Sunday, 11 March 2012

Animation Theatre 1: Winsor McCay (1869-1934)

Winsor McCay, (September 26, 1869- July 26, 1934) was an American cartoonist and animator famously known for works such as Gertie the Dinosaur and The Sinking of Lusitania.
Born in Michigan in 1867, McCay worked different jobs such as producing woodcuts for circus and theatre posters, before later moving to Ohio where he worked as an artist for Kohl and Middleton’s Vine Street Dime Museum. He’d then later begin doing chalk talks in 1906. Moving back to New York in 1903, McCay began to develop and create more of several comic strips such as Little Nemo and Dream of a Rarebit Fiend.
Winsor McCay
Whilst working on the comics, he decides to under the name of “Silas” and since then his works have become more successful. Since McCay’s comic strips show motion, he went on to become a pioneer in animation. Through this he made Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), this depicted McCay himself betting to create a living dinosaur. Producing tens of thousands frames to bring a character to life, Gertie the Dinosaur became famous for “giving a character life” as mentioned by Rovi Hal Erickson, writer for NYtime’s movies section says,  What Gertie the Dinosaur was the first universally popular cartoon release, and also the first to exploit the possibilities of "personality" animation, rather than merely offering a series of moving images (this emphasis on personality would, of course, later become the cornerstone of Walt Disney's success)”. (Erickson, 2010)

Gertie the Dinosaur
Another one of his works, McCay introduced his short film, Little Nemo (1911) based on his characters from his comic strip. He’d then later developed his next feature film, How a mosquito operates (1912) which from both films became successful in terms of storytelling even though the story’s fantasy was dark. Dr Grob, a reviewer for explains about the storytelling used in both films, one revealing real life events and the other fictional. “Unlike McCay’s first film, ‘Little Nemo‘, a long live action intro is absent, and more important, this one tells a real story. These are both great improvements. Yet, the action is painstakingly slow, and there’s a lot of reverse animation, reusing the same drawings in reverse order.” (Grob, 2010).

The Sinking of The Lusitania
With the success of both films, McCay decides to create a film promoting to inspire America to join the 1st World War, The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918). This time, McCay aims to make a reconstruction of the events prior to the ships sinking making the animation as realistic as possible. The ship which at that time, crossed between the waters of Britain and Germany were risking destruction. However Germany showed no mercy and set off torpedoes at the innocent ship, sending thousands of innocent people to their deaths. Described by Dan North, reviewer of, states thatHe wants his film to stand as a dramatic reconstruction of the sinking, and he takes great care over the details of the ships massive weight being penetrated by an explosive force that almost overwhelms the image itself, but it never slides into abstraction: the aim is to stop the ship looking “cartoony”, and to convey a sense of palpable destruction.” (North, 2009)

List of Illustrations:

Hart,Reg (2011) The History of Animation- Winsor McCay (online):

Contix, (2006) Gertie il dinosauro (online):

Kininsberg, A (2007) Alan Kininsberg: Redefining Animation Documentary (online):


Hal Erickson, R (2010) Gertie the Dinosaur (online):

Grob, Dr (2010) How A Mosquito Operates (online):

North, D (2009) Winsor McCay’s The Sinking of The Lusitania (online):

1 comment :

  1. Ah looking good :) Hey I need some help with my ideas if you could comment on my blog or if you see me (which im sure you will) do you mind if we have a little chat?

    Anyways have a nice day now!