• Movies and their Magic – The Motion Pictures

By Knowledge Tribe

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Have you watched Tom and Jerry or Mickey Mouse? Have you ever thought about how the animated characters are given the effect of motion? It’s the art of animation and technique of ‘Motion Pictures’.

Motion Pictures is basically a series of pictures projected on a screen rapidly one after another, in order to give the appearance of a continuous picture in which the objects move.

Intriguing concept and I am sure most of us are grateful for it, but who was the first person to dream up such a thing and invent the motion pictures projector?

This gentleman was named Charles Francis Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins, born on 22 August, 1867, was a stenographer by profession. He worked for the Federal Government in Washington D.C.

In his free time, Jenkins fancied himself as an inventor and tried to develop a motion picture projector, in 1891. By 1892, he had succeeded in developing a machine, named ‘Phantoscope’, which could project small moving pictures on a wall or a screen. However, the drawback of the machine was that the pictures were too small to be viewed by a large audience. It was therefore, regarded as a peepshow and not a projector.

Instead of a shutter, the Phantoscope used moving light bulbs and multiple rotating lenses, coordinated with continuously moving film. A striking feature of the Phantoscope was the film perforations, without which the machine would have defeated the purpose of being a projection device.

Attempting to overcome the drawbacks of his machine, Jenkins left his job as a stenographer and entered into a business relationship with Thomas Armat. The joint effort of the two men improved the earlier model of the Phantoscope. They abandoned the projection experiments with continuously-moving film and multiple lenses, and tried a mutilated gear mechanism instead. Armat sketched out an idea for a valve arrangement to move the film, spurring Jenkins to recuperate an arrangement that he claimed to have fiddled with previously – the unconventional gear, or 'beater' movement. The beater-movement projector proved technically feasible, though unreliable.

The two inventors unveiled their re-modelled projector at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia, in September 1895. The two men projected their films into two small rooms simultaneously from a single projection booth. Many historians believe that Jenkins and Armat also developed the movie theater to show their films at the Cotton States Exposition.

Jenkins's and Armat's relationship deteriorated in the aftermath of the successful unveiling of the re-modelled Phantoscope. In October 1895, Jenkins filed a patent for the Phantoscope, claiming that he was the sole inventor, although an earlier patent claimed that Jenkins and Armat were joint presenters. The U.S. Patent Office granted Jenkins and Armat the patent, rejecting Jenkins's claim as the sole genius. He entered into an agreement with the Columbia Phonograph Company to manufacture the Phantoscope. In the meantime, Armat began negotiations to sell the Phantoscope patent to Thomas Alva Edison. Eventually, Jenkins sold his rights of the Phantoscope to Armat, who in turn sold his rights to Edison, causing many people to credit Edison with the invention of the motion picture projector. Mr. Edison renamed it as ‘Edison’s Vitascope’. Jenkins remained involved in the motion picture industry, helping in establishing and later, serving as the first President of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers in 1916.

Over the course of his life, Jenkins received more than four hundred patents. Many of these patents were in the fields of motion pictures and television, but Jenkins also made numerous other contributions to society with his inventions.

What began as an experience limited to a one-person audience, quickly turned into a form of theatrical entertainment viewed by large numbers of people simultaneously, thanks to the advent of motion-picture projection. By the end of the 20th century, new technologies had made possible a wide-variety of viewing options, ranging from the solitary spectator to audiences of thousands in a single space or of millions, over many venues.

The motion picture boomed in the first half of the 20th century as a mass medium. Attending motion pictures became a social experience which was shared among friends, or among an audience of strangers. Although the physical setting was similar to live events such as a stage or concert performances, vital differences arose in the inclination towards viewing of mechanically reproduced images rather than living persons. Motion-picture audiences were more informal in dress and conduct. Eating and drinking during screenings became common; indeed, the sale of items such as popcorn and soft drinks proved more lucrative to many than just box-office admissions. Consecutive repeat showings permitted patrons to enter and leave in the middle of programmes.

It exists today in styles that differ significantly from country to country and in forms as diverse as the documentary created by one person with a handheld camera and the multimillion-dollar epic involving hundreds of performers and technicians.


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