Eadweard Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge Considered "Father of the Motion Picture"

High-speed sequence of a galloping horse and rider
EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE COLLECTION/ KINGSTON MUSEUM/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

Eccentric filmmaker, inventor and photographer Eadweard Muybridge — known as the "Father of the Motion Picture" — conducted pioneering work in motion-sequence still photographic experiments, although he did not make films in the manner in which we know them today.

Early Days of Eadweard Muybridge

Eadweard Muybridge was born in 1830 in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, England (where he died in 1904). Born Edward James Muggeridge, he changed his name when he immigrated to the United States, where the majority of his work as a professional photographer and innovator occurred.

He became a successful bookseller in San Francisco and then took up photography full-time. His reputation as a photographer grew, and Muybridge became famous for his panoramic landscape photography, especially that of Yosemite Valley and San Francisco, California.

Experiments With Motion Photography

In 1872 Eadweard Muybridge began experimenting with motion photography when he was hired by railroad magnate Leland Stanford to prove that all four legs of a horse are off the ground while trotting. But because his camera lacked a fast shutter, he was at first unsuccessful. Everything came to a halt when he was tried for his wife's lover's murder. Eventually, Muybridge was acquitted and took some time off to travel to Mexico and throughout Central America where he developed publicity photography for Stanford's Union Pacific Railroad. He resumed his experimentation with motion photography in 1877.

Muybridge set up a battery of 12 to 24 cameras with special shutters he developed and used a new, more sensitive photographic process that drastically reduced exposure time to take successive photos of a horse in motion. He mounted the images on a rotating disk and projected the images via a "magic lantern" onto a screen, thereby producing his first "motion picture" in 1879.

Muybridge continued his research at the University of  Pennsylvania in 1883, where he produced hundreds of photographs of humans and animals in motion.

The Magic Lantern

While Eadweard Muybridge developed a fast camera shutter and used other then-state-of-the-art techniques to make the first photographs that show sequences of movement, it was the zoopraxiscope — the "magic lantern," his pivotal invention in 1879 — that allowed him to produce that first motion picture. A primitive device, the zoopraxiscope — which may be considered the first movie projector — was a lantern that projected via rotating glass disks a series of images in successive phases of movement obtained through the use of multiple cameras. It was first called a zoogyroscope. At the death of Muybridge, all of his zoopraxiscope disks (as well as the zoopraxiscope) were bequeathed to the Kingston Museum in Kingston upon Thames. Of the known surviving disks, 67 are still in the Kingston collection, one is with the National Technical Museum in Prague, another is with Cinematheque Francaise and some are in the Smithsonian Museum. Most are still in very good condition.