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Dead medium: Muybridge's Zoopraxiscope
From: (Rich Burroughs)
Source(s): "Archaeology of the Cinema," C.W. Ceram, First American edition, Harcourt, Brace & World, New York;

"The History of World Cinema," David Robinson, Stein and Day, New York, 1973;

"Film Before Griffith," John L. Fell, editor, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1983;

"A Technological History of Motion Pictures and Television," Raymond Fielding, editor, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1967.

(((My notes in triple parens.)))

(((Eadward Muybridge was an Englishman, originally named Edward James Muggeridge, but it seems he changed his name for some extra flash. In the mid 1870s he was charged with murdering his wife's lover, according to Robinson. I'm assuming he was acquitted, as that was near the beginning of his experiments and I didn't see any accounts of them being interrupted do to jail time.)))

(((Muybridge's Zoopraxiscope was basically a renamed phenakistiscope, according to Robinson. Ceram says that Muybridge made some improvements on the earlier device. What seems to have set Muybridge apart was his technique of photography.)))

C. Francis Jenkins in "Technological History of Motion Pictures and Television":

"But it is to the persistence of Eadward Muybridge that we are indebted for the most scientific research in motion analysis, work which he began in 1879. His animal studies became classics with artists. Wet plates only were then available and he used above half a million of them in a plurality of cameras arranged in order along a track over which his subject was required to pass." (p.2)


"The story goes that a wager between the Governor of California and one of his friends led Eadward Muybridge to set up his series of cameras. The year was 1877, and the point in the dispute was whether a galloping horse ever had all four legs off the ground at the same time. To settle the question, Muybridge stationed twenty-four cameras side by side along a race track. Twenty-four threads were stretched across the track, and as the galloping horses broke these, it tripped the shutters. (Later a clockwork device tripped the shutter.)" (page 80)

(((Photos in Ceram's book show both the arrangement of cameras that is described, and the results. A photo of the Zoopraxiscope (the projector) and some of the disks is on page 124. By the way, Ceram's book is filled with excellent photos of dead media. I highly recommend it.)))

(((Muybridge's photography was not limited to animals.))) Burnes St. Patrick Hollyman in "Film Before Griffith":

"He (((Alexander Black))) saw Muybridge's exhibition of moving horses and scientific studies of motion as well as the Zoopraxiscope, which included a picture of a dancing girl in costume." (239)


"Initially Muybridge's aim was to produce instantaneous single photographs; the production of rapid series was incidental. Over the next few years however Muybridge produced and published innumerable series of photographs of every kind of human or animal motion. In the early 1880's he took the step of re-synthesising (((sic))) his analysis of motion, projecting the short cycles of movement he had recorded by means of a projecting phenakistiscope, which he called a zoopraxiscope." (page 14)

Robinson, again, from a footnote on that same page:

"The projected images were still not, properly speaking, photographic: Muybridge was obliged to re-draw them onto the glass disks he used in his projector, copying them by hand from his photographic originals."

(((The disks were flat and circular, and loaded onto the projector's side in a vertical position. The images ran in succession around the edge of the disk.)))

(((Muybridge's work was to influence Etienne Marey, and Thomas Edison. Edison developed the Kinetoscope after viewing Muybridge's system.)))

Hollyman, again:

"On February 27, 1988, Mr. Muybridge interviewed T.A. Edison as to the possibility of combining his Zoapraxiscope (((sic, I have seen the name of the machine spelled at least three different ways))) projector with Edison's phonograph, but without result, though Mr. Edison did exploit such a combination some years later." (page 3)

Robinson confirms this:

"Edison met Muybridge, whose zoopraxiscope evidently gave him the idea for a machine that could record and reproduce images as his phonograph recorded and reproduced sound. He promptly charged his English-born laboratory head, W.K.L. Dickson, with the task of developing something on these lines, and issued the first of a series of caveats designed to protect the tentative researches carried on at his establishment at West Orange, New Jersey." (page 15)

Rich Burroughs

(((bruces remarks: the life-and-motion studies of Eadward Muybridge are widely available in Dover reprints of sourcebooks for artists.)))