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Persistence of Vision

Jeffrey Syken

There’s a curious trait to the human eye that makes the motion picture possible – it’s known as Persistence of Vision. Simply understood, this is the lingering effect of an image seen through the lens of the eye, flipped upside-down on the retina (at the back of the eye) and transmitted to the brain via the optical nerve as an image. For a brief moment (after the image is no longer on the retina), the brain holds that image. This optical illusion is the foundation upon which the motion picture is based and the basic principle behind the movie camera. The first crude movie projectors and Nickelodeons were based on this principle. A series of images, each slightly different than the preceding image, when “flipped” at a certain speed would create the illusion of motion since the brain retains that previous image long enough for the motion of the cards to appear fluid. Cartoons are created in this very way. With the movie projector and celluloid film, the movie camera could capture the action in individual “frames” and when played through a fast (+4K rpm) shutter, the brain is really seeing many individual pictures (twenty-four) each second. In 1927, Al Jolson appeared in The Jazz Singer – the first talkie. By photographically combining a picture negative with a sound negative, a combined positive was produced containing both picture and sound (on a continuous sound track adjoining the picture frames of the celluloid film). This was revolutionary as was the introduction of Technicolor in later years. The movie industry was/is a unique American creation employing thousands and entertaining millions. It wouldn’t have been possible if not for a simple optical illusion known as persistence of vision

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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