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How New York City Launched the Animation Industry - An AMPAS Event with Tommy Stathes and J.J.

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How New York City Launched the Animation Industry - An AMPAS

Event with Tommy Stathes and J.J. Sedelmaier
by Ed Liu onMay 20, 2015

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How New York City Launched the Animation Industry - An AMPAS Event with Tommy Stathes and J.J. Sedelmaier - Toon Zone News



5/21/15, 2:48 AM

AMPASs Patrick Harrison

On May 19, 2015, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosted a screening of some of the earliest animated short films ever made,
hosted by early animation archivist, collector, and historian Tommy Stathes with renowned animator J.J. Sedelmaier. Academy director of New York
programs and membership Patrick Harrison introduced the event by noting that the nearly full auditorium at the Academy Theater in New York City
was fine testament justifying a program on animation from the silent film era. Mr. Stathes and Mr. Sedelmaier provided wonderful context for the
shorts, with Mr. Stathes recounting film history and Mr. Sedelmaier providing added commentary on the history as he lived it in New York and on the
technical aspects of the animation itself.
J.J. Sedelmaier added that this specific event occurred because most of the other events in the Academys month-long Animation Showcase focused
on animation from Los Angeles, even though the medium was truly born in New York City. With one notable exception, all the selected films for the
program were created by New York studios, with most of the earliest animators coming newspaper comic strips (the most well-known probably being
Winsor McCay). The first reel of animated shorts were some of the earliest experiments in film animation dating back from the turn of the century to
the middle of World War I. Many of these earliest films were essentially doing stop-motion animation with drawings rather than objects, with J. Stuart
Blacktons The Haunted Hotel being one of the earliest examples of using an object for stop-motion animation. Many of these earliest films mixed
live-action and animation, with only two out of the five being pure animation. In fact, only two of these earliest animations are cartoons as we tend
to recognize them today: Winsor McCays squirm-inducing How a Mosquito Operates and J.R. Brays Col. Heeza Liar Wins the Pennant, with the
latter film being the first screened that used the then-new technology of transparent celluloid sheets (or cels) instead of tracing paper.
The limitations of the medium didnt aect the appeal of the shorts themselves. Tommy Stathes Cartoons on Film YouTube channel hosts a cut of J.R.
Brays The Artists Dream, although the film shown at the screening seemed much cleaner and remastered.

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How New York City Launched the Animation Industry - An AMPAS Event with Tommy Stathes and J.J. Sedelmaier - Toon Zone News

5/21/15, 2:48 AM

(left to right) J.J. Sedelmaier and Tommy Stathes

The other element that greatly enhanced these earliest shorts was the pitch-perfect live jazz piano accompaniment by Joel Forrester, which lent a
palpable spark of spontaneity to the experience.
The second reel of shorts ranged from 1915 to 1926, with the medium evolving to something more recognizable to modern audiences with cel
animation as the norm and accompanying music tracks, even though they were still silent films with dialogue cards. The music was mostly added for
TV rebroadcasting in the 1950s, when networks would re-purpose old animation as filler material. The screened short Cartoons on Tour lumped
together several shorts under a thin cover story involving an eloping couple and the distractions of a comic book, with an extraordinarily literal (and
unintentionally hilarious) voiceover added to the reel.
While the technical aspects of animation are easily recognized by modern audiences, some of the plot elements wouldnt quite pass muster today. As
one example, the Mutt & Je short Dog Gone involves some scenes that drew some nervous laughter from the audience, and would surely draw the
wrath of PETA if a modern cartoon were to attempt them:

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How New York City Launched the Animation Industry - An AMPAS Event with Tommy Stathes and J.J. Sedelmaier - Toon Zone News

5/21/15, 2:48 AM

The final reel in the event screened five animated shorts from the mid- to late-1920s, with names that will probably be more familiar to modern
audiences. The Fleischer Brothers were represented by a Koko the Clown Out of the Inkwell short titled Cartoon Factory, while Walter Lantz
provided a then-modern update to Cinderella. Interestingly, both these shorts flip back to hybrid live-action/animated films rather than sticking
purely to one medium or the other. The shenanigans of Felix in Astronomeows (starring Felix the Cat) and in Paul Terrys Dinner Time easily
translated to modern audiences.

Tommy Stathes
The one non-New York animated short in the program was Walt Disneys Steamboat Willie, the first animated short with synchronized sound. Disney
apparently provided a new film print struck from the original negative for this event, and the quality was absolutely flawless. Mr. Stathes also noted
that this print included a scene normally excluded from most prints of the film (where Mickey plays a sows teats like an accordions keys), while Mr.
Sedelmaier pointed out that Walt Disneys use of synchronized sound in Steamboat Willie was a conscious eort to outdo Paul Terrys Dinner
Many of these earliest short films are much less sophisticated than the average animated short today, both on technical and storytelling levels.
However, these shorts endure on their energy a certain sense of spontaneity that can sometimes go missing in modern animation. These cartoons
were exploring unknown territory, with filmmakers experimenting with this new medium to see what they could do with it. That sense of
experimentation lends the shorts a palpable and electric sense of discovery that can often overcome any perceived deficiencies in storytelling or
animation. Id also argue that many modern cartoons arent much more sophisticated than whats on display here. Both panelists noted that these
animated shorts have dated much better than many of their live-action counterparts, since its much easier to appreciate the draftsmanship and the
sensibilities of animation over many of the stylistic tics of the live-action films.
Tommy Stathes oers up a selection of early animation on his Cartoon Roots Blu-ray, and stated that hes working to bring more of his collection on
home video. You can also keep up with his Cartoon Carnival Facebook page or ask to be added to his mailing list to follow his restoration and
preservation eorts and stay up-to-date on public screenings. J.J. Sedelmaier can be followed on his studios ocial website, as well as his Facebook
group and Twitter account.

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