Updated by Paul Keskeys, June 17, 2016
The Powers of Ten (1968) by Ray and Charles Eames is a staple film in contemporary design (and life) literacy. Considered “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress, the film was added to the United States National Film Registry in 1998. But did you know that, in addition to this masterpiece, the design power couple made more than 100 more films between 1950 and 1982?
Channeling their unique strength in design toward the medium of film, the Eameses were exceptionally good at visualizing abstract concepts. Their short films were like predecessors to the internet’s brain-workout videos, like TED or RSA Animate. The couple produced snippets on philosophy, science and mathematics in visually clear and stimulating ways.
Even in the 1950s the Eames were acutely aware of the presence of “noise” in communication, realizing that information overload was a growing threat. The lowdown on their thoughts was presented in A Communication Primer(1953), rethinking the complex topic of communications theory as a graphically clear film.
Following the creativity they expressed in other design fields, the Eameses were equally unafraid to experiment in the medium of film. On the occasion that they would hit a technical difficultly, the pair would simply invent a new technique to address it. Such was the case for Kaleidoscope Shop (1959), which was initially meant to simply portray the team’s studio as a visit and ended up encapsulating their entire design process in abstract form.
Some other short film highlights from the Eameses:
On architecture and the urban landscape
House: After Five Years of Living (1955)
A series of stills documents the experience of the Eameses in the home that they built and lived in together. The technique of optical fades in this film was especially invented for this piece. Also see IBM at the Fair (1964).
On toys and play
As well as architecture and furniture design, the Eameses conceived numerous toys during their prestigious careers. Following the story of a spinning top, this film is an anthropological study of tops through times and regions. Also see Toccata for Toy Trains (1957).
They even completed a few ads!
The manufacturing of the Eames lounge chair was documented in black and white as promotional material for Herman Miller. Also see their SX-70 (1972) for Polaroid.
For more on Charles and Ray Eames, read about their Case Study House’s influence on architecture or perhaps their lesser-known machine that does … nothing.
Top image: Charles and Ray Eames’s Case Study House 8 in Los Angeles; photo via Kim Ho