Slow motion is a key part of modern visual culture, from iPhone selfies to movies. So how does it work?
In this episode of Vox Almanac, Vox’s Phil Edwards explores how slow motion works and how it became a part of movie history — starting with the very beginning of photography, when pioneers like Étienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge discovered that capturing images required capturing motion, too.
Slow motion was key in the days of silent films, when camera operators would overcrank their cameras (to slow down footage) or undercrank them (to speed it up). These experiments could range from goofy to dreamy. Soon after the addition of sound, Hollywood embraced a standard speed for movies, and slow motion became an even more important tool.
As the video demonstrates, slow motion showed up in sports reels, movie musicals, and artsy French dramas. And before long, it was part of the action-movie landscape as well, from Seven Samurai to Bonnie and Clyde.
Today we take for granted that slow motion is one of the tools available to moviemakers, whether they’re working on an iPhone or a Hollywood set. And it probably won’t stop anytime soon.
- This issue of American Cinematographer is a time-capsule look at the adoption of Vitaphone, a key sound-on-film technology used in early movies.
- Most academic writing that touches on slow-mo focuses on individual filmmakers, like this essay by scholar Ludovic Cortade.
- Finally, if you really want to nerd out on film history, here’s a copy of the Transactions of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers from 1927, which details the development of a frame-rate standard and discusses the synchronization of sound and film.