Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Animator and Animation Reviews... Winsor McCay...

Winsor McCay was supposedly born in 1867, probably in Canada, butthis isn't a certainty. He was named Zenas Winsor McCay but he quickly dropped Zenas in favour of Winsor. He commenced drawing at a prodigiously early age and at the age of 13 he drew a picture of shipwreck on the school blackboard which was photograped and copies were sold. His attention to detail was amazing. McCay's first job that earned him money from his art was at Wonderland in Detroit where he was hired to draw portrats of the customers for 25 cents each. In 1891, he moved to Cincinnati, eventually making drawings for a local newspaper. It was there that he first developed his skill with a pen - everything up to that point had been crafted with pencil and brush. Canemaker points out, his accurate renditions of galloping horses indicate a familiarity with Eadweard Muybridge's photographic motion studies of 1887. Few cartonists had mastered the cartoon pacing and motion netter than McCay at this time. In late 1903, he relocated and began the most prolific chapter of his cartoning life. From 1904-1911, McCay produced a string of comic strips that have overriden many of his other accomplishments. Both his comic strips and his Vaudeville act were based on pacing and movement. He was about to combine all of these elements into one new art - the animated cartoon. While he wasn't the first person to make an animated carton, he was the man who defined the industry. The quality of his carons would not be matched for another 25 years. His pacing and understanding of the medium was way ahead of his time.

For his first film, Little Nemo, he produced 4,000 hand-drawn cels by himself. In the short film, Winsor McCay agrees to create a large set of drawings that will be photographed and made into a motion picture. The job reqires plenty of drawing supplies, and the cartoonist must also overcome some mishaps caused by an assistant. Finally, the work is done, and everyone can see the resulting animated picture. From here-on-in, i'm not really sure what is happening and at times i'm bemused by the animation. However,there are some funny slapstick gags in there, and the illustrated quality of the animation is particularly interesting. In particular, i love the quality of the dragon and the way the black ink and colour has been used to making the drawings stand out. The pacing of the animation is one of its strengths, and i really like the scene where the two characters use the dragon's mouth as a seat; this is so cleverly done and beautifully drawn. Overall, i love piece as a masterclass of beautiful hand-drawn animation, but i feel the narrative is fairly weak and confusing.

The Little Nemo film was released to theater and used in his act, as was his second, How A Mosquito Operates, made up of 6,000 hand-drawn cels. When these films were released into wider distribution, McCay's fame spread, especially to the fledgling animation community.
In 1914, Gertie the Dinosaur debuted to stunning reviews. McCay projected the film on his white sketch pad and in a carefully choreographed sequence, interacted with the animated dinosaur, and actually joins her on screen for the finale. I really enjoyed Gertie, especially the little bits of animation going on in the background like the sea monster. The way the dinosaur reacted to the well choreographed sequence was cleverly done, and i particularly liked the way Gertie interacted with the environment. This was a simple animation but very beautifully drawn and overall worked extremely well in engaging its audience.

McCay's last major animated film was The Sinking of The Lusitania in 1918. It is a beautifully drawn representation of the liner leaving the United States for Liverpool, carrying over 2000 passengers on board. As the ship nears its destination, it is severely damaged by a torpedo from a German U-boat, and as people frantically attempt to evacuate the boat, another torpedo striks the ship, causing a devastating disaster. Whether you're interested in its history or not, the beautiful and emotional animation keeps its audience engaged throughout. The scenes of explosions and people jumping off the boat are particularly emotional. The music also plays a great part in the animation, accompanying it well.
In 1934, Winsor McCay died. In spite of all the barriers that stood in his way during his career, he is now recognised as one of animation's most important animators, and has left a legacy of animations and techniques that have since influenced many of the modern animators of today.

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