Film encompasses individual motion pictures, the field of film as an art form, and the motion picture industry. Films (also referred to as movies or motion pictures) are produced by recording images from the world with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects.
Films are cultural artifacts created by specific cultures, which reflect those cultures, and, in turn, affect them. Film is considered to be an important art form, a source of popular entertainment and a powerful method for educating — or indoctrinating — citizens. The visual elements of cinema give motion pictures a universal power of communication. Some films have become popular worldwide attractions by using dubbing or subtitles that translate the dialogue.
Films are made up of a series of individual images called frames. When these images are shown rapidly in succession, a viewer has the illusion that motion is occurring. The viewer cannot see the flickering between frames due to an effect known as persistence of vision, whereby the eye retains a visual image for a fraction of a second after the source has been removed. Viewers perceive motion due to a psychological effect called beta movement.
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The origin of the name “film” comes from the fact that photographic film (also called film stock) has historically been the primary medium for recording and displaying motion pictures. Many other terms exist for an individual motion picture, including picture, picture show, moving picture, photo-play and flick. A common name for film in the United States is movie, while in Europe the term cinema is preferred. Additional terms for the field in general include the big screen, the silver screen, the cinema and the movies.
Preceding film by thousands of years, plays and dances had elements common to film: scripts, sets, costumes, production, direction, actors, audiences, storyboards, and scores. Much terminology later used in film theory and criticism applied, such as mise en scene (roughly, the entire visual picture at any one time). Moving visual and aural images were not recorded for replaying as in film.
The camera obscura was pioneered by Alhazen in his Book of Optics (1021), and later near the year 1600, it was perfected by Giambattista della Porta. Light is inverted through a small hole or lens from outside, and projected onto a surface or screen, creating a moving image, but it is not preserved in a recording.
In the 1860s, mechanisms for producing two-dimensional drawings in motion were demonstrated with devices such as the zoetrope, mutoscope and praxinoscope. These machines were outgrowths of simple optical devices (such as magic lanterns) and would display sequences of still pictures at sufficient speed for the images on the pictures to appear to be moving, a phenomenon called persistence of vision. Naturally the images needed to be carefully designed to achieve the desired effect, and the underlying principle became the basis for the development of film animation.
With the development of celluloid film for still photography, it became possible to directly capture objects in motion in real time. An 1878 experiment by Eadweard Muybridge in the United States using 24 cameras produced a series of stereoscopic images of a galloping horse, arguably the first “motion picture,” though it was not called by this name. This technology required a person to look into a viewing machine to see the pictures which were separate paper prints attached to a drum turned by a handcrank. The pictures were shown at a variable speed of about 5 to 10 pictures per second, depending on how rapidly the crank was turned. Commercial versions of these machines were coin operated.