(Roughly) Daily

Putting magic in the Magic Lantern…

In 1896, a young reporter for the New York Evening World was sent to interview Thomas Edison.  Ever on the make, Edison was concerned to impress the young man, Stuart Blackton, who before turning to journalism, had performed as “The Komical Kartoonist” in vaudeville shows, drawing “lightning sketches.”  Blackton accompanied Edison to his cabin studio, “Black Maria,” for a demonstration of Edison’s new motion picture technology.  Edison used the occasion to make a quick film of Blackton sketching.

The inventor did such a good job selling the new technology that he talked Blackton and a partner into buying a print of the new film, along with nine others, plus a Vitascope to show them to paying audiences.  The new act was a smash, so Blackton started making films of his own own– and the American Vitagraph Company (see also here) was born.

As Vitagraph did well, Blackton began to feel adventurous. And thank goodness he did: in the next few years, Blackton developed and instantiated the basic concepts of animation.

“The Enchanted Drawing” (copyrighted in 1900, but probably made at least a year earlier) depicts Blackton doing his lightning artist act, sketching a face, cigars, and a bottle of wine. He appears to remove the drawings as real objects, and the face appears to react.  The animation here is stop-action (the camera is stopped, a single change is made, and the camera is then started again),  first used by Méliès (who had a different kind of run-in with Edison) and others.

“Humorous Phases of Funny Faces,” completed in 1906, was the first “true” animated film– in that an appreciable part of the action was accomplished with single exposures of drawings, simulating motion (though the film also employed live action, stop motion, and stick puppetry).

Having paved the way for Looney Toons, Merrie Melodies, and the rest of the cartoon cavalcade, Blackton and his partner sold Vitagraph to Warner Bros. in 1925.  (See here for a reminder of Vitagraph’s historical importance to live action films as well.)

(Thanks, Brain Pickings, for the prod.)

As we revel in fond memories of Saturday mornings past, we might recall, in anticipation of this weekend’s Final Four action, that it was on this date in 1906, as Blackton released “Faces,” that the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (subsequently known as the National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA) was established.  When then-president Theodore Roosevelt’s own son, Ted, broke his nose playing football at Harvard, Roosevelt became aware of the growing number of serious injuries and deaths occurring in collegiate football (18 deaths in 05 alone).  He brought the presidents of five major institutions, Army (West Point), Navy (Annapolis), Harvard, Princeton, and Yale to several meetings at the White House in October, 1905 to discuss steps to make college athletics safer; the IAA was the result.

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