The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

THE SILENT FILM

Tricks and Animation

DONALD CRAFTON

Contrary to popular belief, the history of animation did not begin with Walt Disney's sound film Steamboat Willie in 1928. Before then there was a popular tradition, a film industry, and a vast number of films -- including nearly 100 of Disney's -- which pre-dated the so-called classic studio period of the 1930s.

The general history of the animated film begins with the use of transient trick effects in films around the turn of the century. As distinct genres emerged (Westerns, chase films, etc.) during 1906-10, there appeared at the same time films made all or mostly by the animation technique. Since most movies were a single reel, there was little programmatic difference between the animated films and others. But as the multi-reel film trend progressed after around 1912, with only a handful of exceptions, animated films retained their one-reel-or-less length. At the same time they began to be associated in the collective mind of producers and audiences with comic strips, primarily because they adapted already-existing heroes from the popular printed media and 'signed' the films in the cartoonists' names, although the artists generally had no involvement in the production. Until the First World War, animation was a thoroughly international phenomenon, but after about 1915 the producers in the United States dominated the world market. Although there were many attempts at indigenous European production, the 1920s remained the dominion of the American character series: Mutt and Jeff, Koko the Clown, Farmer Al Falfa, and Felix the Cat. Of all the ways in which the formation of the animated film paralleled feature production, the most notable was the cartoon's assimilation of the 'star system' in the 1920s, during which animation studios created recurring protagonists who were analogous to human stars.


DEFINITIONS

The animated film can be broadly defined as a kind of motion picture made by arranging drawings or objects in a manner that, when photographed and projected sequentially on movie film, produces the illusion of controlled motion. In practice, however, definitions of what constitutes animation are inflected by a variety of technical, generic, thematic, and industrial considerations.

Technique

Animated images were being made long before cinematography was invented in the 1890s; as David Robinson ( 1991) has shown, making drawings move was a prototype for making photographs move and has a history that diverges from that of cinema. If we restrict our discussion to theatrical animated films, then 1898 is a possible starting-point. Although there is no acceptable evidence to verify either claim, the animation technique might have been discovered independently by J. Stuart Blackton in the United States and by Arthur Melbourne-Cooper in England. Each claimed to have been first to exploit an alternative way of using the motion picture camera: manipulating objects in the field of vision and exposing only one or a few frames at a time in order to mimic the illusion of motion created by ordinary cinematography. In projection, it makes no difference whether the individual frames have been exposed 16-24 times per second or exposed with an indefinite interval; the illusion of motion is the same. So the traditional technologically based definition of animation as constructing and shooting frame by frame is clearly inadequate. All movies are composed, exposed, and projected frame by frame (otherwise the image would be blurred). The defining technical factor seems to be in the intended effect to be produced on the screen.

Genre

It was not until about 1906 that the animated film became a recognizable mode of production. Humorous Phases of Funny Faces ( Blackton, 1906) depicted an artist's hand sketching caricatures which then moved their eyes and mouths. This was done by exposing a couple of frames, erasing the chalk drawing, redrawing it slightly modified, then exposing more frames. The impression was created that the drawings were moving by themselves. Émile Cohl 's Fantasmagorie ( 1908) also showed an artist's drawings moving on their own, achieving independence from him. Gradually these conventions were consolidated into characteristic themes and iconography which set this kind of film-making apart from other novelty productions. Before about 1913, the items that were animated tended to be objects -- toys, puppets, and cut-outs -- but slowly the

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The Oxford History of World Cinema
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Contents xi
  • Special Features xv
  • List of Colour Illustrations xvii
  • General Introduction xix
  • 1 - Silent Cinema 1895-1930 1
  • Origins and Survival 6
  • Early Cinema 13
  • Transitional Cinema 23
  • The Hollywood Studio System 43
  • The World-Wide Spread of Cinema 53
  • The First World War and the Crisis in Europe 62
  • Tricks and Animation 71
  • Comedy 78
  • Documentary 86
  • Cinema and the Avant-Garde 95
  • Serials 105
  • French Silent Cinema 112
  • Italy- Spectacle and Melodrama 123
  • British Cinema from Hepworth to Hitchcock 130
  • Germany- The Weimar Years 136
  • The Scandinavian Style 151
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russia 159
  • The Soviet Union and the Russian émigrés 162
  • Yiddish Cinema in Europe 174
  • Japan- Before the Great Kanto Earthquake 177
  • Music and the Silent Film 183
  • The Heyday of the Silents 192
  • 2 - Sound Cinema 1930-1960 205
  • The Introduction of Sound 211
  • Hollywood- The Triumph of the Studio System 220
  • Censorship and Self-Regulation 235
  • The Sound of Music 248
  • Technology and Innovation 259
  • Animation 267
  • Cinema and Genre 276
  • The Western 286
  • The Musical 294
  • Crime Movies 304
  • The Fantastic 312
  • Documentary 322
  • Socialism, Fascism, and Democracy 333
  • The Popular Art of French Cinema 344
  • Italy from Fascism to Neo-Realism 353
  • Britain at the End of Empire 361
  • Germany- Nazism and after 374
  • East Central Europe before the Second World War 383
  • Soviet Film under Stalin 389
  • Indian Cinema- Origins to Independence 398
  • China before 1949 409
  • The Classical Cinema in Japan 413
  • The Emergence of Australian Film 422
  • Cinema in Latin America 427
  • After the War 436
  • Transformation of the Hollywood System 443
  • Independents and Mavericks 451
  • 3 - The Modern Cinema 1960-1995 461
  • Television and the Film Industry 466
  • The New Hollywood 475
  • New Technologies 483
  • Sex and Sensation 490
  • The Black Presence in American Cinema 497
  • Exploitation and the Mainstream 509
  • Dreams and Nightmares in the Hollywood Blockbuster 516
  • CinÉma-VÉritÉ and the New Documentary 527
  • Avant-Garde Film- The Second Wave 537
  • Animation in the Post-Industrial Era 551
  • Modern Film Music 558
  • Art Cinema 567
  • New Directions in French Cinema 576
  • Italy- Auteurs and after 586
  • Spain after Franco 596
  • British Cinema- The Search for Identity 604
  • The New German Cinema 614
  • East Germany- The Defa Story 627
  • Changing States in East Central Europe 632
  • Russia after the Thaw 640
  • Cinema in the Soviet Republics 651
  • Turkish Cinema 656
  • The Arab World 661
  • The Cinemas of Sub-Saharan Africa 667
  • Iranian Cinema 672
  • India- Filming the Nation 678
  • Indonesian Cinema 690
  • China after the Revolution 693
  • Popular Cinema in Hong Kong 704
  • Taiwanese New Cinema 711
  • The Modernization of Japanese Film 714
  • New Australian Cinema 722
  • New Zealand Cinema 731
  • Canadian Cinema/Cinéma Canadien 731
  • New Cinemas in Latin America 740
  • New Concepts of Cinema 750
  • The Resurgence of Cinema 759
  • Index 785
  • List of Picture Sources 823
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