Cinematography is an art form of filmmaking. Although the exposing of images on light-sensitive elements dates back to the early 19th century,motion pictures demanded a new form of photography and new aesthetic techniques.
On June 19, 1872, Eadweard Muybridge successfully photographed a horse named “Sallie Gardner” in fast motion. The recording used a series of 24 stereoscopic cameras. The cameras were arranged along a track parallel to the horse’s, and each camera shutter was controlled by a trip wire which was triggered by the horse’s hooves. They were 21 inches apart to cover the 20 feet taken by the horse stride, taking pictures at one thousandth of a second. In 1882, French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey invented a chronophotographic gun, which was capable of taking 12 consecutive frames a second, recording all the frames on the same picture.
The results of this work were first shown in public in 1893, using the viewing apparatus also designed by Dickson, and called the Kinetoscope. This was contained within a large box, and only permitted the images to be viewed by one person at a time looking into it through a peephole. It was not a commercial success in this form, and left the way free for Charles Francis Jenkins and his projector, the Phantoscope, with the first showing before an audience in June 1894. Louis and Auguste Lumière perfected the Cinématographe, an apparatus that took, printed, and projected film. They gave their first show of projected pictures to an audience in Paris in December 1895.
The standard pattern for early film studios was provided by the studio which Georges Méliès had built in 1897. This had a glass roof and three glass walls constructed after the model of large studios for still photography, and it was fitted with thin cotton cloths that could be stretched below the roof to diffuse the direct ray of the sun on sunny days. The soft overall light without real shadows that this arrangement produced, and which also exists naturally on lightly overcast days, was to become the basis for film lighting in film studios for the next decade.
Unique among all the one minute long films made by the Edison company, which recorded parts of the acts of variety performers for their Kinetoscope viewing machines, was The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. This showed a person dressed as the queen placing her head on the execution block in front of a small group of bystanders in Elizabethan dress. The executioner brings his axe down, and the queen’s severed head drops onto the ground. This trick was worked by stopping the camera and replacing the actor with a dummy, then restarting the camera before the axe falls. The two pieces of film were then trimmed and cemented together so that the action appeared continuous when the film was shown.
This film was among those exported to Europe with the first Kinetoscope machines in 1895, and was seen by Georges Méliès, who was putting on magic shows in his Theatre Robert-Houdin in Paris at the time. He took up filmmaking in 1896, and after making imitations of other films from Edison, Lumière, and Robert Paul, he made Escamotage d’un dame chez Robert-Houdin (The Vanishing Lady). This film shows a woman being made to vanish by using the same stop motion technique as the earlier Edison film. After this, Georges Méliès made many single shot films using this trick over the next couple of years.