Thursday, October 27, 2016

FILMBAY 2000 Greatest Films of All-Time (1888-2014) by Year # 0068 - LITTLE NEMO (Winsor & J. Stuart Blackton McCay, 1911, USA, 3m, Col-BW)


(Winsor & J. Stuart Blackton McCay, 1911, USA, 3m, Col-BW)



Little Nemo (1911)
aka Winsor McCay Explains His Moving Cartoons to John Bunny (1911)
aka Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics (1911)
aka Winsor McCay Makes His Cartoons Move (1911)
aka Winsor McCay and His Animated Comics (1911)
aka Winsor McCay (1911)
aka Little Nemo (1911)

Directed by Winsor McCay
Release dates April 8, 1911
Running time 11:33
Country United States
Language Silent with English intertitles

Little Nemo is a very early animation (1911) drawn by Windsor McCay and based on his comic strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland. It is interesting in that it shows McCay drawing the pictures which will later go into the animation. The top hats, camera, and hand cranked page turner are interesting to see. To imagine that this is the time and place where animation started is interesting. It is also interesting to think that this is probably also the source for what has become our modern computer animation and movie special effects.


Winsor McCay (c. 1867–71 – 1934) had worked prolifically as a commercial artist and cartoonist by the time he started making newspaper comic strips such as Dream of the Rarebit Fiend (1904–11) and his signature strip Little Nemo (1905–14). [6] In 1906, McCay began performing on the vaudeville circuit, doing chalk talks—performances in which he drew before live audiences. Inspired by flip books his son Robert brought home, McCay "came to see the possibility of making moving pictures" of his cartoons.[9] McCay, then in his early forties,[10] claimed he was "the first man in the world to make animated films", but he was likely familiar with the earlier work of American James Stuart Blackton and the French Émile Cohl.

In 1900, Blackton produced The Enchanted Drawing, a trick film in which an artist interacts with a drawing on an easel. Blackton used chalk drawings in 1906 to animate the film Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, and used stop motion techniques to animate a scene in the 1907 film The Haunted Hotel. Cohl's films, such as 1908's Fantasmagorie, were dreamlike nonnarrative pieces in which characters and scenes continually changed shape. Cohl's films were first distributed in the United States in 1909, the year McCay said he first became interested in animation. According to McCay biographer John Canemaker, McCay combined the interactive qualities of Blackton's films with the abstract, shapeshifting qualities of Cohl's into his own films. In the films of all three, the artist interacts with the animation.

Considered McCay's masterpiece, Little Nemo in Slumberland debuted in October 1905 as a full-page Sunday strip the New York Herald. Its child protagonist, whose appearance was based on McCay's son Robert, had fabulous dreams that would be interrupted with his awakening in the last panel. McCay experimented with the form of the comics page, timing and pacing, the size and shape of panels, perspective, architectural and other details. The comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland is considered McCay's masterpiece (July 22, 1906).

The strip has seen a number of other adaptations. An extravagant $100,000 Little Nemo stage show with score by Victor Herbert and lyrics by Harry B. Smith played to sold-out audiences in 1907. A joint American-Japanese feature-length film Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland appeared in 1989, with contributions by Ray Bradbury, Chris Columbus and Moebius. Little Nemo: The Dream Master was a 1990 side-scrolling platform video game adaptation of the 1989 film.


Following credits proclaiming McCay as "The Famous Cartoonist of the New York Herald" and "the first artist to attempt drawing pictures that will move", McCay sits in a restaurant with a group of colleagues, cartoonist George McManus, actor John Bunny and publisher Eugene V. Brewster among them. McCay bets the group that in one month he can make 4,000 drawings move. The group laughs and gestures that he is drunk or crazy. McCay sets to work in a studio where he directs workers to move around bundles of paper and barrels of ink. A month later, McCay gathers his colleagues in front of a film projector. McCay rapidly sketches characters from the cast of his Little Nemo comic strip.

Little Nemo (1911)

McCay places a drawing of the character Flip in a wooden slot in front of the camera. The words "Watch me move" appear above Flip's head, and he begins to make gestures while smoking his cigar. Blocks fall from the sky and assemble themselves into the character Impie, and the pair's figures distort, disappear, and reappear, before a fantastically-dressed Little Nemo magically materializes. Nemo prevents the two others from fighting and takes control of their forms—he stretches and squashes them with the raising and lowering of his arms.

Nemo then draws the Princess and brings her to animated life. He gives her a rose which has suddenly grown nearby, just as a gigantic dragon appears. The pair seat themselves on a throne in the dragon's mouth and wave to the audience as the dragon carries them away. Flip and Impie attempt to follow the dragon in a jalopy, but the car explodes and sends them into the air. Doctor Pill arrives to help, but cannot find anyone until Flip and Impie land on him. The pair try to help the doctor to his feet when the animation freezes. The camera zooms out to reveal the serial number "No. 4000", and a thumb holding the drawing.


By late 1910, McCay had made the 4000 rice-paper drawings for the animated portion of the film. Each was assigned a serial number, and marks were made in the top corners for registration. They were mounted on sheets of cardboard to make them easier to handle and photograph. Before he had them photographed, he tested them on a hand-cranked 24×12×20-inch (61×30×51 cm) Mutoscope-like machine to ensure the animation was fluid. Photography was done at the Vitagraph Studios under the supervision of Blackton. The animated portion took up about four minutes of the film's total length. In only one sequence did McCay use an animation loop for a repeated action; re-used a series of seven drawings six times (three forward, three back) to have Flip move his cigar up and down in his mouth three times. McCay made more extensive use of this technique in his later films.


Winsor McCay sketches three of his Little Nemo characters: Impie, Nemo, and Flip. McCay's drawings are in the heavily outlined Art Nouveau style familiar to the readers of his comics. Its expressive character animation differentiated Little Nemo from the films of Blackton and Cohl. There are no backgrounds; McCay's first film with backgrounds was 1914's Gertie the Dinosaur. McCay demonstrated his mastery of linear perspective in scenes such when the dragon disappears smoothly into the distance.

The film's positive reception motivated McCay to hand-color each of the 35mm frames of the originally black-and-white film. The dragon chariot that carries off Nemo and the Princess originally appeared in three episodes of Little Nemo in Slumberland in mid-1906. Academic Mark Winokur noted racial hierarchies in the Little Nemo strip and film. The Anglo-Saxon Nemo is depicted as "most human", while the Irish Flip is drawn as a minstrel caricature, and the mute African Impie is most grotesquely caricatured. Nemo, at the top of this hierarchy, exerts his authority over the other characters, as when he distorts them with magic.

Reception and legacy

Distributed by Vitagraph, the film debuted in theaters on April 8, 1911. McCay included the film as part of his vaudeville act beginning April 12. Little Nemo was popular with audiences and earned positive reviews. Film magazine The Moving Picture World called Nemo "an admirable piece of work ... one of those films which have a natural advertising heritage in the great and wide popularity of its subject—Little Nemo is known everywhere." The Morning Telegraph called McCay's new film-enhanced act "even a greater go than his previous one", and put McCay on its "Blue List" of vaudeville "Actors and Acts of the Highest Ratings". In 1938 architect Claude Bragdon reminisced of the excitement he felt when he saw Little Nemo, saying he "had witnessed the birth of a new art".[32] Nemo appeared on stage and in theaters within the same week, but McCay postponed the theatrical releases of his next two films, How a Mosquito Operates (1912) and Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), for some time after he used them in his stage show.

Animation historian Giannalberto Bendazzi saw the transforming series of images in the plotless Nemo serving as little more than a demonstration of the animation medium's capabilities. Bendazzi wrote that McCay overcame this overt experimentalism in How a Mosquito Operates.

McCay's working method was laborious, and animators developed a number of methods to reduce the workload and speed production to meet the demand for animated films. Within a few years of Nemo's release, Canadian Raoul Barré's registration pegs combined with American Earl Hurd's cel technology became near-universal methods in animation studios. In 1916, McCay himself adopted the cel method, beginning with his fourth film The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918). In 2009, Little Nemo was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


In the history of motion pictures, Winsor McCay is primarily known for giving us one of the great early animated shorts, GERTIE THE DINOSAUR.  This one predates it, and serves as something of a warm-up for that one.  The structure is basically the same; the live action sequences begin with McCay stating his goal to a group of people.  We then have a few scenes of him at work, usually with the addition of some comic pratfalls (usually involving lots of pieces of paper falling onto the floor).  The movie concludes with the presentation of the animation.  This one isn't quite at the level of the Gertie short, largely because the animation, though well done, is rather aimless; it lacks the characterization and the interaction that add to the charm of the later movie.  Still, as a warm-up, it's interesting, and part of the animation features two characters sitting on thrones in a dragon's mouth, so there is some fantastic content.

This is the first known film by Winsor McCay, who also wrote the comic strip that “Dream of a Rarebit Fiend” was based on. This movie is based on his best-known and most beloved strip, “Little Nemo in Slumberland,” which was about a boy who dreamt wild and wonderful things each night, and awoke in the last panel of each episode. The movie, however, doesn’t really do much with that theme, and is more about the process of animation. Most of it is live-action sequences in which McCay bets his friends he can make drawing move, collects prodigious amounts of paper and ink, and then toils away at drawing each individual picture. Finally, at the end, we get a brief animated sequence (with some hand-colored sections, in the version I watched) in which characters from “Little Nemo” dance, fight, and interact with each other. A good deal of the screen time is taken up by watching McCay draw his famous characters – sometimes with his hand visible, in a slightly fast-motion live action, and sometimes through “animation” (no hand visible). It’s safe to say that this served mostly as a way for McCay to convince Vitagraph that the technology and interest existed to make this worth pursuing further.

Although both J. Stuart Blackton and Emile Cohl had previously released animation shorts (as far back as 1900 in Blackton’s case), animation still wasn’t a film genre in its own right when this short film was released in 1911. The now largely forgotten Winsor McCay, a popular newspaper cartoonist of the day, was one of its earliest practitioners (he also animated Gertie the Dinosaur a couple of years later) and did much to popularise screen animation with recreations of characters from his comic strips. In this whimsical short which mixes live action with animation, McCay is first seen enjoying a night with the lads (including the rotund early comedian John Bunny). At some point, he perhaps rashly insists that he can draw 4000 moving pictures within one month, much to the derisive amusement of his friends, and in the very next scene we see him taking delivery of unwieldy stacks of drawing paper and barrels of ink at his studio. One month later, McCay emerges from the studio with the finished article, despite being hampered by some ill-advised comic tomfoolery from his office junior (a young Moe Howard of Three Stooges fame)…

The characters featured in McCay’s short film are Nemo, Impie and Flip, characters from his popular newspaper strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland. It must have provided fans of the strip with quite a thrill to see their favourites actually up there moving on the screen; and the way in which McCay’s animations glide across the screen with a relaxed grace bordering on slow motion is mesmerising. Flip is a cigar-puffing clown with spiky black hair; his friend Impie is a black man in a grass skirt who would, of course, be considered a racially offensive character today. He does at least have a character, though – and an endearing one at that – which is more than can be said for Nemo, a boy prince who comes across as a little too bland for a leading character.

There’s no real storyline to speak of, but there is a strong sense of McCay flexing his creative muscle as he experiments with a medium in which he clearly – and correctly – saw great potential. Watching the characters come to life beneath his unerring hand makes for fascinating viewing – and then to see one of those newly created characters turn on the page and begin to draw a second character is outstanding.

Works cited

    Barrier, Michael (2003). Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-516729-0.
    Beckerman, Howard (2003). Animation: The Whole Story. Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 978-1-58115-301-9.
    Bendazzi, Giannalberto (1994). Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation. Indiana University, Folklore Institute. ISBN 978-0-253-31168-9.
    Bragdon, Claude (1938). More Lives Than One. Cosimo, Inc. ISBN 978-1-59605-359-5.
    Bukatman, Scott (2012). The Poetics of Slumberland: Animated Spirits and the Animating Spirit. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-95150-1.
    Canemaker, John (2005). Winsor McCay: His Life and Art (Revised ed.). Abrams Books. ISBN 978-0-8109-5941-5.
    Canwell, Bruce (2009). Mullaney, Dean, ed. Bringing Up Father: From Sea to Shining Sea the Cross-Country Tour of 1939–1940. IDW Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60010-508-1.
    Crafton, Donald (1993). Before Mickey: The Animated Film 1898–1928. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226116679.
    Crafton, Donald (2005). "Animation". In Abel, Richard. Encyclopedia of Early Cinema. Taylor & Francis. pp. 25–29. ISBN 978-0-415-23440-5.
    Dover editors (1973). Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend. Dover Publications. ISBN 978-0-486-21347-7.
    Eagan, Daniel (2010). America's Film Legacy: The Authoritative Guide To The Landmark Movies In The National Film Registry. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8264-2977-3.
    Grant, John (2006). Animated Movies Facts, Figures & Fun. AAPPL. ISBN 978-1-904332-52-7.
    Harvey, Robert C. (1994). The Art of the Funnies: An Aesthetic History. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-0-87805-612-5.
    Hubbard, Amy (2012-10-15). "Celebrating Little Nemo by Winsor McCay; his 'demons' made him do it". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-12-15.
    Keil, Charlie; Singer, Ben (2009). American Cinema of the 1910s: Themes and Variations. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-4445-8.
    Merkl, Ulrich (2007). The Complete Dream of the Rarebit Fiend (1904–1913) by Winsor McCay 'Silas' (.doc). Catalog of episodes & text of the book: Ulrich Merkl. ISBN 978-3-00-020751-8. (on included DVD)
    Sabin, Roger (1993). Adult Comics: An Introduction. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-04419-6.
    Smith, Conrad (Summer 1977). "The Early History of Animation: Saturday Morning TV Discovers 1915". Journal of the University Film Association. University of Illinois Press on behalf of the University Film & Video Association. 29 (3): 23–30. JSTOR 20687377.
    Weiss, Brett (2009). Classic Home Video Games, 1985–1988: A Complete Reference Guide. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-0141-0.
    Winokur, Mark (2012). "Creole Cartoons". In Kessel, Martina; Merziger, Patrick. The Politics of Humour: Laughter, Inclusion, and Exclusion in the Twentieth Century. University of Toronto Press. pp. 52–81. ISBN 978-1-4426-4292-8.


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