Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Animation Timeline - Winsor McCay 1867 - 1934

McCay had his first taste of the cartooning world in 1904, where he produced a string of comic strips. This developed McCay's need to keep drawing which inspired his later short animations. Although he was not the first person to make an animated cartoon, he started to define cartoon animation as it's own industry. The pacing and medium in his work, suggests that McCay's understanding was far ahead of his time as the quality would not be matched for another twenty five years. Three works that show this progression are 'How a Mosquito Works in 1912, 'Gertie the dinosaur' in 1914 and 'The Sinking of the Lusitania' in 1918.

In 'How a Mosquito Works' McCay captures the annoying characteristics of what the creature would be like in real life. The story focuses on the mosquito's need for blood so McCay shows the creature sharpening his stinger and preparing for his goal in the perception of a menacing monster. However the mosquito eventually reaches it's limit of blood intake and bursts to indicate how the creature's craving has turned against him. The sound effects work strongly within the animation, identifying the creature's annoying buzz as it flies over head and the change in tune as the mosquito plunges his needle into the man, indicating that it has had another successful attempt of gaining it's food. "He researched carefully his movements in frame. For instance, he observed the acceleration and deceleration of a thrown object. But his timing in sequences was much less precise, and How a  Mosquito Works (1912) is slow and repetitive." (Robin, 2011) Robin suggests how the story goes round into one continuous loop, the mosquito trying another attempt at achieving his goal and the man bats the creature away. Despite this 'slow repetitition', the story reflects how the creature keeps trying to get the thing it desires and how annoying this would be in the eyes of the sleeping man trying to sleep.

Figure 1, (2011), How a Mosquito Works Still 1

Figure 2, (2005), How a Mosquito Works Still 2

Gertie the dinosaur was a mix of live action and drawn animation, which saw the animated Gertie visually depicting emotion. The story begins as a silent movie showing the background story of how McCay came up with the idea of Gertie and how the dinosaur would be perceived as following his commands. When the animated dinosaur enters the shot, McCay narrates actions for Gertie to follow making her bow to the audience, dance and letting him ride her. McCay made Gertie have a little free will, allowing her to disobey certain commands and throwing a Mammoth into the lake. McCay took influence from a child making Gertie more playful and adventourous, occasionally getting mischief but experiencing the world from young fresh eyes. "McCay animated his films almost single-handed; from inception to execution each cartoon was his and his alone. He took the time to make his films unique artistic visions, sometimes spreading more than a year to make a single five-minute cartoon." (Crandol, 2008) The evidence identifies how McCay would experiment with his animation to evolve and shape them to his design. The animations took a long time for McCay to eventually work out due to the materials he was using and lack of technology.

Figure 3, (2011), Gertie the dinosaur Still 1

Figure 4, (2011), Gertie the dinosaur Still 2

The sinking of the Lusitania was based on the actual event of the tragedy that took place. McCay focused on the emotion of what the visuals would represent to the audience. The soundtrack emphasised the impact of the ship slowly sinking beneath as the soldiers run across the decks in panic, knowing there was no escape. The change of tempo as the ship descended into the ocean made the impact seem more final expressing to the viewer that death is the only resolution to this piece. The smoke was a good visual factor to indicate that the animation has been thrown into chaos and was a frame by frame movement so that the smoke would travel realistically. "This startling realism is hampered by the clear propagandist message against Germany, ending with the bold sentence "And they tell us to hate the Hun". (Grob,2010) The quote reflects the period at the end of the First World War, where there would have been a lot of emotion and loss as the people were slowly rebuilding their lives and this is reflected in the animation, the seriousness of what has taken place and who is to blame.

Figure 5, (2011), The Sinking of the Lusitania Still 1

Figure 6, (2011), The Sinking of the Lusitania Still 2

Illustration List
Figure 1, (2011), How a Mosquito Works Still 1, @, Accessed on: 20th June 2010
Figure 2, (2005), How a Mosquito Works Still 2, @, Accessed on: 16th July 2009
Figure 3, (2011), Gertie the dinosaur Still 1, @, Accessed on: 2011
Figure 4, (2011), Gertie the dinosaur Still 2, @, Accessed on: 2011
Figure 5, (2011), The Sinking of the Lusitania Still 1, @, Accessed on: 2007
Figure 6, (2011), The Sinking of the Lusitania Still 2, @, Accessed on: 2nd January 2009

Allan Robin, (2011), Winsor McCay - His life and his art, @, Accessed on: 1988
Crandol Michael, (2008), The History of Animation: Advantages and Disadvantages of the Studio System in the Production of an Art Form, @, Accessed on: 2000
Grob Gijs, (2010), The Sinking of the Lusitania, @, Accessed on: 22nd June 2010

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