A Scientific Take on Image Perception

No individual could be pointed as the father of Cinema. It is neither Edison according to the American claim, nor the Lumiere Brothers according to the French. It is a visual art that was shaped by many hands. While we try to trace back the History of Cinema all we could come up with is the historical account of the evolution of Cinema.

On a broader perspective one could approach the History of Cinema from two realms; the scientific and the artistic. Many of what we usually come across as the History of films focus only on the scientific domain.  This might be because Cinema is viewed as a technical marvel rather than an artistic triumph, in the common view. Any way let us reflect on both.

Basically cinema is a visual medium. The basic functional unit of a shot is an image. Logical coherence and continuity of images create shots. So to understand films we need to understand the science behind the human perception of images.

  84725756Human eyes are the doors to the world. The science of seeing is all about the reception of the reflected light from anything. The light enters the eyes through the lens and falls on a screen inside the eye called ‘Retina’. The optical (light) information that falls on the retina is passed on to the brain via a bunch of nerve bundles called ‘Optic nerves’. The brain comprehends the received detail and constructs the meaning of the images.

persistence-vision-1 Persistence of Vision is a phenomenon of the eye by which an image on the retina is thought to linger for a very short time period (of about 1/25 th of a second or 0.04 seconds), as an afterimage. Within this time span if the eye is engaged with another image which holds a thread of continuity with the previous image, then the illusion of moving images sets in.

This might sound a little technical. Yet, this is the key to understand the science of viewing the moving images in cinema. Crisply said, Cinema is a designed illusion that fools the brain. Let us see a non-technical example of the same phenomenon which may ease the understanding.

Post globalization, the soft drink giants Coco-cola and Pepsi set foot on Indian terrain. Their market research revealed that, the only thing that connected the otherwise diversified Indians was cricket. Cricket, even now is a much a religion that glues a billion hearts. So no wonder they chose Cricket as their best mean for brand promotion. Leading cricketers were roped in for commercials and complimentary gifts were poured into the market. As a kid then, to me, one of the most exciting gifts was the cricket flip book, by Coke.

Flicker book It was just a book containing a series of images depicting a cricket moment, arranged in perfect order, frame after frame. If one flips the book from page one, through the flying pages one could see that the images actually move. It was amazing to me as a kid by then. I and my friends went on collecting different books and that’s sweet nostalgia. Cinema is exactly the grandeur replica of this flicker book. That’s it.

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