Sometimes I’m slow to pick up on things… Youtube has been around for ages, and for ages I’ve read about Winsor McCay’s animations and wanted to see them, but I didn’t put these two facts together till now.
As one of the earliest of animators, he’s most famous for Gertie the Dinosaur, available here. But to my mind, his 1912 How a Mosquito Operates is funnier and holds up better.
The repetitions are a bit weird, but a) probably were enhanced by music, and b) helped pad out the piece, a perennial animator’s preoccupation, magnified in these days before the invention of the cel.
McCay was an amazing and lightning-fast draftsman, which allowed him to personally produce the thousands of drawings needed. What’s more remarkable is his ability to produce lifelike movement. Today you can look up in a book how to animate, or use computer tools to preview your animation, but McCay was inventing his techniques.
And even more remarkable is the humor and humanity that he puts into his characters. I used to watch compilations of computer animations in the ’80s; the technical mastery was impressive, but almost no one attempted stories or characters. McCay’s mosquito, though horrifyingly large, is in his own way dapper and endearing. His persistence and greed give the short a story, and once he’s gorged on blood McCay shows off both technical prowess (the skeeter really looks heavy) and humor (he has such a hard time flying an inch off the humanscape). Not a few contemporary animators could learn from this sequence how movement can be funny.
(For McCay’s comics work, see Bob’s review here.)