Film technique

The first film cameras were fastened directly to the head of a tripod or other support, with only the crudest kind of levelling devices provided, in the manner of the still-camera tripod heads of the period. The earliest film cameras were thus effectively fixed during the shot, and hence the first camera movements were the result of mounting a camera on a moving vehicle. The first known of these was a film shot by a Lumiere cameraman from the back platform of a train leaving Jerusalem in 1896, and by 1898 there were a number of films shot from moving trains. Although listed under the general heading of "panoramas" in the sales catalogues of the time, those films shot straight forward from in front of a railway engine were usually specifically referred to as "phantom rides". In 1897, Robert W. Paul had the first real rotating camera head made to put on a tripod, so that he could follow the passing processions of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in one uninterrupted shot. This device had the camera mounted on a vertical axis that could be rotated by a worm gear driven by turning a crank handle, and Paul put it on general sale the next year. Shots taken using such a "panning" head were also referred to as "panoramas" in the film catalogues of the first decade of the cinema. The standard pattern for early film studios was provided by the studio which Georges Melies had built in 1897. This had a glass roof and three glass walls constructed after the model of large studios for still photography, and it was fitted with thin cotton cloths that could be stretched below

the roof to diffuse the direct ray of the sun on sunny days. The soft overall light without real shadows that this arrangement produced, and which also exists naturally on lightly overcast days, was to become the basis for film lighting in film studios for the next decade. Effects Unique among all the one minute long films made by the Edison company, which recorded parts of the acts of variety performers for their Kinetoscope viewing machines, was The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. This showed a person dressed as the queen placing her head on the execution block in front of a small group of bystanders in Elizabethan dress. The executioner brings his axe down, and the queen's severed head drops onto the ground. This trick was worked by stopping the camera and replacing the actor with a dummy, then restarting the camera before the axe falls. The two pieces of film were then trimmed and cemented together so that the action appeared continuous when the film was shown. This film was among those exported to Europe with the first Kinetoscope machines in 1895, and was seen by Georges Melies, who was putting on magic shows in his Theatre Robert-Houdin in Paris at the time. He took up filmmaking in 1896, and after making imitations of other films from Edison, Lumiere, and Robert Paul, he made Escamotage d'un dame chez Robert-Houdin (The Vanishing Lady). This film shows a woman being made to vanish by using the same stop motion technique as the earlier Edison film. After this, Georges Melies made many single shot films using this trick over the next couple of years.