Visual Communications: The first motion pictures

This month we start our series on visual communications. We are looking at visual communications because they are all around us. They surpass language barriers. They record our history. Our first look is at some of the earliest forms of visual communications known to be created by humans: cave paintings from ancient societies dating back 30,000 to 40,000 years. These paintings told stories of struggles and successes.

While these paintings may appear to be artistically simple, there is actually more than meets the eye behind many pieces of cave art. These first forms of visual communications may have been intended to produce the illusion of movement.

A painted rhino appears to be shaking it's head Credit: ETSU.edu

A painted rhino appears to be shaking it’s head
(Credit: ETSU.edu)

Archeologist Marc Azéma and artist Florent Rivère have spent the past twenty years researching paleolithic animation. According to their research, one method for creating these early motion pictures was to superimpose the same image in slightly different stances to make images of animals appear to be in motion, as is seen with the eight-legged bison piece discovered at Chauvet Cave in France and featured below. Azéma and Rivère  found this latter technique used with fifty-three images in twelve caves.

The eight legged bison found in Chauvet Cave (Credit: Above Top Secret)

The eight legged bison found in Chauvet Cave
(Credit: Above Top Secret)

Another example that supports Azéma and Rivère’s research is the use of bone disks with engravings of an animal sitting on one side and standing on the other side. This may have been an early version of the popular 19th century toy the thaumatrope that when spun fast enough merged the two images to create a combined animated image. In this case the animal would appear to be changing positions.

An example of a 19th century thaumatrope toy. (Credit: St. Anastasia Catholic School)

An example of a 19th century thaumatrope toy.
(Credit: St. Anastasia Catholic School)

Azéma and Rivère also hypothesize that some cave art was created sequentially and intended to be read in that order, like a comic strip, long before Marvel Comics created the superheroes we know today.

What are the earliest forms of visual information you remember from your life?

Liz Faris, Account Manager
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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