Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Animation - in the beginning.

Animation, the art of making inanimate objects appear to move. Animation is an artistic impulse that long predates film. History’s first recorded animator is Pygmalion of Greek and Roman mythology, a sculptor who created a figure of a woman so perfect that he fell in love with her and begged Venus to bring her to life

The theory of the animated cartoon preceded cinematography by half a century. Early experimenters, working to create conversation pieces for Victorian parlours or new sensations for the touring magic-lantern shows discovered the principle of persistence of vision. If drawings of the stages of an action were shown in fast succession, the human eye would perceive them as a continuous movement.

 In 1832 Belgian Joseph Plateau in 1832 invented the phenakistoscope, a spinning cardboard disk that created the illusion of movement when viewed in a mirror. In 1834 William George Horner invented the zoetrope, a rotating drum lined by a band of pictures that could be changed.  In 1876, Frenchman Émile Reynaud adapted the principle into a form that could be projected to a theatre audience. Reynaud was animation’s first entrepreneur using hand painted ribbons of celluloid, conveyed by a system of mirrors to a screen, giving personality to his animated characters.

The invention of  sprocket-driven film stock was a great leap forward. J. Stuart Blackton produced Humorous Phases of Funny Faces in 1906 launching a series of animated films for Vitagraph, a pioneering new York company. Later that year, Blackton he also experimented with the stop-motion technique, during which objects are photographed, repositioned and photographed again, for a short film,  Haunted Hotel.

In France, Émile Cohl was also developing a from of animation using relatively simple stick figures.  The rise in popularity of the Sunday comic sections of the new tabloid newspapers saw the nascent animation industry recruiting many of the best-known artists. One such artist was Winsor McCay, whose surreal  was a pinnacle of  art. McCay created a hand-coloured short film of Little Nemo for use during his vaudeville act in 1911 but it was Gertie the Dinosaur in 1914 that transformed the art. McCay’s superb drawing, fluid sense of movement and great feeling for character gave viewers an animated creature who seemed to have a personality, a presence, and a life of her own. The first cartoon star had been born.

McCay made several other extraordinary films, including a re-creation of The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), but it was left to Pat Sullivan to extend McCay’s discoveries. Australian-born cartoonist, Sullivan opened a studio in New York City.  He recognised the great talent of a young animator named Otto Messmer, and soon one of his characters,  a wily black cat named Felix became was made into the star of a series of popular one-reelers. Designed by Messmer for maximum flexibility and facial expressiveness, the round-headed, big-eyed Felix quickly became the standard model for cartoon characters: a rubber ball on legs who required a minimum of effort to draw and could be kept in constant motion. The rest, as they say - is history.

A recent visit to the wonderful Mark Leckey exhibition, This Kolossal Kat, that Massive Mog, shown at The Grundy Gallery reintroduced me to the joy of Felix.  A massive inflatable welcomed me and I was so entranced that I made it my mission to get some fellow poets together for a relaxed writing workshop. We spent two hours reviewing the exhibits and discussing our reactions. I am grateful to Tanessha Ahmed and Sean Payne for encouraging us to write within the gallery but also applaud curator Richard Parry for bringing this truly animated exhibition to Blackpool.



My poem is one of several that began life in the Grundy Gallery.


Furry Tail of New York.

A plain white page,
A pencil in a hand,
A stylised, cubist creature,
A monochrome delight.
As drawings keep emerging,
A gesture or a glance,
A paw is raised,
A swagger step
And suddenly a flicker forms.
A star is born,
A feline animation,
A mesmerising creation.
Felix the Cat.   

A funny little creature
Appears on movie screens,
As charming as the Chaplin Tramp,
A swinging tail
And silent pranks,
A cheeky smile,
A cheery act.
A cartoon strip soon follows,
A syndicated publication
Arrives in every Nation
Amid global adoration.
Felix the cat. 

A softer, rounder image,
A made over furry friend, 
A huge Macy’s inflatable,
As nose art on a plane,
And then the highest accolade,
A model of his form is made,
A turntable spins,
An image travels to a screen,  
A televisual projection,
A premier for animation
And everybody knows his name
And everybody loves his game
And everybody sings his song.
Felix the Cat.

Thanks for reading. Adele 
Reactions:

2 comments:

Steve Rowland said...

That says it all. A most interesting blog and clever poem. Thank you.
Would you mind if I steal a phrase (...the joy of Felix) as a title for the poem I'm working on?

Adele said...

Not at all Mr Rowland. I would consider it a compliment.