rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href=""/>

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Animation Timeline: Winsor McCay

Fig. 1 Winsor McCay (1869 – 1934)

Winsor McCay (1869 – 1934) was an American cartoonist and animator who created the very first animated films, which would go on to set a high standard for those that followed, such as one Walt Disney as well as others in later decades.

Winsor McCay was born in 1867 in Canada. From a very young age McCay was interested in drawing, against his father wishes, who wanted him to learn a real trade. So unknown to his parents, he worked as a portrait artist in a "Dime Museum" while attending business college. His facility for observation and his amazingly ability to draw quickly made him a popular attraction. McCay left college, to work for Kohl and Middleton Dime Museum creating advertising poster and it was here were he began to create a name for himself as a talented artist. Due to the economic hardship of supporting his family McCay was forced to take a job as a cartoonist/reporter for the Cinncinati Commercial Tribune. It was here where he learned to fine tune his talent and by the end of 1903, he was being courted by the New York Herald, prompting him to move with his family to New York. It was a time when the newspaper comic strip was becoming popular and McCay himself began to experiment with his own original comic strips.

Fig. 2 "Little Nemo" Poster 

But when he moved to New York in 1903 it wouldn’t be until two years later, that he would final have success with his 1905 comic strip "Little Nemo in Slumberland". This strip is considered by many to be McCay’s masterpiece and increased his popularity, and began performing in Vaudeville. His act consisted of speed drawings of various characters, included some from pasted comic strips. But after eight years, McCay left the New York Herald and went to work for William Randolph Hearst at the New York American. It was when working for Hearst that McCay began to experiment with the idea of using animated pictures as part of his act, creating a number of animated short films.

His first attempt was "Little Nemo" which debuted in 1911, using the popular characters from his "Little Nemo" comic strip. McCay used four thousand animation drawings and then hand-coloured the 35mm frames to achieve a very striking effect. There is no story line, it is more an experiment in movement. "Little Nemo" was a huge success and it captivated audiences everywhere he went.

Fig. 3 "How A Mosquito Operates" film still

McCay then began work on his second short animation, "How A Mosquito Operates" (1912) taking him one year to complete. It is a cartoon about a giant mosquito with a top hat and a briefcase, who invades a man’s home as he sleeps. The mosquito sharpens his proboscis, repeatedly sucking blood from him until his body is a giant bulb. Then, suddenly aware of the audience, he performs some tricks on the man’s nose. Then it has one suck to many and bursts. Unlike his first film, this film was able to take a great leap forward for Winsor because he actually gets the animation to tell a story. That is because "How a Mosquito Operates relies on a simpler, less intricately graphic style in order to tell the story of a large mosquito's encounter with a sleeping victim." (Rabinovitz, 2010)

Fig. 4 ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’ Film Poster

Two years later, McCay completed his third animation ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’ which is certainly is his most famous one and still has the able to entertain new audiences today. The beginning is all Live-action and in this live action portion, McCay during a visit to a natural history museum bets a friend he can make the dinosaurs live again by a series of hand drawn cartoons and six months later, the 10,000 drawings are done. When the actual animation begins, we finally see McCay’s creation Gertie the dinosaur. Lasting five minutes, we are shown Gertie performing simple tricks for the audience, being distracted by a sea serpent, munching down a tree, encountering a mammoth, dancing, being hosed by the mammoth and throwing a rock at it, scratching her head with her tail, drinking a lake dry and as then finally taking onto her back a live action McCay and then walking off screen with him. "The short is impressive because of its fine animation and command of perspective, but what it really makes it a milestone of animation is that Gertie the Dinosaur is the first animated cartoon character with personality." (Grob, 2010) Gertie is not just a dinosaur but a female dinosaur that is behaving half like an animal being trained and the other half as a spoiled little child. The interaction between Gertie and McCay is impressive and makes the animation a classic.

Fig. 5 ‘The Sinking of the Lusitania’  Film Still

McCay’s fourth animation ‘The Sinking of the Lusitania’ (1918) is even more curious than his preceding three. An animated account of the sinking of the cruise ship the Lusitania on May 7 , 1915 by the German submarine U-39. With the ship carrying approximately 1,500 passengers, many of they were American. Two torpedoes sank the ship and took 1,500 lives. It starts with about a minute or so of live action showing McCay settling in to a document the tragedy, plus narration boards and a few still photos of the famous who died. Then the reminder is occupied by animation (a 25,000 drawing to be exact). The Lusitania’ sets sail past the Statue of Liberty, and then show the ship being hit twice by two torpedoes. Then the flames and smoke fill the sky as the passengers and crew escape the best they can, over the side of the ship in life boats. "Despite its slow action, ‘The Sinking of the Lusitania’ is an astonishing film, which may be the first animated propaganda film. It’s totally unique in its drama, and, despite its propaganda, an all time masterpiece of animation." (Grob, 2010)

McCay himself animated his films almost single-handed making each cartoon his and his alone. He took the time to make his films unique with his artistic visions and sometimes he would spend more than a year to make one single five-minute animation. What McCay was not expected was that "the burgeoning world of cinema could not wait so long for so little, and so the modern animation studio came into being. The art of animation was no longer the work of one man, it was a streamlined, assembly-line process in the best Henry Ford tradition. But was the art of the animated cartoon sacrificed for the trade's sake?" (Tracy, 2008)

List of Illustrations
Figure. 1 Moniz, Ray Winsor (1906) Ray Winsor.
Figure. 2  McCay, Winsor (1911) Little Nemo Film Poster. (Accessed on 12/03/2011)Figure. 3 McCay, Winsor (1912) How a Mosquito Operates. (Accessed on 12/03/2011)
Figure. 4 McCay, Winsor (1913) Gertie the Dinosaur film Poster. (Accessed on 12/03/2011)
Figure. 5 McCay, Winsor (1918) ‘The Sinking of the Lusitania’ film still. (Accessed on 12/03/2011)


 Rabinovitz, Lauren (2010) McCAY, Winsor. (Accessed on 12/03/2011)
Grob (2010) Gertie The Dinosaur. (Accessed on 13/03/2011)
Grob (2010) The Sinking of the Lusitania. (Accessed on 13/03/2011)
Tracy, Joe (2008) The History of Animation: Advantages and Disadvantages of the Studio System in the Production of an Art Form.  (Accessed on 13/03/2011)

(Accessed on 12/03/2011)

No comments:

Post a Comment