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Birth of An Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation

Nicholas Sammond, Author

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Early American Commercial Animation

Beginning around 1913, when John and Margaret Bray produced The Artist's Dream, animation in the United States industrialized incredibly quickly. Even as Winsor McCay continued to work "by hand" (with assistants), industrial pioneers such as Earl Hurd, Paul Terry, and Raoul BarrĂ© were developing the standards and practices that would rationalize animation practice within the space of a few years. However, the Brays did the most to industrialize animation in the United States.

In an article from a 1917 Photoplay magazine, John Bray engages in the convention of the animation producer performing the public-relations version of the lightning-sketch, demonstrating the magic and immense labor of animating. Note the racist stereotype that this cartoon animator studies carefully. 

The short Makin' Em Move (Van Beuren 1931), which comes at the end of this early period, plays with the rationalized production methods of cartooning, self-referentially making the cartoons create themselves.

The Fleischer Studios cartoon Vaudeville (1924) celebrates animation's debt to vaudeville and mirror's cartoons' free play with metamorphosis by using animation and trick photography to transform both Ko-Ko and producer Max Fleischer into characters of different races, genders, and ethnicities. (This version revised by Inkwell Images.)
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