News » 2 February 2018

Laterna Magica: predecessor of cinema

The Laterna Magica was used to tell fantastic stories, using merely a candle, a mirror and glass.

Fantasy and imagination are the key to telling legendary stories that transcend reality. Fantastic stories are often told using images that create a complete new world. Especially film is a good method to achieve this altered reality, as montage and special effects offer a way to manipulate reality. However, even in pre-cinematic age, such storytelling methods existed. The predecessor of the slide projector – called Laterna Magica – uses images to tell stories. As this tool was used to tell stories in the presence of (moving) images, once could say it is the predecessor of cinema as well.

The invention of a revolutionary story teller

Ostensibly, the Laterna Magica was invented in the 15th century by the Dutch pioneering scientist Christiaan Huygers. This is debatable, as some claim that Leonardo DaVinci already experimented with the same technique two centuries before Huygens did: great minds think alike. Huygens preferred not to pay too much attention to his invention, as he wanted to thrive in ‘real science’ – to which cinema didn’t belong in his opinion. Therefore, the Laterna Magica was pushed away as a mere side project, while it was a revolutionary tool in the age of enlightenment. For the first time ever, stories were told using a projector that showed moving images.

Its mechanism

The Laterna Magica projected images by shining candle light on a glass plate with a hollow mirror on the back of the projector. As photography didn’t exist just yet, images were painted on glass with the greatest sense for detail. This was of great importance as any error would be enlarged through the projection. As the ages went by, candle light was replaced by gas light and eventually by the light bulb. The result: the projection of an animated image on the wall. Animation would take place using several glass plates that represented movement of an object. Also, by using different colors of glass, light effects were stablished.

The Laterna Magica at Imagine Film Festival

This year Imagine Film Festival revolves around the fantastic story, which includes paying a tribute to the storytelling techniques used in the past. At Imagine, you can experience the telling of a story using the magic lantern. Lanternists Annet Duller & Wim Bos will take the stage in a collaboration with Sahand Sahebdivandi from storytelling collective Mezrab. Times and cultures will merge in a show where fantastic stories are being told using the magic lantern. Come and see!