History of film technology

Cinématographe Lumière at the Institut Lumière, France

The history of film technology traces the development of techniques for the recording, construction and presentation of motion pictures. When the film medium came about in the 19th century, there already was a centuries old tradition of screening moving images through shadow play and the magic lantern that were very popular with audiences in many parts of the world. Especially the magic lantern influenced much of the projection technology, exhibition practices and cultural implementation of film. Between 1825 and 1840, the relevant technologies of stroboscopic animation, photography and stereoscopy were introduced. For much of the rest of the century, many engineers and inventors tried to combine all these new technologies and the much older technique of projection to create a complete illusion or a complete documentation of reality. Colour photography was usually included in these ambitions and the introduction of the phonograph in 1877 seemed to promise the addition of synchronized sound recordings. Between 1887 and 1894, the first successful short cinematographic presentations were established. The biggest popular breakthrough of the technology came in 1895 with the first projected movies that lasted longer than 10 seconds. During the first years after this breakthrough, most motion pictures lasted about 50 seconds, lacked synchronized sound and natural colour, and were mainly exhibited as novelty attractions. In the first decades of the 20th century, movies grew much longer and the medium quickly developed into one of the most important tools of communication and entertainment. The breakthrough of synchronized sound occurred at the end of the 1920s and that of full color motion picture film in the 1930s (although black and white films remained very common for several decades). By the start of the 21st century, physical film stock was being replaced with digital film technologies at both ends of the production chain by digital image sensors and projectors.

3D film technologies have been around from the beginning, but only became a standard option in most movie theatres during the first decades of the 21st century.

Television, video and video games are closely related technologies, but are traditionally seen as different media. Historically, they were often interpreted as threats to the movie industry that had to be countered with innovations in movie theatre screenings, such as colour, widescreen formats and 3D.

The rise of new media and digitization have caused many aspects of different media to overlap with film, resulting in shifts in ideas about the definition of film. To differentiate film from television: a film is usually not transmitted live and is commonly a standalone release, or at least not part of a very regular ongoing schedule. Unlike computer games, a film is rarely interactive. The difference between video and film used to be obvious from the medium and the mechanism used to record and present the images, but both have evolved into digital techniques and few technological differences remain. Regardless of its medium, the term "film" mostly refers to relatively long and big productions that can be best enjoyed by large audiences on a large screen in a movie theatre, usually relating a story full of emotions, while the term "video" is mostly used for shorter, small-scale productions that seem to be intended for home viewing, or for instructional presentations to smaller groups.


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