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.
Paul Philidor created what may have been the first true phantasmagoria show in 1722, a combination of scéance parlor tricks and projection effects, his show saw success in Berlin, Vienna, and revolution-era Paris in 1793. These last decades of the 18th century saw the rise of the age of Romanticism. ].
Étienne-Gaspard "Robertson" Robert, a Belgian inventor and physicist from Liège was known for his phantasmagoria productions and is the most imitated. In 1797, Robertson presented his first "fantasmagorie" at the Pavillon de l’Echiquier in Paris.
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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- Mémoires récréatifs scientifiques et anecdotiques du physicien aéronaute G. Robertson, Vol. 1 & 2 (1831 & 1833)
- Etienne-Gaspard Robertson. La vie d'un fantasmagore by Françoise Levie (1990)