Mike Moore Introduction In 1908 movie audiences were given the first glimpse of one of film’s most durable and expressionistic genres: Animation. The first true animation, lasting slightly longer than one minute, and consisting of over 700 still images, was created entirely by the hand of Emile Cohl. Cohl, a former comic strip writer, spent months tracing and retracing each individual frame of his film, each image only slightly different from the next, until the whole portfolio could be photographed in succession. Once the frames were captured, the camera replayed the still images at a faster pace, creating the illusion of motion, and the first animated film (Crafton 1982). And, though Cohl is rightly praised for his pioneering efforts in animation, it is important to recognize the impact of those filmmakers who came before and after. The techniques of animation were born through the mechanics of film itself -- this history of animation is truly the history of film. However, early animation in particular not only paralleled the development of cinema, but of a certain turn-of-the-century gestalt as well. The arrival of the
twentieth century marked the arrival of modernism, of both hope and anxiety for the century of industrialism and urbanization -- an era in which film was so clearly complicit. Modernism was the subject of many early films, (animated or not,) and it
quickly became the topic of much public discussion during the early 1900s. Artists in particular often struggled with modernism through their work. The work of French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, as well as the work of the Surrealists who followed him, was intimately tied to the concerns of modernism. In this sense, both the developing institutions of animation and Surrealism were tied to a similar cultural moment. In fact, the development of silent animation throughout the early 20th century parallels the development of Surrealism as an aesthetic, with silent animation first foreshadowing, then engaging with the burgeoning artistic institution.
A Brief History of Animation Though Cohl is given credit with the first animated film, the history of animation begins years before Cohl’s work. Animation can be loosely defined as giving life, or movement, to inanimate objects. Animation is a process of kinesis. The first experiments with animating objects through film began as early as early as 1897. Before the turn of the century, film makers like George Melies began harnessing the mechanical power of film through ‚trick photography,‛ removing images from the frame with clever editing and meticulous staging. This experimentation soon gave birth to rudimentary ‚stop-animation.‛ With stop-animation, Melies could give inanimate objects the illusion of movement by slowing his camera to a single frame exposure. After each frame was shot, Melies could then move his magical object just
slightly before taking another still. Several stills later, the images could be replayed at full speed and, like a child’s flip-book, the chosen object would have the appearance of movement (‚History of Animation‛ and Crafton 1982). Soon after Melies’ stop-animation experiments, another of film history’s legendary figures helped encourage the growth of animation. In 1896, just as Melies began working with film, Thomas Edison began a relationship with vaudeville performer J. Stuart Blackton. Blackton was an artist who specialized in ‚lightning sketches,‛ caricatures rapidly drawn and altered in front of the audience. Edison hired Blackton in order to film one of his sketches. However, Edison was so enthralled with Blackton’s performance that the two began a business relationship. By 1900, Blackton had created The Enchanted Drawing, a short film in which Blackton creates a sketch which seemingly comes to life, as a hand drawn glass and bottle are pulled from the paper and into real life. Though Blackton’s film relied on Melies’ stop-animation, it marks an...