising from the side upto full salute and then back down to the side position. The Pharoah, riding past, could see through the illusion of motion what appeared to be the statues’ salute to him, perhaps the first and the most expensive example animation in history.

In India too, some ten centuries ago the sculptors in Khajuraho and artists in the caves of Ajanta and Ellora were trying to capture the fleeting gestures of classical dancers and musicians.

In the centuries that followed, there came the Zoetrope or as WG Horner called it, the ‘what of life’. The device was a revolving drum with slots along with its outer edge. Drawings were designed to show different phases or subjects in action placed inside the drum opposite the slots. By rotating the drum, viewing through the slots, the drawings merged into an illusion of motion.

So persistent a desire was bound in the end to force an answer, that when it came, it proved to be one of the major products of the scientific explosion of the second half of the ninteenth century. In 1878, Edward J Muybridge set up 24 wet plate cameras along a race track with strings stretched across the track. A horse running down the track, breaking each string, produced twenty four consecutive photographs. The results, when seen on an improvised model of Zeetrope, created a perfect illusion of the horse running. This in fact was the first ever attempt to capture motion photographically.

Fundamental Development: The motion pictures are based on the phenomenon of persistence of vision-in which the eye retains the image of an object for a fraction of a second after the object is removed, an effect recognized since the days of Ptolemy. In December, 1824, PM Roget carried out the first experiments showing the principles behind this phenomenon. JA Paris introduced a toy-the Thaumatrope-in 1826 which, by the rapid rotation of a card held between two threads, enabled the eye to superimpose (by persistence of vision) the images on both faces at once-a bird and a cage, a horse and rider, and so on. Early Animation Experiments

It was JA Plateau in 1829 who laid down the theory of persistence of vision. On the basis of this work, he constructed in 1833 the Phenakistiscope-consisting of a circular card with a series of images drawn on its face, and a number of apertures around its circumference; when rotated on its axis and viewed through the apertures in a mirror, the drawings appeared to move. Simultaneously, SR Von Stampfer invented a very similar instrument, the Stroboscope, WG Horner in 1834 devised a cylindrical form, known by him as the Daedateum, popularized in later years as the Zoetrope. Miniature forms were made by Molteni and others for projection with the magic lantern, using glass image‑bearing discs with rotating shutters on the same axis-the shutter rotating ten times for every rotation of the picture disc.

An important modification of this system was made by Molteni, and adapted by Beale in his Choreutoscope; instead of rotating continuously, the picture disc was moved intermittently by a form of Maltese cross mechanism, one picture for each revolution of the shutter; the efficiency of the system was thus greatly increased. This was the first use of an intermittent mechanism in the production of moving pictures.

In 1877 Emile Reynaud produced the Praxinoscope, a form of Zoetrope in which a cylindrical band of drawn images was viewed, not directly, but as a virtual image in a twelve‑sided mirror drum in the centre of the cylinder. The results were of a very much higher quality than those of the conventional Zoetrope.

Reynaud patented in 1888 a projection Praxinoscope in which a transparent, flexible band with perforation holes was transported by a drum carrying pins engaging in the perforations; this formed the basis for his Theatre Optique which gave public performances from 1892 until 1900, each film being drawn and coloured by Reynaud.

Photographic Experiments: Although photography had been an accomplished fact since the 1830’s, it was not until after the invention of the wet collodion plate that instantaneous photography became possible. TH DuMont in 1861 and W Donisthorpe in 1876 among other proposed means of exposing plates in rapid succession, the resulting negatives being printed for viewing in a Zoetrope,

Chronophotography-the use of instantaneous photographs take at regular intervals for the study of movement-gave a tremendous impetus to the development of the motion picture. The first apparatus was made by Janssen, and called the astronomical revolver, being used to record the transit of Venus across the sun in 1874. Edward Muybridge, working in California, started a series of experiments in 1878 using a battery of cameras exposing in rapid succession. He thus obtained photographs of successive phases of men and animals in motion; these results could be viewed in a Zoetrope, or projected on a screen by a modified form of Praxinoscope.

EJ Marey, in France, constructed in 1882 the photographic gun, taking a circular plate on which 12 exposures were made successively by a rotating shutter, the plate being moved intermittently between exposures by a clock mechanism. It was used to take the flight of birds and can with justification be described as a close forerunner of the cine camera. During the same period, A Londe in France was working with a multiple lens apparatus and O Anschutz in Germany used batteries of cameras similar to those of Muybridge.

Basic Improvements: After the introduction of celluloid by the brothers Hyatt in 1869, all was ready for final inventions which were to introduce the arrival of cinematography as we know it today. LAALe Prince patented in 1888 a multiple lens camera and projector; in 1889, W. Friese‑Greene and M. Evans patented a design for a camera with an intermittent mechanism using flexible transparent film, while in the same year Donisthorpe and WC Crofts patented a camera and projector for film. Marey in 1887 had constructed a camera taking paper rolls 9 cm. wide and 2 meters in length, which he used with some success in the study of animal movement.

Progress was now rapid. Thomas Edison, using film 35 mm. wide supplied by George Eastman Kodak, produced in 1889 his Kinetograph camera; the film was perforated with four rectangular perforations to each ¾ x 1 in. frame. The Kinetoscope for viewing these films was produced in 1891, and marketed in 1893; it had an immediate success. It was, however, only a coin‑operated peepshow for individual viewing-projection had yet to be satisfactorily achieved.

The turning point in the history of cinematography came in 1895: Two brothers Louis and Auguste Lumiere, in the year after the appearance of the Kinetoscope in France, produced their Cinematographe-a combined camera, printer and projector, using for the first time a form of claw mechanism to transport the film. This apparatus, readily portable and easy to use, was used to give public demonstrations at the Grand Cafe, Paris, on the 28th December 1895; it was subsequently used, with payment for admission, for a long period. The age of the motion picture had arrived.

At the same time, quite independently, the work of other inventors in several countries bore fruit, among them W Latham, T Armat and CF Jenkins in the United States, RWPaul and Birt Acres in Britain, M Skladanowskyin Germany and G Demeny and H Joly in France. Inventions were patented and apparatus sold in vast numbers in the few years following 1895. In 1899, a contemporary writer listed over 50 devices commonly advertised, ranging from the Anarithmoscope to the Zeoptrotrope.

As the industry grew, standardization became more and more essential; in 1909 an international conference decided to adopt the Edison perforation and film width as standard. It has remained so with minor modifications until the present day. The Maltese cross mechanism, operating intermittently a sprocket wheel below the gate, became employed almost universally in projector design, while a claw mechanism was used in cameras.

Detailed Improvements: There has been relatively little change in the mechanical principles of camera and projector design in recent years; in details the apparatus has been immensely improved, however. An important advance in camera design was the introduction of the registration pins which, inserted into perforations while the film is being exposed, result in much more steady picture. The first British patent to cover the use of this device was issued to TH Blair in 1896.

Proceeding concurrently with the development of cameras and projectors has been the invention and elaboration of the ancillary apparatus: printers, processing machines, perforators, film stock-all of which, by their many improvements, have added to the high technical quality of modern film production.

Sub‑Standard Cinematography: The 35 mm. film width was adopted as a standard very early in the development of cinematography, but for reasons of economy or convenience a number of film widths narrower than this have been employed-principally for amateur use. One of the first to use narrow gauge film was the British pioneer, Birt Acres, who used in his Birtac camera 17. 5 mm. film formed by splitting standard stock down the middle.

One of the earliest amateur cine cameras was the Biokam, 1899, which used 17. 5 mm. stock with one perforation between each frame. Pathe introduced in 1912 the Pathe‑KOK projector, hand operated with a built‑in generator for illumination; this took 28 mm. film on a safety base, the films being reduction prints from Pathe 35 mm. productions.

Amateur cinematography can be said to have begun, however, in 1923: the Eastman Kodak Company produced the first 16 mm. reversal safety film, and Victor and Bell Howell introduced suitable cameras and projectors. In the same year Pathe introduced the 9. 5 mm. gauge, and with 16 mm. and 8 mm. , these are the principal sub‑standard films in use today. Colour films are now available in all three sizes, and optical sound films in 16 mm. and 9. 5 mm.

Equipment for the production of stereoscopic and wide‑screen films, including anamorphic lens systems, is becoming available for 16 mm use. Originally intended for amateur use, 16 mm. is used to an increasing extent by professional film producers for publicity, educational and propaganda films, while some films have been enlarged to 35mm for commercial distribution with great success.


From → Hindi Cinema

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