Motion Pictures

Earliest Motion Pictures

miss larrigan dancingThe earliest motion pictures were made by taking a series of photographs with still cameras and displaying them sequentially. The photographic cameras were bulky and used rigid plates coated with a light-sensitive material. From 1872 to 1887, Eadweard Muybridge combined art and science to use a system of multiple cameras and lenses to obtain photographic sequences showing human and animal movement. Muybridge printed his motion studies on strips used on Zoetropes, where a spinning cylinder was viewed through a slit to provide the illusion of motion.

In 1889, American Hannibal Goodwin and the Eastman Company obtained patents for a flexible photographic film. The film was of cellulose coated with an emulsion containing light-sensitive silver halide salts. When the emulsion was exposed to light in a camera, it formed a latent image. The exposed film could later be developed via a chemical process.

The advent of photographic film made possible the development of portable motion picture cameras, where a roll of film could be wound through in such a way as to obtain a closely-timed sequence of photographic images. In 1893, the Eastman Kodak Company began commercial production of motion picture film stock.

Motion pictures were first made commercially available after the development of the Cinematographe by Louis Lumiere in 1895, and the Projecting Kinetoscope by the Edison Company in 1896. These devices allowed spectators to view projected moving photographic images.

The Perception of Motion

The perception of motion in motion pictures is enabled by a physiological effect that retains a visual imprint for a short period of time (the persistence of vision), and by a psychological effect from interpreting changes in visual stimuli in a meaningful way. The illusion of motion is achieved when images are viewed at a rate higher than about eight per second, but flicker or jerkiness is perceived for rates less than about 16 images per second. Modern films are displayed at a rate of 24 images (frames) per second.

The motion picture industry developed rapidly, providing viewers with graphic documentaries, comedies, dramas and tragedies. The first films were only visual recordings. The graphic images were augmented by music from a live orchestra or a pipe organ. The audience read the dialogue via title cards intercut into the film.

The Origins of Television

Television, the use of electronic means to transmit images at a distance, was the subject of various patents beginning around 1880 with German Paul Nipkow’s patent application for a system using spinning metal disks. Nipkow called his system the electric telescope. Nipkow used a bright light to project an image onto a disk with holes arranged in a spiral pattern. As the disk rotated, the light passed first through the top (outermost) hole and reached a light-sensitive receptor. The receptor modulated the intensity of an electrical signal in proportion to the brightness of the light reaching it. The disk’s motion caused the hole to traverse the top of the image. As soon as the outermost hole completed its pass, the light reached the next hole further in. As the disk spun, each hole in turn scanned a line across the image.

Nipkow TVThe signal from the light receptor was transmitted to a receiver which also had a bright light source and a spinning Nipkow disk. The electrical signal from the transmitter was used to electronically modulate the brightness of the light projected onto the receiver’s disk. As the disk rotated, the beam of light passed sequentially through holes arranged in a spiral pattern corresponding to the receiver’s and projected the scan lines on a screen, recreating the original image. The fidelity of the image depended on the number of scan lines, which was also the number of holes on the disks. In 1895, Italian engineer Guglielmo Marconi invented radio, a way to transmit information over a distance via electromagnetic waves. Eventually, ways were devised to transmit images using radio frequencies.

In 1900, Russian Constantin Perskyi first used the term television at the World’s Fair in Paris. In 1907, Englishman Alan Campbell-Swinton and Russian Boris Rosing built prototypes of a system using cathode ray tubes. A cathode ray tube was used to capture images and convert them to electronic signals, which were then transmitted to a receiver where images were projected in another cathode ray tube. Like film, television depended on the persistence of vision and the mind’s meaningful processing of visual stimuli to provide the perception of continuous motion.

In the United States, Charles Jenkins and others further developed Nipkow’s spinning disk system for television. Philo Farnsworth and Vladimir Zworkin worked independently to develop Campbell-Swinton and Rosing’s cathode ray tube system. In England, John Baird worked in parallel on the spinning disk electro-mechanical system. In 1927, the United States Department of Commerce and Bell Laboratories demonstrated a system able to transmit motion pictures and sound via radio waves. This system used a 2-inch by 3-inch screen display. In 1928, Charles Jenkins began broadcasting television programs using the spinning disk method from station W3XK. For a time, two incompatible television systems were developed in parallel, one based on the mechanical spinning disk method, and one on electronic image scanning.

The evolving cathode ray tube television system used a camera lens to project an image onto the flat surface of a special vacuum (cathode ray) tube. Inside the capture tube, light-sensitive material became electrically charged in proportion to the intensity of the light. A ray of electrons was used to scan line-by-line the electrically-charged surface and produce corresponding electrical signals. The signals were transmitted to a receiver with another cathode ray tube. Inside this viewing tube, an electron beam projected analogous lines sequentially onto a flat surface coated with material that glowed in proportion to the ray’s intensity.

Development of the Motion Picture and Television Industries

theaterWhile television remained mostly in the realm of hobbyists and experimenters, theatrical films were further developed into a thriving commercial entertainment industry. Motion picture sound was made practical by the development of sound-on-film recording by Western Electric, RCA, and others in 1928, and was greatly improved by the development of effective loudspeaker systems such as MGM’s Shearer Two-Way Horn System in 1936.

During the 1930’s, the broadcast television industry slowly developed in the United States (General Electric, Radio Corporation of America, DuMont, and others), Great Britain, Germany, France, Japan, and Russia. During this period, the cost of television sets in America was reduced from the $1,000+ range to about $400 (a new automobile cost about $750 in 1939). RCA demonstrated television broadcasts at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, but high cost and limited broadcast coverage impeded broad public acceptance of the television technologies. Worldwide, only a few thousand television sets were then in existence.

Color Motion Pictures

Color motion pictures first became commercially available in 1935, using three-color Technicolor. The Technicolor process was a subtractive synthesis, and Technicolor prints could run on any projector, without special projection equipment or techniques.

Technicolor used colored filters, a beam splitter, and three strips of black-and-white film. One third of the light went through a green filter and onto a strip of film that recorded the green part of the spectrum. The other two thirds of the light was first sent through a magenta filter to remove green light and exposed a layer of film to record blue color, and then onto another strip to record red. The green-color film formed one strip and the blue-color and red-color films were layered into a separate strip. The Technicolor printing process used dyes complementary to the color recorded in the film: yellow for blue, cyan for red, and magenta for green. Finally, the dyes were soaked into the emulsion of a single film strip, which carried a representation of natural color. The use of color in motion pictures gradually increased, and proliferated in the 1950’s.

8 mm Movies

In 1932, the Eastman Kodak Company began marketing motion picture film and cameras using the 8 mm format (the frame size is actually 4.8 mm x 3.5 mm). This affordable format popularized home-made movies that could be commercially processed and then viewed using small screens and projectors at home. Kodak released an improved format, Super-8, in 1965, and this was rapidly adopted by amateur film-makers.

Widespread Utilization of Television

By the early 1940’s, home television sets using cathode ray tubes were being sold in the United States. The broadcast system used with these sets scanned electronic black and white images row by row from top to bottom and transmitted each row via radio waves, along with sound signals. The receiver set reversed the process, projected the scanned lines sequentially for display on a cathode ray tube, and provided the accompanying sound via electronic speakers. The National Television System Committee (NTSC) was established in 1940 to facilitate the introduction of a nationwide television system in the United States. In 1941, the NTSC developed the standard of 525 scan lines and 30 frames per second. This basic system saw widespread use in the late 1940’s. By 1950, there were more than 2 million television sets in the United States. The early 1950’s saw the advent of color television.

Made-for-Television Motion Pictures

Television broadcasts of live feature-length dramatic productions began in the late 1940’s, and some of those broadcasts were preserved on kinescope for rebroadcast. In the early 1960’s this practice evolved into made-for-television motion pictures, and some of these were also released to cinemas. The kinescope technology, which used photographic film to record television images, was replaced by videotape following the introduction of the Ampex Quadruplex video recording machines in 1956.

Wide Screen Format

Motion picture film used a conventional 4:3 (1.33:1) aspect ratio until 1953, when 20th Century Fox introduced the wide screen format CinemaScope, with a 2.66:1 aspect ratio. The use of wide screen formats in movies grew rapidly, although the NTSC (4:3 aspect ratio) television standard continued to be used. CinemaScope used a four track sound recording and playback system. Multichannel sound made possible effects such as having a person’s voice track his motion as he moved across the screen, or having sound heard from behind or to the side of the audience. In 1972, Panavision greatly advanced filmmaking with the introduction of the lightweight Panaflex 35 mm movie camera.

World Television Standards

The NTSC television standard was adopted in North and Central America, in the Caribbean, in northern and western South America, in Japan, Taiwan, Burma, Cambodia, the Philippines and South Korea, in Yemen, and in all U.S. territories. In the late-1950’s, Germany developed the Phase Alternating Line (PAL) television standard, and France the SECAM (Sequential Color Memory) standard. These standards are generally incompatible with NTSC and with each other, but multi-standard television sets are available. The PAL standard is used in western Europe (except France), eastern Africa, Australia, eastern South America, and parts of Asia. The SECAM standard is used in France, eastern Europe, Russia, and western Africa.

Video Distribution

Beginning in 1948, broadcast television was supplemented by direct-to-home television. Cable television systems were developed to provide television to home and business consumers via radio frequency signals transmitted through coaxial or optical cables. In 1965, the first commercial communications satellite, Intelsat I, was launched into geosynchronous Earth orbit. Communication satellites and roof-mounted antennas soon began to be used to deliver television signals directly to the consumer.

The advent of affordable videocassette player-recorders in the mid-1970’s led to the commercial availability of motion picture videotapes. Motion picture video recordings could be purchased by the consumer, or rented from video rental shops. Beginning in 1995, digital videodisk (DVD) technology began to replace videotapes for consumer video applications. NTSC, PAL and SECAM standards for videotape and DVD player/recorders are generally incompatible, but multi-standard and standard-conversion equipment and services are available.

In 1969, the Advanced Research Projects Agency began to develop the ARPANET, a network of computer systems and their users. In 1983, ARPANET adopted the TCP/IP communications protocol and became a subnetwork of the Internet, a system of interconnected computer networks. The technology for information transmission was further developed in the early 1990’s into a worldwide series of publicly accessible networks for data communication. Over time, software and hardware were developed that supports the display, editing, copying and playback of videos in computers, and increased data transmission rates provided by broadband communications popularized the transmission of videos over the Internet.

Amateur Video

JVC released the VHS-C videotape format in 1982. This allowed a portable camera to record videos for playback on television via VHS video players. In 1983, Sony released the similar but incompatible Betamax system. These systems were originally intended for professional use, but were rapidly adapted as consumer products. Video camcorders, as they became known, allowed the recording of personal and family videos that could be played back on television via affordable video players. Sony later introduced the Video8 format, which increased recording time and made the camcorders more portable, but could not be played on VHS VCR’s.

In the mid-1990’s camcorders were introduced which record video digitally on tape. Digital recording technologies currently allow video recording on DVD, hard drive or semiconductor (flash) memory. Despite the widespread use of camcorders, some amateur film-makers still use the Super-8 film format, because film can record greater variations in contrast than video.

Digital Television

Digital television is a technology for sending and receiving motion pictures and sound by digital signals rather than analog signals. A digital television channel can broadcast at a data rate up to 19 megabits per second. Most Standard Definition (SD) digital television receivers have resolutions of 704x480 (16:9 aspect ratio) or 640x480 (4:3 aspect ratio). Digital is a much more efficient transmission technology than analog. Multicasting allows broadcast stations to offer several channels of digital programming at the same time, using the same amount of electromagnetic spectrum required for one analog program.

In 1996, the United States government authorized the distribution of an additional broadcast channel to each broadcast TV station. This allowed stations to initiate use of a digital broadcast channel while continuing their analog broadcast channel. During a transition period, broadcast stations in the United States transmitted in both analog and digital. The United States government mandated that February 17, 2009 would be the last day for full-power television stations to broadcast using the analog technology. This date was later changed to June 12, 2009. After that date, full-power television stations broadcast in digital only.

High Definition Television and Digital Cinema

In the early 2000’s, High Definition (HD) television became commercially available, with a 16:9 (1.78:1) aspect ratio and twice the resolution of analog television. High Definition digital television generally operates at resolutions of 1280x720 (720p) or 1920x1080 (1080i), with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The progressive scan technology (720p) shows every line on the screen every time the screen is refreshed. The interlaced (1080i) technology shows every other line on the screen every time the screen is refreshed. Interlaced (1080i) scanning generally results in sharper still images, while progressive (720p) scanning usually yields sharper moving images.

Digital broadcast television includes SD and HD formats. Digital broadcasting allows television stations to offer greater picture and sound quality.

Digital technology began to be used in theaters around 2005. Digital cinema uses digital cameras for filming, encrypted digital transmission or DVD’s for distribution, and digital projectors for display in theaters. The widespread availability of broadband Internet communications has facilitated the distribution of motion pictures in digital format, and the availability of portable video storage and display devices and of computer-television interfaces has added to the options for viewing motion pictures.

The range of digital motion pictures technologies includes computer-generated imagery, the application of computer graphics to special effects. Computer-generated special effects have broader applications than physical processes such as scale models, stop-motion animation and pyrotechnics. They facilitate the creation of imagery that would otherwise be very difficult or costly to produce.

ATSC Digital Television Standards

The Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) is a non-profit organization established in 1982 to develop digital and interactive television standards. The High Definition television standards defined by the ATSC support wide screen 16:9 aspect ratio images up to 1920x1080 pixels in size, at 30 frames per second. The ATSC standards use the Dolby Digital AC-3 format for six-channel surround sound. Major elements of the standards have been adopted by the United States Federal Communications Commission.

The ATSC standards, with some exceptions, have replaced the NTSC analog standard in the United States. The ATSC standards are being considered by other countries. They are being adopted by Canada, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, South Korea, the Philippines, and countries in Central America, the Caribbean, and Polynesia.

The ATSC standards include both progressive and interlaced display methods, and mobile television. The standards support a number of different frame rates, display resolutions and aspect ratios. Up to six standard definition subchannels, e.g., 480x640, can be broadcast on a single 6 MHz television channel.

The Motion Picture Industry

In the United States, motion pictures are produced by several large studios, based mostly in Hollywood, and by many medium and small-sized independent filmmaking companies. Worldwide, there are hundreds of filmmaking enterprises. The industry employs producers, directors, actors, scriptwriters, cinematographers, sound specialists, set designers, photographers, property masters, costume designers, and other members of the film and video production crews.

The motion picture industry produces feature-length films for cinemas, made-for-television movies, filmed television programs, documentaries, and commercials. Related commercial enterprises provide postproduction services to the motion picture industry, such as film and tape transfers, editing, titling and subtitling, credits, closed captioning, special effects, animation, and computer-generated graphics. The overall industry is supported by film distributors, broadcast, satellite and cable television, motion picture theater operators, videotape and videodisk manufacturers, video rental businesses, Internet video providers and distributors, and advertisers.

The Best Motion Pictures

Tens of thousands of motion pictures have been produced worldwide. The best motion pictures provide gratifying experiences that can expand our awareness and have a lasting effect on our lives.

Professional Organizations and Awards

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a professional organization that seeks to advance the arts and sciences of motion pictures; foster cultural, educational and technological progress; recognize outstanding achievements; and cooperate on technical research and improvement of methods and equipment. The Academy’s most notable activity is the annual presentation of the Oscar awards recognizing excellence in cinema achievement. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Miniseries or Movies celebrate excellence in prime time made-for-television motion picture programming.

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