feature. The Thief/Ind The ( 'obbler by making him a hot Hollywood property. ‘I‘ve been working on it for twenty-three years now. putting the money we make from the commercials into it. It’s based on a story from the Arabian .\’ights and the style is kind of like a Persian miniature. It‘s influenced by Islamic art and (‘hinese painting too. so it's not at all like the typical Western cartoon. There are loads of producers after me at the moment. both Disney and Spielberg. wanting me to do a movie for them. but I might play them off against each other to see what I get out of it. 'l’wenty-three years and it‘s only half-finished. so I figure we need to put on a hit of a spurt .‘
Who Framed Roger Rabbit." opens at the ()(ths‘ in Glasgow and [:‘(linburgh. and also at the Glasgow (irosr‘ettor on Fri 2 December.
MOVING PICTURES: A SHORT HISTORY OF ANIMATION
From the earliest I9th century optical illusions to the multi-million dollar technology of Who Framed Roger Rabbit." may seem a huge distance. but the principle that unites them is the same. By utilisingour persistence ofvision. film artists have been able to produce a rapid succession of drawings that offer the illusion of movement. Linked to the wider chronicle of the cinema itself merely by the camera mechanism involved. the history of animation is all about the changing development of those drawings and the people and studios that produced them.
Given the freedom ofgraphic representation to produce an
alternative universe. some filmmakers. like the German ()skar Fischinger or the Canadian-based Scotsman Norman McLaren. have attempted a style of animation that encompasses the level of abstraction the medium is capable of. Yet. in general. it is the anthropomorphic comic animation turned out most notably by the American film industry that dominates the popular conception of the cartoon. As instantly recognisable as any movie rnegastar. our favourite animated characters' exaggerated personalities have made the likes of Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse among the silver screen's most potent icons.
THE EARLY YEARS
Most sources attribute the Frenchman Emile Reynaud's 1892 Theatre ()ptique. which dazzled Parisiens with its optical emulation of movement by rapidly projecting a series of figurative drawings. as the first steps towards what we today know as animation. It was however an Englishman. a certain .I . I). Blackton. who discovered that one picture per frame of film would produce moving pictures. and his 1906 Humorous Phases ()fl’unny Faces. which begins by showing a simple face smiling. remains as the first bona fide cartoon.
Others were swift to exploit Blackton's breakthrough. for as the years progressed and the nickleodeon developed into a major new form of popular entertainment. the cartoon short developed into a staple ingredient ofthe moviegoers' bill of fare. The use of intertitles to cross communication boundaries saw the animation of the silent era begin to assume its mantle of universal language.
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BIRTH OF THE CARTOON STAR
Strangely enough. it was not until the 1920s that the first major animated star emerged. With exhibitors realising that patrons liked to follow the adventures of the same well-loved character each week. Pat Sullivan‘s creation Felix The (‘at became widely seen and enjoyed. So much so that his image was the first to be heavily rnerchandised. especially given the ease of reproduction of the simple black and white figure.
While the Felix cartoons saw the artform develop a fluidity of movement marking a new level of aesthetic sophistication. Sullivan‘s refusal to adopt to the new sound technology meant that the character was on the decline by the late l92lls. Around the same time. a producer named Walt Disney released the first cartoon with synchronised sound. Steamboat Willie ( 1928) saw the genesis of Mickey Mouse. later to become the most famous rodent on the planet. and his creator's initial step towards massive cultural significance as the purveyor of a set of values of unsettlingly idealistic wholesomeness.
DISNEY AND THE REST That Disney was to win the Oscar for animation every year from its inception in 1932 until l‘)-l(lis some measure of the studio's dominance during the Depression era. Though Walt himself maintained purely a supervisory role and was apparently unable to reproduce the elaborate personal signature that adorned studio productions. he had the consistency of vision to create a recogniscable Disney identity. good-natured and believable. 1937’s Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. the first animated feature. marked the creative highpoint of a decade that also saw numerous Mickey Mouse. Donald Duck and Goofy shorts.
The rest of l lollywood could barely
match the high standards ofdrawing. and the attention to detail put into the background layouts at Disney. Popular they may have been. but cartoon series like those starring America‘s darling. Betty Boop. and rambunctious mariner Popeye. served to illustrate how far behind in terms ofcraft was Disney's nearest competitor. Dave Fleischer. The success of the Walter Lantz character Woody Woodpecker told a similar story.
THE GOLDEN AGE
The early Forties saw Disney releasing a trio ofclassic features in Dumbo. Bambi and Pinocchio. all of them essential cinematic experiences and now. quite simply. a part of growing up. Yet the roseate world-view represented by such works was soon to be dissipated by a new breed ofanimation. one that thrived on a blackly comic impulse of surrealistic zest.
MGM‘s Tom Artillerry. dreamt up by William Hanna and Bill Barbera. typified the new wave with its enthusiastic bouts of
reality-distorting brutality. At Warner's Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones displayed a quite prolific talent. churning out scores of shorts featuring new cartoon superstars like Bugs Bunny. Daffy Duck. the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. Tweety Pie and Sylvester. From a simple format of five minutes ofconﬂict. with the audience on the side of ingeniously obnoxious good against incompetently malevolent evil. such elaborately choreographed flights of fancy as ll'hat's ()pera. Doe." and Duck Amok were born.
Even more extreme. was the psychotic humour of 'l‘ex Avery. who worked at both studios. producing both one-off exercises in sustained absurdity like King-Sized ('anary. and the deadpan mania of the Droopy series. which comprised such delights as I)roopy's Double Trouble. a somewhat disturbing ode to sado-masochistic schizophrenia. llis manic comic influence stretches to younger contemporary live-action filmmakers like Tim Burton and Sam Raimi.
Both aesthetic development and financial short-cut. the technique of curtailing the background to a stylised sparseness. began to be perfected at United Productions of America from the late Forties onwards. Pete Burness was the man behind the dry visual sense and sardonic humour ofthe excellent Mr Magoo series. This form of limited animation began to simultaneously make the process cheaper and coarsen standards ofcraftmanship. look at Disney's 1951 feature Alice in Wonderland . for example. compared to the rich textures of years before.
Television soon began to provide the biggest market for animation. with many of the top names like Hanna and Barbera providing the vast turnover ofquickly produced material the new medium was hungry for. or like Bob (‘Iampett working in advertising. While II& B have managed to make a considerable impact on the small screen with such favourites as The Flintstones and .S'eoobv l)oo. such work. like the post-Fifties Disney features pales beside the offerings of the Forties.
Today. while the cost of quality animation remains prohibitively high. the uneven career of Ralph Bakshi. with the X—rated social realism of Fritz The ( 'at( 1972) and the medieval chic of the Tolkien adaptation [.ord ()fThe Rings (1978) show an uneven talent admirably attempting to expand the parameters of the medium. while Don Bluth. under the patronage of Steven Spielberg. the Man Who Would Be Disney. with An American Tail( 1987). seems to be reaching for the old-fashioned values of visual richness and story-telling drive. Yet with the technical triumph
of Who Framed Roger Rabbit." reaping huge box office rewards. perhaps a new vogue for moving pictures will see yet further fine-tuning to the animator‘s sophisticated art.
The List 25 Nov — 8 Dec 1988 7