Easy As Pie! – Stop Motion Animation by Rachel Ryle


Norman McLaren

Norman McLaren, Neighbours/Voisins, 8:02 mins, 1952

Norman McLaren here employs the principles normally used to put drawings or puppets into motion to animate live actors. The story is a parable about two people who come to blows over the possession of a flower. Film without words. McLaren won an Oscar for Neighbours/Voisins

Norman McLaren was born in Scotland in 1914. His interest in filmmaking began early in life after he became acquainted with works by the great Russian filmmakers Eisenstein and Poudovkine and the German animator Oskar Fischinger. While a student at the Glasgow School of Fine Arts, McLaren’s fascination with dance led him to make such stylized documentaries as Seven Till Five (1933). He subsequently joined the General Post Office Film Unit (GPOFU) in London, where he worked under John Grierson. It was there that he created Love on the Wing (1937), using the technique of drawing directly on the filmstrip. In 1939, McLaren immigrated to the United States, where he made several abstract films, including Stars and Stripes (1940) and Dots (1940). In 1941, he came to Canada and met up once again with John Grierson, who, at the request of the Canadian government, had founded the NFB. Grierson asked McLaren to put together the NFB’s first animation team.

view film here

Additional Films

Władysław Starewicz

The Mascot – Complete and Uncut
by Ladislas Starewicz

Published 1933
Topics stop motion, animation, Wladyslaw, Starevich, Starevitch, Starewich, Starewitch, short film, Fétiche, Mascotte, Devil’s Ball

see full video here:

The best stop-motion film ever made, IMO. Actually, one of the best short films ever made!

There are two other versions of this film in the archive, but one is missing about 6 minutes and one is missing the soundtrack. I’ve fixed some editing mistakes and synch problems that have crept into the various editions over the years and posted the complete version of this amazing film.

Starewicz had become a master animator by 1933, incorporating techniques never used before and rarely since (such as moving the puppets during the actual exposure to create blurring for fast movement). His use of rear-screen projection is also surprisingly effective.

But more important than these technical details is the great humor of his writing and his sensitivity to character. Each of the dozens of puppets in this film is imbued with a convincing personality; none more so than the title character, known as Fétiche in France and Duffy in England and the U.S. I think the scene of him hanging in a car’s rear window is one of the funniest and most poignant scenes you’ll find in any film. The character was so successful Starewicz starred him in four more films.

We have CGI now, but all Starewicz had was an imagination that wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. Whatever he wanted to see on the screen, he created. And he wanted to see some truly bizarre stuff – every imaginable piece of scrap is called up for service: old shoes, chicken bones, utensils, broken glasses, dolls, monkeys, rats…nothing was off limits.

A sweet, funny, and also eerie film that should be seen by anyone with even a passing interest in animation. Or film, for that matter.

Producer Ladislas Starewicz
Audio/Visual Sound, B&W
Language English

Directed by
Wladyslaw Starewicz

Written by
Wladyslaw Starewicz

Original Music by
Edouard Flament

Cinematography by
Wladyslaw Starewicz

Art Direction by
Wladyslaw Starewicz

Whitfield Lovell

LOV 0302 0000

Whitfield Lovell is an artist whose poetic and intricately crafted tableaux and installations document and pay tribute to the passage of time and to the daily lives of anonymous African-Americans. Inspired by images from his archive of photographs, tintypes, and old postcards from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the civil rights movement, Lovell provides these obscure figures with identity and dignity. He creates meticulously rendered, life-sized, charcoal portraits on such wooden objects as sections of walls, fences, or barrels, evoking a haunting sense of their presence. He places these portraits in the context of found, everyday objects — including frying pans, spinning wheels, bed frames, clocks, irons, and musical instruments — to reveal the individual through items related to his or her life. These compelling and seemingly simple installations are informed by contemporary art practice as well as folk art, vernacular art, and the physical conditions of marginalized communities. Creating remarkably elegant works, Lovell evokes memories of the past while transcending the specifics of time and space.

Whitfield Lovell received a B.F.A. (1981) from the Cooper Union School of Art. He taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York from 1987 to 2001 and has been a visiting artist at such institutions as Rice University (1995), the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2001), and the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia (2002). Lovell’s work has appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions at national venues such as the Seattle Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Kin IX (To Make Your False Heart True), 2008 Conte on paper, sterling silver canteen 30 x 22 1/2 x 1 3/4 inches

Kin IX (To Make Your False Heart True), 2008
Conte on paper, sterling silver canteen
30 x 22 1/2 x 1 3/4 inches

LOV 0310 0000

– See more at: http://www.macfound.org

Winsor McCay (c. 1871 – 1934)

Little Nemo, 1911
Based upon the comic strip, “Little Nemo in Slumberland”, and featuring both Winsor McCay & comedian John Bunny.

The Sinking of the Lusitania, released in 1918 is an animated short film by American artist Winsor McCay. It features a short 12 minute explanation of the sinking of RMS Lusitania after it was struck by two torpedoes fired from a German U-boat. The film was one of many animated silent films published to create anti-German sentiment during World War I. McCay illustrated some 25,000 drawings for the production. The film is stylized as a documentary, informing viewers on details from the actual event, including a moment by moment recap, casualty list, and a list of prominent figures who were killed. (youtube)

The Flying House – Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, 1921
Against the backdrop of the rapidly urbanizing United States of the 1910s and 1920s, one house from the artificial grid of modern, planned America takes flight in the dream of a woman who has feasted on Welsh rarebit. This cartoon is part of a Dream trilogy animated by Winsor McCay in 1921.

CBGB Silents

Winsor McCay: His Life and Art
Essay by Russell Merritt

By 1910, live-action short films and hand-colored magic lantern slides ruled the movie screen, but animation, maybe not so surprisingly, was in eclipse. Expensive and time-consuming, cartoon work was not terribly well suited to the hectic pace of the nickelodeon’s insatiable demand for product. Nevertheless, two extraordinary men stand out. One, in Paris, was Émile Cohl. The other, in New York, was Winsor McCay.

At the time, McCay was best known for his brilliant Little Nemo comic strip. In each fantastical episode, Nemo is caught in an escalating tangle of weirdness amid a psychedelic succession of ice caves, Italian palaces, and Art Nouveau gardens. The strip made McCay a celebrity, Nemo becoming so famous that Victor Herbert even composed a Broadway operetta about him. And so, in 1910, having conquered the Sunday comic page, McCay set his sights on drawing him for the screen.

McCay’s first idea was to take Nemo and his friends on the vaudeville stage where he animated them as part of a live act, introducing them on stage with quickly drawn “lightning” sketches and then speaking over hand-colored moving images. Within a year, he returned to the stage with a far stranger, delightfully gruesome insect-giant. This was a bloodthirsty New Jersey mosquito called the Jersey Skeeter, another veteran comic strip character who had appeared in several pre-Nemo series by McCay. As with Nemo, this film also had an elaborate live-action prologue, now lost. But it’s the animation of the blood-sucking mosquito that provided the revelation, putting McCay’s uncanny feel for weight and comic timing on display. As John Canemaker notes in his biography of McCay, this is an insect who thinks and considers solutions to problems. Just as remarkable, McCay gives him a certain amount of comic charm, as he hesitates and makes eye contact with us before gleefully quenching his thirst. Here, it can be argued, is the freakish origin of personality animation.

Within a year, however, the Jersey Skeeter was eclipsed by McCay’s masterpiece, the inimitable Gertie the Dinosaur, who was a sensation from the start. A genial dinosaur inspired by the skeleton on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Gertie is unique in early animation for her charm and temper. Film historian Scott Bukatman calls her a loveable rogue —“prankish, unruly. Unruly rather than monstrous … Gertie the Dinosaur, not King Kong.”

True, Gertie was, like Nemo’s friends and the Jersey Skeeter, originally part of yet another McCay vaudeville act. But as Donald Crafton and David Nathan have noticed, the film was conceived differently from McCay’s earlier cartoons. The earlier shorts are part of illustrated lectures; Gertie is part of a multimedia dramatic performance, with McCay playing the part of her trainer. They interact and indulge in back-chat: he talks to her, she responds like a mischievous pet. He cracks his whip; she cries. He tosses her a pumpkin (or apple); she gobbles it up.

Spatially, too, Crafton and Nathan note, Gertie was McCay’s most complex film to date. In Little Nemo, characters romp on black-and-white backgrounds; in The Story of a Mosquito (a.k.a. How a Mosquito Operates), the only background is the body of the sleeping victim. But in Gertie, his protagonist is anchored in a mountainous environment that resembles a theatrical stage set, rendered in depth and in some detail. Working with rice paper rather than transparent cels, McCay and his assistant were obliged to provide those backgrounds in each of the drawings, retracing them somewhere between 2,500 and 3,500 times.

McCay the workaholic insisted on animating the hard way, taking a minimal number of shortcuts. Yet his singular genius for design and timing sometimes obscures his pioneer work in creating standard techniques today, including the pose-to-pose system whereby sequences are divided into “extremes“ and “in-betweens“ (he called it the “split system”) for more clarity of movement. Nor was he immune from cycling movements (as when Gertie dances on her hind legs) or filming on “twos“ and “threes“ (shooting the same image twice or three times) when the occasion called for it.

Gertie became a star, and McCay not only took his act on the vaudeville circuit but also performed with her in banquet halls for large gatherings of newspaper colleagues and socialites. William Fox, the fledgling film distributor, was sufficiently taken with Gertie that he contracted with McCay to enlarge the film by adding a live-action framing narrative, more than doubling the running time of McCay’s original. This is the version that survives today, in which a live vaudeville audience is replaced by a cast of comic strip artists who attend a banquet and watch McCay take on a bet by fellow Hearst cartoonist George McManus. We then see McCay with his assistant (played by his son Robert) in what became a scene—later revered by Disney—showing the epic labor involved in creating a cartoon. It is this version that opened at the Wonderland Theater in Kansas City on Saturday, December 19, 1914, toured Kansas, and then spread across the country.

After the success of Gertie the Dinosaur, McCay continued to make handcrafted, highly individualized animated shorts built around cartoon characters. But his last great short marked a startling change, part of the direction his career as a newspaper cartoonist had taken at The American. By the time the First World War came to America, McCay not only dominated Hearst’s Sunday comic page, he had also become one of Hearst’s leading political cartoonists, satirizing slumlords, political bosses, and plutocrats. Most notably, though, even before the United States entered the war, he followed Hearst’s lead in making the eagle scream, attacking Germany and its allies. When he returned to animation, McCay was determined to dramatize what was considered the Kaiser’s most notorious atrocity to date—the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine.

He threw himself into his work, pouring his own money into the movie and taking two years to complete it. He also devised a new technique. Instead of rice paper for character drawings, which required backgrounds drawn on each sheet, McCay, for the first time, drew on celluloid, soon to be the preferred medium of commercial animators. Canemaker estimates that by the time McCay finished the film he had completed about 25,000 drawings (little more than ten times the amount, according to the most recent estimates, of what was required for Gertie). In the process, it is arguable that he became the first to use animation for political propaganda.

McCay’s work embodies the road rarely taken —that of the individual artist, working more or less by himself outside the studio system. The road American animation did take, of course, was chosen by the Hollywood studios, which treated it as an entertaining novelty made to precede the feature —so-called “Grouch Chasers,” populated mainly with comic strip characters like Maggie and Jiggs, the Katzenjammer Kids, Buster Brown, and folks from Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Trolley. In retrospect, McCay occupies a unique position: America’s first animation auteur, the peerless draftsman who made manifest the artistry lurking behind comic and not-so-comic American cartoons.