Thursday, February 25, 2016

Who was Winsor McCay? I'll tell you

I don't know much about Winsor McCay, one of the early pioneers of animation, but I DO know that I love this snippet from his innovative 1910 work, Little Nemo. Though his 1914 short film Gertie the Dinosaur is often called the "first animated cartoon", that is far from the case. People were already experimenting with animation (not yet called "cartoons" - those were the things you saw in the newspapers) back in the mid-1800s, when the concept of stop-motion/flip-books was all the rage. Praxoscopes, zoetropes, mutoscopes, and all manner of scopes were attempts to make still pictures move, and hand-drawn pictures dance around and make us laugh.

Gertie had this long, long, non-animated lead-in which was supposed to be some sort of teaser, and was in black and white. This gorgeous thing is hand-tinted, one frame at a time. Its motion is not terribly smooth, but it's still convincing. For some reason I think of Max Fleischer's charmingly-drawn figures in his early Koko the Clown cartoons. The best part, the most innovative, is the way the dragon (alligator?) swivels around and walks away with its back to us. That's a radical shift in perspective, and it works very well.

More later, I hope. This is too interesting NOT to pursue.

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