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Hum 3: Film Principles
Fr. Rene C. Ocampo, SJ/Bong S. Eliab
Humanities Division
School of Arts and Sciences
Ateneo de Davao University

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900 BC - 1399 Part One

Handshadows Hand Shadows are still one of the most primitive ways to mimick animals or people in motion. Part One of this chronology covers the larger portion of time, and names some of the philosophers, scientists, scholars, mathematicians and showmen who have played a major part in the discovery of the magic lantern, camera obscura effect and other devices which are so vital to this story. We would like to stress to the reader the importance of optics, light, lenses, light-sensitive substances and early chemistry in the overall growth of photography and ultimately, the movement of pictures. In commencing, let us go back a few years . . . .

The forms of animals in movement are discovered on the walls of caves throughout the world. One of the world's most noted caves for this is the Grotte de Lascaux in France.
Cave Art Mimicks Movement
c. 3000 B.C.
Egyptians and Babylonians acknowledge light and shadow, and may have used them in primitive forms of entertainment. The Chaldeans may have used magnifying glasses in conjunction with studies in light. Lenses will be unearthed in the 19th century dating back to this period. The Asian shadow play and Japanese mirrors make an appearance. The Chinese will use firelight to illuminate their shadows.
An archaeologist, Layard excavates the remains of Babylon in 1850 and describes a rock-crystal find dating back to this period (the first lenses). Layard shook the world a year earlier (1849) when he unearthed Nineveh.
Lanyard discovered this lens (right) which is considered the first used (or found) plano-convex lens. This lens however was not "ground" and polished round but had facets which limited it's ability to magnify. It has been said that this lens could actually have been only an ornament or managerie. The reproduction shown here shows both a horizontal and straight view.
Lanyard Lens
c.600 B.C.
A quartz lens (convex) is found in the ruins of Nineveh dating to this period.
SOPHOCLES (c.495[6]-406 B.C.)
This great, tragic playwright of classical Greece writes in poetic form the need to keep a "light sensitive substance in a dark room", in his poem 'Trachinierinnen'.
HERODOTUS (484-425 B.C.)
Accepts the teaching that "the black emanations of the body" are why the Ethiopian has his colour.
Herodotu 484-425 BC
Herodotus 484-425 B.C.
It is documented that this philosopher made some sort of bird made of wood, that which apparently 'moved' in the air through the use of air pressure, and counterweights. An early form of automaton it would appear.
EMPEDOCLES (483-424 B.C.)
This self-styled god, poet and statesman said that light was matter, or "corpuscles", and that it emanates from all bodies, reaching the eye. He later flung himself into Mount Etna to convince people of his divinity.
MO TI (470-391 B.C.)
Also known as MOZU, MOTZE, MOTSE, MICIUS and MO-TZU. No further research to date, pre-dates (5th Century B.C.) the Chinese with the observance of an inverted image through a pinhole onto a screen. Mohists knew and taught the linearity of light rays. They knew that light travels in straight lines as did the Greeks at or around the same time. Philosophers Mo Ti and Chuang Chou (c.369-286 B.C.) commented on the property of shadows. Mo Ti recorded the observation of an inverted image through a pinhole and talks of the "collecting place" (aperture). He also explains why the image is inverted and uses the analogy of the oar in the rowlock. Mohists knew and taught that objects reflect light and called it "shinning forth".
PLATO (428-347) B.C.
This Greek philosopher writes that rays of light are emitted from the eyes, and that objects receive these rays. He also philosophizes about shadows on cave walls. In The Republic (360BC), Plato provides for us his concept of the visible world in two separte states; one containing the physical and all that is created, the other being the imagined state as in reflections and shadows.
Plato 428-347 BC
Plato 428-347 BC
Aristotle 384-322 BC
Aristotle 384-322 B.C.
ARISTOTLE (384-322) B.C.
This Greek philosopher taught that objects themselves emit light which the eye sees. Aristotle observes crescent-shaped images created during an eclipse, through small holes in the leaves of trees, furniture and the crossing of the fingers. Aristotle notes that the smaller the hole, the clearer the image. He goes on to observe that regardless of the shape of the pinhole (aperture), the light passing through is always in a circular shape. In his essay entitled 'On The Form Of The Eclipse', Aristotle wrote;

The image of the sun at the time of the eclipse, unless it is total, demonstrates that when its light passes through a narrow, round hole and is cast on a plane opposite to the hole it takes on the form of a moon-sickle. The image of the sun shows this peculiarity only when the hole is very small. When the hole is enlarged, the picture changes . . . ."
This phenomenon will become known as one of Aristotle's "problems" (Aristotle, A Treatise Called Problems, On Dreams) and will remain unreasoned until the 16th century. Aristotle also referred to the persistence of vision when mentioning after-images.
DEMOCRITUS (c.460-370) B.C.
Democritus accepted and agreed with the teachings of Aristotle. Aristotle's theory that objects emit light was the closest to the truth (that objects reflect the light that strikes them). Democritus, a Greek philosopher, spoke on colours. He said white objects are made of flat, smooth atoms which cast no shadows. Dark objects are made of rough uneven atoms which cast shadows. An incorrect, although interesting thought.
EUCLID (EUCLEIDES) (fl.c.325-265) B.C.
This philosopher and outstanding mathematician of his day also agreed with what Aristotle taught. Euclid further studied in optics and taught that each eye perceives a different image and that these two images are "fused" to form the "whole". Euclid talks of the linearity of light and writes his The Optics of which two extant copies exist (Euclid's own treatise and a revision by Theon).
Euclid 325-265 BC
Euclid of Alexandria
Burning Glass Warfare ARCHIMEDES (c.287-212) B.C.
This Greek mathematician and geometrician considered using burning glasses in warfare to defend the Sicilian colony of Syracuse. His theory was to burn the ships of the enemy by magnifying the sun's rays using the burning glass effect. In the 17th century, Kircher will travel to Syracuse to study the possibility that Archimedes actually carried out the strategy. He provided for us a marvellous illustration depicting the event in his 'Ars Magna' of 1646. Robertson as well, in 1796 will propose to the French government his ‘Miroir d'Archimede’ or Mirrors of Archimedes, and a plan for burning the invading ships of the English navy. The plan was refused.
Archimedes' Burning Glass Warfare
Painting from the Stanzino delle Matematiche in the Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence, Italy). Painted by Giulio Parigi (1571-1635) in 1599. Click for Galleria degli Uffizi.
"When Marcellus withdrew them [his ships] a bow-shot, the old man [Archimedes] constructed a kind of hexagonal mirror, and at an interval proportionate to the size of the mirror he set similar small mirrors with four edges, moved by links and by a form of hinge, and made it the centre of the sun's beams--its noon-tide beam, whether in summer or in mid-winter. Afterwards, when the beams were reflected in the mirror, a fearful kindling of fire was raised in the ships, and at the distance of a bow-shot he turned them into ashes. In this way did the old man prevail over Marcellus with his weapons".
- GREEK MATHEMATICAL WORKS, Translated by Ivor Thomas, Cambridge, 1941, Volume II, Page 19 Click for Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press
Shades and Shadowplays SHAO ONG (c.121 B.C.)
Documented in the 'Shih Chi' and 'Chhien Han Shu' of the Han period (ch.28, p24) [Trans., Chavannes, vol.3, p470] is the shadow play by the magician called Shao Ong who made the spirit (it would appear) of a dead concubine appear to the Emperor Wu Ti. This sort of shadowful illusion was repeated many times throughout Chinese culture and all of Asia. These puppets were made of paper-thin cutouts and were called Shadowplays, and later known as Shades. Also heaped in Chinese culture are the many instances documented where images of landscapes are seen upon frozen surfaces. Rivers, lakes and basins have numerous times been reported to "hold" the scenes of nature.

Shadowplays, or Shades as they were known, came in all shapes and sizes. Although shadows were cast upon walls or behind thin screens, some puppets were actually meant for direct viewing, as this (left) one indicates. Usually made from dried animal skins or primitive paper and then painted, Shades were found in many cultures including China, Turkey and Greece.
VITRUVIUS (fl.1st Century B.C.)
Officially known as Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, he reports in his work on the metal "minium" (red lead) 'De Architectura' (vii.9) "it spoils immediately when exposed to their rays and the colour looses its vividness and brilliancy, turning black." See PLINY, below.
This Roman poet and naturalist combines science and poetry in his 'De Rerum Natura' (On The Nature Of Things, T. L. Carus, IV, 768ff) when he refers to some sort of projection show or dream image in poetic form. Perhaps a shadow play or something similar to that of Plato. It has been suggested that this work has been incorrectly interpreted.
This poet laureate of Rome writes in his poem 'The Hair of Earinus' (silvae, iii.4, capilli flavi earini) " you only fix your glance upon it and leave your features here. Thus he spoke and showed the mirror with the image caught therein." In 1928, the Frankfurter Nachrichten reported on the poem's translation, "his image was permanently fixed on a small silver plate, (the original poem speaks of gold) into which he had gazed for a period of time."
PLINY (THE ELDER) (23-79 A.D.)
Pliny refers to silver chloride and it's potential to darken under sun or moon in his 'Historiae Naturalis' (xxxiii. 55,3) when he says "silver changes it's colour in mineral water as well as by salt air, as, for instance on the Mediterranean shores of Spain", and (xxxiii.40) "the effect of the sun and moon on a coat of minium is injurious." Eder, in his book 'History of Photography' (pp2,7) dispels this as doubtful and suggests hydrogen sulphide as the chemical.
Around 50 A.D. Seneca writes on persistence of vision and says that rock-crystal lenses where used as burning glasses. He described the magnification of objects seen in water and wrote, "Letters, however small and indistinct, are seen enlarged and more clearly through a globe of glass filled with water."
79 A.D. Excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum reveal a lens.
120 A.D. HERON (62-125)
Heron of Alexandria (also known as HERO) describes in 'Peri Automatopoietkes' (Constructing Automaton Theatres) "phantom mirrors" and "mirror writing." Hero also writes in his 'De Speculis' (the oldest extant Greek writing on mirrors) about concave, convex and plane mirrors. His 'Caoptrica' explains the rectilinear propagation of light and the law of reflection. Hero recorded the description of a bird that sings which utilized a method of hydraulic force. In 1620 Salomon de Caus, a French engineer, will build a replica of this bird.
Ptolemy accepts Aristotle's view that objects emit light. Ptolemy also writes his 'Almagest' on optics and the universe and speaks of refraction, reflection, persistence of vision and "stereoscopic projection."
Ptolemy 85-165 BC
Ptolemy 85-165
TING HUAN (c.180 A.D.)
The ascending convection of hot air from a lamp caused animals and creatures to appear to move naturally in his 'Pipe Which Makes Fantasies Appear." This is perhaps the first account of the marriage of both illumination and movement, created by the same source (lamp).
c.170-200 A.D. GALEN (129-199 A.D.)
This Greek physicist and physician studied binocular vision.
Boethius 475-524 AD 510 A.D. BOETHIUS (475-524 A.D.)
Boethius was a Roman scholar and mathematician and attempts to document the speed of light. In 525 King Theodoric orders him decapitated for treason and magic.

Anicus Manlius Severinus Boethius 475-524
This Arabian alchemist observes the effect of light on silver nitrate.
Both the Chinese and Arabs continue to observe eclipses using the camera obscura effect.
Builds miniature pagodas to observe the pinhole images through a hole onto a screen and therefore learns of the divergence of light rays using the camera obscura effect.
This traveller and writer describes in his 'Dreams Of The North And Trifling Talk', similar shadowplays to that of magician Shao Ong.
1010 ALHAZEN (965-1038 [9?])
Also known as IBN AL HAITHAM, ABU ALI ALHASAN IBN ALHASAN, IBNU-I-HAITAM, AL HUSEN or HASSAN IBN HASSAN, this Arabian scholar writes on the observances of the camera obscura effect. Particular attention is drawn to the image of the eclipse and the "sickle-like shapes" in his 'On The Form Of The Eclipse' which includes many descriptions and drawings. As Aristotle did, Alhazen refers to the clarity of the image when the aperture is smaller. His writings on observations are held in London at the India Office Library.
Avicena 980-1037 1020 A.D. AVICENA (IBN SINA) (980-1037)
Suggested that light is emitted from the eyes and unites with the luminous air.

Avicena 980-1037

1088 SHEN KUA (1035-1095)
Talks of the camera obscura's inverted image, the collecting place, burning mirrors and the focal point. In his 'Meng hsi pi-t'an' (Dream Creek Essays), Shen Kua refers to the inversion of the shadow and goes on to say that when images are reflected in a burning-mirror (concave), they are inverted. He talks about the 'obstruction' as the place where the image disappears when reflected in the mirror. As he says, "It is also like the shadows of pagodas seen through the holes in windows" (Meng hsi pi-t'an (Dream Creek Essays), Passage on the Inversion of the Shadow, Shen Kua, 1088).

Waist Drum illustration by Ch'en Yang, 1104 (Courtesy Harvard Yenching Institute- Click)

Yang;s Waistdrum 1104
Shen Kua presented his concept and understanding of the Mohist's 'collecting place'. He called it the 'obstruction' or an invisible place. He wrote how the image seen reflected from a concave lens will disappear between the center of the surface, and the focal point. This he called the obstruction. Something we now know to be the aperture where the rays of light cross and there is no image at that very point. This (right) illustration is taken from a summary abstract by Ch'en Yang in the year 1104. Kua attempted to show the waist-drum as an analogy of two shadows meeting, forming the invisible, or collecting place where it is the narrowest. The unlearned reader may understand this better with the observance of the following experiment;
EXPERIMENT: Use a concave lens or mirror (curves inward). Place a small distinguishable object on the tip of a pin. Choose something that can be distinguished as being upside-down. Move the pin very close to the centre of the mirror and observe the object's image (depending on the size of the mirror, closeness of 1/2 to 3/4 of a centimetre may be required). Slowly pull the object back, keeping the image centrally aligned. Observe the image while pulling back.

OBSERVANCE: Notice that while the image is close-up, it's reflection is seen in it's upright state. As the image is withdrawn from the surface slowly, there is a point in which the image is not seen on the surface of the lens. This then, is the 'obstruction', or collecting place that She Kua talked about. His oar in the rowlock so to say. As you pull the image back further, it appears inverted.

CONCLUSION: In understanding this 'collecting' place more fully, consider the burning-glass effect. If the object is held indefinately at the point of image-loss, and while being out-of-doors on a sunny hot day, the object likely will become flames or melt. This is because the heat of the sunlight being reflected and concentrated at this point, is greatest. This phenomenon however is not restricted to light solely. It can be understood also in the use of micro, and sound waves as in the use of satellite and parabolic dishes. SEE MO TI.

In explaining his understanding of this 1400+ year old discovery of the Mohists, Kua used things in the sky such as clouds, birds and kites. He stated factually that if seen in the sky, the shadows of these objects naturally move in the same direction on the ground. However, when seen through an aperture such as the hole-in-a-window analogy, the object and it's shadow/reflection, go in opposite directions. Needham translated Shen Kua's Meng Chhi Pi Than (on the inversion of the shadow) as;

". . . . . The burning-mirror reflects objects so as to form inverted images. This is because there is a focal point in the middle (i.e. between the object and the mirror). The mathematicians call investigations about such things Ko Shu. It is like the pattern made by an oar moved by someone on a boat against a rowlock (as fulcrum). We can see it happening in the following example. When a bird flies in the air, it's shadow moves along the ground in the same direction. But if its image is collected (like a belt being tightened) through a small hole in a window, then the shadow moves in the direction opposite to that of the bird. The bird moves to the east while the shadow moves to the west, and vice versa. Take another example. The image of a pagoda, passing through the hole or small window, is inverted after being 'collected'. This is the same principle as the burning-mirror. Such a mirror has a concave surface, and reflects a finger to give an upright image if the object is very near, but if the finger moves farther and farther away it reaches a point where the image disappears and after that the image appears inverted. Thus the point where the image disappears is like the pinhole of the window. So also the oar is fixed at the rowlock somewhere at its middle part, constituting, when it is moved, a sort of 'waist' and the handle of the oar is always in the position inverse to the end (which is in the water). One can easily see (under the proper conditions) that when one moves one's hand upwards the image moves downwards, and vice versa. [Since the surface of the burning-mirror is concave, when it faces the sun it collects all the light and brings it to a point one or two inches away from the mirror's surface, as small as a hempseed. It is when things are at this point that they catch fire. This is indeed the place where the 'waist' is smallest.] "

- Joseph Needham,, Physics, Part IV, G (optics), 4.Camera Obscura, pp97,99 Click for Science and Civilisation in China
1175 AVERROES (IBN RUSCHD) (1126-1198)
This Arab philosopher studies eye movement and vision, and comments on Aristotle's view of perspective and rays of light.
This contemporary of Roger Bacon used plano-convex lenses. He became Chancellor of Oxford University in 1215. Grosseteste worked on geometry, optics and astronomy. In optics he experimented with mirrors and with lenses. He believed that experimentation must be used to verify a theory by testing its consequences. In his work 'De Iride' he wrote;

"This part of optics, when well understood, shows us how we may make things a very long distance off appear as if placed very close, and large near things appear very small, and how we may make small things placed at a distance appear any size we want, so that it may be possible for us to read the smallest letters at incredible distances, or to count sand, or seed, or any sort or minute objects."
- Robert Grosseteste

Further examples of illumination and movement are mentioned in the 'Meng Liang Lu' written by the Chinese scholars Chiang Khuei and Fang Chheng during the Sung dynasty. In poetic form they describe "how the horses prance around after the lamp is lit." Similar entries tell "how the smoke gives life and spirit to the figures in the 'lanthorn' where they seem to walk, turn, ascend and descend." Clearly, motion is represented when it describes horses "running", vessels "sailing", and armies "marching". These celebrated incidents in Chinese culture are referred to by both Hangchow (1275 A.D.) who also talks of the "flying dragons", and Gabriel Magalhaens (c.1650).
Chinese curiosity in some matters of physics, namely optics, waned drastically during the next three centuries.
Roger Bacon 1214-1294
Roger Bacon

1267 ROGER BACON (1214-1294)

This proponent of medieval science writes in his treatise 'De Multiplicatione Specierum' (Book II, ch.viii) and 'Perspectiva', the principle of the camera obscura. He talks of observing the view outside a darkroom, and eclipses by way of a ray of light passing through an aperture and projecting itself. Bacon speaks of the camera obscura effect but does not describe the apparatus. His most important mathematical contribution is the application of geometry to optics. Bacon followed Grosseteste in emphasizing the use of lens for magnification to aid natural vision.
"Great things can be performed by refracted vision. If the letters of a book, or any minute object, be viewed through a lesser segment of a sphere of glass or crystal, whose plane is laid upon them, they will appear far better and larger."

-- Roger Bacon, from 'Perspectiva'

1275 ALBERTUS MAGNUS (1193-1280)
Also known as COUNT ALBERT VON BOLLSTADT, this Dominican scholar and mentor of Thomas Aquinas studies the rainbow effect of light and says it's velocity is finite, but great. Magnus studies the action of silver nitrate under sunlight.

Albertus Magnus 1193-1280

Albertus Magnus 1193-1280
c.1277 Little known WITELO, WITECK or VITELLIO ( - )
A physicist of polish origin who also went by the name of THURINGOPOLONUS, notes in a manuscript on optics believed to be written before 1277 (perhaps in 1271 when he was at Viterbo, Italy) that "all lightpassing through angular apertures is projected in a circular form." This phenomenon once documented by Aristotle is now over sixteen hundred years old and still unexplained.
1279 JOHN PECKHAM (1228-1291)
A physics scholar, Peckham details in his 'Perspectivae Communis Libri', the image of the eclipsed sun through any hole (camera obscura) into a darkened place.
This French astronomer writes in an almanac the impairment of the eyes if the eclipse (in this case June 5, 1285) is viewed for too long. In some cases, spectators complained of near blindness for several days, others for hours. This manuscript was dated five years later in 1290. In order to eliminate this loss of vision, Saint-Cloud went on to explain the use of the camera obscura for viewing the sun during an eclipse . . . .
"In the year of our LORD 1285, on the 5th day of June, it happened that those who too intently observed the sun (during the eclipse) found their vision was impaired when they went into the shade again. This dazzled condition lasted with some two days, with others three and with some others several days, according to the length of time they had stared at the sun and the degree in which their eyes were sensitive .... In order to eliminate this and to be able to observe without danger the beginning, the end, and the extent of the eclipse, one should make in the roof of a house, or in the window, an opening towards that part of the sky where the eclipse of the sun will appear, and the size of the hole should be about the same as that made in a barrel for the purpose of drawing off wine. Opposite the light of the sun entering through the opening, should be placed, at a distance of twenty or thirty feet, something flat, for instance a screen. A ray of light will then be seen delineating itself on the screen in a round shape, even if the aperture is angular. The illuminated spot will be bigger than the opening, the larger, in fact, the further the screen is moved away from it, but then the image will be more feeble than if the screen is placed closer."

(This quote taken from the work of Georges Potonniee, The History of the Discovery of Photography, p21).

The camera obscura continued to be a useful tool for watching eclipses. Like Archimedes, Saint-Cloud talked of the power of lenses and mirrors.
Arnauld De Villeneuve 1238-1314 1290 ARNAUD DE VILLENEUVE (1238-1314)
Also known as ARNOLD OF VILLANOVA, Villeneuve was a practising physician and wrote on alchemy. A magician and showman in his leisure time, Villeneuve used the camera obscura to present "moving shows" or "cinema" by placing his audiences in the darkened room and would have the actors perform outside. The image of the performance would be cast on the inside wall. Villeneuve would often enact wars, or the hunting of animals with the actual noises of such, which would be heard from inside. This performance is highly reminiscent of today's theatre patrons sitting in a darkened theatre, watching the screen (or wall), including sight and sound.

Arnold of Villanova 1238-1314
This Jewish philosopher and mathematician was also known as LEON DE BAGNOIS. Gershon wrote in his 'Hebrew De Sinibus Chordis Et Arcubus', ways of observing solar eclipses using the camera obscura. He commented that no harm came to his eyes when using this effect. His observances and writings are similar to those of his predecessor, Alhazen.


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10 April 2002