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Old 02-21-2017, 05:06 PM   #21 (permalink)
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When you get to Mickey Mouse, please let it be known that it was actually Ub Iwerk that was the one who originated the character.
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Old 02-21-2017, 05:54 PM   #22 (permalink)
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When you get to Mickey Mouse, please let it be known that it was actually Ub Iwerk that was the one who originated the character.
Yes I'm just reading that the the moment. He wasn't Disney's first creation though, again to my surprise. Stay tuned...
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Old 02-21-2017, 06:13 PM   #23 (permalink)
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Yes I'm just reading that the the moment. He wasn't Disney's first creation though, again to my surprise. Stay tuned...
Read? Who has time to read, let alone find time to read and write copious amounts of journals. Do yourself a favour and just watch the documentary "The Hand Behind The Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story "
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"it counts in our hearts" ?ºº?
“I have nothing to offer anybody, except my own confusion.” Jack Kerouac.
“If one listens to the wrong kind of music, he will become the wrong kind of person.” Aristotle.
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Old 02-21-2017, 06:45 PM   #24 (permalink)
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Mickey Mouse blows.
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Old 02-21-2017, 06:52 PM   #25 (permalink)
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Loving it, TH! Keep it coming!

I'm crossing my fingers that there is at some point a footnote for Tobor the 8th Man. Any kid's cartoon hero who gets his power from cigarettes is okay in my book.
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Old 02-21-2017, 08:15 PM   #26 (permalink)
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Loving it, TH! Keep it coming!

I'm crossing my fingers that there is at some point a footnote for Tobor the 8th Man. Any kid's cartoon hero who gets his power from cigarettes is okay in my book.
I'll take any and all suggestions, though this will be a history, following a proper timeline (hence the introductory pieces about early cinema animation before we get to the TV stuff) so wherever this Tobor comes chronologically, I'll certainly include him.

(Tobor is just robot backwards, yes?)
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Old 02-21-2017, 08:21 PM   #27 (permalink)
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I'll take any and all suggestions, though this will be a history, following a proper timeline (hence the introductory pieces about early cinema animation before we get to the TV stuff) so wherever this Tobor comes chronologically, I'll certainly include him.

(Tobor is just robot backwards, yes?)
Yep.
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Old 02-22-2017, 09:17 AM   #28 (permalink)
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Timeline: 1924-1927

If there's anybody here who does not recognise this face, or at least knows the name Walt Disney, as my good friend Batty would say, fucking kill yourself. You don't deserve to live. Almost single-handedly (yes yes, Neapolitan: I'm getting to him, don't worry!) changing the face of animation forever, Walt Disney originally worked with his brother Roy as an animator for Winkler Pictures and later distributor Universal Studios, who could see the trend in cartoons developing with the popularity of Felix the Cat and other copies. The Disneys had tried selling some of their own animation but it had not been a successful or profitable enough venture, forcing them to work for the abovementioned. When disputes arose over pay, they left and formed The Disney Brothers Cartoon Studios, soon renamed to Walt Disney Studios.

Another of my fallacies exposed. Before I began this journal I firmly believed that the first ever animated cartoon was Steamboat Willie, but even that didn't come for another nine years after Felix and five after Disney's first proper animated feature, The Alice Comedies. Combining live-action and animation in a way that would go on to become something of a theme with Disney, and in a different way to that pioneered by Winsor McCay, the original pilot, as it were, was never released but did signal the beginning of the series in 1924, a series which ran for a staggering fifty-seven episodes, surely unprecedented way back then. Even now, that would be considered a good run, especially for something totally new. Alice (played by three different actresses during the series' run from 1924 to 1927, would have adventures with her cat Julius (who, as you can see, looks suspiciously similar to our Felix, though apparently this was intentional, presumably to “cash in” on the little cat's mass appeal), and no doubt the idea of mixing a live human actress with moving drawings certainly caught the attention.

Though Alice's Wonderland was never officially released, through the magic of YouTube you can sample it here. You can already see McCay's idea of using the medium of cartoons to allow fantastic things like bodies stretching to impossible lengths and contorting to impossible shapes, as the two cats on the table dance, and of course Sullivan continued and improved on this with Felix, allowing him almost limitless possibilities. The idea is stretched further here, as Julius, on the drawing board, tries to poke a real cat with his cartoon sword. The real cat, of course, sees and hears nothing and is unmoved, but it's very clever, especially when Julius scratches his head, wondering why his little sword is having no effect on the newcomer. The boxing match between the two cats also features what I believe to be the first use of that “cloud of fists and legs”, you know the sort of thing, when cartoon characters are fighting and it's just a whirling vortex out of which you can see heads, hands, feet?

Quite long at just over twelve minutes, as I say this gave birth to the long-running series which did not get going until a year later, and here are some examples of those.



The Alice Comedies ran until 1927, when Walt Disney responded to Universal Studios' eagerness to “get in on the cartoon game” and created the little guy below.


No, it's not an early sketch of that mouse, though I have to admit the similarities are quite stunning. This was the very first proper animated character created by Disney to have his own series, (as in, without any live-action actor or scenes) and he was called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Doesn't really look like a rabbit, you say? Take it up with Walt. Oh wait, you can't. So suck it.

Oswald (created as a rabbit due to a glut of cartoon cats in the wake of the success of Felix), like his famous descendant, survives to this day. Originally hitting the screens in 1927, just as The Alice Comedies came to an end, he went one step further than Felix or Julius, as Walt Disney wanted to create a character with his own distinct personality. I always felt Felix was a free-spirited individual who danced to his own drum, but people a whole lot more knowledgeable than me contend that Oswald was the first true anthropomorphic character who wasn't there just to “hang gags on”, so what do I know? At any rate, Oswald was not a hit right off, and had to be redesigned for his second outing, Trolley Troubles. As an aside, it's interesting how the idea of alliteration had pervaded even the earliest animation, with Felix's first short (as Master Tom) being titled Feline Follies and his next Musical Mews, a tradition that would go on to become a characteristic and mainstay of cartoons for decades to come. I wonder if it makes something more attractive, hearing two words that begin with the same letter? Or funnier? Or was there even a reason? At any rate, it became the standard for a long time.

Immediately the piece begins you can see that Disney is looking to Sullivan for inspiration, as it reads almost like a Felix cartoon, with elements of the fantastic and the absurd in abundance. Polishing the trolley with a cloth, Oswald then throws it behind him and it becomes his bobtail, the wheels of the trolley do that sort of running-in-place motion that would become the standard for characters as they prepared to run (attended by a round of bongo drums or some sort of percussion), almost as if they're winding up to let go, and a literally impossible number of passengers are taken on, given the trolley's tiny dimensions. But this is, or would be, cartoons, and you didn't have to explain anything. Everything was possible if you could think of it or imagine it, and no logic was required. Making people laugh, being clever and innovative was all that was needed to make a cartoon successful. As the trolley runs over wider and narrower tracks it becomes correspondingly wider or narrower to accommodate them, stretching and then scrunching inwards; a cow on the line which refuses to move is gone under by the trolley, which uses it as a kind of tunnel . For once in the film, logic and science are used; as the track climbs steeply upwards, Oswald finds he cannot control its ascent and the trolley begins to slide back down, and when he encounters a goat who butts him, Oswald uses this by harnessing the goat via a pole to him and goading him to butt him. Of course, once they reach the summit and plunge down the other side rollercoasterlike, the thing is out of control and flings passengers out left, right and centre as it careens along.

Into a series of tunnels the trolley hurtles (handy for the animator, as several frames are totally black as the train enters the darkness!) and Oswald pulls off his foot and kisses it (geddit? Lucky rabbit's foot?) as he prays to be delivered. In the end, the out of control trolley screams off the side of the mountain and into a lake, and Oswald punts away to safety on a raft. I assume all his erstwhile passengers have either been thrown clear prior to the train leaving the tracks or have drowned, but in what would become typical cartoon fashion, nobody asks the question: after all, they're just line drawings, aren't they?

Becoming unhappy with his lot at Universal Studios in 1928 Walt Disney decided to leave, allowing Universal to keep Oswald but designing a new character over whom he would retain control as he set up his own studios. But although he would create the first true animated film with synchronised sound, there is one other we have to look at before we trace the evolution of the character who would completely redefine and transform the world of animation.
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Old 02-22-2017, 02:37 PM   #29 (permalink)
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Later famous for Betty Boop and Popeye, Max Fleischer had a different approach to animation compared to the likes of Walt Disney or even Winsor McCay, in that his technique tended to be less refined and more jerky, and his cartoons were not merely to entertain but often tackled adult issues and were on the whole darker and more mature than anything that was around at the time, or would be for some considerable time. His perhaps most famous early animation, preceding Disney's by two full years, was My Old Kentucky Home, released in 1926 and featuring a cartoon dog blowing a trumpet and encouraging the viewer to sing the words to the old nineteenth-century song. Although crude, even by the standards Disney would set down from the off (cruder even than Oswald or, in some ways, Felix) , this animation was important as it was the first to successfully synchronise audio to the animation, so that when the dog says”Follow the bouncing ball and join in everyone,” you can follow the shape of his mouth as the words are spoken.

Fleischer had pioneered the concept of “follow the bouncing ball” which would become a staple in animation, jumping in time with the music from word to word in a prehistoric version of karaoke. Of course, as an animation this one is boring (although I can only get an excerpt from it, and don't know if there was more than there is here, a mere fifty seconds) but it did establish an important precedent.


Paul Terry (who would go on to produce Terrytoons, one of the most less successful cartoon studios of the twentieth century, even though it did produce memorable characters such as Heckle and Jeckle, Mighty Mouse and Deputy Dawg) also brought an animation with sound to the screen a mere month before Disney stole the limelight with their cartoon. Terry's was called Dinner Time and featured what looks to be a crow (some sort of bird anyway) seeking his dinner. After unsuccessfully trying to catch a worm, he is then almost eaten by a cat as he stands on telephone wires and the cat leans out of the window of a building, trying to reel him in. Eventually the cat does catch him, but the bird flies off, taking the cat with him. The cat lets go, and clings on to the wires, but the bird returns and cuts them with his beak. As the cat falls we see ghostly images of each of his nine lives leaving him. He hits the ground, then climbs back up the nine lives, using them as stairs, to get back in the window from which he fell out.

Next we follow the adventures of a small dog, who stops at a lake and with a bone in his mouth sees his reflection holding a bone. In the improbable logic of the world of cartoons, the dog jumps into the lake, takes the reflection's bone and now has two! And so it goes on. You can see in the crude drawings the ancestors of later Popeye, and the paper used is curiously yellow, though that could be age. Still, none of the other, older cartoons looked faded. Anyway, the clip here will give you an idea, but I have to say, I don't see anything in the way of sound synchronisation, other than sound effects and the odd voice. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cartoon did not endear itself to audiences, and a month later everything changed, forever.
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Old 02-22-2017, 07:34 PM   #30 (permalink)
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Note: I've decided to change the way I approach this history. Originally, I had intended concentrating on television cartoons and just mentioning in passing its progenitors in the cinema. It's now become clear to me that there is too much of a wealth of detail and quality there for me to ignore it all, or most of it, so for now I will continue the history of cinema animation, up until I hit the advent of television, after which I will then concentrate solely on that. For now though, we've reached that point after which nothing, on television or in the cinema, would ever be the same.
Timeline: 1928-1939

Disney's first true creation, and his most famous and enduring, Mickey Mouse was originally created as a replacement for Disney's previous character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who had been co-opted by Universal Studios and kept by them when Disney left, furious at being asked to take a pay cut and being told he had no rights over the character he had designed. Turning to his friend Ub Iwerks, he asked him to draw some preliminary sketches for a new character, and after several failed attempts Mortimer Mouse was born. Disney's wife, however, disliking the name, convinced him to change it to Mickey. The first outing for the new Disney character was 1928's Plane Crazy, beginning yet another tradition in animation, where puns would be used in titles (plain crazy/plane crazy) which also competently described the subject of the cartoon. This feature however was not screened in its original silent format, but reissued later with sound.

It features, perhaps interestingly given the character who would become Disney's second most famous and popular, a duck, in the very first few seconds, and indeed from the annoyed and irritated way the duck chases a worm, you can see the very embryonic idea for Donald. Reading a book entitled “How to fly”, Mickey decides to climb aboard an aeroplane and (for some reason to the strains of “Hail to the Chief”!) attempting to emulate his hero “Lindy” (Charles Lindbergh, the first man ever to complete a transatlantic flight) but has no luck, the plane crashing before it can even get off the ground. Undeterred, and again stretching – literally – the ever-flexible physics of cartoons, he makes a plane out of a car and climbs aboard. The feature also introduces his longtime girlfriend, Minnie, who hands him a horseshoe for good luck. They get airborne but Mickey is thrown out of the plane, leaving Minnie sitting in the back, unable to control it as it chases him. Hilarity ensues. A cow gets pulled into the story, and literally dragged along for the ride, and finally Mickey makes it back into the plane, reunited with his girlfriend.

The use of perspective here is nothing short of amazing, and another thing Disney would pioneer, the anthropomorphisation of inanimate objects – here, as the plane flies towards a high steeple, it concertinas down, like a person ducking - is introduced. On regaining access to the plane however Mickey is not greeted with open arms by Minnie, who is annoyed at him (presumably for being so reckless and leaving her in a rather frightening position) and as they argue she falls out of the plane, but is able to use her bloomers as a parachute. Mickey is not so lucky, crashing and bouncing off several branches of a tree, the final insult being that the lucky horseshoe Minnie gave him hits him on the head, and when he throws it away angrily comes back, boomerang-like, to knock him out.

I can't really speculate on why nobody picked this up at the time. It was way ahead of its time, far better than anything that had come before. It really was out on its own. Perhaps the somewhat boorish attitude of Mickey towards Minnie put distributors off, feeling they might be seen to be endorsing or condoning such attributes? Well, probably more likely nobody wanted to give an unknown a chance, but that all changed a few months later.

If only through parody, just about everyone is going to have seen some version of this original cartoon, and it begins with a paddle steamer on a river, with the action quickly cutting to a closeup shot of Mickey at the helm. He whistles the tune that is playing, and once more Disney's anthropomorphisation of inanimate objects shows itself, as the three whistles on the boat all have mouths and seem to sing out as they let off steam. Indeed, only two in fact, while the third remains silent until kicked by the second, and then it whistles. Again a feature that would become typical of Disney, the whistles are arranged in order of descending height, so that you get the definite feeling that the smaller one is the baby, and so a family of inanimate objects is already implanted in your mind, a family with actual personalities. This I believe was unique; I haven't seen evidence of this sort of thing in any of the previous animations, not even Plane Crazy. Suddenly a large creature (whom we could perhaps take to be Mickey's boss, Pete, and who surely was the template for Popeye's nemesis Brutus/Bluto) comes in and starts hassling Mickey, making it clear that either Mickey should not be piloting the boat, or that he, Pete, is now in charge. Mickey is sent on his way.

Out on the deck, he is laughed at by a parrot and throws a bucket at it in irritation. When the steamer arrives at the jetty it does not reverse in, but simply lifts up its stern, as it it were made of rubber, and plants itself down beside the quay to load up the animals waiting there. As they leave, Minnie appears, having missed the boat, but Mickey winches her aboard. During the confusion though a goat eats her sheet music and her violin, but Mickey discovers that he can use the goat as a barrel organ, by turning its tail. An impromptu band is set up and a musical number ensues, including the classic proverbial swinging of a cat, which Mickey, again perhaps setting the template for later shows like Tom and Jerry and Sylvester, turns the tables on by reversing the traditional roles ascribed to both animals.

Annoyed at this frivilous waste of time, Pete grabs him and throws him in the bilges, setting him to peeling potatoes (an old army punishment, known, I think, as KP, though don't ask me why: Kitchen Patrol? Kitchen Punishment?) and the parrot who was laughing at him before returns, but Mickey, annoyed, throws a potato at him and knocks the bird out the porthole, laughing as he does so.

So what is the big deal about Steamboat Willie? I think the answer lies in one word: synchronisation. Everything is this cartoon is perfectly matched, from the voices speaking the mostly unintelligible words to the music, and the reactions of the various items in the short. Everything, well how I can put this other than to say, everything bounces? It's like the whole screen is constantly in motion. I know Family Guy and Futurama have parodied this Disney style, but it's quite accurate parody. Everything, from the ship almost dancing along the river to the whistles to the musical instruments and the animals, everything seems to be constantly – constantly – in motion. Even when Mickey sits on the floor at the end and laughs, things around him are moving.

And not just moving: moving in time, moving in concert, moving in – yes you guessed it – synchronisation. It's not so much like drawings animated and given a soundtrack as a finely tuned machine with every working part performing in perfect and absolute accord. Really incredible. The level of detail, the clever use of animals as musical instruments, the, well the animation of just about everything onscreen, it all works so well and it's really hard to watch it without feeling your head bob or your toes tap. No wonder it was such a huge hit.

I think it's also important that, like Plane Crazy – and indeed, Trolley Troubles – before it, the protagonist is not given a happy ending. In Plane Crazy Mickey's plane crashes, in Trolley Troubles the same happens to Oswald and he is left to drift to shore, and here Mickey's put-together orchestra is soon put a stop to and he is sentenced to peel spuds. So he doesn't win, and yet at the end of this, unlike the previous cartoon, he is laughing, mostly at the plight of the parrot, true, but possibly also at the absurdity of it all, with almost a sly wink to the audience, as if to say “Isn't this crazy?” It was, and it is, but damn if it's not funny too, and that's probably what set this apart from the failed Plane Crazy. In this one, Mickey doesn't exhibit any – shall we say, nasty traits – indeed, he helps Minnie when she misses the steamer, and he's very much more lovable, so of course audiences took to him.

It wouldn't be long before he would be the most loved and famous cartoon character in history, kickstarting a multi-billion global empire for the man who had created him.

And Ub Iwerks.
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