Animators Before Disney!
Animation industry for quite sometime has created an upstorm. But how many of us actually know that the origin of this word goes back to the medieval period? If one looks at the etymology of this word, it comes from the Latin word animationem which means the action of imparting life. However, this word, in the commercial sense, has been in vogue since 1912.
When we talk about animation as a process, it can be referred to creating continuous motion and changing illusions by a rapid display of a sequence of static images which may differ from each other. In other words, inanimate objects appear to come to life by flashing minutely changed images at a rate at which our brain is able to interpret the movement. For this, it becomes necessary to understand the phenomenon of persistence of vision (PoV). As per PoV, any image that flashes in front of our eyes, it remains in our brain for about 1/25th of a second. In short, if our eyes see 25 images in a second, they would appear seamless and the sequence would have no gaps in between them. This is the principle that both motion pictures and animation work on.
As a top of the mind recall, Disney is the name that comes to one’s mind whenever anyone is asked to tell the name anyone associated with animation. However, even before Walt Disney, there were few notable individuals who have contributed to the field of animation when it was still in its infancy. As we read on, we will get to know about four such men who had remained unsung for a long time for their contributions.
Pioneers in animation
James Stuart Blackton
1875 born Blackton was a talented artist who started off by making caricatures in the New York World. He debuted as a cartoonist in 1896 along with Albert Smith. Recognizing his talents as a cartoonist, he was hired by Thomas Alva Edison’s Black Maria studio to make three 150-foot films. It was for this studio had he made Humorous Cartoon, Political Cartoon and Sketching Mr. Edison and when these premiered at the Proctor’s Pleasure Palace in New York on the 12th September 1896, it made the audience to take note of Blackton’s talents. This also helped him to enter the film word. The next year, he founded Vitagraph along with Albert Smith as well as acted in The Burglar on the Roof and produced Tearing Down the Spanish Flag in 1898. As the 20th century dawned, Vitagraph had become a major American film production company and Blackton had introduced techniques like stop camera techniques and under-cranking. Being regarded as the father of the American animated cartoon, he directed Raffles the Amateur Cracksman in 1905. Returning back to cartoons, he delivered hits such as The Enchanted Drawing (1906), Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906), Lightning Sketches (1907) and The Magic Fountain Pen (1909). His studio went on to make serials, feature films and series in the 1910’s and is credited for making the first British full colour film The Glorious Adventure in 1922. However, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 reduced Blackton to a pauper and he died in 1941 in an accident.
Emile Eugène Jean Louis Courtet or Émile Cohl as the world knows him now was born in Paris in 1857. He began as a caricaturist and joined the Gaumont film company as a writer. As a versatile director, he made comedies and on fantasy subjects. He was gradually drawn to animation and began experimenting on it by using line drawings, silhouettes and puppets. It was in 1908 that he made Fantasmagorie (Fantasy in English) which is regarded as the first all-animated film in history. Over 650 drawings of the character Fantoche were created and individually photographed! Post Fantasmagorie, Cohl created 200+ animated films till 1923 for leading studios like Eclair and Pathe. Unfortunately, the Great Depression of 1929 ruined his savings and he died in abject poverty in 1938.
Born at Ontario, Canada in 1867, McCay started off as a poster and billboard artist in Chicago in 1888. He also worked for various newspapers in cities like Cincinnati and New York City wherein he had created comic strips- Little Sammy Sneeze and Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. 1911 saw to the emergence of Little Nemo in Slumberland which is regarded as McCay’s masterpiece in comic-strip art. He had drawn inspiration from the works of Blackton and Cohl and later made an animated version of Little Nemo. The success of Nemo encouraged him to make How a Mosquito Operates in 1912 followed by his greatest hit Gertie the Dinosaur two years later. It is said that McCay himself drew all the backgrounds and each of the 10,000 plus drawings! The world had to wait till 1918 when McCay produced The Sinking of the Lusitania which was one of the first movies to utilize the technique of cel animation. His last movie was the 1921 released The Flying House. After that, McCay returned back to newspaper cartoons which he continued to do till his demise in 1934.
Otto James Messmer was born in 1892 and is even now remembered for the Felix the Cat that he created in 1919 for the Pat Sullivan studio. After his initial training in art, he started off making illustrations for fashion magazines. But being inspired by McCay’s How a Mosquito Operates and his love for cartooning made him to start creating cartoons for local newspapers. After initially working with “Henry-Hy-Mayer” on The Travels of Teddy series, Messmer joined the Pat Sullivan studio wherein he created the character of Felix the Cat. Felix has the distinction of being the character that was created and developed for the 70 mm screen as well as the mass merchandised character. This character appeared in over 130 cartoons till 1931 and entered comic books in the 1940’s. By the time Messmer died in 1983, Felix the Cat had made his debut in TV as well and he was being recognized as its official creator.
Though Walt Disney is remembered for revolutionizing animation and introducing a large number of lovable characters into this world, it is equally important for us to acknowledge and recognize the contributions made by these animators as well. Though their volume of work may appear trivial, they will be remembered for ensuring the success of animation especially during its initial phases which even leave us all in awe when we get to see them.
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This article is brought to you by a team of animation enthusiast at Animaster Animation College, the most popular academy in south India. The creative aspirants made an attempt to assimilate info on the topic. If you like it, please peep in the other articles as well.