Animation and Other Interests

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Centennial of American Animation

As I feel that this is worthy of spreading around, here is a post that was made by Ray Pointer, an animation historian/producer that was made on the Golden Age of Cartoons forums...


The Centennial of American Animation
by Ray Pointer

2006 marks the 100th anniversary of animation, beginning with the release of HUMOROUS PHASES OF FUNNY FACES by James Stuart Blackton. Blackton was originally a journalist for the NEW YORK EVENING WORLD. On March 12, 1896, he was sent to interview Thomas Edison. As they talked, Blackton made some quick sketches that impressed Edison so much that he invited him to appear before his newly developed motion picture camera. Blackton joined Edison as one of the founders of The Vitagraph Company, which was later bought by the Warner Brothers.

Blackton's first experiment was THE ENCHANTED DRAWING in 1900, followed by HUMOROUS PHASES (1906) and LIGHTNING SKETCHES (1907). But these were more of the "trick film" variety based on stop motion techniques, and were not actual animated cartoons in the truest sense.

In 1907, Emil Cohl, who was a contemporary of George Melies and the Lumiere Brothers, started making his first animated cartoons in Paris, France, His first cartoon, FANTASMAGORIE (1907) applied all of the basic principles behind animated cartoons by making a series of progressive drawings photographed on motion picture film. By all accounts, Cohl was the first cartoon animator, and the great-grandfather of all animators who have followed since.

But the most significant developments came out of the United States. And the most important figures to emerge were Winsor McCay, Max Fleischer, and most of all, Walt Disney. McCay had gained fame through his comic strips, and in 1911 he displayed his first animation, LITTLE NEMO, which set a standard of artistry and fluid action that would not be surpassed for 20 years. McCay continued to make animated cartoons such as HOW A MOSQUITO OPERATES (1912) and most importantly, GERTIE THE TRAINED DINOSAUR (1914) that inspired others to enter this fascinating new field.

One of these men was John Randolph Bray. Bray, originally from Michigan, was a newspaper and magazine cartoonist working in the New York publishing circles. According to an account by McCay, Bray visited him posing as a reporter to learn the secrets of his production processes.

Bray discovered that McCay drew the background and figures on each drawing, which contributed to the slow process of production. Bray realized the commercial value of animation, understanding the need to industrialize production. At first he printed the backgrounds onto animation paper, drawing the characters in the open areas. He later realized the concept of a single drawing of the background on a celluloid overlay, sandwiched with individual animation drawings inked on paper.

Another cartoonist, Earl Hurd realized the concept of tracing and painting animation drawings on celluloid, and photographing them against a single illustrated background. Bray and Hurd combined their patents to form the Bray-Hurd Process Company, which licensed the use of all related uses of the cel technique to animation studios until the patents expired in 1932.

And while the cel technique sped up production, the results of many of these commercially produced cartoons were not as fluid or graceful as the initial works of McCay. To face the challenge of producing lifelike animation and meet a commercial schedule, Max Fleischer developed The Rotoscope, which originally consisted of the adaptation of a used Moy projector and an easel with an 8"x10" opening that allowed for frame-by-frame reference and tracing of live action photography. And while the process of "Roto-tracing,"was slow, the results were most convincing. The Rotoscope proved to be an important tool, not just an aid in animation production, but in motion picture production. It also provided a registered reference for compositing cartoon animation with live action photography, and was used for making match line references for matte photography and process scenes used in live action films.

But the most important pioneer was without doubt, Walt Disney, who took his lead from pioneers such as McCay, Fleischer, and Paul Terry. When Disney was 19 years old, he was working as a commercial artist for The Kansas City Film Ad Company when he became interested in animation. His only source of instruction was a book by Edwin G. Lutz, who was famous for his "Lightning Sketch" trick films that pioneered many of the basic animation techniques that would be applied by others. In a 1955 taped interview, Disney remarked that The Kansas City Film Ad Company doubled as a film exchange known as United Film Service. He would look for the cartoons that came through, and made a file of clips taken from the film prints that came through. Many of these clips were taken from the cartoons produced by Bray and Terry. And since Disney admired the work of Terry, much of his early work resembles Terry's, especially since he copied much of the animation from the clips he had collected. He borrowed a camera from work, and in his spare time produced a political cartoon about conditions in Kansas City called Newman's Laugh-O-Grams.

Disney approached his boss at the Film Ad Company on the prospect of producing theatrical cartoons in the manner of the New York producers. Disney's boss passed on the idea and Walt left to start his own company in 1922. He was contracted to produce six modernized fairy tales including LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, THE FOUR MUSICIANS OF BREMEN, JACK AND THE BEANSTALK, GOLDIE LOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS, PUSS IN BOOTS, and CINDERELLA. While his distributor owed him $10,000 on each film, the balance wasn't paid and Disney's small company was forced into bankruptcy.

In early summer of 1923, Disney was seeking employment as a live action film director in Hollywood when he was contacted by Margaret Winkler. She had seen his test film, ALICE'S WONDERLAND that used a reverse of the OUT OF THE INKWELL concept, placing a live action girl into an animated cartoon fantasy world. One account of the story states that Disney sent a print of this test film to the Winkler Company. Other accounts state that while Disney's films were held in receivership due to the bankruptcy, the holding company showed it to prospective buyers, and one of them was Miss Winkler. Regardless of how she happened to see the film, Miss Winkler saw potential and ordered a series without ever having seen Disney's facilities, which at the time consisted of his Uncle Robert's garage. But within a year, The Disney Studio occupied a formal location and became the birthplace of what became known as the west coast style of animation, since it was the first animation operation in Los Angeles. And because of this, it spawned all of the other Hollywood animation studios that materialized after the sound revolution.

To commemorate the centennial of American Animation, we will be releasing an updated version of our 1999 production, BEFORE WALT with new material, using animation techniques used to trace the earliest concepts of moving images to the development of animated cartoons following the invention of motion picture film. This is sure to be an informative and entertaining celebration of this major milestone in film and animation history.


Blogger Marie Jacqmin said...

In the frame of making a filmed documentary serial for the Belgian television, we have started a worldwide search for individuals born on very specific dates.

Our goal is to obtain the largest panel of people possible i.e. diversity of nationalities, ethnicities, social backgrounds, professions, faith, etc.

The idea behind this documentary is to film lives in parallel from people who have nothing in common but their date of birth (such persons are called ‘Birthday Twins’).

You could see it as an attempt to answer the question: “what would my life be if I was born in another part of the world?”

We selected a group of interesting people from all ages here in Belgium, with the idea to find their matching twins all over the world.

As a matter of fact you happened to be born on the same day as one of these persons (August 27, 1948). (Information found via google).

If you’re interested in the project, you can get in touch with us at:

Our production House is called ‘Woestijnvis’ and makes programs for the Belgian national TV, you can have an idea of our company at:

We would be delighted to get in touch with you and hope to read you soon,

Kindest regards,

Marie Jacqmin

Marie Jacqmin

Tess Uytterhoeven

Cemil Belek

Annelore De Donder

Editorial Staff

Birthday Twins project

Phone ++32 2 303 35 87

3:52 AM  

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