It is often said that discoveries hardly ever start with individuals concerned in the subject matter. This is certainly true in the case of motion pictures. Eadweard Muybridge, a book-seller turned photographer, developed the first projected live-action images with the use of his zoopraxiscope. Starting with a curiosity in motion, triggered mainly by his sponsor, Leland Stanford, Muybridge created for himself a career (both artistic and scientific) in analysing the minutiae behind movement.
Unlike Le Prince and Dickson, both technologists in the sphere of creating apparatuses that record moving images, Muybridge used pre-existing cameras to take multiple pictures which then could be assembled separately to create the illusion of movement. In essence, he has not invented motion pictures. However, what he had achieved was the materialisation of the thought process of how live-action images need to be projected to ensure continuity.
The magic lantern shows, which were rather popular in mid-1800s, did hint at the fact that in order to re-create movement one has to arrange a series of related images in chronological order and replace them at a very high speed. But, in order to produce the right sequence, there was no-one as keen in painting a large number of images that varied little, and certainly there were no photographers that could take as many pictures of essentially a static object that ‘moved’ very slowly. Moreover, the key ingredient was that few truly understood movement in detail to even create the right images. With hefty sponsorship, the experiment allowed Muybridge to shoot the right sequence of photographs. Once he has seen the result of each photograph, he then had access for the first time in observing the changes a body requires to undertake in order to move, changes that can hardly be observed by the naked human eye. Since his zoopraxiscope could only function at the speed of a human arm, the next step was to understand that to re-create the moving image one had to elongate each photograph. Watching these essentially distorted pictures at a speed lower than the action of taking them has proved that the illusion of motion is the only ingredient required in making films.
After the Lumière brothers projected their The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (L'arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat | 1896), Eadweard Muybridge lamented on the fact that people have forgotten his invention eighteen years earlier. His cravings for commercial success, as well as the slight megalomaniac tendencies, have both played a key role in the refusal on his part to accept that true motion pictures required both a single point of view as well as clear photographs that showed reality as we know it. The stylised clinical setting of his ‘films’ did little to convince audiences that these were true reproductions of reality. In time, the public accepted them as such, but by then the film industry was providing far more intriguing productions to even allow Muybridge’s work to be considered as anything more than just early experiments in motion.