How Was Louis Lumiere's Motion Picture Camera Invented?

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For Frenchman Louis Lumiere, the invention of the motion picture camera wasn't an instantaneous moment of inspiration -- it followed a monumental predecessor and essentially improved on existing devices. As a culmination of ideas, Lumiere's invention led to an iconic screening in 1895, which earned him the title “The Father of the Motion Picture.” The "what" is well known, but the “how” of Lumiere's invention process begins as early as his childhood.

1 Following Footsteps

To know how Louis Lumiere invented his motion picture camera you, have to know the technological lay of the land at the time. A demonstration of Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope, first shown to the public in 1893, inspired Louis Lumiere and his brother Auguste to create their own motion-picture camera, eventually dubbed the Cinematographe. The Kinetoscope, itself an evolution of William Kennedy Laurie Dickson's Kinetograph, allowed viewers to watch moving strips of 35-millimeter film through binocular-like holes. Though revolutionary, this device was mostly stationary and only accommodated a single viewer.

2 A Family Affair

Lumiere's own experience equipped him for the creation of the Cinematographe. His father ran a photography studio, and in 1880 young Louis helped him develop a photographic plate known as the “Etiquette Bleue,” which led to faster, easier film processing. This invention brought the Antoinie Lumiere and Sons Company the capital they needed to invest in color photography and, eventually, motion-picture technology.

3 Crafting the Cinematographe

The Lumieres' Cinematographe added a claw mechanism to the Kinetoscope, and it used perforated film, both of which moved the reel faster to create a smoother picture. The final Cinematographe projected film at 12 frames per second, making it a technological marvel at the time. [Ref 2, 5] This wasn't the end of the device's refinements, however; the Cinematographe was not only the lightest motion-picture camera yet invented, it was capable of both capturing and projecting images, and was significantly cheaper than the Kinetoscope to boot.

4 Leaving a Legacy

Lumiere patented the Cinematographe in 1895, and premiered a 45-second clip in Lyon on December 28th of that year, marking history with an essential moment in the birth of modern cinema. It only took a year for the Lumieres to open multiple motion picture theaters across Eastern Europe and the U.S. Lumiere left thousands of film reels behind, and even advanced stereoscopic motion picture technology until his death in 1948. Just as early movie cameras inspired Louis and Auguste, Lumiere's innovations enabled others to advance motion picture technology to its modern state.

Dan Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in Word Riot, Bazooka Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Trails and more. Dan's diverse professional background spans from costume design and screenwriting to mixology, manual labor and video game industry publicity.