Jan 27, 2010

James Stuart Blackton

From the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive:

James Stuart Blackton was a "Lightning Sketch Artist" in Vaudeville billed as "The Komikal Kartoonist". Inspired by Thomas Edison's recent invention of moving pictures, Blackton teamed with Albert E. Smith to form the first movie studio, Vitagraph Motion Pictures.

Smith and Blackton created what were then called "Trick Films"... the camera was stopped for a moment while the scene was changed, making things magically appear and disappear; images dissolved from one to another; and shots were double exposed to create ghostly images. In 1900, Blackton experimented with putting his lightning sketch act on film in a movie called "The Enchanted Drawing", but it was in April of 1906 when he made his most important breakthrough. In a trick film titled "Humorous Phases of Funny Faces" Blackton created what is regarded as the first American animated film.

The hand of the artist draws faces and characters on a chalkboard. They come to life- smile and wink- a man smokes a cigar and blows smoke in a lady's face, a circus clown leads a small dog to jump through a hoop... By today's standards, the animation is quite primitive, but to audiences to whom live action films were still a marvel, they were magical. Imagine it... Drawings that move.

Although there were many early films that experimented with stop motion and other techniques related to animation, Blackton was the first to create "drawings that live"... sequential drawings of characters acting and reacting to each other. The word "animate" literally means 'to give life to'. Blackton gave life to a whole new artform with his pioneering efforts.