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Early Cartoon Masterpieces Screen in New York City - Film Legacy -

5/15/15, 2:05 AM

Early Cartoon Masterpieces Screen in New York

May 14, 2015 - 9:46 pm | Animation, Silent Film, Uncategorized

Steamboat Willie. Courtesy of The Academy's Margaret Herrick Library

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences continues its five-part series on
animation with The History of Silent and Early Sound New York Animation on Tuesday, May
19, at The Academy Theater on East 59th Street in Manhattan.
Historian and collector Tommy Stathes, a specialist in early animation, hosts the program,
which features cartoons from as early as 1900. The evenings final film, 1928s Steamboat
Willie, introduced Mickey Mouse to the world.
Movies like J. Stuart Blacktons Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906) were made in
New York City because thats where the motion picture industry was concentrated. A
vaudeville performer, Blackton would go on to head Brooklyns Vitagraph Studios, one of
the most successful of the early production houses.
The beginning titles, theyre mostly trick films, versions of vaudeville acts, Stathes says.
Winsor McCay was the biggest name early on, but he made films infrequently because
they were too detailed and fluid, and took so long to complete.
McCay, who also revolutionized the newspaper comic strip, drew every frame of his
cartoons by hand, a laborious process that would be streamlined later with background
artists and in-betweeners. McCay toured vaudeville with movies like Gertie the Dinosaur,
interacting with his characters on stage. Stathes will be showing McCays How a Mosquito
Operates (1912).

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Early Cartoon Masterpieces Screen in New York City - Film Legacy -

5/15/15, 2:05 AM

From Paul Terry's Dinner Time. Courtesy The Stathes Collection.

Stathes will also be spotlighting J.R. Bray, who ran the first successful animation studio.
Bray could crank out cartoons very quickly, Stathes explains. A lot of animators who
would become studio heads themselves, like Walter Lantz, Paul Terry, and Max Fleischer,
started their careers at Bray Studios.
Lantz, whose greatest creation may have been Woody Woodpecker, is represented by
Cinderella from 1925; Terry, by 1928s Dinner Time. Along with his brother Dave, Max
Fleischer expanded the possibilities for animation, in the process bringing characters like
Betty Boop and Popeye to the screen.
Stathes will be showing a title from Fleischers Out of the Inkwell series, Cartoon Factory
(1924). Imaginative and at times just weird, Cartoon Factory mixes animation with live
action, as Koko the Clownone of early cinemas most haunting figuresmatches wits
with an automatic drawing machine.
All of the titles in the program except the last come from Stathes own collection. Originally
filmed on 35mm, they became available to home consumers in smaller formats. TV stations
would broadcast 16mm copies, for example.
One set of about 40 prints were found in a barn in the Midwest, just sitting there, Stathes
says. They were on 28mm, another home format. I was able to obtain the animated titles in
the collection, including How Animated Cartoons Are Made from Bray Studios. That was
considered lost, but Im an optimist when it comes to lost films being rediscovered.

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Early Cartoon Masterpieces Screen in New York City - Film Legacy -

5/15/15, 2:05 AM

From The Artist's Dream, a 1913 Bray cartoon. Courtesy The Stathes Collection.

With Cartoon Roots, Stathes has begun releasing some of his rare titles on Blu-ray. And
with his Cartoon Carnival series, he projects 16mm prints in a variety of locations around
New York City. Check his website for more information.
Bobby Bumps, Col. Heeza Liar, and Felix the Cat were some of the stars of early animation.
Their vehicles may have ragged edges, but their influence leads straight down to Pixar and
The Simpsons.
Animators were still trying to figure out what techniques to use, Stathes says of the earlier
titles. Some of the cartoons have problems with pacing and movement. For instance, a
character who should move quickly across the screen might look too slow. When sound
came in, they could animate objects much more precisely, using the soundtrack as a guide.
Thats when everything in the picture really came alive.
The program includes the first sound-on-film cartoon produced in New York, Dinner Time
(1928). Previous cartoons were often shown with musical accompaniment. In fact, the
Fleischer brothers invented the follow the bouncing ball sing-along cartoon in 1925s My
Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.
Made in Hollywood, Steamboat Willie marked animations shift from New York to Los
Angeles. Within a few years the industry was consolidated around major studios like
Warner Bros. and MGM.
On Tuesdays program, Stathes will also introduce special guest J.J. Sedelmaier, an author,
illustrator, animator and director.
The final program in the series, A Sneak Peek of Disney-Pixars Inside Out, takes place on
May 29.
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