Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau

celebrating the 218th birthday of Belgian physicist Joseph Antoine Ferdinand Plateau, who has previously been described as the “father of film”. But who was Plateau, and how did he gain this illustrious title? The son of an artist who specialised in painting flowers, Plateau was born in Brussels in 1801. Described by his son-in-law and biographer Gustaaf Van der Mensbrugghe as a young “prodigy”, he developed a keen interest in physics at an early age and began to invent various instruments while still at school. Despite initially studying law, Plateau continued his experiments at home – an exploit that often resulted in damage to his furniture and, on one occasion, near-poisoning by a toxic gas, according to Van der Mensbrugghe.The phenakistiscope was an instrument composed of two rotating discs moving in opposition directions, one fitted with small windows and the other with a set of images of a dancer. “When both discs turned at exactly the right speed, the images seemed to merge, creating the illusion of a dancer in motion,” Google wrote. Phenakistiscopes were sold widely in Europe and Eadweard Muybridge would later create a popular variation of the device that produced what is likely the first example of stop-motion, using images of horses. While Plateau’s invention in effect paved the way for modern cinema, his fascination with light and vision may have cost him his sight.

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