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McCay question

Discussion in 'Silent Animation' started by saltyboot, Nov 8, 2013.

  1. saltyboot

    saltyboot A Moderating Moderator Staff Member Forum Member

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    I got the "Winsor McCay: The Master Edition" DVD, and I wondered something while watching "Little Nemo" (1911). I know it was hand colored after the filming was complete, but color film didn't exists at the time. Right? If so, then how did the color appear on the film? Did he apply the color onto the film itself? It doesn't look like it was painted on.
    (I know, I'm clueless)
  2. saltyboot

    saltyboot A Moderating Moderator Staff Member Forum Member

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    **From zavkram**


    You're correct in that color films did not become common until the 1930's...

    Many early (i.e., turn-of-the-century) black and white films were "tinted" by hand-coloring individual frames of film. It was a very laborious and time-consuming process. There is one famous film, produced by the Edison company, that shows a woman doing a dance with veils that "magically" change color from blue to yellow, and so on.

    Some of the swashbuckler silent films from the 1920's of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. utilized an early Technicolor process of film exposure and processing.

    The Technicolor we know today wasn't first used until the early 1930's. The film Becky Sharp was one major Hollywood film to fully utilize the new process. Walt Disney's Flaowers and Trees was the first animated cartoon to be released in three-strip Technicolor. It was known a the "three-strip" process because three separate negatives, one printed in yellow, one in magenta, and one in cyan blue were combined to make an interpositive print.

    A cheaper, two-strip process allowed only colors in the red and green spectrum to be reproduced. Some of the early "Merrie Melodies" cartoons from the 1930's used this process, because Disney had an exclusive contract with the Technicolor company for use of the three-strip process.

    If you get a chance, rent or buy a copy of Peter Jackson's early "documentary", entitled Forgotten Silver.The film traces the life and work of Colin McKenzie, a New Zealander who supposedly was the first filmmaker to invent color and sound film. He was also credited with the first motion picture cameras to be run subsequently by bicycle-power and by steam-engine (!) He also directed the first all-talking (in Mandarin Chinese) epic film [​IMG]
  3. saltyboot

    saltyboot A Moderating Moderator Staff Member Forum Member

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    **From peterhale:**


    Hand-tinting of black&white movies was indeed a laborious process. (But less laborious than animating - if you can make more on the rental than you spend on the labour then any novelty becomes worthwile.)

    It was already common practice for black&white photos to be tinted with coloured dyes (skilled artists were still employed doing this as late as the 1980s) and it was an obvious idea to try the same thing with movie film.

    Each release print had to be coloured individually, so the fewer the colours the better. A system of stencils was devised so that for each colour a stencil could be laid over the print and the dye sprayed on, in an attempt at mass production, but even so only a small percentage of release prints went out tinted.

    The effect was naturally not entirely precise or accurate (a frame of 35mm movie film is about an inch wide - and was blown up on projection to between 10 ft and 20 ft [Before cinemas became picture-palaces!]) but it worked well enough.

    A much cheaper and less flickery compromise, however, was just to tint entire scenes in one overall colour (red for fire, or passion; blue for nighttime; yellow for sunshine; green for forests, or horror; etc) and this became more common.
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  4. sidestreetsam

    sidestreetsam Moderator Staff Member Forum Member New Member

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    Greetings, Peter Hale!
    That's a very comprehensive overview of hand-colored film process. The truly amazing thing about McCay's tinting is that he did it all himself! Frame by frame single handed! His coloring is perfectly appropriate and technically amazing. As the figures turn and spin he even accomplishes subtle gradients and shading effects. In his later films McCay employed assistants but continued to stretch animation concepts utilizing cel painting techniques and coloring processes.

    The technical level of McCay's animation was unmatched until Walt Disney’s feature films arrived in the 1930s. He pioneered inbetweening, the use of registration marks, cycling, and other animation techniques that became standard.
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  5. peterhale

    peterhale Moderator Staff Member I SUPPORT BCDB!

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    Howdy, SideStreet!

    As I understand it, the animation was originally done to include in his stage act (McCay had a secondary career as a 'lightning artist', a popular vaudeville turn in those days) and the surrounding live action was added later to create a marketable film. Perhaps the hand tinted print is one he used in his act.

    McCay's contribution to animation cannot be overstated - his second film, How a Mosquito Operates, demonstrated that it was possible to make an animated film with all the quality of a newspaper strip, both in art and story. None of the other animation experiments had ever tried to achieve this level of sophistication. It was on the strength of seeing this film that Raoul Barre was inspired to set up one of the first animation studio 'factories' - hiring animators to churn out footage for continuous consumption. (The other factory was Bray's studio, which developed many time-saving devices to increase footage output.)

    McCay continued to make increasingly more sophisticated films - Gertie the Dinosaur (again made for inclusion in his stage act), the powerful Sinking of the Lusitania, etc. However, his films took a long time to produce, and the field was swamped by the rush of mass-produced product from other studios. By the time Walt Disney moved to Hollywood, the decline in quality involved in much cartoon production had led to a general perception that animation was a genre that had outlived its novelty. As Disney slowly began raising the quality of animation once more, McCay's work became forgotten.

    McCay's animation works because of his solid draughtsmanship - the characters are convincingly drawn in every phase of an action. Apparently he checked his animation by flipping them on a home-made version of the rotating drum mutoscope. This also allowed him to run the drawings backwards and forwards, and he used this timing when shooting the drawings, so that movements he thought particularly pleasing are repeated several times - thus also extending the film's running time. This may (perhaps) have delighted audiences of the time, but nowadays this repetition is merely tedious (in the extreme!) and is the only downside to watching films that otherwise are still remarkable and entertaining.
    Last edited: Jun 28, 2014
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  6. sidestreetsam

    sidestreetsam Moderator Staff Member Forum Member New Member

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    ~ Hey, Peter!

    You've put together a great synopsis of the development of early American animation. As you mentioned, McCay was blazing fast as an artist but not able to churn out product for the new animation market created by the film distributors of the 1920's. McCay was dedicated to a high level of quality in his art and not interested in marketing his films per se. All his film were self-financed independant projects. As you noted he also had a successful vaudeville career as a sketch artist which evolved into using his animations to supplement his act. "Gertie the Trained Dinosaur"(1914) was his crowning achievement and the viewing of this film influenced hundreds of creative people to start lifelong careers in animation. Raoul Barre, J.R. Bray, Paul Terry, Walter Lantz, Otto Messmer, Pat Sullivan and the Fleischer Brothers all made statements to this effect.

    Unfortunately, McCay's 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. And while McCays editorial cartoons are brilliant in themselves, this was a huge loss to comic strip and animation history.

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