In 1872, the former Governor of California, Leland Stanford, asked Muybridge to photograph his horse, Occident, trotting at speed. Stanford wanted to determine if all four hooves were off the ground at once as a horse trots. Although Muybridge's first photographs were inconclusive, undeterred, he designed an improved shutter that would work at the incredible speed of one-thousandth of a second.
In July 1877, Muybridge published an image of Occident in arrested motion. The image caused quite the stir, both the worlds of art and science had never seen such a photograph.
Muybridge was spurred on by his pioneering success, he set up a battery of 12 cameras fitted with electromagnetic shutters which were activated by strings stretched across the track. Later he expanded this to 24 cameras, allowing him to capture animals' movements with incredible precision.
During the 1880s, Muybridge was sponsered by the University of Pennsylvania to conduct research into studying the movement of both animals and humans. The human models, either entirely nude or very lightly clothed, were photographed against a measured grid background in a variety of action sequences, including walking up or down stairs, hammering on an anvil, carrying buckets of water, or throwing water over one another, eventually producing thousands of images of animals and humans in motion, capturing what the human eye could not distinguish as separate movements.
Muybridge thought of himself primarily as an artist but also saw the scientific and commercial aspects of his inventions. He spent much of his later years giving public lectures and demonstrations of his photography and early motion picture sequences, inventing the ''zoopraxiscope,'' a device for projecting motion pictures that pre-dated the flexible perforated film strip used in cinematography. This device was later regarded as an early movie projector, and the process as an intermediate stage toward motion pictures or cinematography.
In 1887 The University of Pennsylvania published 781 plates under the title Animal Locomotion in a series of eleven volumes. Lyon & Turnbull's Rare Books, Manuscripts, Maps & Photographs sale on 11th January features an album of 95 of these seminal photographs, was formerly in the collection of the Royal Scottish Museum and the Museum of Edinburgh.
Muybridge's influence was widely recognised by scientists and artists such as Thomas Eakins, William Dickson, Thomas Edison, Marcel Duchamp, Harold Edgerton, Francis Bacon, and others, all of whom acknowledged their debt to Muybridge's pioneering work.