The beginnings of animation: Émile Reynaud

The beginnings of animation: Émile Reynaud

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Added by 9 December, 2016

Before taking a look at the best animation of today in this VI edition of Animacam, we want to propose you to take a look back, specifically to the beginnings of the animation in a series of posts that we will be publishing during the next weeks. Today we would like to tell you about Émile Reynaud (1844-1918), who could be considered as the father of animation and the inventor of cartoons.

A forgotten genius

In 1877 Émile Reynaud created the praxinoscope, a zootrope with improved mechanisms that allowed a higher quality of movement of the images. With this new invention, Reynaud prepared in Paris a new show that he called Optical Theater, which he patented in 1888, in which he projected his luminous Pantomimes between the years 1892 and 1900.


The luminous Pantomimes of Émile Reynaud were the first animations of the history of the cinema. Reynaud colored figures on a transparent 70mm gelatin called Cristaloid, which was protected by a film of shellac. Reynaud also devised the perforation of the film for the mechanical dragging of the same. Reynaud’s Optical Theater in which he projected his luminous pantomimes was a success in Paris for almost a decade, double passes were realized daily in the Grévin Theater of the French capital.

Unfortunately, with the appearance of the Lumière brothers’ cinematograph, Reynaud’s Optical Theater ceased to be the main audiovisual attraction of the moment. Reynaud ended up destroying his praxinoscope and most of the works he did.

The first cartoons

Today only two of the luminous pantomimes that Reynaud made throughout his life are preserved. The first one is called Pauvre Pierrot and was made in the year 1892. In the piece we are shown a harlequin who flirts with a woman, later will come the “poor Pierrot” who will suffer the jokes of the harlequin in addition to the disinterest of his loved. The drawings were synchronized with music and also sound effects of its authorship.

The other luminous Pantomime that still conserves is Autour d’une cabine, released three years later. In this work Reynaud treats a theme that we could consider spicy for the time narrated through delicate and colorful drawings.

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