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Phantasmagoria (also fantasmagorie, fantasmagoria) was a pre-cinema projection ghost show invented in France in the late 18th century, which gained popularity through most of Europe (especially England) throughout the 19th century.

A modified type of magic lantern was used to project images onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens, frequently using rear projection. The projector was mobile, allowing the projected image to move on the screen, and multiple projecting devices allowed for quick switching of different images. Frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts were projected.

Many of the phantasmagoria showmen were a combination of scientists and magicians, many of them stressing that the effects that they produced, no matter how eerily convincing, were in fact the result of ingenious equipment and no small measure of skill, rather than any supernatural explanation. This even extended as far as the exhibitions at the Royal Polytechnic Institution demonstrating the Pepper's Ghost effect in the 1860s.

Phantasmagoria in modern times

Walt Disney was influenced by the early ghost showmen, and this can be seen in the practical and projection effects in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland and Disney World, as well as Fantasmic, the park's closing show, which features film clips projected onto smoke and water spray.

A few modern theatrical troupes in the U.S. and U.K. stage phantasmagoria projection shows, especially at Halloween.


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