Animation Inspiration

Hans Richter

Hans Richter was a German painter,  graphic artist, avant-gardist, film and animation experimentalist, and producer. He was greatly influenced by cubism in the 1910s.

Richter believed that the artist’s duty was to be actively political, opposing war and supporting the revolution.

Throughout his career, he claimed that his 1921 film Rhythmus 21 was the first abstract film ever created. However, this is simply not true. He was in fact preceded by German artist Walther Ruttmann, among others. Nevertheless, Richter’s film Rhythmus 21 is considered an important early abstract film by filmmakers and film scholars throughout the world.

Felix the Cat

Otto James Messmer was an American animator, best known for his work on the Felix the Cat cartoons and comic strip produced by the Pat Sullivan studio.

The extent of Messmer’s role in the creation and popularity of Felix is a matter of ongoing dispute, particularly as he only laid his claim to the character after the death of Sullivan, who until that time had received the credit. However, most prominent comics and animation historians support Messmer’s claim, as do the veterans of the Sullivan studio.

Felix the Cat is a funny-animal cartoon character created in the silent film era. The anthropomorphic black cat with his black body, white eyes, and giant grin, coupled with the surrealism of the situations in which his cartoons place him, combine to make Felix one of the most recognized cartoon characters in film history. Felix was the first character from animation to attain a level of popularity sufficient to draw movie audiences. Felix was also the first cartoon to be merchandised and soon became a household name.

By the late 1920s, with the arrival of sound cartoons, Felix’s success was fading. The new Disney shorts of Mickey Mouse made the silent offerings of Sullivan and Messmer, who were then unwilling to move to sound production, seem outdated. In 1929, Sullivan decided to make the transition and began distributing Felix sound cartoons through Copley Pictures. The sound Felix shorts proved to be a failure and the operation ended in 1932. Felix saw a brief three-cartoon resurrection in 1936 by the Van Beuren Studios.

Fleischer Studios

Fleischer Studios was an American corporation which originated as an animation studio located at 1600 Broadway, New York City, New York. It was founded in 1921 as Inkwell Studios by brothers Ma Fleischer and Dave Fleischer who ran the pioneering company from its inception until Paramount Pictures, the studio’s parent company and the distributor of its films, acquired ownership. In its prime, Fleischer Studios was a premier producer of animated cartoons for theaters, with Walt Disney Productions becoming its chief competitor in the 1930s.

Fleischer Studios is notable for Koko the Clown, Betty Boop, Bimbo, Popeye the Sailor, and Superman. Unlike other studios, whose characters were anthropomorphic animals, the Fleischers’ most successful characters were humans (With the exception of Bimbo in the 1930s.). The cartoons of the Fleischer Studio were very different from the Disney product, both in concept and in execution. As a result, the Fleischer cartoons were rough rather than refined, commercial rather than consciously artistic. But in their unique way, their artistry was expressed through a culmination of the arts and sciences. This approach focused on surrealism, dark humor, adult psychological elements, and sexuality, and the environments were grittier and urban, often set in squalid surroundings, reflecting the Depression as well as German Expressionism.

The Fleischer Studio was built on Max Fleischer’s novelty film series, Out of the Inkwell (1919-1927). The “novelty” was based largely on the results of the rotoscope, invented by Fleischer to produce realistic animation. The first Out of the Inkwell films were produced through The Bray Studio, and featured Fleischer’s first character, “The Clown,” which became known as Ko-Ko the Clown in 1924.

In 1921, The Bray Studio ran afoul with legal issues, having contracted for more films than it could deliver to its distributor, The Goldwyn Company. The Fleischer Brothers left and began their own studio with Dave as Director and Production Supervisor, and Max as Producer. In 1924, Veteran Animator, Dick Huemer came to The Inkwell Studio and redesigned “The Clown” for more efficient animation. Huemer’s new design and experience as an Animator moved them away from their dependency on The Rotoscope for fluid animation. In addition to defining the clown, Huemer established the Fleischer style with its distinctive thick and thin ink lines. In addition, Huemer created Ko-Ko’s companion, Fitz the Dog, who would evolve into Bimbo in 1930.

Throughout the 1920s, Fleischer was one of the leading producers of animation with clever moments and numerous innovations including the “Rotograph”, an early “Aerial Image” photographic process for compositing animation with live action backgrounds. Other innovations included Ko-Ko Song Car-Tunes and sing-along shorts featuring the famous bouncing ball, a precursor to Karaoke.

In My Merry Oldsmobile – 1931

Minnie the Moocher

Ko-Ko the Clown – Cab Calloway

 

John Bray Studios

in 1914, John Bray opened John Bray Studios, which revolutionized the way animation was created. Earl Hurd, one of Bray’s employees patented the cel technique. This involved animating moving objects on transparent celluloid sheets. Animators photographed the sheets over a stationary background image to generate the sequence of images. This, as well as Bray’s innovative use of the assembly line method, allowed John Bray Studios to create Colonel Heeza Liar, the first animated series.

During the 1910s, the production of animated short films, typically referred to as “cartoons”, became an industry of its own and cartoon shorts were produced for showing in movie theaters. The most successful producer at the time was John Randolph Bray, who, along with animator Earl Hurd, patented the cel animation process that dominated the animation industry for the rest of the decade.

The Artists Dream – 1913

Colonel Heeza Liar Foils the Enemy – 1915

 

Winsor McCay

Winsor McCay was an American cartoonist and animator. He is best known for the comic strip Little Nemo and the animated film Gertie the Dinosaur. For contractual reasons, he worked under the pen name Silas on the comic strip Dream of the Rarebit Fiend.

From a young age, McCay was a quick, prolific, and technically dextrous artist. He started his professional career making posters and performing for dime museums, and in 1898 began illustrating newspapers and magazines. In 1903 he joined the New York Herald, where he created popular comic strips such as Little Sammy Sneeze and Dream of the Rarebit Fiend. In 1905 his signature strip Little Nemo in Slumberland debuted—a fantasy strip in an Art Nouveau style about a young boy and his adventurous dreams. The strip demonstrated McCay’s strong graphic sense and mastery of color and linear perspective. McCay experimented with the formal elements of the comic strip page, arranging and sizing panels to increase impact and enhance the narrative. McCay also produced numerous detailed editorial cartoons and was a popular performer of chalk talks on the vaudeville circuit.

McCay was an early animation pioneer; between 1911 and 1921 he self-financed and animated ten films, some of which survive only as fragments. The first three served in his vaudeville act; Gertie the Dinosaur was an interactive routine in which McCay appeared to give orders to a trained dinosaur. McCay and his assistants worked for twenty-two months on his most ambitious film, The Sinking of the Lusitania, a patriotic recreation of the German torpedoing in 1915 of the RMS Lusitania. Lusitania did not enjoy as much commercial success as the earlier films, and McCay’s later movies attracted little attention. His animation, vaudeville, and comic strip work was gradually curtailed as newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, his employer since 1911, expected McCay to devote his energies to editorial illustrations.

In his drawing, McCay made bold, prodigious use of linear perspective, particularly in detailed architecture and cityscapes. He textured his editorial cartoons with copious fine hatching, and made color a central element in Little Nemo. His comic strip work has influenced generations of cartoonists and illustrators. The technical level of McCay’s animation—its naturalism, smoothness, and scale—was unmatched until the work of Fleischer Studios in the late 1920s, followed by Walt Disney’s feature films in the 1930s. He pioneered inbetweening, the use of registration marks, cycling, and other animation techniques that were to become standard.

Little Nemo – 1911

McCay made the 4,000 rice-paper drawings for the animated portion of the film. The animated portion took up about four minutes of the film’s total length. Photography was done at the Vitagraph Studios under the supervision of animation pioneer James Stuart Blackton. During the live-action portion of the film, McCay bets his colleagues he can make his drawings move. He wins the bet by animating his Little Nemo characters, who shapeshift and transform.

How a Mosquito Operates – 1912

Also known as The Story of a Mosquito and Winsor McCay and His Jersey Skeeters. It’s one of the earliest examples of line-drawn animation.

Gertie the Dinosaur – 1914

Gertie is the earliest animated film to feature a dinosaur. McCay first used the film before live audiences as an interactive part of his vaudeville act; the frisky, childlike Gertie did tricks at the command of her master. McCay’s employer William Randolph Hearst curtailed McCay’s vaudeville activities, so McCay added a live-action introductory sequence to the film for its theatrical release. McCay abandoned a sequel, Gertie on Tour in 1921, after producing about a minute of footage.

The Sinking of the Lusitania – 1918

The Sinking of the Lusitania, released in 1918, is an animated short film by American artist Winsor McCay. It features a short 12 minute explanation of the sinking of RMS Lusitania after it was struck by two torpedoes fired from a German U-boat. The film was one of many animated silent films published to create anti-German sentiment during World War I. McCay illustrated some 25,000 drawings for the production. The film is stylized as a documentary, informing viewers on details from the actual event, including a moment by moment recap, casualty list, and a list of prominent figures who were killed.

Dream of the Rarebit Fiend: Bug Vaudeville – 1921

After eating a cheese cake, a hobo falls asleep and dreams of a strange vaudeville show performed by bugs.

Dream of the Rarebit Fiend: The Pet – 1921

After eating a rarebit, a man has an odd dream in which his wife takes in a strange-looking animal that eats everything in sight and keeps growing until it threatens the entire city.

Dream of the Rarebit Fiend: The Flying House – 1921

Against the backdrop of the rapidly urbanizing United States of the 1910s and 1920s, one house from the artificial grid of modern, planned America takes flight in the dream of a woman who has feasted on Welsh rarebit.

The Centaurs – 1921

In this animated silent short, a female centaur enters a clearing in the woods and picks flowers. She is met by a male centaur and the two romance each other. They then seek parental consent for their union. Unfortunately, only a small fragment of this beautiful animation survives as the rest is considered lost.

Flip’s Circus – 1921

Unfortunately, only fragments of this beautiful animation survives as the rest is considered lost.

Gertie on Tour – 1921

Gertie the Dinosaur encounters the modern era.

 

The Cameraman’s Revenge – 1912

Influenced by Émile Cohl, the author of the first puppet-animated film, Russian-born Polish director Ladyslaw Starewicz, started to create stop motion films using dead insects with wire limbs and later, in France, with complex and really expressive puppets. In 1912, he created The Cameraman’s Revenge, a complex tale of treason and violence between several different insects. It is a pioneer work of puppet animation, and the oldest animated film of such dramatic complexity, with characters filled with motivation, desire and feelings.

Fantasmagorie – 1908

Considered by film historians to be the first animated cartoon, The French artist Émile Cohl created this animated film using what came to be known as traditional animation methods: the 1908 Fantasmagorie. The film largely consisted of a stick figure moving about and encountering all manner of morphing objects, such as a wine bottle that transforms into a flower. There were also sections of live action where the animator’s hands would enter the scene. The film was created by drawing each frame on paper and then shooting each frame onto negative film, which gave the picture a blackboard look. Cohl later went to Fort Lee, New Jersey near New York City in 1912, where he worked for French studio Éclair and spread its animation technique to the US.

J. Stuart Blackton

James Stuart Blackton was a British-American film producer and director of the silent era. One of the pioneers of motion pictures, he founded Vitagraph Studios in 1897. He was one of the first filmmakers to use the techniques of stop-motion and drawn animation, is considered the father of American animation, and was the first to bring many classic plays and books to the screen.

The Enchanted Drawing

J. Stuart Blackton was an Anglo-American filmmaker, co-founder of the Vitagraph Studios and one of the first to use animation in his films. The Enchanted Drawing, created in 1900, is considered to be the first film recorded on standard picture film that included some sequences that are sometimes regarded as animation. It shows Blackton doing some “lightning sketches”.

Humorous Phases of Funny Faces

Blackton’s 1906 film Humorous Phases of Funny Faces is often regarded as the oldest known drawn animation on standard film. It features a sequence made with blackboard drawings that are changed between frames to show two faces changing expressions and some billowing cigar smoke, as well as two sequences that feature cutout animation.

Eine Murul (Breakfast on the Grass)

‘Breakfast on the Grass’ is one of Priit Pärn’s most powerful films.

It’s also one of his most difficult, and its message is at times hard to decipher. Pärn doesn’t tell straightforward stories, and much remains unexplained. Most importantly, it’s one of the few films showing insight in Eastern European life under the communist oppression. Its atmosphere is gloomy, its graphic style crude and scratchy, its humor dark, and its surrealism disturbing.

The Yellow Submarine

The music-loving inhabitants of Pepperland are under siege by the Blue Meanies, a nasty group of music-hating creatures. The Lord Mayor of Pepperland (Dick Emery) dispatches sailor Old Fred (Lance Percival) to Liverpool, England, where he is to recruit the help of the Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr). The sympathetic Beatles ride a yellow submarine to the occupied Pepperland, where the Blue Meanies have no chance against the Fab Four’s groovy tunes.

Paul McCartney wrote the majority of this song. He explained shortly after it was released in 1966: “‘Yellow Submarine’ is very simple but very different. It’s a fun song, a children’s song. Originally we intended it to be ‘Sparky’ a children’s record. But now it’s the idea of a yellow submarine where all the kids went to have fun. I was just going to sleep one night and thinking if we had a children’s song, it would be nice to be on a yellow submarine where all your friends are with a band.”

Paul purposely used short words in the lyrics because he wanted kids to pick it up early and sing along.

 

A Wild Hare – Happy Birthday, Bugs

Happy belated birthday, Bugs! I’m sorry I forgot.

While Porky’s Hare Hunt was the first Warner Bros. cartoon to feature a Bugs Bunny-like rabbit, A Wild Hare, directed by Tex Avery and released on July 27, 1940, is widely considered to be the first official Bugs Bunny cartoon.

The first “true” appearance of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Elmer is a dimwitted hunter, “wooking for wabbits.” Bugs is a clever, smooth-talking character, who confuses Elmer with double-talk and misdirection. Elmer is no match for the wascally wabbit, even when he thinks Bugs is dead.

Directed by Tex Avery

Pearl Jam – Do the Evolution

The animated music video for Do the Evolution was co-directed by Kevin Altieri, known for his direction on Batman: The Animated Series, and Todd McFarlane, better known for his work with the popular comic book Spawn and Korn’s 1999 Freak on a Leash video. The video was produced by Joe Pearson, the president of Epoch Ink animation, and Terry Fitzgerald at TME. It was written and developed by Pearson and Altieri with input from McFarlane and Vedder. The total production time on the music video was 16 weeks. The animation pre-production was produced by Epoch Ink Animation at their studio in Santa Monica, California. Under Altieri and Pearson’s supervision the Epoch team boarded and designed the short in less than six weeks. Once McFarlane, Vedder, and Sony gave their final approvals, the short was taken to Korea by Altieri and Pearson for animation at Sun Min Image Pictures and Jireh Animation. Over a four-week period, a team of more than one hundred artists worked to deliver the finished animation.

Once the final animation was back in Los Angeles, California, Altieri, McFarlane, and Vedder edited the final cut at Vittello Productions. In a press release, McFarlane stated, “We choose to work with people who convey a particular attitude and this video is a tribute to that attitude,” while Pearl Jam stated, “As artists we are challenged to expand the meaning of our work and by utilizing this visual medium and working with a visionary like Todd, we were able to further explore some of the themes we depicted in the song Do the Evolution. Basically we’ve tried to make a good stoner video.” The video premiered on August 24, 1998 on MTV’s 120 Minutes. The video was the band’s first since the final video for the song Oceans on the album Ten. At the 1999 Grammy Awards, the music video received a nomination for Best Music Video, Short Form. The video clip for Do the Evolution can be found on the Touring Band 2000 DVD as one of the Special Features.

Vincent – by Tim Burton

Vincent dreams of being like actor Vincent Price, and loses himself in macabre daydreams.

Vincent is a 1982 stop motion short horror film written, designed and directed by Tim Burton, and produced by Rick Heinrichs. It is the second Disney horror film, the first being The Watcher in the Woods. At approximately six minutes in length, there is currently no individual release of the film except for a few bootleg releases. It can be found on the 2008 Special Edition and Collector’s Edition DVDs of The Nightmare Before Christmas of as a bonus feature and on the Cinema16 DVD American Short Films.

The film is narrated by actor Vincent Price, a lifelong idol and inspiration for Burton. From this relationship, Price would go on to appear in Burton’s Edward Scissorhands. Vincent Price later said that Vincent was “the most gratifying thing that ever happened. It was immortality — better than a star on Hollywood Boulevard”.

Sleeping Betty

In this animated short, Sleeping Betty is stuck in bed, victim to a strange bout of narcolepsy. The King calls on his subjects to rescue her and they all respond to the call: Uncle Henry VIII, Aunt Victoria, an oddly emotional alien, a funky witch and a handsome prince. But will a kiss really be enough to wake the sleeping princess? The film, drawn in ink, is a classic example of the anachronistic and playful world of Claude Cloutier.

Directed by Claude Cloutier – 2007

Tango – by Zbigniew Rybczyński

Tango is a 1981 Polish animated short film written and directed by Zbigniew Rybczyński. The film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 55th Academy Awards.

Zbigniew Rybczyński is a Polish filmmaker, director, cinematographer, screenwriter, creator of experimental animated films and multimedia artist who has won numerous prestigious industry awards both in the United States and internationally including the 1982 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for Tango.

Gary Larson’s Tales From The Far Side

Gary Larson is an American cartoonist. He is the creator of The Far Side, a single-panel cartoon series that was syndicated internationally to over 1,900 newspapers for fifteen years. The series ended with Larson’s retirement on January 1, 1995. His twenty-three books of collected cartoons have combined sales of more than forty-five million copies.

Gary Larson’s Tales From the Far Side is an animated short film created in 1994 by Gary Larson, based on his The Far Side comic strip. It was first shown as a Halloween special on CBS television, and later it was awarded the Grand Prix at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.

The film is loosely structured, jumping between several simple stories. Many of these situations use staple cliches of horror films, such as undead monsters and the dark and stormy night. The stories sometimes turn macabre, but are presented in a lighthearted fashion. They are mainly as those in the printed comic, including lots of background throwaway gags from well-known panels.

The characters and settings are all common to Larson’s work, such as aliens, anthropomorphic animals and other objects, and cowboys in the Old West. The art style is essentially the same as that of The Far Side, though the film necessarily adds animation and sound effects.

The animation was made in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, at director-animator Mary Newland’s International Rocketship Productions.

The film features an original music score by jazz guitarist Bill Frisell. Some of the compositions from the soundtrack are included on his 1996 album Quartet.

The Venture Bros. – Season 7

The Venture Bros. is Adult Swim’s fan-favorite parody of the great action/adventure cartoons of yesteryear. Tune in to watch Dr. “Rusty” Venture and his twin boys, Hank and Dean, as they clash against arch-enemies, killer mutants, invading aliens and more. Joining them is a massive pantheon of incredible characters like Brock Samson, Dr. Orpheus, The Monarch, Sgt. Hatred, Henchman 21, and so many more that it would be unwise to attempt a full list. Kick danger right in the sweet meats by watching The Venture Bros. at AdultSwim.com.

Rock & Rule (1983)

Progressive and daring for its time, Nelvana’s Rock & Rule was the first English-speaking animated feature film ever made entirely in Canada. It features adult themes, and a stellar rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack including Lou Reed, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Cheap Trick, and Earth Wind & Fire. Unfortunately, the production faced an enormous amount of hurdles and due in part to a lack of marketing and distribution, it was a box-office flop. Now, over 30 years later, Rock & Rule enjoys a cult status on par with Heavy Metal.

Wise Little Hen

Happy Belated Birthday to Donald Duck, who was born on June 9th, 1934.

Donald Duck first appeared in the 1934 cartoon The Wise Little Hen which was part of the Silly Symphonies series of theatrical cartoon shorts. The film’s release date of June 9 is officially recognized by the Walt Disney Company as Donald’s birthday despite a couple of in-universe contradictions.

Fantasia – Toccata and Fugué in D Minor

Animated by Oskar Fischinger.

In Disney’s mind, the success of Snow White and the Mickey Mouse cartoons had purchased for the studio the artistic and financial freedom to take their art to new heights — and to take the risk of venturing into abstraction. “The abstractions that were done in Toccata and Fugue,” he explained, “were no sudden idea. Rather, they were something that we had nursed along for several years but we never had a chance to try.”

German-American animator Oskar Fischinger, whose Optical Poem (1938) had been set to music by Liszt, was regarded as the world’s finest creator of abstract animation.

Destino

Destino is an animated short film released in 2003 by Walt Disney. Destino is unique in that its production originally began in 1945, 58 years before its eventual completion. The project was originally a collaboration between Walt Disney and Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, and features music written by Mexican songwriter Armando Domínguez and performed by Mexican singer Dora Luz. It was included in the Animation Show of Shows in 2003.

American Pop

Created and animated by Ralph Bakshi in 1981, American Pop is an animated story of a very talented and troubled family starting with 19th century Russia and moving through several generations of musicians. The film covers American popular music from the pre-jazz age through rhythm and blues, 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, drug-laden psychedelia, and punk rock, finally ending with the onset of New Wave in the early 1980s.

 

Trump Bites – by Bill Plympton

A new series of short animated fantasies using actual Donald Trump audio clips as the basis of surreal animations that capture Trump’s paranoia, narcissism, and xenophobia.

Directed and animated by Bill Plympton, 2018. Produced for the Opinion section of The New York Times website by Billy Shebar and David Roberts of 110th Street Films.

Says filmmaker Bill Plympton: “This president has no censorship in his brain. He says whatever crazy exaggeration or lie serves his purpose in the moment, and most of it is on tape. So I don’t think we’ll ever run out of material.”

Ryan

This Oscar®-winning animated short from Chris Landreth is based on the life of Ryan Larkin, a Canadian animator who produced some of the most influential animated films of his time. Ryan is living every artist’s worst nightmare – succumbing to addiction, panhandling on the streets to make ends meet. Through computer-generated characters, Landreth interviews his friend to shed light on his downward spiral. Some strong language. Viewer discretion is advised.

Walking

Animator Ryan Larkin uses an artist’s sensibility to illustrate the way people walk. He employs a variety of techniques–line drawing, colour wash, etc.–to catch and reproduce the motion of people afoot. The springing gait of youth, the mincing step of the high-heeled female, the doddering amble of the elderly–all are registered with humour and individuality, to the accompaniment of special sound. Without words.

Phil Tippett – Stop-Motion Animator

Phil Tippett has spent a lifetime in the film industry, working as a model-maker, visual effects supervisor, director and stop-motion animator. He’s been involved with big-name productions such as Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and RoboCop among others. But his real passion lies in handmade stop-motion animation. For over 30 years, Tippett has been working on an incredibly detailed film called “Mad God”. He describes it as being set “in a Milton-esque world of monsters, mad scientists and war pigs.” Amazingly, each character is painstakingly constructed by hand from foam, clay, latex and wire. Despite all the arduous toil, Tippett sees “Mad God” as a form of therapy and a way to reconnect with a time when special effects and animation were all done by hand.