The cinema - Louis Ducos du Hauron

Louis Ducos du Hauron also invented the cinema

As he was the inspirer of colour photography, both by his mural paintings depicting animals, and his painted bestiary either in Lascaux, Cosquer, Niaux or Altamira, 35,000 years ago, our prehistoric ancestor recreated, on his rock and parietal paintings, the movement of the animal by fitting it with eight legs, or even a succession of heads, as the Chauvet cave testifies to it.

In the flickering light, like the light of a torch, he gives us the illusion of movement.

Better still ! The archaeologists of the Laugerie-Basse cave in Dordogne who, at the beginning, picked up horn or bone rings, with a hole in the middle, and decorated with an ibex, at first believed that they were buttons made by the Cro-Magnon man, our prehistoric ancestor.

The prehistoric thaumatrope that they initially mistook for a button (Repro jardin de Limeuil in Dordogne).

Today, their assessment has been revised. In fact the hole in the middle placed on a stick or operated by a cord, can turn and the effect consequently produced is none other than the prehistoric ancestor of a thaumatrope. By turning, the ring reproduces the movement of the animal, according to the principle of persistence of vision. As will in the XIXth century the toy « reinvented» by an English physicist in 1825 John Ayrton Paris.

These were the early stages of the cinema, scientists[1] agree to recognize it without failing to mention as a reference the experiment made by the Englishman Eadweard Muybridge in 1877. The latter multiplied the pictures taken by 12 then 24 cameras triggered by the racing horse passing thanks to taut cords that released in turn the cameras’ shutters.

Muybridge thus obtained successive pictures reproducing the speed and movement of the horse.

This is what will be called chronophotography (beginning of high-speed burst shooting) that the Frenchman Albert Londe facilitated by making the first « movie camera » in the world in the form of a camera containing twelve large format cameras.


Movement reproduction was, as early as the XIXth century, a preoccupation that can be measured by the number of invention patents filed for elaborated vision devices or optical toys, plantoscope, zootrope, thaumatrope, praxinoscope. The principle of these various systems is to reproduce movement either by a system of central mirrors or by loophole slits of a turning and lit cylinder that offers to the eye the illusion of animated comics.

But the illusion of movement was the only thing obtained. None of these inventions reproduced it in real time.

The protocinematographic wish of Louis Ducos du Hauron was to copy photographically as he wrote: « any sort of scene with all the transformations undergone, a procession, a review, military manoeuvres, the actions of a battle, a theatre stage, one or several dancers moving about, changing facial appearances and, if you like, the faces made by a human head, a sea scene, a wave movement (tidal bore), racing clouds in a stormy sky, in particular in a land of mountains, the eruption of a volcano »[2].


As early as 1864, 30 years before the Lumière brothers (Auguste and Louis were born in Besançon in 1862 and 1864), the very principle of the cinema was thus defined by Louis Ducos du Hauron. And we have undeniable proof of this, namely the patent he filed in March of the same year (Patent n° 61 976 filed in March 1864 by Louis Ducos du Hauron before the National Institute of Industrial Property) to which we refer here.

True, the term « cinema » short for « cinematograph », whose etymology is Greek and comes from « Kinêma » meaning « movement » and « graphein » meaning « write » was invented by Léon Bouly, a Frenchman in 1892. By the way, he spelt it with a « K ».It was adopted by the Lumière brothers who wrote it with a « C ».

Louis Ducos du Hauron, as for him, to name his cinema patent, used a periphrase to describe his view camera : « meant for reproducing photographically any scene with all the transformations it underwent during a determined time ».

Nobody, until then, had had the idea of recording through a photographic process an entire scene and its movement. Photography, indeed, only allowed freezing subjects deprived of any movement.

And Louis Ducos du Hauron did not merely theorize future cinema. He gave an iconographic preview of it. His first patent thus tackled, with diagrams, the practice of cinematographic shooting and described a first device, meant to take successive photographs of movements, a device equipped with several turning lenses for that purpose.


In a rider added to this first patent[3], Louis Ducos du Hauron proved more precise and went further than the reproduction of a moving scene : « My lens mechanism makes sure time has much more rapid wings than the ones mentioned by poets »

He went on : « You can compress in a few moments a scene that lasted considerable time. For example the growth of trees and plants and all the phenomena of vegetation, the construction of a building, of a whole town, the successive ageing stages of the same individual, the growth of a beard or a head of hair. Reproduce the rotation of celestial bodies and the changes that occur on their surface (moonphases, sunspots).

This is the principle of fast motion, a process that the American Dikson applied in New York in 1898, 34 years after Ducos du Hauron, by photographing the construction of Stark theater and by fixing a picture every thirty minutes.

Fast motion has a corollary: slow motion.

« Conversely, Louis Ducos du Hauron explain, we’ll be able to have transformations succeed each other slowly whereas their being fast sometimes makes them invisible to the eye. You can also switch the order in which a scene or a phenomenon is accomplished, i.e. begin with the end and finish with the beginning ».

It was like a diver getting out of water and coming back to the initial diving board of the scene. Precisely neither more nor less the description of cinematographic special effects that Méliès put to practical use.

And Louis Ducos du Hauron also imagined cartoons : « We can use the photograph itself to reproduce in small size the animated subject first drawn in a big size. In a fair number of cases, instead of photographs, we will be able to use skilfully combined drawings. We can also combine the photograph and the drawing by drawing on a photographic background an animated subject that transforms itself from print to print ».

Ducos du Hauron also prefigured travelling : « The dark room will be fitted to a small vehicle that will be set in motion. Understandably, it will look as if the objects moved towards the spectators or away from them ». An effect that caused the spectators to run away from the cinema room when the Lumière brothers projected the film of a train entering La Ciotat station.

Ducos du Hauron is also the forerunner of the panoramic photograph with the help of a curved mirror. This gave birth to cinemascope used for the first time in 1953 by 20th Century Fox and through the movie « The Robe » (La Tunique) of Henri Coster starring Richard Burton.

« If you want to add stereoscopic relief, doubling view cameras is enough », the Agen scientist recommended. It’s the anaglyph and altogether 3D, or Louis Lumière’s 3D cinema.


He still had to put his ideas into effect. Rather than the emulsified glass plate he proposed in his first patent, Louis Ducos du Hauron, in the rider he added on 20th January 1865, recommended : « A flexible band stored on a supply reel and winding on a take-up reel with a toothed belt device (a synchronisation device). A crank or a spring or still any motor will provoke a uniform rotation movement and a portable electric lamp will allow presentation to a gathering of people on a large canvas exposed to the scrutiny of a large number of spectators ».

Louis Ducos du Hauron had just described the cinema projector, the movie theater but also the film roll (that, in 1890 Etienne-Jules Marey gave concrete expression to in the form of a sensitive celluloid strip, before George Eastman and his flexible negative roll film). It’s difficult to be more visionary !


In September 1920, the weekly magazine L’Illustration on the occasion of the death in Agen of the Agen inventor, wrote that Louis Ducos du Hauron forestalled the cinematograph as early as in 1864 : « He thought about the movie camera and the projector and even made an attempt on the principle of the stroboscope before his house in Agen by filming on boulevard Scaliger a worker paving a street with his rammer ».

But this very first « short film » was never found. So it cannot be recorded as supplementary proof of the Agenais’ visionary spirit.

Likewise, there’s no proof that he built his cinematographic view and projection cameras whose diagrams are to be found in his patents.

In 1925, Georges-Michel Coissac published « L’Eden des Lumière, La Ciotat et le cinéma » Coissac wrote « Ducos du Hauron’s patent describes and features it all. It’s in vain that we looked for this Ducos’ very rare device and yet it existed since many authors mentioned it as built by an Agen locksmith. In any case we have no reason to question the word of a scientist who has behind him a long past of honour and loyalty ».

Never mind: his1864 patent and his additions are authentic and authoritative. Louis Ducos du Hauron is the forerunner of the cinematograph.

In « L’Eden des Lumière, La Ciotat et le cinéma » a biography of the Lumière brothers, the authors readily recognize that « more than thirty years before the invention of the cinematograph, Louis Ducos du Hauron defined a process to project moving photographs ».

And they added : « In his additional clause to the patent, this Agen scientist foresaw in an amazing manner, in a visionary description, motion, fast motion, slow motion, special effects, travelling, a reversible projector- movie camera and even subjects for films that seem carbon copies of the films made by the first filmmakers ».

For his part, his brother Alcide in a dedication to the Lumière brothers wrote « Among all the ideas he (my brother Louis) planted in the art industry, the earliest one and the most fruitful one was that of the cinematograph formerly named chronophotography ». In the foreword to this book, the science journalist Emile Gautier wrote : « It’s time to recall that the secret of this magic (cinema) – the very opposite of black magic- was conceived, formulated, expressed in real and lasting images more than thirty years ago by Louis Ducos du Hauron to whom history, sometimes as capricious as fate, failed to do justice... He never ceased to work and improve his discovery whose exploitation will no doubt pair glory and profit for others, better served by circumstances.».

In a letter Louis Ducos du Hauron sent to the Lumière brothers in 1896, we find a remark full of bitterness « I learned about the considerable success of your Cinematograph […] Mr. François Jenkins would have conceived a device named by him Phantascope […] I am going to tell you a secret that you will certainly not easily dismiss. A good many years ago I conceived not only the principle, but also all the details of this wonderful art. […] I kindly request you to guarantee in my favour, through legal means, all my priority, property rights to this invention ».

Finally, let’s quote another remark by Louis Ducos du Hauron’s nephew, Gaston who, in a foreword to « La photo des couleurs »[4] noted, after he had just attended a screening by the Lumière brothers, that the cinematograph was his uncle’s brainchild.

Louis Ducos du Hauron did spearhead the cinema he had foreshadowed with genius. Besides how can we explain, conversely, that the Lumière brothers bought his 1864 invention patent ?

Let’s render unto Caesar ...

[1] « La préhistoire du cinéma », by Marc Azema, éditions Errance paris 2011.

[2] Patent n° 61 976 filed in March 1864 by Louis Ducos du Hauron before the National Institute of Industrial Property. The Association of the Friends of LDH could, via Inpi, obtain un facsimile of that patent which we refer to here.

[3] Certificate of addition taken on 3rd December 1864 by Louis Ducos du Hauron at Inpi

[4] Reprint of « La photographie indirecte des couleurs » Charles Mandel publisher 1901. Foreword by Gaston Ducos du Hauron, the inventor's nephew .

Louis Ducos du Hauron Alcide Ducos Du Hauron thaumatrope Eadweard Muybridge John Ayrton Paris Albert Londe Marc Azema Auguste et Louis Lumière Léon Bouly Etienne-Jules Marey George Eastman Georges-Michel Coissac Emile Gautier