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The Surprising and Wonderful World of Early Animation

Author: Charles Maynes
by Charles Maynes
Posted: Jun 23, 2022

Since Walt Disney's 1937 picture "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was the top-grossing release of the year, animated features have been enormous business. With the rise of digital animation in the twenty-first century, the medium's financial clout has increased even further. At least nine animated films have grossed more than a billion dollars at the global box office in the last decade, led by this year's hyperrealistic rendition of "The Lion King." Animators now have immense powers to create grandiose dreams thanks to digital effects; anything appears to be possible. Nonetheless, with so much money at risk, the medium's unlimited powers are frequently used for a limited set of market-tested formulas.

Return to the beginnings of the medium to regain its spontaneity, free-flowing inventiveness, and unconstrained sense of fun. Leapfrog over the age of computer-generated graphics and even the golden age of hand-drawn cartoons starring Bugs Bunny, Betty Boop, and Mickey Mouse to explore the early masterworks of animation. During the silent-film period, daring individuals pushed the boundaries of technology they may have devised. Many of these silent cartoons are exuberant joys that stand with famous silent live-action comedies by Mack Sennett, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton. Furthermore, many of these films, which are in the public domain with long-expired copyrights, are available for free on YouTube and other sites (and are easily searchable by their directors and titles).

However, a cell phone or a laptop computer only hints at the shock that was presented on the big screen in 1908, one of the first hand-drawn animated films. It begins with a close-up of the artist's hand leaping onto a black screen and quickly drawing—a vision of artistry that promised the medium's ability. Then we see a clown dangling from a crossbar, followed by two minutes of wonderfully controlled pandemonium. While the headless clown does gymnastics, a sprouting plant pulls off the clown's head and delivers it to another man. A champagne bottle transforms into a flower, which transforms into an elephant's trunk. Cohl's hallucinogenic shape-shifting was a thunderclap that revealed animation might be utilised for more than just entertainment. He inspired other caricaturists and comic-strip artists to venture into the wild world of animation. They created a cinema of discovery, surprise, and delight.

Just as live-action films outgrew their origins in photography and theatre, animated films—borrowing from comic strips, magic shows, and vaudeville—took flight and evolved into a distinct and fascinating type of artistic experience. However, their makers rapidly discovered a special impediment to this artistic blossoming: how difficult the films were to make. Early live-action shorts, such as those by Sennett and Chaplin, might be shot quickly, often in a single day, with sloppy or nonexistent screenplays. Each minute of an animated picture, on the other hand, necessitated at least 966 perfectly sequenced drawings. And, despite their laborious nature, the resulting films were simple: line drawings on sparse backdrops.

To address this issue, early animators chose to show the meticulous process itself. Cohl documented his hand as he drew "Fantasmagorie." Winsor McCay went even further with his debut film, an expansion of his well-known comic strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland." The film is mostly live action, a false documentary in which McCay meets friends and accepts a challenge to create four thousand drawings in a month and set them in motion. He perspires as a result of the stress. Near the end of the film, he turns on a projector, and a sketch with the title The animation is crude yet expressive: McCay's famous characters, some of them are racial caricatures, begin to run and dance, expand and shrink as if in a mirror, demonstrating both the actual power of video production services and its easy swing into fantasy.

In McCay's third picture, a beloved character was introduced, arguably the first in an animated film. McCay delicately represents Gertie, a ponderous and affable beast, taking care to have the minor wrinkles of her body. In the title cards, the animator "talks" with Gertie, commanding her to raise one foot, then another—and even sketches himself as a little character traversing the prehistoric environment with her. The most brilliant moment in the film comes from its most severe limitation: the poorly rendered background. McCay takes advantage of the blank space left by Gertie's tail and shrinks the mammoth to miniscule size as it departs comedically far into the distance.

The earliest generation of animators frequently imagined imaginary relationships between their hand-drawn figures. None did it more audaciously than the Fleischer brothers, best known in the sound period as the creators of the "Popeye" and "Betty Boop" series, who revelled in the vertiginous comedy of animated characters turning the tables on their creators. Their wordless "Out of the Inkwell" shorts are wild metafictions that show Max at work in his workspace, drawing a miniature clown who escapes the sheet of paper and causes havoc in the outside world. In the film, the clown steals Max's fountain pen to swat a fly, swings the pen, and shows Max and the clown fighting to blow the largest soap bubble. The clown defies his creator by blowing a bubble out the window, into the street, and down a stranger's car radiator. The clown creates a rubber stamp of himself, and an army of clowns lasso and wrestle Max to the ground.

The early spirit of exploration in animation was short-lived. J. R. Bray and animator Earl Hurd began patenting the cel animation process in 1914, which was a critical milestone in the industrialisation of the art form. Bray also established a studio to quickly make cartoons for wide circulation. Wallace Carlson's 1919 film depicts how commercialization limited the animator's independence. Carlson walks onscreen and says (in a title card), "The first thing to do is to get" before knocking on a door labelled "j. r. bray." Later, we see a title card that says, "After the film is processed and printed, the cartoon Bray appears onscreen, ordering Carlson to modify one scene."

Carlson ends the self-deprecating humour with a title board that reads, "Just as soon as we rectify that 'run' and perform the other sixty-two scenes, we'll be done." The brightness and vigour on display in a cartoon drawn four years earlier for the Essanay studio, where Chaplin also worked at the time, bring out the sadness in this humour.

It's a sweet-toned narrative of a street-smart young man named Dud and his dog, peppered with slangy pugnacity. things are portrayed with cheeky delight—walking on its front legs and standing on its head Dud's moustachioed father sits in an armchair, savouring his alone with a similar gestural glee: he leaps into the air and back onto his foot, blows smoke rings and inhales them—and then falls asleep. Dud decides to steal the pipe after peering through the window. When he is tempted to smoke it, the humour blends homey morality with intergalactic leaps of imagination. The malevolent "spirit of smoke" promises to teach Dud a lesson—and lifts him off the ground, while the dog sobs and absolutely covers the street with its tears.

Gregory La Cava's career as a newspaper cartoonist and director of scores of animated shorts before moving on to live-action films was perhaps the most revelatory in early animation. One of them foreshadows La Cava's great achievements as a feature picture director. (Among his best-known works are the screwball comedy "My Man Godfrey" and the comedic drama "Stage Door.") The title of that cartoon alludes to D. W. Griffith's grotesquely racist drama, but it's actually a 1919 comedy about Prohibition.

La Cava unleashes a whirligig profusion of brilliant twists and turns in "Breath." The picture is part of a series of cartoons starring Judge Rummy and his pal Silk Hat Harry. The premise is based on the cliche of the henpecked husband, yet the story clearly shows that the judge is in desperate need of some real pecking. Rummy sneaks off to Harry's soda fountain, which is a cover for a speakeasy, while his demanding wife drags him to a temperance meeting—where he'll serve as "— Though the comedy is equally well suited to live action, La Cava's animation infuses the film's basic situations with delightful impossibilities, such as when Harry appears behind, beside, and beneath a broad-shouldered barroom customer; sends the terrified Rummy scurrying horizontally up a wall; and Harry shrinks into his hat under the withering gaze of Rummy's wife. The characterizations and gags in this film serve as a model for future generations of cartoon humour.

Much early animation has been lost, such as Helena Smith Dayton's pioneering films. But surviving silent-era animation offers a wide range of pleasures, including clay animation, which is showcased in the Chinese-American artist Joseph Sunn's and which Wallace McCutcheon merged with live action in the lyrical stop-motion with dolls in by Howard S. Moss; Walter Ruttmann's geometrical abstractions, Lotte Reiniger's intricate and interactive silhouettes, and Bryant Fryer's rowdily antic ones. These, as well as many more in the genre, are freely available online and ready to inspire. They stand as a lost canon of extended imagination from a moment in animation when anything appears possible.

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I am a Writer at a a href=””professional web design services company with a focus on Seo, Sem, and Smm. With more than 4 years of experience, I have worked with several clients in the Usa and UK.

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Author: Charles Maynes

Charles Maynes

Member since: Jun 20, 2022
Published articles: 1

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