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

Nicholas Sammond, Author

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Pre-Industrial Animation On Stage and Screen

Animation in the United States became a full-fledged industry between 1913 and 1916. Before then, animation was the craft of individual artists and stage performers. There were relatively few of these animation artisans in the first decade of the 20th century, but the most memorable of them combined the artistry of drawn animation with the performativity of vaudeville. From its earliest days, American animation was a form of entertainment that combined the art of drawing, the science of cinema, and the ballyhoo of the vaudeville stage.

James Stuart Blackton was an early filmmaker who experimented with a variety of cinematic techniques and formats. He was also a lightning sketch artist who performed in vaudeville and on film.

Another lightning sketch artist, Winsor McCay, was primarily known for his wildly popular newspaper cartoons in the New York Herald, and then in William Randolph Hearst's newspapers. McCay was known especially for his Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend series, which the filmmaker Edwin S. Porter turned into a trick film, and Little Nemo in Slumberland, which became the basis for his first animated stage show.

Emil Cohl was a French cartoonist who eventually worked in American animation as well, but who eschewed the stage. In spite of this, his early cartoons often had more than a hint of the performative about them.

The shift from pre-industrial animation to early commercial animation was not strictly chronological. For example, Winsor McCay's "hand-made"  Bug Vaudeville (1918) was produced long after industrialists such as John Randolph Bray and his wife and partner Margaret had established rationalized cartoon factories. In fact, early animators such as Bray, Paul Terry, and Raoul BarrĂ© all had animation companies by the time that McCay produced his most famous animated film, Gertie (1914). 
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