Camera stop

The camera stop is one of the most ancient fakes or rigging of cinema. It consists in suspending the shooting during the shooting, thus producing two distinct shots, filmed according to the same frame, representing a scene which differs from one take to the other by one or more details. Putting them end to end makes one think of an instantaneous modification of a magical order. It was first used on August 28, 1895 by a director and a screenwriter of Thomas Edison , William Heise and Alfred Clark, charged with finding new subjects, to turn a reconstruction of the decapitation of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland , condemned for treason by his cousin, Queen Elizabeth re of England in 1587 . The film is called The Execution of Mary Stuart ( The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots ), and takes less than a minute, as all films of the era.

Subsequently, as early as 1896 , the French director Georges Méliès made extensive use of this trick, whose paternity was sometimes attributed to him.

The process will continue to flourish throughout the history of cinema. One can also note, for example, its recurring use in the 1960s American TV series My Beloved Witch  ( Bewitched ). The camera stop is finalized today by digital means, but it is always the same thing. In 2001, in The Lord of the Rings , the main character, Frodo, disappears in the eyes of mortals as soon as he puts on the famous and magical ring. In 2003, in A Long Sunday Engagement , Jean-Pierre Jeunet uses the camera stop for a decapitation sequence.


The discovery of rigging

The American historian Charles Musser says of the movie The Execution of Mary, Queen of the Scots , that he brings a remarkable innovation to the cinema 1 .

The camera stop is done in two stages:

  1. For the film of William Heise, the actress who plays Mary Stuart (Charles Musser says it is actually the secretary and treasurer of the Kinetoscope Company , Robert Thomae!) Kneels in front of the executioner and puts his head on the block. The executioner raises his ax.
  2. At this moment, the director of the shooting orders everyone to stop, the extras who attend the execution, the executioner, the queen are frozen in their current position. The operator immediately stops the electric motor of the Kinetograph , the camera that was used to shoot the first films of the cinema. Mary Stuart in flesh and bone gets up and is replaced by a mannequin wearing the same dress and a headpiece separable separable. The Kinetograph is set in motion and at the signal of the director, the ax falls down, the false head rolls on the ground, the hangman picks it up and shows it to the public.”After development of the film, it is necessary to suppress the traces of the stop and the restart of the camera, these operations having caused each time on the film a few overexposed photograms which it is necessary to cut, then it is necessary to gather by a collure the two useful parts of the shot 2 . ” Charles Musser shows well, in the choice of his illustrations, the welding with acetone (which the assemblers call ” collure ” ) which unites these two parts.

The camera stop consists, strictly speaking, in obtaining two different shots in their content but having exactly the same frame with respect to all the characters (if the purpose of the camera stop is to modify the decor) or the whole set (if they are the characters that must disappear, appear, or metamorphose).

The rediscovery of Georges Méliès

The execution of Mary Stuart did not mark the spirits as much as the fantasies of the director Georges Méliès , which relaunched in France the appeal of cinema for an audience quickly tired by the “animated photographic views” of Louis Lumière 3 . The history of cinema has retained the marvelous fable of the omnibus and the hearse: “Projecting a film he had taken place at the Opera , (Georges Méliès) was surprised to see an omnibus Madeleine-Bastille change suddenly in hearse 4 . “He remembered that his camera’s mechanism had jammed as he filmed the traffic. Without moving his camera, he had tried again to turn the drive crank. After a few attempts, he had managed to put his camera back into motion. “This accident was for Méliès a real” Newton’s apple  “. This specialist rigging for the stage became a specialist in the rigging on the screen 4 . ”

Did Georges Méliès first see the reel of the Edison Manufacturing Company , American films being broadcast in the United Kingdom by his English friends ( Robert William Paulespecially) who were able to talk to him or show him? Or is he sincere when he evokes the accidental circumstances of the personal rediscovery of this sleight of hand? No one can provide an answer. But the fact that it does not evoke at any moment the indispensable cut of the overexposed images following the stop, even brutal, and especially with the restart of its camera Place de l’Opéra, and that it emphasizes the side miraculous of this manipulation which requires in reality this delicate cleaning of the overexposed images which would reveal the special effects, can make think that history was too beautiful so that a conjurer of his level, specialist of the illusion, did not experience the pleasure of share it with his audience and the press.

From the beginning of its projections in the theater Robert Houdin , he bought ten years ago 5  “Georges Méliès was rich and lived well. His wife had brought him a dowry of twenty-five thousand gold louis and his father, an industrialist in shoes, also had a big fortune. The Robert Houdin theater, in full swing, brought back a lot. This is why Georges Méliès was able to offer the Lumière family a small fortune to buy the patent for their Cinématographe , a tempting proposition that they had refused, however, the eighteen months of their screenings at the Salon Indien du Grand Café.had reported them ten times more, Georges Méliès adds to his magic tricks the projection of “documentary” films copied on those of Louis Lumière, then he tests the presentation of a film with the rigging of the used camera stop three times, Retreating a lady at the Robert Houdin theater . First stop: the lady disappears, second stop: a skeleton took its place on the chair, third stop: the lady reappeared in her seat. The public success is such that Georges Méliès now directs his film production to fantasy and fantasy that allows to develop this trick that has the advantage over the “stuff” of the scene to cost nothing, otherwise the price of a acetone solder.

Thus, in 1900 , he accumulated 24 camera stops for Le Déshabillage impossible , in which the client of a hotel tries to undress, but as soon as he removes a piece of clothing, another instantly replaces it, and for finish, when he resigns to bed fully dressed, his bed flies … This film lasts 2 minutes and 10 seconds, and, if we do not take into account the beginning when the man (Georges Méliès) enters the chamber, the rhythm of substitutions is one occurrence every 4 seconds. A record that will not match his English friend William R. Paul, whose director Walter R. Booth does the same year to a total of 14 camera stops for a duration of 3 minutes 30 seconds in his filmThe Mysterious Undressing 6 .

The camera stop allows Georges Méliès, and those who hasten at the time to make “Méliès”, a choice with three possibilities: the appearance of objects or characters, and their corollary, disappearances, and, even more expressive, substitutions of objects or characters 7 .

The image by image

A technique currently well-established and in full evolution for twenty years, did not exist at the time: the cartoon on a photographic support, and its twin sister: pixilation . Since 1892 , the cartoon, as a technique of narrative, already existed in the framework of the Theater Optical French Émile Reynaud , whose films are the first cartoons of the cinema and lasted continuously, for shorter about 1 minute 30 seconds, and for the longest about 5 minutes, times that the operator could triple by running at will with his machine backwards (cinema) , freeze framesetc. The cartoons of Émile Reynaud, which the director named Luminous Pantomimes , were drawn image by image on a flexible film of 70 mm wide in celluloid 8 . These techniques, which are also called frame-by-frame , are an extension of the technique of camera stop with substitution. Indeed, the animationis nothing more than the substitution of one drawing for another by the camera, and the substitution of that other drawing for a new drawing, and so on. It was only necessary to remedy the need to cut the negative after each camera stop to remove the overexposed images caused by the shutdown and restart of the camera, which would have resulted in a minced film of multiple “splints”, true Celluloid lace infinitely fragile and certainly impossible to copy on another film.

The cure was discovered in April 1906 by the American James Stuart Blackton , who gave the film Humorous Phases of Funny Faces . JS Blackton inaugurates a kind of return to photography. Indeed, the film is shot photogram after photogram, in the manner of a camera, thanks to what is called the “crank turn” , a turn of the crank of the camera moves the film with a single step image (4 perforations) and record a single photogram. “This process was called in France” American movement “. He was still unknown in Europe 9 . “This time, no need to cut the negative to eliminate overexposed images, the camera is dedicated exclusively to this type of shooting.

JS Blackton is also experimenting with a similar technique: the pixilation, with The Haunted Hotel , where we see on a real table the miraculous preparation of a real breakfast, without any human intervention: the knife cuts itself slices of bread, Coffee pours itself, and the milk overflowing from the cup brings with it a little puppet, probably responsible for this invisible service. All thanks to the “American movement”, image by image. But in reality, the process was discovered five years ago, for another purpose: the super accelerated . In 1901 , a certain FS Armitage had the idea of ​​concentrating in less than two minutes the Demolition and reconstruction of the Star Theater (New York)(Demolishing and Building Up the Star Theater). During the few weeks that this operation takes, the camera remains in the same place, well stalled, filming through the window of a building placed directly opposite. On the first day, the filmmaker takes a few seconds of normal traffic, carts, wagons, and crowds of pedestrians. Then, during eight hours each day (to avoid the low lights and the night), some animated images are taken every half hour. A day goes on the screen in one to two seconds (at the rate of the dumb era: 16 frames per second), the shadows spin at high speed, pedestrians are activated like insects. The shop awning opens and closes at an infernal pace. The floors of the Star Theater disappear one after the other. When only heaps of stones remain, which are freed from the load, another piece of the film at normal speed shows the pedestrians, indifferent to the ruins, who go about their business. After shooting, FS Armitage had to, like Georges Méliès, clean the film of overexposed images recorded at each stop and restart10 . It was not, strictly speaking, image by image, animation on real objects or characters, that is, pixilation, but it was the technique of stopping camera.

Related article: History of animation .

Modern cinema

Since its discovery, the camera stop is used very commonly in movies. This is the way we use to make characters appear ubiquitous. For example, Marcel Carné shows a certain evil character by this process in The Evening Visitors , and Jean Cocteau , eager for special effects in his films, uses them for Beauty and the Beast , and for Orpheus . In the 1920s , it was the directors of avant-garde films who used it. Even Dziga Vertov , militant Bolshevik Party , uses the method of Man with a Movie Camera, when a Chinese magician performs tricks at the Georges Méliès in front of young amazed children.

But the more recent examples are also innumerable. In 2001 , in The Lord of the Rings , the main character, Frodo, carrying the ring to lead to its destruction, disappears in the eyes of mortals as soon as he puts on one of his fingers. The camera stop is finalized today by digital means, but it is always the same thing. In 2003 , in A Long Sunday of Engagement , Jean-Pierre Jeunet resumes rigging”To cut the head of Tina Lombardi, avenging widow of her lover, a Corsican pimp who voluntarily shot himself in the hand to be reformed and who was sentenced to death by a military court. The beautiful, dark Tina, led to the guillotine, loses his head as the Mary of the Black Maria, in two stages, both movements through the camera stop 11 . ”

Notes and references

  1. ↑ ( in ) Charles Musser , History of the American Cinema, Volume 1, The Emergence of Cinema, The American Screen to 1907 ,, 613  p. ( ISBN 0-684-18413-3 ) , p.  86-87
  2. ↑ Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin , film grammar , Paris, New World ,, 588  p. ( ISBN  978-2-84736-458-3 ) , p.  29
  3. ↑ Georges Sadoul , history of world cinema from its origins to today , Paris, Flammarion ,, 719  p. p.  26
  4. ↑ a and b Sadoul 1968 , p.  27
  5. ↑ Sadoul 1968 , p.  26
  6. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  48
  7. ↑ Sadoul 1968 , p.  28
  8. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  21-22
  9. ↑ Sadoul 1968 , p.  407
  10. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  401
  11. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  30

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