Watching digital 3D films with intricate graphics, surround sound, and the marshmallow-y seats of a movie theatre makes it easy to forget what movies were like before The Wizard of Oz, when recordings were stored on bulky film tape and viewed in gritty black and white color. Since its inception over 100 years ago, filmmaking has evolved significantly into what we know today: Blue Ray, Ultra HD, GoPro—all of which are likely to one day become just as outdated as the long forgotten VHS, Camcorder, and satellite TV. From the cinematograph in 1895 to Facebook Live videos streamed from our smartphones, technology continues to reinvent the ways we view motion pictures.
Here’s a look at some of the art form’s most notable historic moments:
1878: THE RACE HORSE
Many people consider the “Race Horse” to be the earliest documented film in history. And while it was monumental for the birth of film, it isn’t considered the earliest film because it’s not, in fact, film. It was a series of cabinet cards by Eadweard Muybridge to show an example of chronophotography – an early method of photography to record the passing of time. The first documented film wouldn’t officially take place until a decade later.
1888: ROUNDHAY GARDEN SCENE
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the oldest surviving film in existence is the Roundhay Garden Scene – a two second clip of people gleefully walking/dancing in a circle. French inventor, Louis Le Prince, staked his claim on some of the earliest film technology – the single-lens camera. As a result, Le Prince recorded his 12-frames/second video breakthrough using his single-lens camera and Eastman Kodak’s paper-based photographic film.
1895: THE CINEMATOGRAPH IS BORN
Inspired by Thomas Edison and William Dickson’s picture projector, brothers and filmmakers Auguste and Louis Lumiere were determined to find a way to combine film and projection into a solo device. In 1895 their dream became a reality, when they created and patented the cinematograph—the world’s first motion picture camera. Later that same year, the duo debuted their film Sortie de l'usine Lumière de Lyon to the public.
1932: LIFE IN COLOR
Three-strip Technicolor was first introduced and commercialized in 1932. Three years later, Kodachrome was created—mainly for amateur home movie-making and slideshows. Fantasia and The Wizard of Oz are the two most distinguished motion picture movies to utilize Technicolor technology in the late 1930s. How else were we supposed to know Dorothy’s slippers were sparkly red?
1948: THE REAL LIFE ANCHORMAN
Douglas Edwards was America’s first regular news anchor, starring on CBS’s nightly broadcasted Television News (later titled Evening News) from 1948 to 1962. In 1950, the CBS program became available across the U.S. Today, news broadcasting networks are planted around the world, and televised updates can be viewed nearly every hour of the day.
1954: COLOR TV GOES ON SALE
The first commercially sold color TV set was first available for purchase in 1954, at $1,295 and found in just 60 New York-located stores. Due to its hefty price, and color programming’s still relatively unfamiliar concept, none sold. Over the years, the idea gained traction, and in the 60s nearly all higher-income households owned a set.
1962: SATELLITE TV IS BORN
On July 23, 1962 AT&T’s Telstar satellite dish made its debut with a live transatlantic broadcast. The Telstar—a spherical satellite similar in size and aesthetic to a beach ball—was the first privately sponsored space initiative and cost AT&T $3 million to launch via NASA.
1965: FILMMAKING FOR THE MASSES
The Super 8 camera—an improvement to Eastman Kodak’s 8 mm film format<LINK TO ARTICLE ON 8MM FILM> became available to aspiring filmmakers in 1965, noted for its straightforward, easy-to-use technology. Unlike previous film formats, this particular innovation used cartridge, which eliminated having to spool film through the camera.
Interestingly, some of the world’s best-known directors like Steven Spielberg got their start with the Super 8. which is fitting that his protege, J.J. Abrams, would later go on to direct a movie called Super 8.
1976: THE RISE OF THE VHS
In 1976, JVC launched the iconic video home system (VHS) and the Vidstar video cassette recorder (VCR) in Japan. With these two inventions, a small one-inch thick tape could be inserted into a video player and watched via television or projector. The following year, the inventions came to North America at the Consumer Electronics Showcase (CES) in Chicago.
1981-83: CAMCORDER EVOLUTION
The Camera/recorder, or camcorder, combined video and still image into one compact system. In 1982, JVC and Sony revealed the world’s first at CES. Sony then revealed the first one-piece camcorder, the BMC100, in 1983. This was the first multi-use recorder that also functioned as a camera—and was portable. The company’s Betamax camera was also refined this year, and resulted in significant sales. Bottom line: Camcorders were an 80s phenomenon.
1985: BLOCKBUSTER GOES BIG
Up until this point, most video stores were small operations with limited rental options. But when the first Blockbuster video store opened in Dallas, Texas in 1985, consumers could find as many as 8,000 movie rental selections. (Eventually the company was sold for $8.4 billion to Viacom.) This same year, the videotape camcorder exceeded previous sales and started popping up in homes all over the world.
What was once a 9,000-store worldwide empire at its peak has whittled down to just one remaining store in Bend, Oregon.
1991: MPEG STORAGE IS BORN
The Motion Picture Experts Group created MPEG-1—a small, flat rectangular disc that is still used to compress all digital files— in 1991. For the next 10 years, MPEG improved and allowed increased storage space with better reliability. Eventually it became a standard method of storing digital files, for still images and motion picture formats.
1992: LCD SCREENS SAVE EYES
Rather than squinting through a small eyepiece on the camera, filmmakers and photographers could now look at their content through a large screen, thanks to Sharp—the first company to create a colored LCD screen. A foreshadowing technology of what was to come for future televisions.
1993: YOU CAN NOW RECORD HOURS OF VIDEO
Ampex released a breakthrough invention: the first digital video camera called the DCT, which allowed hours of motion recording all on one tape. Other tech companies quickly followed suit, competitively creating smaller cameras with better picture quality and increased storage.
1995: UPLOAD IT
Sony came out with the MiniDV in 1995, which allowed users to transfer all DCR-VX1000 digital files to their computer for editing. As many photographers and videographers can attest today, this invention revolutionized how artists stow digital content.
1997: DVDS AND NETFLIX TAKE OVER THE WORLD
Goodbye VHS, hello DVD. The Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) is a sleek platform that was first used to store high quality audio, video, photos, and any other digital file format. When it comes to movies, the DVD made VHS look like a beast. It was smaller, sleeker, shinier and revolutionized the film industry like the CD did for the music business.
This same year, Netflix was founded. The online movie rental outlet allows users to pay a monthly fee and watch unlimited TV shows and films.
2002: THE GOPRO EMPIRE
In 2002, philanthropist and entrepreneur Nick Woodman founded GoPro—a company that creates small, camera products to capture personal action. Today, GoPro is worth $1 billion.
2003: R.I.P VHS
The VHS officially died out in 2003, with DVD sales and online rentals pushing it to extinction. Best Buy announced the end of its VHS sales, and just five years later, JVS produced its last stand-alone VCR.
2005: THE YOUTUBE SENSATION
Founded by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim, this online video forum hosts a seemingly infinite abyss of predominately short-length films, uploaded by users around the world. In 2006, Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion, and by 2013, YouTube hit an astounding 1 billion monthly unique visitors. Today multi-channel networks (MCN) sign on YouTube performers, providing them with a web stage, production resources, and a distribution station. Some of these channels are acquired by big name brands for multi-billion-dollar deals.
2006: BLU-RAY BOOMS
Samsung released the first Blu-Ray player for $1,000 in 2006. The format displays higher definition graphics and more efficient storage, compared to the standard DVD. What’s the old saying, “What goes around comes around?” Well, karma came back around and Blu-Ray did to the DVD what it had done to the VHS.
2010: R.I.P BLOCKBUSTER
After filing bankruptcy, Blockbuster was bought by Dish Network and shut down. Today, close to none of the Blockbuster brick and mortars remain. In fact, just one store in Bend, Oregon still has it’s doors open.
This same year, the first 3D video cameras were introduced to the public.
2013: VIDEO GETS SOCIAL
With Facebook Live, Snapchat, and the semi-recently created Instagram stories, Internet users in the United States constantly share and watch videos on multiple social media platforms. In fact, it’s estimated that Americans now spend an average of four hours on social media each day.
The next generation of video camera technology is known as 4K Ultra HD, which allows editing options and quality graphics like never seen before. Other than that, who knows where we’re headed! But if history is any inclination of how recorded content will continue to progress, the unimaginable is yet to come.
Next time you find yourself browsing Facebook videos, recording a special moment on your smartphone, engorged in a CGI-flooded video on Vimeo, or sitting in that squishy movie theatre seat, eating a bucket of popcorn and watching award-winning screenplay through 3D goggles, take some time to reflect on the amazing history of film—the impressive evolution of technology that made your enjoyment possible. We’ve come a long way since the birth of the 1895 cinematograph, and there’s no doubt we’ll keep pushing boundaries and go further still.