"Laterna" and the History of Animation

Posted by Pete Molinero on September 10th, 2012

It isn't exactly common english. In fact, the word "Laterna" isn't english at all. It is a real word, though, and it's Latin. It means "lamp." It's unfortunate that this word is not better known, because it actually plays an extremely significant part in the history of film and animation. You see, there was a device called a Magic Lantern (or, Laterna Magica as it was called by some) and if it weren't for this device, animation probably wouldn't exist as we know it.

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THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE MAGIC LANTERN

A long time ago, during the Baroque era, art didn't move. It often did communicate great emotion and energy to the viewer--but still, it was static. It was during this time that Athanasius Kircher, likely based on the ideas of Giovanni Fontana and Giovanni Battista della Porta, began to concieve what would eventually lead to animation and the motion picture.

HOW THE MAGIC LANTERN WORKED

The idea was simple: shine a source of light through a painted lens so that the painting was projected onto the wall. While Kircher began the movement, it wasn't until the work of Christiaan Huygens that a working prototype was created. Thanks to his work, the Magic Lantern development took off. Lenses were created that greatly expanded the size of the image and ensured that it was "in focus." Multi-frame slides that allowed for primitive motion were painted. Slides were developed that allowed for "moving parts" in the projected image, as demonstrated below.

As the magic lantern became better, shows were conducted that entertained large audiences. Audiences who had never before been exposed to "moving" art were both terrified and captivated. Eventually the device became inexpensive enough that true fans could purchase their own. The magic lantern was truly a success.

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Then, as technology continued to develop and new innovations were popularized, the Laterna Magica became obsolete and was discontinued. It's hard to believe that a device so widely used could be so completely forgotten. Nevertheless, the magic lantern, or "Laterna Magica", leaves behind a legacy of incredible impact and innovation.

The Magic Lantern Today

Believe it or not, the Magic Lantern is still remembered by a few even in the 21st century. For the past twenty years a live demonstration of the Magic Lantern has been put on by The American Magic Lantern Theater. Magic lanterns are also on display at many museums. And of course, Laterna Studio hasn't forgotten the revolutionary device.

The Magic Lantern and Laterna Studio

Being an animation studio, among other things, it was fitting for Laterna Studio to take on a name that had some significance with animation. "Laterna" certainly did the trick (shortened because "Laterna Magica Studio" seemed like a bit of a mouthful).

In addition to this, I liked the concept of "lamp" because it related to the Biblical concept portrayed in Matthew 5:14. Through Christ, I pray the Laterna Studio may truly be a light in this dark world.

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