Fly through time and space with two new animated films from artist and V&A Museum photographer, George Eksts. The films provide spectacular and unfettered access into two 19th-century table-top tableau of a masquerade ball (Groot Gemaskerd Bal) and a food market (Groenmarkt), published by H.L. van Hoogstraten in The Hague, around 1860 (Museum No. Gestetner 367, figs.1-2).
Table-top tableaux are similar to paper peepshows but without interconnecting bellows. They consist of a series of cut-out paper panels and slot-in figures, which slip into grooves on a board at regular intervals to create an illusion of depth (fig. 2). The tableaux at the V&A Museum are stunning but their age, size, material and the sheer number of their parts makes them incredibly fragile and difficult to handle. To allow a wide audience to experience the excitement of peeping in without incurring further damage, George suggested a wonderful way of animating them.
Like the original tableaux makers, George has transformed a series of flat images into three-dimensional spaces, which are explored by the camera. The overall effect feels like the viewer is suspended and flying through the scenes and between the figures. We asked George to tell us how he approached the project and created this remarkable illusion of space and movement:
I’ve previously made ‘landscape animations’ from multiple photographs, in which I cut out architectural elements and layered them digitally in 3D space, so when I heard of the newly-acquired collection of paper peepshows and these optical devices I knew that I could apply the same principles to convey a sense of space.
I photographed the paper panels individually, then ‘cut out’ the open sections to give transparency. The resulting images (5 or 6 per tableau) were then layered in 3D software, with a small distance between them, as they would have when viewed in real life. After adding a virtual camera (which provides the point-of-view in the finished video) comes the fun part – animating this camera to move around the space, sometimes surveying the whole scene, sometimes moving closer to see details of faces, costume, architecture. The camera can be focused upon particular elements while blurring others, allowing me to emphasise details and give a greater sense of depth.
By using digital technologies George has brought these objects to life. He has successfully progressed the tableaux’s original illusion of depth into a greater immersive and dynamic experience. His animations will help make these pocket-sized 19th-century optical devices widely accessible to present day viewers.
The table-top tableaux are part of an exciting new acquisition of over 400 paper peepshows from the Jacqueline and Jonathan Gestetner collection. They came to the V&A Museum through the Cultural Gifts Scheme and are now in the collections of the National Art Library. ‘Groot Gemaskerd Bal’ and ‘Groenmarkt’ were originally part of a set of 12 views. The set was first advertised in Nieuwsblad voor den Boekhandel (Bookshop News) on 4 October 1860, which provides an indication of date, in the absence of any date on the set.
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 R. Hyde, Paper Peepshows: the Jacqueline and Jonathan Gestetner Collection (Woodbridge: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2015), no. 367.