History of Cinema 2 – The Mutoscope

The Mutoscope was invented by W. K. L. Dickson and Herman Casler and later patented by Herman Casler on November 21, 1894. It was incredibly popular and spread across the world quickly.

Many different styles and sizes were made. They could be set up anywhere as they were manual machines. You would insert you coins, anywhere form one cent to five cents, and turn the crank. The payment gave you a set amount of time to view the film.

The principal was simple so many different versions of the Mutoscope were made. Occasionally the machine would be altered to fit a client’s needs. The differing versions included a countertop design, more elaborate housings for fancier venues, a row of connected machines to show a longer film (something for another post), and they could alter the size of the spindle to have more or less frames.

It functions very simply. There are cards with individual images, frames in current terms, secured in order on a spindle. A small stop causes the cards to pause long enough for the eye to register the image before moving on.

Anyone with the means of production could make a film and distribute it. A person in Ohio could see a film in New York, go back to their studio and produce the same content for distribution. At this time, content would be very similar to YouTube today.

Below is an example of what was seen in the viewer. This is a complete film which depicts a popular dance at the time. Cakewalk was exhibited in the early 1900s.

Cakewalk 1903
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Silent Movies 2 – Shadows

Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

There are three aspects of silent film that I study: acting poses, storytelling, and use of shadows. This post will focus on shadows.


Silent filmmakers were very aware of light and shadow because their cameras needed extreme amounts of each to create good images. As creative as the Lumiere Brothers dived headfirst into fantasy and pushing what film could do. The German expressionists went full tilt light and shadow. Their design esthetic was crafting light and shadow into shapes and characters.


Shadow is integral to the storytelling, the emotional content, and set design. The power they were able to create is amazing to me. I think the best movies use what the expressionists made. It is a specific language of light that shows up in every decade of film, mainly in the Noir period.

Warning Shadows

Strong, cutting shadows could show magic, internal thought, emotion extending from a character. Shadow could focus your attention to a specific spot, add depth or importance to something. It can make light brighter. It can expose intent. It can also be used as artifice and create interesting shapes and patterns.


I try to incorporate this into my art when it’s appropriate. It also influences my sense of design. In my comics work, it plays a more important role.

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