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George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film

Located in Rochester, New York, Eastman House has an extensive and fascinating collection of films and stills. Animation highlights include retrospectives and a collection of pre-cinema animation devices.

The George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. Photo courtesy of The George Eastman House.

George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester, New York, combines the world's leading collections of photography and film with the stately pleasures of the landmark Colonial Revival mansion and gardens that George Eastman called home from 1905 to 1932.

George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak Co., is the father of popular photography. He revolutionized photography by simplifying cameras and film. In 1878, Mr. Eastman, who was working as a bank clerk, experimented with photography, but found the equipment available at the time to be complicated, awkward, and expensive. This led him on a quest to make cameras and film that anyone could use.

Three years later, Mr. Eastman founded the Eastman Dry Plate Co., precursor to Eastman Kodak Co. With a series of landmark innovations, his company created portable, easy-to-use cameras like the "Kodak," introduced in 1888, with the popular slogan, "You push the button, we do the rest." The company also invented a flexible film that helped launch the motion picture industry.

Mr. Eastman's inventions brought him fame as well as fortune, and he is noted as one of the greatest philanthropists of the 20th century contributing more than $100 million to charitable causes. Mr. Eastman died in 1932 at age 77. His 50-room mansion was opened to the public as a museum in 1949, and the museum will mark its 50th anniversary next year. An addition, the 12.5 acre museum complex was opened to the public in 1989, which offers new galleries and storage facilities for the archives. The Museum also houses two theaters for screenings: the smaller Curtis Theater and the 500-seat Dryden Theater. The latter offers screenings six nights a week of films from the Museum's vast motion picture archives.

A pre-cinema animation display in a George Eastman House gallery. Photo courtesy of The George Eastman House.

The Film Archives

George Eastman House, an international leader in the cause of film preservation, shelters a school of film preservation, which attracts students from throughout the world. The Museum is also one of the world's great film archives.

The motion picture department houses more than 21,000 film titles from 1895 to the present (the Museum has the fourth largest nitrate holding archive in the United States); 3,000 movie posters; 1,000 press books; 5 million film stills, including an impressive number of star portraits; one of the world's most important collections of early silent films; hundreds of Hollywood classic and early Westerns; documentaries from Germany, Italy, France, the United States and the former Soviet Union; plus the personal film collections of Cecil B. DeMille and Martin Scorcese.

Zoetrope strips are an example of pre-cinema animation. Photo courtesy of The George Eastman House.

Animation in the Archives

The Museum's extensive archives cover the entire 100-year history of motion pictures, as well as pre-cinema and animation. Much of the animation collection is currently being inventoried, a project that will be completed by June, and thousands of items have been uncovered. These items include shorts, features, prints, and pre-cinema pieces, according to Edward E. Stratmann, assistant curator of motion pictures. The collection's interesting cross-section of animation includes claymation and puppet animation from a host of U.S. and international filmmakers, shorts from Warner Bros., plus actual cels from the 1939 animated classic Gulliver's Travels (Dave Fleischer, U.S.)

The Eastman House boasts a large Fleischer collection and animated titles like Popeye, Felix the Cat, and Betty Boop. Of the 5 million film stills that the Museum boasts, thousands depict animation.

The largest collection, however, of animation at George Eastman House is the pre-cinema animation (pre-1895) and early cinema animation. These include more than 100 lantern slides, 1,200 mutoscope reels, and several hundred animated strips and disks (zoetropes, zoopraxiscopes, praxinoscopes, filoscopes, thaumatropes, phenakistoscopes).

A phenakistoscope ("vision cheater"), for example, was a device for cheating the effect of moving pictures. By viewing 12 or more sequential drawings, intermittently through slots of a spinning disk, the illusion of movement is created. Various methods were used to move the images of the optical projector by employing cranks, gears, levers, and sliding elements. In these ways, pictures were given the illusion of life, and also established a model for photography to follow.

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The George Eastman House is currently restoring its large collection of pre-cinema artifacts, including several phenakistoscope animation disks. Photos courtesy of The George Eastman House.

Currently, Sony's High-Definition Center in Los Angeles and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is working with George Eastman House to preserve some of these early disks.

See the Animation

Visitors to George Eastman House can view and demonstrate many of these pre-cinema devices in a semi-permanent exhibition titled Enhancing the Illusion: The Origins and Progress of Photography, which opened in 1991. The exhibit showcases the museum's extensive early technology and motion picture collections.

Visitors can also enjoy occasional screenings of animation in the Dryden Theater. A year-long series on animation was featured throughout 1997, titled Blinkity Blank: Norman McLaren, The Genius of Animation. The film series was accompanied by a museum exhibition that demonstrated the fascinating world of McLaren's visual imagination. More than 50 of McLaren's works, ranging from 1930 to 1971, were screened. Also featured was an anime festival entitled, the Seventh Annual Medicine Wheel Animation Festival, and the world premiere of the newly restored The Lost World (Harry O. Hoyt, U.S. 1925), which took George Eastman House six years to restore painstakingly. Other screenings in 1997 included Hare-Do (Friz Freleng, U.S. 1947), Elixir (Irina Evteeva, Russia 1995), Bimbo's Initiation (Fleischer Studios, U.S. 1931), Lady and the Tramp (Walt Disney Productions, U.S. 1955) and Peter Pan (Walt Disney Productions, U.S. 1953).

George Eastman House is open year-round, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. The Museum is closed Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. Extended hours in the month of May are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. seven days a week. Tours are offered daily of the mansion, with garden tours offered daily May through October.

For more information about George Eastman House, please call (716) 271-3361. Our web address is www.eastman.org.

Dresden Engle is Public Relations Coordinator for George Eastman House in Rochester, New York.

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