When a horse is running, is there ever at point at which all four feet are off the ground? That was the question that vexed Leland Stanford, the California governor, robber baron, and eponymous university benefactor. Today high quality photography and video makes it difficult to believe that this could actually be a controversial question. But in 1872, Stanford retained the magnificently named Eadweard Muybridge to determine the definitive answer. Muybridge’s photographic work anticipated the movie; by using multiple cameras he was the first to capture a sequence of images that show exactly how a horse gallops. Muybridge was like a 19th century version of MIT’s “Doc” Edgerton who used strobe photography to stop time as, for example, a bullet exploded through an apple.
Using multiple still cameras to suggest motion has come back in vogue lately, most notably with the so-called “bullet time” effect seen in The Matrix. This effect, known more generally as time slicing, extends the Muybridge idea: the camera seems to move infinitely fast, viewing the subject from multiple directions at the same instant. The technique can also be used for less purely cinematic purposes. Here’s a nifty timeslice video of a cheetah running through an African encampment.
Seeing all this stop motion photography made me think of fun little video I saw over at Google: The Art of Motion by Russell Wyner. It has several Matrix-like homage shots. And finally, when it comes to goofing on the Matrix, you can’t top the magical ping pong video. Turn the volume up and watch it all the way through.
And for the record, galloping horses do have all four feet off the ground at one time or another.