Movies are Magic: Crash Course Film History #1


Hello there! How would you like a ticket to one of
the most influential forms of mass communication
the world has ever known? It’s a universal language that lets us tell
stories about our collective hopes and fears, to make sense of the world and the people
around us. I’m talking about film. You probably figured that out because of the title
of this video, but, yeah, I’m talking about film. This powerful medium sits in a sweet spot
of human culture: at the intersection of art,
industry, technology, and politics. It’s inescapable, like FBI piracy warnings,
and trailers that give away the entire movie. I’m looking at you, Batman v Superman. And also vs Wonder Woman, apparently,
’cause I learned that from the trailer. But before we get to a mouse named Mickey,
a little Tramp, and whether or not Han shot first,
we’re going back to the beginning… In a galaxy far, far–
Well, right here We have to go all the way back to the beginning
because the creation of this cornerstone of
modern entertainment was basically an accident. We owe it all to inventors and artists who
were experimenting with new technologies and trying to capture snippets of reality, to
see the world in a whole new way. I’m Craig Benzine, and this is
Crash Course Film History. Ready? Lights! Camera! Action! Roll the intro now.
We should roll the intro, I think. [Theme Music] The term “film” was first used to describe
a specific technology – a thin, flexible material coated in light-sensitive emulsion
that retains an image after it’s exposed to light. It’s also the end product of that photochemical
process. A film is a movie. But it’s also a verb to describe the
process of capturing moving pictures, as in,
“I’m going to film a movie today.” Or, “Nick is filming me right this very
second.” Or, “I’m gonna film a film on film.” Over time, the original film technology has
switched to analog and digital substitutes – first things like VHS or Beta, and eventually
digital video, like when you record something
on your phone. Now, at the very beginning of its history,
before all these innovations existed, film started out as a collection of still images
viewed one after another in rapid succession,
which creates the illusion of motion. Like what you’re seeing right now! It was a magic trick! And from that trick came an art form that’s
a blend of literature, drama, photography,
and music. So how does this illusion actually work? It all comes down to a couple quirks of human
perception, tricks your eyes play on your brain…
or your brain plays on your eyes… or maybe both. The 19th century British scholar Peter Mark
Roget was the first to describe one of these
tricks, called Persistence of Vision. Basically, this is the phenomenon that keeps
you from seeing the black spaces between the
frames of a projected film. Now, frame can mean a lot of things in film
language, but in this case, it’s what we call one of
the still images that make up a movie. It turns out that if a frame flashes in front
of your eyes, your brain retains that image for
about a fifth of a second after it’s gone. If another frame appears within that fifth
of a second, your brain won’t register the
black space between them. You’ll just perceive the next image. So when a film flashes 24 frames per second
in front of your eyes, your brain doesn’t interpret it as
24 images separated by flashes of black. Instead, it looks like a constant picture. This effect can be combined with another oddity of
perception called the Phi Phenomenon, defined in 1912
by the Czech-born psychologist Max Wertheimer. Incidentally, “oddity of perception” –
my nickname in high school. The Phi Phenomenon is an optical illusion
that lets you see a series of images in rapid
succession as continuous motion. Think of those flip books you played with
as a kid: Take a series of still pictures, shot or drawn
in sequence, flip them quickly before your
eyes and, voilá! The illusion of motion. You have yourself a “motion picture,”
or a “moving picture.” In other words, a moving-picturey. Better yet, a “movie.”
Write that down, that’s what we’re going with. Now, people have been telling stories since
we’ve had language, and they’ve been using pictures
– even animating them – for almost as long. One line of thinking traces “movies” all
the way back to cave paintings in places like
Chauvet, France or El Castillo, Spain. You know – those images of animals, trees,
and human figures, painted on stone walls
as far back as 32,000 years ago. Scientists think the original artists might
have used flickering torchlight to make them
appear to move. Fast forward to just 5000 years ago, and we find
people inventing more sophisticated devices to
create that same illusion of motion. Among these pre-film animation tools,
the ones we’re most familiar with are called
zoetropes. Think of these as a bowl or a deep cylinder
with sequential images painted on the inside
and small slits or windows cut into the edges. Spin the bowl and peer through the slits and
– thanks to Persistence of Vision and the Phi
Phenomenon – the pictures seem to move. Oooh! Over the centuries, these devices came in
lots of different forms and just as many names:
phenakistoscopes, stroboscopes, stereoscopes… All kinds of ‘scopes. But not Scope,
the mouthwash – that’s something else. And for a long, long time, this is as close
as we ever got to film. Until photography came along. Now, it’s important to remember that no one
set out to invent movies. There was no one mastermind, and no
grand plan to revolutionize communication
or art on a global scale. If I was around, it would’ve been me,
but there wasn’t anyone. Instead, film as we know it today exists
because of a series of happy accidents, technical
innovations, and scientific byproducts. ‘Cause really, at the beginning, nobody
knew what they were doing. Just like now! I’m lookin’ at you, Batman v Superman. Photography came about in the early-to-mid-19th
century, at a time of great scientific and artistic innovation. People of means all over the world were tinkering
in their spare time, playing around with technology and seeing what they could create, combine,
augment, or transform. Before the photograph was invented, people
were isolating images of the world around
them with devices like the camera obscura. From the Latin meaning “dark chamber,”
a camera obscura is essentially a box, tent, or room with a lens or pinhole in one end,
and a reflective surface like a mirror at the other. Light travels through the hole and displays
an inverted image on the mirror. Like most of these pre-photography technologies, the camera obscura was mostly a novelty, a toy, or sometimes a tool that let artists create images to study or trace. As the 19th century dawned, folks started
playing around with photosensitive chemicals, to figure out their properties while trying
not to melt themselves with acid. Which we should all try to do, in practice. In the 1820s, a French inventor named Joseph
Nicéphore Niépce took the first known camera
photograph. He called it “View from the Window at Le
Gras.” Niépce used a camera obscura to project an image
onto a pewter plate coated in a light-sensitive chemical. The areas of the chemical that were hit
with the brightest light hardened, but the areas
touched by weaker light could be washed away, so a crude permanent record of the original image survived. Scientists now believe it took a couple days
of exposing the plate to light for the image
to finally show up. So we’re still a long way from movies! But we’re getting closer.
Get excited. Louis Daguerre – another Frenchman, and
a close buddy of Niépce – was able to shorten
the exposure time to just a couple of minutes. His daguerreotype process became the first
commercially-available, mass-market means
of taking photographs in 1839. And this is usually considered to be
photography’s birthday. Hooray!
Happy birthday– But hold on, the daguerreotype still had a
few problems to work out: the photographs were pretty fragile, they weren’t easy
to replicate, and the chemicals were, shall we say, toxic. Along came George Eastman, an American entrepreneur and the founder of Eastman Kodak, who invented a way of taking pictures on paper, rather than metal or glass plates. This method also didn’t need as many chemicals,
which probably saved a lot of snap-happy inventors
from health problems. Now photography was off to the races. Literally. So let’s go to the Thought Bubble and see
how photographs were used to pause time and
take a closer look at movement. Take it away, Thought Bubble! Well, I–
I will take it– I’m gonna narrate, so… In 1872, Leland Stanford, the former governor
of California and a horse race aficionado, made a bet with another bigwig that a horse
at full gallop raises all four hooves off the ground
at some point. To settle the bet, Stanford commissioned a
photographer and inventor named Eadweard Muybridge
to find photographic proof. So, Muybridge set up twelve cameras along
a racetrack, each triggered by a tripwire to capture
a still image of a horse in motion. His set of twelve photos was something brand
new: rapid motion broken down into frozen,
studiable moments. Spoiler alert – Governor Stanford
won his bet! There were a couple images where that horse
wasn’t touching the ground at all. Muybridge’s experiment launched a wave
of “motion studies,” as photographers and inventors all over the world
began using these new technologies to break down
continuous motion into individual images. And that was one giant step closer to motion
pictures. Thanks Thought Bubble!
You’re so great! One of those photographers was yet another
Frenchman – a man named Étienne-Jules Marey, whose training in physiology led him to
capture motion studies of birds in flight
and human athletes in action. Instead of tripwires like Muybridge, Marey invented
what he called a chronophotographic gun (awesome) and switched from sheets of photographic paper
to rolls, allowing him to take bursts of photographs
– 12 per second. Even with all these increasingly-fancy techniques,
it’s important to note that these were still just
series of photographs. Motion studies were sometimes projected,
using devices like Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope,
but nobody was trying to make movies yet. So, the world was boring. Each of these innovations set up Thomas Edison and a scientist who worked for him named W.K.L. Dickson to invent the kinetograph – the world’s first motion picture film camera. And they, in turn, paved the way for the first
filmmakers to experiment with motion picture
technologies and storytelling. We mentioned earlier that film is an illusion,
but it’s an illusion that’s carefully crafted by people
who want to show a specific point of view. With aesthetic choices – from shot angle
and shot size to lens type and lighting style and how much hair you put on a wookie –
filmmakers can further affect how we, as an
audience, interpret reality. In a real sense, film wasn’t invented,
it was stumbled upon. A series of happy accidents eventually led
us to Citizen Kane, Grand Illusion, Black Girl,
and the experimental works of Stan Brackage. Not to mention, things like The Wizard of Oz,
Raiders of the Lost Ark, Captain America: Civil War,
and Sharknado! There’s a whole world of film out there
to discover, and there’s a lot that film can
help you discover about yourself too. And that’s the story we’ll continue, next
time we meet. Today we talked about how film is a sort of
magic trick, thanks to the ways our eyes and
brains work. Thank you eyes and brains! We introduced the very, very beginnings of
film, when people started using sequential
images to tell stories. We discussed photography as a huge technological
leap forward, since chemicals and light could capture images and break down fast-moving
reality like never before. And next time, we’ll learn about the very
first motion picture cameras, and the start
of movies as we know them now. Crash Course Film History is produced in association
with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel to check
out a playlist of their latest amazing shows, like BBQ With Franklin, PBS Off Book, and
Indy Alaska. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in
the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these nice phenakistoscopes
and our amazing graphics team, is Thought Cafe.

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