Animation Timeline 2 – The Early Film Era
Our Animation Timeline continues with the perfection of the film camera and projector, forcing most of the previous animation devices to novelty status. Because a film is really just a series of individual images shown in quick succession, it was ideally suited for the animation process. In fact, the act of making any movie is really just translating live-action to animation.
But we are dealing with strictly animation here, aren’t we? It was rather easy to point a film camera at something and record it; creating something one image at a time was a new art form, and something new for artists to wrap their heads around. And it took a while to do that- to create animation. Here are the baby steps that lead to the film recognizable as the first child of a whole new, modern art form.
Animation History Timeline
The Humpty Dumpty Circus
In 1897, director and producer J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith joined forces to found
The Vitagraph Company of America, what would become the first animation studio in America. By the following year, the pair produced The Humpty Dumpty Circus, a film that the Guinness Book of Movie Facts and Feats credits this as “the first animated film using the stop-motion technique to give the illusion of movement to inanimate objects.” One story regarding the creation of this film states that Albert E. Smith conceived the idea, borrowing his young daughter’s toy circus and shooting the acrobats and animals in barely changed positions a frame at a time. However, another source quotes James Stuart Blackton as saying that he originated the idea for this film, using his own little daughter’s set of toy wooden circus performers and animals.
This cartoon is presumed lost.
The Enchanted Drawing
The road to animation started simple… with a film by J. Stuart Blackton shot in Thomas Edison’s Black Moria studio in New Jersey. Titled The Enchanted Drawing, this short film that has come to be known for containing the first animated sequence ever. Just like many of Edison’s other early films, the story was simple, ordinary and even boring. The “man” (Blackton) draws a man’s face. Then he draws a hat on the head, followed by a bottle of wine, a glass and a cigar. Finally the man takes objects off the canvas and they go back into the image.
To pull this off, stop-motion photography was used. Most of the film is live-action. But that new trick photography Blackton employed makes this film the first to contain some bit of animation.
November 16, 1900
Fun In A Bakery Shop
Edison director Edwin S. Porter is responsible for the next step toward modern animated films. In his 1902 film Fun In A Bakery Shop, Porter used clay sculptures…. but he turned the camera off as he re-sculpted the clay. He termed this as “lightning sculpting”; today, we call it stop-motion clay animation. The film presented itself as a film completed in one, very long shot.
April 03, 1902
Humorous Phases Of Funny Faces
J. Stuart Blackton would return in 1906 in what was the first film that was more animated than live-action. Humorous Phases Of Funny Faces is generally considered to be the first animated cartoon (i.e. film containing drawn animation), it contains all the elements of a fully animated short, but it has no real narrative content. Even the opening title is animated.
April 06, 1906
Fantasmagorie (A Fantasy)
The next real milestone in animation was created across the Atlantic in France by Émil Cohl. His Fantasmagorie (A Fantasy) from 1908 is the first fully animated film with no live-action at all.
Created from over 700 drawings, Cohl placed each drawing on an illuminated glass plate and then traced the next drawing on top of it. By showing the negative instead of a positive of the film, Cohl made his line drawings appear to be chalk drawings- white on black instead of the black on white of this actual work.
August 17, 1908
In Gollywog Land
In Gollywog Land (1912) was probably the first color film that contained animation. The short was produced in England by the Natural Colour Kinematograph Company in Kinemacolor. This was live-action film with puppet-animated sequences. There is no question that the film was fully (two-color) color, but whether the film can be considered animated is hard to address: the actual film is now presumed lost.
Gertie the Dinosaur
One film many think was a first of some sort is Windsor McCays’ Gertie the Dinosaur. Unfortunately, Gertie was not really a first for anything, not even McCay’s first animated film. It was arguably the first major animated cartoon to catch the public imagination, but that is about it.
September 15, 1914
Pinto’s Prizma Comedy Revue
One contender for the first color animated film would be Pinto’s Prizma Comedy Revue, which was produced and animated by Vance DeBar Colvig using the Prizma Color system. Prizma was a two-strip color process, and the film is, unfortunately, also lost.
Vance would soon be known by his nickname “Pinto”, and would go on to an illustrious career at Disney, providing the voices for the Dwarfs Grumpy and Sleepy, as well as creating and performing the voice for Goofy.
The Debut Of Thomas Cat
The distinction of the first color animated film is generally given to the Bray Productions cartoon The Debut of Thomas Cat (1919), which was produced in the Brewster Color Process. This was the studio’s only release using Brewster Color, a two-emulsion color process. Brewster Color never really got off the ground as a viable color system as it was considered too expensive for commercial use. Drawings were made on transparent celluloid and painted on the reverse, then filmed with a two-color camera.
This cartoon is presumed lost.
February 08, 1920
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