Summary: Zenas Winsor Mccay Animations and Cartoons

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As a pioneer of the animation industry, Winsor Mccay’s directorial debut Little Nemo and his other well known works such as How a Mosquito Operates  and Gertie the Dinosaur  have guided lots of developments in the production of animations and cartoons. By being born during the silent film era, the films were all about the visuals. As what Tom Gunning said, Winsor McCay’s films were part of “the cinema of attractions”. Animation was still a new challenge at that period but McCay was able to stand out using his own film techniques which gave him his style of animation. His films had impressed the audience with his fluent animation by using the basics of the animation and the “Split system”.

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Born in 1867 in Canada, Winsor McCay was born. He, who could not live without drawing, had a dream to become an artist and tried various art related activities for his dreams. Besides, his act of drawing everything he saw since childhood showed him as the potential creator of the future animation. When he was 21, he got a job at the national publisher in Chicago. He produced posters to advertise art exhibitions. However, earning from producing posters was not enough for him, so he started a freelance job as a cartoonist in 1904. Among his works, he was recognised by the work ‘Little Sammy Sneeze’ and produced a comic strip ‘Little Nemo’ at New York Herald which was successful. One day, he saw his son, Robert, brought flip books home. He was inspired by those flip books to create an animation as he saw the possibility of making moving pictures. Using that inspiration, he managed to draw out 4000 drawings to create his very first animation ‘Little Nemo’. His extraordinary cartoon skills had came to a shock to the world. One year after the production of his first animation, he produced another one ‘How a Mosquito operates’ which brought joy of animation to people. This became the historical moment in the history of animation.

Live-action film-making within the realist kind of Lumiere Brothers’ early work quickly became the dominant mode of the film industry. ‘Animation’, as such, survived unmarked within the pretense of ‘trick’ photography, and conversant several of the first approaches to film-making that looked to form fantasy narratives of comedy. This is often best exemplified within the supernatural fantasies of Georges Melies or comedies made and distributed by Pathe at the flip of the century. Animators did not simply disappear, of course, however continued operating within the medium, developing its forms and techniques, having to simply accept its apparently less credible position as it was going to be argued that this early reversal for animation in film history has been remedied by the work of the Disney studio, who basically placed animation on the map. Animation, to a certain extent, has become substitutable with film producers and therefore different kinds of animation and different vital film-makers within the field are more neglected.

The interesting approach that Winsor Mccay used as one of his film techniques was that he focused a lot of the basics. There was no sign of squash and stretch but he still managed to show the similar and engaging visuals in Little Nemo, his first animation. He did not include any acceleration and deceleration as between the key poses of the main movements. his sketches had the action of the characters in the animation being spaced out. in How a Mosquito Operates (1912), the main character which was the mosquito, was drawn with realistic details but was also rendered with cartoon exaggeration. It had a different approach as in his previous animation Little Nemo, the animation did not have a proper storyline since McCay was depending on the fame of the character, Nemo. However, for How a Mosquito Operates, he provided a personality and a narrative into the character.

McCay also took timing seriously. He started a method of repeated motions of animation loops which was an important stage for the animators. McCay drew six thousand drawings for How a Mosquito Operates for the fluidity. Since the mosquito was designed and drawn bigger compared to the real life size, it was hard of McCay to make it look convincing. The design was able to attract the audience as it was interesting. When the mosquito sucked the blood from the man’s head, the visual looked really painful which had engaged the audience because these kind of scenes gave them discortable feelings. Winsor McCay used the reverse sequences for the timing but this resulted in slowing down the action. He repeated the same frames in reverse order to spread the timing but due to the movements being perfectly symmetry, it did not look convincing. Still, McCay managed to show the realism within the drawing of the man and the animation to look stunning. After the practices, his way of repeating sequences had improved. For example, when Gertie was lying on the ground to rest, he wanted to show the audience her movements of breathing. He noticed that when humans breathe, the time taken for us to inhale was shorter than the time taken to exhale but it was hard for him to get the right timing. Then he realised that he was able to calculate the timing of the breathing sequence correctly when he observed the second hand on the clock. Therefore, it ended up with the charming result of Gertie lying on her side, breathing naturally.

In the animation Gertie the Dinosaur, Winsor McCay’s lines appeared as a text. This showed a communication between him and Gertie. It was an interesting approach to think of communicating with his own character in the animation. This came as quite a shock to audiences who watched the animation. The dialogue between Gertie and Winsor McCay was very detailed and fluent that it seemed like the two figures were existed in one space.

As a film that was produced in the 1900s, it was drawn in a simple black lines but it managed to engage the audience with its impressive line works. McCay made sure to show the basic of the animation which are the natural motions, weight, and the timing in the film and he also gave a clear personality to the character ‘Gertie’. He asked his neighbour to help him out with some background drawing and finished 1,000 frames on the papers for the animation. After that, to eliminate the unnaturalness of the motion, he even paid attention to the tiny movements of the nature. Gertie the Dinosaur’s original hand drawn drawings were filmed by flipping over one by one with a simple machine. At the time, these animation techniques and shooting methods were not available, so he had to find his own way. Winsor McCay’s unremitting efforts and experiments made him possible to show people animation which was the new path in the film industry.

In one of the scenes, Winsor McCay visited a museum and saw a skeleton of the dinosaur. After that, he made a bet a dinner with George McManus and the others that he can make the dinosaurs live again by a series of hand-drawn cartoons. That was how the Gertie was made. Among the stones that were drawn in simple and clean lines, Gertie the dinosaur showed herself by peeping her head out and walked to approach to audience in the screen. Gertie was able to read what McCay was telling her what to do and she even played along with him. The first feeling from the animation was being impressed by the neat movement, smooth and flexible scenes. Also, every each of the reactions that Gertie showed to McCay’s instructions gave the impression to the audience about Gerti’s hilarious personality and have distinguished the animation from the previous “trick films”. Even from the little awkward actions of Gertie made the audience to be curious about the next scene.

While Gertie communicated with McCay, she displayed a variety of motions including cute behaviours that showed her friendly personality. When a drawing of a character comes to alive, that itself had contained power in its actions and influenced the audience. Even though Gertie acted like a dinosaur, she was also performing as one character. She was a character who liked to eat everything around her to the extent that until the end of the film, she finished off by drinking all the water from the river. She also had an interesting characteristic which was shown through her actions of bothering other characters in the scene. She is also an English fluent speaker who can read McCay’s words. From the very beginning, she was obedient as she approached the audiences when McCay asked her to come out and make a bow. All of her interesting moves such as raising up her legs, her reactions when McCay asked her not to bother the sea serpent and how she finished the water from the river when McCay suggested her to take a little drink from the river had attracted the audience.

Another technique he used was the Split system which was the most important technical knowledge that he has invented and spread to us since the technique is still in use these days. This system was used for laying out the whole sequence carefully and to time it. He started off by arranging the path of the movement for the first action. The ending was used for other drawings that were drawn on different pieces placed one by one over the guide paper. This made it possible for him to have the same correct position accurately for all the drawings.

He also began to draw the start and the end of the frame of the sequence and then he would draw the in betweens. He called the middle frame the split drawing which is now known as the breakdown drawing. He tried to make sure that his sequences ended with an even number so that he could cut them in half and made sure the sequences were clean. After he finished the start, middle and the end frames, he drew the middle frame between those three main frames and continued until he finished all the drawings for the sequences.

In the film, ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’, Gertie is a lively and unique character with natural movements. Rather than just animation, Winsor McCay’s technique was a breakthrough by making Gertie move. The prototype of the current assimilation system called “McCay Split system’ was used to make his animation. This method has the advantage of transforming characters into various forms so the protagonist made it possible to start an animation that can begin without difficulty. Today, animators still use this technique which is now called as “in-betweening”.

Without having to draw every single movement of Gertie, he broke down the actions to smaller pieces and determined the key frames for the start and the end of each action. After that, he added the in between of the two key frames while thinking what Gertie is trying to do in that action and what emotional state was she at. This produced nice timings for Gertie to express her character to the audience. His timing was crucial as he was part of the act and had to show that he was interacting with Gertie who was on the screen.  

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