Monday, January 21, 2008

History of Animation 4 - Winsor McCay: Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)

Did you know that one person helped revolutionize comics (Little Nemo) and animation (Gertie the Dinosaur)?

In Walt Disney World's MGM Studios, you'll find Gertie in a lake near the entrance.

"Dinosaur Gertie's is a soft serve ice cream location at the Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World, Florida. The building is actually designed in the "California Crazy" architectural style, meaning it is shaped like Dinosaur Gertie. The shop is located on Echo Lake (across from the Giant Sorcerer Hat)."


"Gertie the Dinosaur is a 1914 short animated film by Winsor McCay that inspired many generations of animators to bring their cartoons to life. Although not the first animated film, as is sometimes thought, it was the first cartoon to feature a character with an appealing personality. The appearance of a true character distinguished it from earlier animated "trick films", such as those of Blackton and Cohl, and makes it the predecessor to later popular cartoons such as those by Walt Disney. The film was also the first to be created using keyframe animation."

"Gertie the Dinosaur was originally created to be used in McCay's vaudeville performances. McCay started performing "chalk talks" on vaudeville in 1906, as a sideline to his regular newspaper cartooning. In 1911, he began presenting animated films on stage, first an animation of Little Nemo in Slumberland, then How a Mosquito Operates. Plans for Gertie were announced in 1912. In January of 1914, the drawings were photographed by Vitagraph Studios. The first presentation of the film was at the Palace Theater in Chicago on February 8, 1914; later performances were at the Hammerstein Theater in New York City."

"The performance consisted of McCay interacting with Gertie, a cartoon Diplodocus. McCay would stand on stage in front of a projection screen, dressed in a tuxedo and wielding a whip. He would call Gertie, who appeared from behind some rocks. He then instructed her to perform various tricks, similar to a circus act. He would appear to toss a prop apple to her — McCay palmed the apple while Gertie caught an animated copy of it. Gertie was also seen to swallow a large rock, play with a Mastodon, and drink an entire lake dry. At one point, McCay would scold Gertie for misbehaving, at which she would begin to cry. For the finale, McCay disappeared behind the screen just as a cartoon version of him climbed onto Gertie's head and rode off."

First, here is his introduction:

Now here is that famous animation from 1914:

You can see how he cycled animations on Gertie.

This later Gertie on Tour animation was released in 1921:

"McCay's employer, William Randolph Hearst, was displeased with McCay's success outside of the newspapers, and used his contractual power to reduce McCay's stage activities. In late 1914, William Fox offered to market Gertie the Dinosaur to moving-picture theaters. McCay accepted, and extended the film to include a live-action prologue and intertitles to replace his stage patter. This is the version of the film generally seen today; the original animation comprises roughly 5 minutes of the entire 12-minute film."

"The film features McCay with several of his cartoonist friends, such as George McManus (creator of Bringing Up Father), Roy McCardell, and Thomas A. Dorgan. As the film opens, they are "on a joy ride", when their automobile suffers a flat tire in front of a museum. The cartoonists enter the museum, and see a "Dinosaurus" skeleton. McCay bets McManus a dinner that he can "make the Dinosaurus live again by a series of hand-drawn cartoons". He then spends six months making "ten thousand cartoons"; when McManus visits, McCay shows him the drawings, although an assistant trips and scatters a large pile of them over the floor (a gag also used in the Little Nemo film).

"The scene then shifts to a dinner party with the group of cartoonists. McCay begins by sketching a single drawing of Gertie. Someone complains that "your bet was that you could make it move", following which the film shifts to the original animated Gertie. McCay, through intertitles, tells Gertie to come out and bow, and continues through the same interaction as in the vaudeville show (although the "apple" that McCay throws to her is now referred to as a pumpkin, which was more appropriate for the size of Gertie's mouth). The film concludes with the group telling George (McManus) to pay for the dinner."
Another thing to take into consideration is that the background wasn't a separate cell back then. Winsor actually re-traced the background on every single frame of animation.

I hope you enjoyed Week 4 of The History of Animation! Gertie the Dinosaur is often misrepresented as the first animation. However, he is truly the first successful animated character.

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