Lecture 16: The years until "Steamboat Willie" ~ The sound of silents...

Before we continue with our journey through the creation of "Endangered Species" and beyond it would be good to look at some of the amazing work that followed Emile Cohl's 1908 "Fantasmagorie" landmark film. We'll take it up to, and including, the next fine landmark film - Walt Disney's "Steamboat Willie" - which are pretty much the "silent" years. Not all of these films are necessarily in chronological order, although I don't think that will in any way diminish interest in them. I have however tried to add their years of production wherever possible. This collection could well be called... "The Sound of Silents"...

01 “The Haunted Hotel” (1907) James Stuart Blackton 

This was James Stuart Blackton’s most successful film – and one that inspired many other artists of that time to get into the emerging industry of film and stop-frame photography – ultimately to be called “animation” - at the time.

02 “Dreams in Toyland” (1908) Arthur Melbourne

From St. Albans, England, Arthur Melbourne was credited for creating the first “close-up” shot in film. Experimented with mixing live action film and stop-frame animation, his film “Dreams in Toyland” obtained a great deal of popular acclaim at the time.

03 “Le Cheveu Delateur” (1911) Emile Cohl

A member of “The Incoherents” –an art movement in Paris that believed in the power of the ridiculous and the ludicrous. He was also a famous political cartoonist who turned to experimenting by mixing drawing and animation. In so doing he created a template that the mainstream US-based animation industry was to follow. His most recognized film was his first, “Fantasmagorie” in 1908.

04 “Colonel Heeza Liar foils the enemy” (1915) John Randolph Bray

John Randolph Bray was a newspaper comic strip artist who moved into the emerging animation industry. Bray was recognized as bringing significant innovations to animation technology but integrating independent backgrounds with the animation, as well as placing some layers on “cels” or clear acetate.

05 “Restorations” (1910-1917) The Bray Studios

The “Bray Studio” was the biggest animation studio in the USA prior to the First World War, with many of the major animators over the following decade or two learning their skills when working there.

06 “Little Nemo” (1911) Winsor McCay

Using technical advice from James Stewart Blackton, McCay brought his successful and famous comic strip character, “Little Nemo”, to amazing animated life. However, it took 4,000 drawings and 4 years to complete the task!

07 “How a Mosquito Operates” (1912) Winsor McCay

This brought McCay’s skills further to the forefront of the world’s attention, albeit for a very dubious subject that is quite uncomfortable to watch!

08 “The Sinking of the Lusitania” (1918) Winsor McCay

This was McCay’s last significant film, relating an actual historical event and working in such detail that none of his rivals could match him. Of all the early animators in the silent era, it was Winsor McCay who proved the major inspiration for the young Walt Disney as he prepared to develop his own studio dominance in later times.

09 “Collection” (1915) Raoul Barre

The French-Canadian Raoul Barre was not only an animated filmmaker but he was also responsible for developing many of the studio practices that were to be used for many decades after he had left the scene. His most significant invention was the “peg bar”, which ensured accurate registration from drawing to drawing and from drawing to film.

10 “Out of the Inkwell” (1921) Dave & Max Fleischer

The Fleischer brothers were soon to become a major creative force in the 1920’s and beyond. They were not only creating a leading animation studio but they also became developers of important technologies that the industry was to value over many decades. “Out of the Inkwell” opened up the notion of combining animation with hand-drawn animation to a significant degree of sophistication at the time.

11 “The Amazing Rotoscope(documentary) Max Fleischer

Max Fleischer’s significant invention was the “Rotoscope”, which allowed live action footage to be traced as animation drawings. Even modern 3D computer animation uses and updated form of the rotoscope technique by way of “mo-cap” (motion capture) technology.

12 “Feline Follies” (1919) Pat Sullivan

This film is the first film featuring what was to become the biggest animation star of the 1920’s - “Felix the Cat”. Designed and animated by Otto Messmer and produced by Pat Sullivan (who took all the credit for the character’s success it must be said) the character was an animation sensation around the world - opening up not only box-office revenues but also significant merchandizing & marketing returns too.

13 “Steamboat Willie” (1928) Walt Disney/Ub Iwerks

The Walt Disney studio had been impressively ticking away in the background as their main rivals were taking a great deal of the limelight – especially the “Felix the Cat” outfit. However, it was when Walt Disney’s studio created the first ever sync-sound animated film, “Steamboat Willie” that he started putting light between him and all his main rivals. The studio’s dominance was never bettered from this moment in time, all the way through until Walt died in1966!

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