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When Was the First Film Created?

By Mollee Shannon

Since the advent of the motion picture industry, patrons have flocked to theaters and lauded every development in cinematic technology. Film technology has developed quickly over the past century and a half, but when was the first ever film made?  


Horse in Motion

Technically, the first ever film was made by Eadweard Muybridge in 1878. Commissioned by Leland Stanford (yes, the founder of Stanford University!), Muybridge was asked to find the answer to an age-old question: When a horse trots, are all four of its hooves in the air at the same time? To solve this conundrum, Muybridge used stop motion animation to portray a horse trotting. Stop motion animation is the physical manipulation of images in incremental succession. When played back at a faster rate, the images appear to be in motion. Muybridge created the first animated motion picture, and determined that yes, all four of a horse’s hooves are simultaneously airborne as it trots. Though Horse in Motion is technically the first film ever made, some experts say this film doesn’t qualify as the first motion picture because it is ultimately a series of still pictures combined.



Roundhay Garden Sequence

Experts point to another film as the first true film because it was the first continuous motion captured with motion picture equipment. This is the Roundhay Garden Sequence, named so for the location in which the scene was captured, Rounday, Leeds, West Riding of Yorkshire in the United Kingdom. The film was directed by French inventor, Louis Le Prince, who captured the 2.11 second scene on Eastman Kodak paper base photographic film with a single lens camera. Much of what we know about this particular scene was relayed by Le Prince’s son, Adolphe Le Prince. The film was made on property belonging to Le Prince’s mother-in-law and father-in-law, Joseph and Sarah Whitley, parents to Le Prince’s wife, Elizabeth. Named Oakwood Grange, the home’s garden would serve as the sight of the first ever film. The film itself features Joseph and Sarah Whitley, in addition to a woman believed to be a family friend, Annie Hartley. The trio are ambling about the garden of Oakwood Grange, and Sarah can be seen either walking, or some say, dancing backwards, and Joseph’s coat tails can be seen sailing through the air as he turns. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Roundhay Garden Sequence is the oldest known film in existence.


The film was released on October 14, 1888 and was remastered in 1930 by the National Science Museum. Experts took the remaining parts of the sequence and mastered them to 35mm film. Though Adolphe Le Prince claimed the film was shot at 12 frames per second, expert analysis found the actual rate to be much slower at 7 frames per second.


Cinematic Sensation

A 2015 film titled The First Film tells the story of Le Prince and his magnificent achievement, but the ingenuity and innovation aren’t the only reason this story captivates its audiences. The release of the film and its aftermath are steeped in drama and mystery. Just 10 days after the garden scene was captured, Sarah Whitley died. Not even two years later, Le Prince himself mysteriously vanished from a train on September 16, 1890, before a planned demonstration of motion picture to take place in the United States. Le Prince was part of a well-known feud with Thomas Edison, the famous American inventor, and some theories support the idea that Le Prince’s disappearance was the result of one of Edison’s sinister plots. Even Adolphe was killed just two years after testifying against Edison in defense of Louis Le Prince’s inventions. While some would consider Le Prince to be the father of cinematography, others disagree, citing the fact that Le Prince contributed to the extreme secrecy that clouded the early practices of motion picture making!



From Motion Picture Madness to Home Movie Fervor

Considering the facts, the first motion picture ever made was actually a home movie! Unlike Le Prince’s film, your old home movies and family films don’t have to fracture and fade. When you choose to digitize your media, your memories can be preserved. Maybe you were once an amateur filmmaker! Letting Southtree turn your masterpieces into digital keepsakes is the best way to be sure they remain to be enjoyed by posterity, just as easily as you can find the Roundhay Garden Sequence on YouTube! 

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