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How the pictures learnt to walk

The touch-table will be on display to the public at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection until early March

The touch-table will be on display to the public at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection until early March

Press release issued: 11 February 2013

A digital touch-table that brings the experience of pre-cinema and early filmmaking back to cinema audiences and museum visitors has been developed by researchers at the University of Bristol and UWE Bristol, working in partnership with Aerian Studios.

Video illustrating the touch-table. [No sound associated with this video.]

The touch-table enables users to reactivate and learn about the different technologies used to create moving images from the 1830s to the early twentieth century.  Optical devices with exotic names like the Zoetrope, the Phenakistascope and the Kinora have been digitally recreated in the touch-table, together with a rich variety of interchangeable imagery from prominent museum collections.

The touch-table will be on display to the public at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection until early March and then appear on loan at museums and festivals of pre-cinema and animation.

The project 'How the pictures learnt to walk' was devised by Dr Birgit Beumers, an expert in Russian cinema and theatre formerly at the University of Bristol's School of Modern Languages, and Julia Bracegirdle, Senior Lecturer in Animation at the Bristol School of Animation, UWE, in collaboration with Aerian Studios, a multi-award winning digital agency, based in Wiltshire.

Dr Birgit Beumers said: "Our touch-table brings to life the amazing ways in which pioneers of motion picture projection such as Eadweard Muybridge,  Etienne-Jules Marey and the Lumière Brothers made images move.  The methods for making these optical devices are wide-ranging, yet they give an insight into the innovative thinking of these inventors."

Julia Bracegirdle said: "Looking at these innovative devices and their assets in motion, we understand what was amazing, terrifying and exciting about them in their time and appreciate their novelty.  Often, such early optical devices are documented in static images with text descriptions or in exhibitions where they are again static objects that cannot be spun or flipped.  The digital touch-table aims to provide users with a hands-on experience where they can see for themselves how such devices 'made the pictures walk'." 

S'unya Dickman of Aerian Studios said: "Aerian are incredibly excited to be involved in developing this project.  The table is the most complex HTML5 application we have made to date.  A great deal of time has been dedicated to refining the experience so that the early cinema devices we modelled gave the same visual experience as the real device.  We are anticipating great reviews of the table once it begins its tour around the world."

The project has drawn on sources from the National Media Museum in Bradford which has a fine collection of optical devices and films, the Museo del Precinema in Padua which has an extensive collection of films, slides and disks, and early animation work by Alexander Shiryaev digitised by Aardman Animations Ltd.

University of Bristol Theatre Collection

Located at 21 Park Row, the Theatre Collection is open Monday 12 noon – 4.45pm; Tuesday-Friday 9.30am – 4.45pm.  Please contact theatre-collection@bristol.ac.uk for further information.