Film Magic

The Big Picture for this Unit:

What are the essential similarities and differences between ‘primitive’ and ‘modern’ film-making ?

How can learning about early film help us to learn about film language?

Persistence of Vision

Film v Video

One of the fundamental differences between the films of primitive cinema and the films we create today as part of the Intro Film Course is contained in the two words


Video stores moving images digitally. They can be played back instantly and saved as digital files on a computer. Film stores images in such a way that the film has to be chemically processed before the images can be seen. 

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To understand how we make sense of moving images and how the cinema was born it helps us to understand the concept of persistence of vision.

Eadweard Muybridge’s Zoopraxiscope


Make a Thuamathrope


A Flip book


An Animation


The Earliest Cinema

Do some research about early Film pioneers like Muybridge

Online Treasure Hunt

Although you will have seen from your research that there where a lot of people in Europe and America all developing cinematic techniques around about the same time, the Lumiere Brothers where the first to show their moving images to a paying audience.

Make a note of the similarities and differences between early cinema and modern cinema

The Shot


Workers Leaving The Factory (1895)


Arrival of a Train (1895)


Shots of Lyon (1998) – What is different about this Film?


The Sick Kitten (1901) – And what about this major breakthrough?!


Or this one is even earlier Grandma’s Reading Glass (1900)

The Cut

Look carefully at this film  – Fire, by James Williamson (1901). How is it different to ‘Workers Leaving The Factory’ ?


The Narrative

By 1903 pioneer filmmakers had already begun to create film narratives based on popular fiction of the time.

The Weird and the Wonderful

In Europe the people who were most excited about the invention of the moving image were kind of divided into two groups, those who were interested in creating art and those who were interested in creating entertainment. Both groups created some weird and wonderful films.





The Magician

George Melies is was a magician and show man. He was one of the first to see the Lumiere bothers films and realised the potential of showing films to audiences for a profit. As he began making his own films he developed a number of techniques which have since led to him being called the father of special effects.

Here are some of the techniques he used and how they are still used in modern films.


The Stop Edit

How is the magic being created?

What is happening in the narrative? What is reaction of the people at the end of the film?


This is a bit scary folks! Can you spot the stop edit?


The Ring ( Gore Verbinski 2002)

The Dissolve


This one used amazing stage make up and robotics but is essentially the same technique


The American Werewolf In London (John Landis 1981)

Double Exposure 


Now we use the same technique but we call it split screen


Jack and Jill (Denis Dugan 2011)

Another director inspired by George Meilies is Martin Scorsese. He made the magical film “Hugo” about him in 2011 based on the amazingly illustrated book by Brain Selznick. Well worth a watch!



Special Effects have come a long way with CGI but still some of the most effective special effects are not done with computers but with practical techniques and creative ideas.


Production Instructions

Film Language

 How to create Split Screen Magic!

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