Charles-Émile Reynaud Emile Reynaud

French inventor, artist and showman

Émile Reynaud's father was an horologer and medal engraver, and the Reynaud home was full of mysterious objects to fascinate the young Émile. His mother was a cultivated idealist, with progressive ideas where education was concerned, and an accomplished watercolourist. At fourteen, already knowledgeable in literary and scientific matters, Émile was apprenticed to a precision engineer in Paris, and later studied with the sculptor-photographer Adam Salomon. Soon he was preparing lantern slides, photographic and hand-drawn, for the audio-visual lectures arranged by the Abbe Moigno. After the death of his father in 1865, Émile and his mother stayed at his uncle's chateau at Puy-en-Velay and he continued his studies in his uncle's library. Back with Moigno in Paris he gained extensive experience in all matters relating to projection. In 1876 he decided to make an optical toy to amuse a young child. Improving on the Phenakistiscope and Zoetrope, Reynaud devised the Praxinoscope, patented on 21 December 1877, a cylinder with a band of coloured images set inside. There was a central drum of mirrors, which were equidistant between the axis and the picture strip, so that as the toy revolved the reflection of each picture seen in the mirror-drum appeared stationary, without the necessity for complex stop-start mechanisms. The images blended to give a clear, bright, undistorted moving picture without flicker. With his mother he took an apartment at the Rue Rodier in Paris, using the adjacent apartment as a workshop where the Praxinoscope was commercially produced, receiving an Honourable Mention in the Paris Exposition of 1878.

The following year he added a Patent Supplement for an improvement - the Praxinoscope Théâtre. The mirror-drum and cylinder were set in a wooden box in which there was a glass-covered viewing aperture, reflecting a card printed with a background. The moving subjects - a juggler, clowns, a steeple-chase - were printed on a black band, and thus appeared superimposed on a suitable scene. A further development was the Projection Praxinoscope which used a series of transparent pictures on glass; an oil lamp illuminated the images and the mirror reflections passed through a lens onto a screen. The same lamp projected a static background, and once again the moving pictures were seen in an appropriate setting. All three models were demonstrated to the Société Française de Photographie in 1880. In December 1888 Reynaud patented his Théâtre Optique, a large-scale Praxinoscope intended for public projection. By using spools to feed and take-up the extended picture band, sequences were no longer limited to short cyclic movements. The images were painted on gelatine squares and fastened between leather bands, with holes in metal strips between the pictures engaging in pins on the revolving wheel, so that each picture was aligned with a facet of the mirror drum. This was the first commercial use of the perforations that were to be so important for successful cinematography.

In 1892 Reynaud signed an agreement with the Musée Grevin in Paris to present the 'Pantomimes Lumineuses'; the first animated pictures shown publicly on a screen by means of long, transparent bands of images, and on 28 October gave the first show. The apparatus was set up behind a translucent screen and Reynaud apparently gave most of the presentations himself, deftly manipulating the picture bands to-and-fro to extend the sequences, creating a twelve or fifteen minute performance from the 500 frames of Pauvre Pierrot. Two other early subjects were Clown et ses chiens (300 frames) and Un Bon boc (700). Special music was compiled by Gaston Paulin, with magnificent poster artwork by Jules Cheret, and the show was a success. It was closed from 1 March 1894 until 1 January 1895, reopening with new subjects, Un Reve au coin de feu and Autour d'une cabine. Early in 1896 the clowns Footit and Chocolat performed a sketch, Guillaume Tell, for the Photoscenographe cine camera devised or acquired by Reynaud, the resulting images retouched, hand-coloured and mounted as horizontal bands for the Théâtre Optique. This was completed by August, and in November Reynaud filmed actor Galipaux in Le Premiere cigare, on an improved camera. This was ready for projection by early summer 1897. The following year conventional films, shown on a Demenÿ Chronophotographe, were mixed with the 'Pantomimes Lumineuses'. Reynaud experimented unsuccessfully with an oscillating-mirror projector in an attempt to update his presentation technique, but the battle with the competition of the Cinématographe and its imitators, with their constantly-changing programmes, was finally lost, and the last show took place on 28 February 1900. From 1903 to 1907 Reynaud worked on a device for viewing short stereoscopic sequences of movement, the Stereo-cinema, resembling a double praxinoscope arranged vertically, but it was not financially viable. 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. Reproductions of the two bands - Pauvre Pierrot and Autour d'une cabine - are today still being shown, as the only surviving examples of his public screen motion picture work.

Stephen Herbert