Original Creators: The Lumière Brothers
Each week we pay homage to a select “Original Creator”—an iconic artist from days gone by whose work influences and informs today’s creators. These are artists who were innovative and revolutionary in their fields—bold visionaries and radicals, groundbreaking frontiersmen and women who inspired and informed culture as we know it today. This week: The Lumière Brothers.
“The motion picture entertains the whole world. What could we do better and that would make us more proud?” —Louis Lumière
If you enjoy developing your own film, physically going to the theater to watch a movie, or attending film festivals, then you have French brothers and filmmakers Auguste and Louis Lumière to thank. Considered two of the world’s first filmmakers, both brothers got their roots early working for their father, Claude-Antoine Lumière, a former portait studio owner turned photographic entrepreneur. At the age of 17, Louis developed an improvement on the dry-plate process, which enabled his father’s company to expand exponentially, but it was the brothers’ collaboration on the Cinématographe that put them on the map.
After seeing Thomas Edison’s groundbreaking peephole Kinetoscope in Paris, Claude-Antoine encouraged his sons to develop something better—a machine that could take the image out of the box. By early 1845, Auguste and Louis developed and patented a device that acted as an all-in-one camera, printer, and projector dubbed the cinématographe.
In comparison to Edison’s Kinetoscope, the Cinématographe was smaller, more lightweight, and hand-cranked. The film speed was slower, 16 fps compared to Edison’s 48 fps, but its operation was much quieter. It also allowed for intermittent movement by incorporating machinery found in a sewing machine.
The brothers also pioneered the idea of charging money for the cinema experience. Their first film La Sortie des usines Lumière à Lyon, was part of the world’s first commercial screening in December 1895 at Paris’ Salon Indien du Grand Café.
The brothers’ short vignettes, contrary to those of Georges Méliès, were realistic and depicted city life. It’s rumored that the train in their film L’Arrivée d’un Train Ã la Ciotat startled audiences as it drove into the station on the screen.
Imagine all the times you’ve jumped in a movie theater at a sudden movement or 3D figure popping out at you, and then imagine being among the first group of people to experience that feeling of shock.
Stylistically, the brothers always shot with a diagonal relationship to the action, and pioneered the moving shot. They’re also responsible for the world’s first comedy.
Though the Lumière Brothers’ film career was short-lived, their influence on the business of film can be still seen today in movie theaters and film festivals around the globe—randomly, they even have a planet named after them.
More curiously, we have to think that the “cinemagraph,” a subtle twist on the animated GIF, is the closest contemporary example of the influence The Lumière Brothers left behind.