Charles-Emile Reynaud: The Praxinoscope

Charles-Emile Reynaud (1844 – 1918) was a Frenchman, who developed a technical understanding of visual science as photographer’s apprentice.

In 1877, he developed the praxinoscope – the successor to the zoetrope. It used a strip of pictures placed around the inner surface of a spinning cylinder. The praxinoscope improved on the zoetrope by replacing its narrow viewing slits with an inner circle of mirrors, placed so that the reflections of the pictures appeared more or less stationary in position as the wheel turned. Someone looking in the mirrors would therefore see a rapid succession of images producing the illusion of motion, with a brighter and less distorted picture than the zoetrope offered, as with the zoetrop one would have to peep through the spinning slits.



In 1888, Reynaud demonstrated the device he called Theatre Optique to a small audience, by showing his own, hand painted film called ‘Un bon bock (A good beer). Operating the Optique was considered a complex task, which in turn dissuaded potential buyers. In 1982, Reynaud settled on a contract with the Grevin Wax Museum in Paris, which would see him perform daily screenings, produce regular new films and give away the exclusive rights for his new machine. In 1900, he closed his Theatre Optique, and sunk into depression due to the advancement in  technology at the time (Lumiere Brothers). He destroyed his machines, and threw his hand painted shorts into the river Seine, He died in poverty in 1918.

Here’s Pauvre Pierrot (1892) – one of the first animated shorts ever made.


Eadweard Muybridge: Stop-action photographs or sequential photographs (1877)

Eadweard Muybridge was an Englishman, born in Kingston upon Thames in 1830, but immigrated to the United States of America as a young man. He remained obscure until 1868 when his large photographs of Yosemite Valley, California made him world-famous.

In 1872, the former governor of California, Leland Stanford had taken a position on a  popularly debated question of the day; whether all four feet of a horse were off the ground at the same time while trotting and during a gallop? Stanford sided with the assertion of “unsupported transit” in the trot and gallop, and decided to have it proven scientifically.

Stanford hired Muybridge to settle the debate, and in 1872 Muybridge produced a single photographic negative showing a horse airborne on a trot – settling the question.

By 1878, spurred on by Stanford to expand the experiments, Muybridge had successfully photographed a horse at a trot. He photographed the first ever ‘sequential photographs’  which is now the iconic images in which became Muybridge’s life work:

Eadweard Muybridge: 'The Horse in Motion'

Eadweard Muybridge: ‘The Horse in Motion’

In order to create these first sequential photographs, Muybridge placed 12 stereoscopic cameras in a line along the edge of the track; the shutter of each was triggered by a thread (a trip wire) as the horse passed. The path was lined with cloth sheets to reflect as much light as possible. He copied the images in the form of silhouettes onto a disc to be viewed in a machine he had invented, which he called a zoopraxiscope. This device was later regarded as an early movie projector, and the process as an intermediate stage toward motion pictures or cinematography.

The project became Muybridge’s life work, as he went on to produce a wealth of sequential photographs, by photographing anything he could think, animals and human performing a huge variety of different movements and actions.

An agreed definition of animation would be; ‘single-frame images viewed in rapid succession by some form of mechanism, to crate an illusion of movement’, therefore, combining his sequential photographs and his zoopraxiscope, the first form of animation was born.

Galloping horse, animated in 2006, using photos by Eadweard Muybridge.

Galloping horse, animated in 2006, using photos by Eadweard Muybridge.

Here’s a link to an Eadweard Muybridge’s Online Archive: