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A Historical Peek into One of The Pioneers of French Cinema – The Lumiere Brothers

There is a famous photographer that used to be a painter of portraits. That person was Antoine Lumière. He started up a business in Lyons where he sold photographic plates. Antoine’s son, Louis, started to tinker and play around with the equipment that was being manufactured by his father. Louis created an entirely new process of film development, which was known as the dry plate process. The dry plate process helped increase the popularity of Louis’s father’s business significantly. It helped the company grow enough to the point where they could get a factory in the suburbs in Lyons. Each year, the Lumière family had more than ten million plates that were being produced.

Lumiere Brothers
Lumiere Brothers

How They Became Famous

During that year, Antoine Lumière went to Paris for Edison’s Kinetoscope exhibition. When he came back to Lyons, he had some film that he showed to his sons. The film was given to him by one of the concessionaires of Edison. Antoine told his sons to try and think of a way to create a way to make a cheaper version of the peephole device used to view the film as well as the Kinetograph. He told his sons, Louis and Auguste, to find a way to get film projected onto a large screen. He wanted many people to be able to view the movie. 

Edison's Kinetoscope
Edison’s Kinetoscope

During the winter in 1894, Auguste started to conduct his experiments. The two brothers finally came up with an idea for the device by the early months of next year. They called the device the Cinématographe. Compared to the Kinetograph, the Cinématographe was lighter and smaller. You would have to crank it by hand to operate it, and it weighed about eleven pounds. Their device worked at sixteen frames per second when you record film as well as project film. It was slower than the Kinetoscope, which operated at forty-eight frames per second. But the fewer frames to work with meant that it wouldn’t use as much film and it wouldn’t make as much noise.

The Cinématographe’s most revolutionary component was how it would move the film in the camera. It would insert two claws or pins into the strips of celluloid film through sprocket holes that were punched beforehand. The claws would move the film forward, and then they would retract, which during exposure, would leave the movie still. The process of how it all moved was inspired by how sewing machines work. Louis thought of it since it was thought of by Edison but not used since Edison wanted to keep it all moving.

The Cinématographe was renowned throughout history as the first film camera that was viable to be used. It was a device that took the place of three separate devices since it could project, record, and develop moving pictures through film. It would be used by the two brothers to record their factory’s workers as they left the factory at the end of the day. The final film that resulted from all those recordings was called Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory. In French, the film is called La Sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière. They showed the movie in Paris during an industrial meeting in 1895. The film is called the first motion picture ever created.