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18 November: Pictures Static and Moving

18 November connects two of the most inventive and ground-breaking innovations in image delivery: the photograph and the sound-tracked animated moving picture.  The birth of two of the best known innovators in imaging is celebrated on this day.

On 18 November 1787, Louis Daguerre was born in France.  Apprenticed in architecture, he eventually came to work with Pierre Prevost, a celebrated panorama painter.  Skilled as a theater artist and designer, Daguerre built the first dioramas, showing the first of them in 1822.  In 1829, Daguerre joined with the inventor of the heliograph,  Nicéphore Niépce,  and developed the process that would come to be called the daguerreotype, the first permanent photographic image process.  Created on a highly polished copper plate treated with a chemical wash and fixed by mercury vapors, daguerreotypes were introduced to the world in 1839.  Wildly popular for twenty years but potentially deadly for the creators because of the heavy metal vapors required, it waned on popularity until it was replaced by glass plate photography in the 1850s.

On 18 November 1928,  Columbia Pictures and Walt Disney Studios released “Steamboat Willie,” the first animated film with an integrated sound track.  The film used the Cinephone system based on the work of Lee DeForest, which later landed both Cinephone and Disney in hot water. It was also the first major outing for the character of Mickey Mouse, and because if featured fully synchronized post-production sound effects, music and dialogue integrated into the film itself, it is considered the first of its kind.  “Steamboat Willie” has become such an icon that Congress has extended copyright protections four times to cover it.

While daguerreotype was long gone by the time Disney started making cartoons (during the First World War as a teenager), without the still image and the drive to improve on the process, Mickey Mouse might never have ever whistled “Turkey in the Straw.”

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