Nature and the wonders of the moving image: John Ott’s postwar popular science filmmaking

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This article sheds light on the films of a now-obscure popular science filmmaker named John Ott who was widely known in the 1950s for making time-lapse films about plant life that intersected with everything in postwar America from Walt Disney’s animations to computer science and natural theology. Drawing on original archival research, I show how Ott used the spectacle of nature to cultivate popular interest in the innovative automated moving-image techniques and technologies he developed to photograph the secrets of nature. In the process, I consider how Ott reanimated early cinematic aesthetic, exhibition, and reception practices that invite us to see the popular science film as a genre that is as much about exploring the nature and possibilities of new moving-image forms as it is about science education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-54
Number of pages28
JournalFilm History: An International Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • History


  • Animation
  • Automation
  • Disney
  • Natural history
  • Popular science
  • Time-lapse photography


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