When you walk through the halls of cinematic history, what faces do you see? Most likely to show up are some big names from the first 50 years of filmmaking, like Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, and Charlie Chaplin, or even figureheads of production, like the Warner Brothers, or the inventor of the early camera, Thomas Edison. However, there is one man who often isn't recognized, or at least well known, for his contributions to cinema, who more or less brought about the birth of the moving picture through his horse gait experiment -- Eadweard Muybridge. In this excellent BBC documentary, learn all about the life and work of this eccentric, name changing, , English photographer who once killed his cheating wife's lover -- and got acquitted.

Born Edward James Muggeridge, Muybridge emigrated from Kingston to the U.S. in 1855, a time when the country was in the process of being built from the ground up. The Old West was a prime place for an adventurous young man who set out to make a name for himself. And indeed he did.

Muybridge was a successful bookseller before being seriously injured in a runaway stagecoach accident, after which he returned to England. However, 6 years later he returned to the U.S. with aspirations of being a photographer. Former California governor, businessman, and race-horse owner Leland Stanford (yes, founder of Stanford University) approached Muybridge in 1872 in hopes that he could answer the question that set the entire world of photography into motion: Do all 4 feet of a horse leave off the ground at the same time while trotting or galloping?

For these experiments, Muybridge set up a series of cameras (some sources say 12, 24, even over 50) along a straight stretch of track and rigged them with trip wires, which would be triggered by the horses' legs. Muybridge was able to capture images of the horses running, making his experiments a success. The series of 24 photographs taken of a galloping horse for his experiments is called "Sallie Gardner at a Gallop" and is considered by some to be one, if not the earliest silent film.

As you'll learn in the documentary below, Muybridge's photographic experiments about horse gaits led him and others to discover that not only do all 4 legs of a horse leave the ground while galloping, but still images captured in quick succession and give the illusion of movement when exhibited in a similar fashion. In fact, Thomas Edison cited Muybridge's experiments as one of his greatest inspirations for the invention of the movie camera.

What do you think about Muybridge and his experiments? Do you know of any other figures in cinema that aren't often talked about, but made huge contributions to the craft? Let us know in the comments!

[via Cinephilia and Beyond]