Origins of American Animation

by Emon Hassan on February 20, 2012

J. Stuart Blackton, a Brit in New York, is considered the father of American animation. Sent to interview Thomas Edison by New York Evening World in 1896 to demo the Vitascope (not an Edison invention), Blackton was sweet talked into buying one by Edison; Blacktone was filmed drawing a lightning portrait of Edison during interview which, if you think about it, when played back, may have sparked the first idea of drawing animation.

Within a year of purchase of the Vitascope, Blackton had formed Vitagraph Studios in Midwood, Brooklyn. ‘The Enchanted Drawing’ (1900) is the first film made by Blackton that put stop motion/animation to use. It shows Blackton interacting with a face he’s just drawn on a piece of paper.

“Humorous Phases of Funny Faces” (1906) is the earliest surviving American animated film, also by Blackton.

Vitagraph Studios was bought up by Warner Bros in 1925 before moving operation to Hollywood. Today the building in Brooklyn houses Shulamith School for Girls. When Warner Bros. was occupying this studio, it had renamed it Vitaphone, known for specializing in early sound shorts.

Blackton, btw, is also known for directing the first “serious” Sherlock Holmes film, Held For Ranson. Guess which Big Studio has been making Sherlock Holmes features recently.

Check out this collection on Library of Congress’s YouTube page that has a list of films made between 1900 and 1921…

“The films include clay, puppet, and cut-out animation, as well as pen drawings. They point to a connection between newspaper comic strips and early animated films, as represented by Keeping Up With the Joneses, Krazy Kat, and The Katzenjammer Kids. As well as showing the development of animation, these films also reveal the social attitudes of early twentieth-century America. “

Also check out this stop-motion work by Willis O’ Brien that led to his work on The Lost World 10 years later and King Kong in 1933 (Ray Harryhausen, a protege of O’Brien, is said to have done majority of stop motion on Kong).

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