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Film technology through the ages

Film technology through the ages


There’s no doubt that technology has come a long way since people started to produce moving images in the 1830s.

From the very first projection of moving pictures, to the drones that we use to film today, let’s take a look at some of the most important advances in film and cinema history.

First motion pictures – 1880s

Taking away the precursors to the moving image, inventors throughout the late 19th century began experimenting with moving images and the first motion picture camera was invented by Louis La Prince in the 1880s while working in Leeds.

After much experimentation with both lenses and film in May 1887, Le Prince developed and patented the first single-lensed motion picture camera.

There he filmed the world’s earliest known motion picture on film, Roundhay Garden Scene, filmed in Roundhay, Leeds.

Prince also filmed other areas of Leeds, including shots on Leeds Bridge using celluloid film.

He is now regarded as the father of motion pictures.

The dawn of commercial cinema – 1900s

Before long moving image shows began to appear in theatres throughout Europe.

The first featured an Eidoloscope devised by Eugene Augustin Lauste and opened to a paying public on May 1895 in a lower Broadway store.

The film featured a prize boxing fight and was the world’s first commercial projection.

Back in the UK, technology began to progress, with Robert W. Paul and Birt Acres, both developing their own influential systems for projecting moving images on screens.

By 1896 the Edison Company came to the conclusion that money could be made from motion pictures, and by the late 1890s, the first motion picture companies were established both in Europe and the US.

The first cinemas are established – 1900s

Initially the first motions picture showings were put on in theatres and music halls and they were viewed as a novelty by the public.

The very first movie theatres, which dedicated themselves primarily to motion pictures, were established by the turn of the century and were soon spoken of as ‘cinemas’.

However, it would not be until the late 1920s when the first synchronised dialogue was made practical.

Although the idea of matching pictures with sound had been around since the very start of motion picture production, it was not until the invention of the Audion amplifier tube and the introduction of the Vitaphone system that this became viable.

Sometimes an orchestra would play to accompany films in particularly large cinemas.

Sound is introduced – 1920s

The first projected sound films actually took place in Paris in 1990, but as already mentioned, the state of technology rendered the process unviable.

The first feature film presented as a ‘talkie’ would not be released for another 27 years. A major hit, The Jazz Singer set the precedent for sound systems and thus began the decline of the silent era of film.

By the 1930s talkies were a global phenomenon and triggered the commercial success of Hollywood, establishing it as the centre point of world cinema.

Technicolor – 1920s

Like sound, colour film had been undergoing experiment long before it was established. From 1915 additive colour systems were used to add colour components to film.

In fact, Cupid Angling (1918) is viewed as the first colour feature-length film, despite only 12 per cent of American films being made in colour as late as 1947.

By 1954 however, that number rose to well over 50 per cent thanks to the breakup of Technicolor’s monopoly on the market.

The digital era commences – 1980s

Unlike other developments in film history, the digital era achieved mainstream recognition relatively quickly, largely thanks to Sony HDVS professional video cameras.

Rainbow (1996) starring Bob Hoskins and Dan Aykroyd was the world’s first digital film and by 1998, digital cinematography began to gain serious traction.

By the turn of the millennium a range of companies began offering digital cameras for shooting high-definition video.

In 2009 Slumdog Millionaire became the first film shot mainly in digital to be awarded the Academy Award for Best Cinematography, and by 2013, The Wolf of Wall Street was the first major film to be distributed entirely digitally.

Here come the drones – 2014

In 2014 the FFA granted waivers to Hollywood production companies to allow drones during productions.

Some of the first drone filming took place in December 2014 for the series The Mentalist.

In 2016 the FFA introduced more positive rules for drone filming in built up areas. Films such as Avengers: Age of Ultron soon took advantage of this and used drone videography throughout its production.

Take a look at our blog about Hollywood and the introduction of drones for more information.

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