Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Winsor McCay (1869 - 1934)

Often credited as the father of modern animation (he created the first animated film comprised entirely of artwork, as well as the first character designed specifically for an animation (Cartoonist Group, 2011)), Winsor McCay started out as an illustrator, creating advertising posters.  He then moved on to cartooning, creating several popular comic strips, including "Little Nemo in Slumberland".  At the same time, he had a successful carrier in vaudeville, drawing amusing "lightning sketches" on stage using a blackboard and chalk.  Supposedly inspired by an advertising flip-book, he produced short animations that he incorporated into his vaudeville act.
Fig. 1 Gertie the Dinosaur [animation frame]
His most famous animated creation, Gertie the Dinosaur, was premiered in 1914.  It involves an animated brontosaurus (Gertie) who interacted with McCay, obeying spoken instructions and finally giving him a ride.  As the cel technique of animating the character separately from the background had not yet been invented, the background had to be drawn on each frame; however McCay did not do this himself but employed assistants to do it for him.  As a result, the background "boils", imbuing it with a greater sense of life than if it was simply static.  This also ensures that the audience cannot tell that (for example) the tree is going to move at some point, as they could with a cel animation.  McCay also makes use of "loops" to extend the animation, but since these looped actions follow a constant beat, they emphasise the "rhythm" of the animation.

Fig. 2 The Sinking of the Lusitania [Animation Frame]
McCay's next work was a propoganda film about the sinking of the passenger liner RMS Lusitani in WWI.  Made using cel animation, it is notable for its very realistic depiction of smoke and steam, as well as the general quality of the animation.  Although a silent film, text boards provide the audience with information of what is happening, emphasising the pseudo-documentary nature of the piece; however the final text board is obviously propagandic in nature, and this undermines any apparant impartiality in the film.

List of Illustrations

Figure 1.   Winsor McCay (1914) Gertie the Dinosaur [animation frame] [digital image] At: http://animationreview.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/gertie-the-dinosaur/ (Accessed on 21/03/2011)

Figure 2.   Winsor McCay (1918) The Sinking of the Lusitania [animation frame] [digital image] At: http://animationreview.wordpress.com/2010/06/22/the-sinking-of-the-lusitania/ (Accessed on 21/03/2011)


Dr Grob's Animation Review (2010)  Gertie the Dinosaur [Online] At: http://animationreview.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/gertie-the-dinosaur/ (Accessed on 21/03/2011)

Dr Grob's Animation Review (2010) The Sinking of the Lusitania [Online] At: http://animationreview.wordpress.com/2010/06/22/the-sinking-of-the-lusitania/ (Accessed on 21/03/2011)

Van Eaton Galleries (2011) A Brief Biography of Winsor McCay [Online] At: http://www.vegalleries.com/winsorbio.html (Accessed on 21/03/2011)

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