If you were living in Paris on August 17, 1908:
1) You would today be at least 104 years old,
2) Your French might be a bit rusty, and…
3) You may have been among the first human beings to enjoy an animated cartoon.
Yes, today, August 17, is the 104th birthday of motion picture animation. The film in question is “Fantasmagorie.” Its creator was French cartoonist Emile Cohl. It was made from 700 individual black-on-white hand drawings photographed on negative film to make it look like white-on-black. Released on August 17, 1908, the 1 minute, 20-second silent film chronicled the adventures of an unnamed stick figure that encountered common objects that transformed into other common objects, such as a wine bottle turning into a flower.
Although its was ultimately eclipsed by animated films that included things like story, music, sound, color and CGI, “Fantasmagorie” showed that the still-nascent motion picture industry need not focus solely on characters of flesh and blood. Movies could go as far as the animator’s imagination could take them. (Or as far as they could go until the animator’s hands cramped up.)
In honor of “Fantasmagorie“‘s 104th anniversary, here’s a Friday Fun Facts look at motion picture animation:
* While Emile Cohl may have created the first animated cartoon, most film historians credit cartoonist Winsor McCay with having created the first cartoon character, that being Gertie the Dinosaur. The “Gertie” cartoons were interactive in that McCay himself would appear on stage to speak with and command his delightful animated creation.
* Contrary to popular belief, the first synchronized sound cartoon was NOT Disney’s “Steamboat Willie” (1928), but Max Fleischer’s “My Old Kentucky Home” (1926). Disney often gets credit for producing the first sound cartoon because, 1) Mickey Mouse proved to be a particularly enduring character and 2) The “Fleisherland” theme park was lame.
* Disney Studios DID create the first color cartoon, “Flowers and Trees,” in 1933, employing the technically difficult three-strip Technicolor process. He won an Oscar for his efforts the following year.
* The first animated feature film? Disney again. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937). Originally budgeted at $250,000, the film’s final cost was $1.5 million, part of the overrun financed by Disney taking out a mortgage on his own house. Turns out it was worth it: The film grossed more than $8 million on its first release, making enough profit for Uncle Walt to build his own studio. Subsequent theatrical re-releases and home video sales have to date earned the studio more than $400 million.
* After WWII, the newfangled T.V. industry became a proving ground for quick-and-cheap cartoonists. Innovators in the world of “limited animation” included Jay Ward (“Rocky & Bullwinkle”) , Cambria Studios (“Clutch Cargo”) and, most successful of all, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (“The Flintstones”‘/”Scooby-Doo”/”Space Ghost” etc.)
* The first X-rated cartoon feature was Ralph Bakshi’s “Fritz the Cat” (1972). Based on the Robert Crumb comic of the same name. It was a huge hit, grossing more than $100 million in its initial release.
* Computers entered the world of animation in 1986 with the release of the short “Luxo Jr.” by a small computer imaging company called Pixar, which had just been purchased by the recently jobless Steve Jobs. “Luxo Jr.” was originally intended as a film to demonstrate the capabilities of Pixar’s poor-selling computer imaging hardware, but Pixar’s leadership quickly realized they enjoyed making computer-animated movies a lot more than they did selling computers to hospitals and the Pentagon.
* In 1995, Pixar pulled is own Disney by cranking out the first fully computer-generated animated feature: “Toy Story.” Pixar’s run of multi-million-dollar hits proved so successful that Disney studios finally bought the company out in 2006 for $7.4 billion, putting Pixar chief John Lasseter in charge of the Mouse House’s entire animation division.
* Disney’s buy-out proved wise. Toy Story 3, released in 2010, became the most successful animated movie of all time, grossing nearly $1 billion worldwide.
Oh, and the longest-running Prime Time series of all time?Â “The Simpsons,” which premiered on the Fox Network in 1990. Yeah, it’s animated.
Have a great and animated weekend!