Charles-Èmile Reynauld’s Théâtre Optique, 1892

An interdiscplinary background in engineering, photography, sculpture and watercolours proved to be a fertile ground for the innovations in moving image technology developed by Charles-Èmile Reynauld, arguably the first person to create frame-by-frame animation in the classic form that we understand today.

Deriving from a praxinoscope that he had invented in 1876, Reynauld’s patented a Praxinoscope Théâtre in 1879 and then an improved version, the Théâtre Optique, was patented in 1888. This invention was able to project hand-painted, animated, moving images and was adopted commercially by the Museé Grévin in Paris in 1892. The Museé Grévin was a famous museum of waxworks, which also featured a Cabaret Fantastique, a small theatre with shows from magicians. The Théâtre Optique opened there in 1892 – three years before the Lumière Brothers had perfected the first film camera and demonstrated moving, photographic images in 1895. The Théâtre Optique was open until 1900, when it was superseded by cinema and closed down. Before his death in January 1918, in a fit of depression, he smashed the surviving Théâtre Optique mechanism and threw all but two of his picture bands into the Seine.

Here is a reconstruction of Théâtre Optique by the Museum of Cinema in Girona.

Here is a reconstruction of one of the two surviving Pantomimes Lumineuses that were screened at the Théâtre Optique, Pauvre Pierrot from 1892.

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Charles-Èmile Reynauld’s Théâtre Optique, 1892

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