If you’ve been to a superhero movie recently, you’ve probably figured out by now that in real life, people aren’t able to fly without the assistance of an aircraft, can’t really leap tall buildings in a single bound or possess superhuman reflexes and speed.
While that may be a spoiler for some of you, none of it could even be imagined on the silver screen without the advent of animation technology. Today the RedState Department of History tips its collective cap to a man generally recognized as a pioneer of the art in film history and especially in America.
His name was J. Stuart Blackton, born in England but who came to the United States just before the turn of the 20th Century. In 1896 he met Thomas Edison, who showed him a new invention called the Vitascope. It was one of the first film projectors and Blackton was captivated by what he saw.
In fact, he was so captivated he not only bought a Vitascope and nine of Edison’s films, he helped start the Vitagraph company to get into moviemaking. Blackton’s talents as an illustrator soon came to the fore — and on this date in 1906, Blackton released the first animated short ever to be placed on film.
Titled “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces,” the three-minute short was groundbreaking. Blackton had toyed with animation before, with his 1900 film “The Enchanted Drawing“. In that film, Blackton appeared to interact with an animated object, but his 1906 movie was the first to be recorded on picture film.
But the impact Blackton’s work had on the American film industry was profound. He is regarded as the father of American film animation for his early work.
After his 1906 effort, Blackton continued to produce movies for Vitaphone. In 1915, in an effort to persuade America to join World War I on the Allied side, he made “The Battle Cry of Peace,” a movie in which pacifists keep America unprepared so they can invade and conquer it.
Theodore Roosevelt loved the movie and arranged for a regiment of Marines to participate as extras. Others dismissed it as propaganda, but America joined the war anyway in 1917.
Blackton was a minor partner in Vitagraph until 1925 when the company was sold to Warner Brothers for $1 million. The Depression wiped out Blackton’s prosperity, however, and he took to the road in later life, lecturing about the old days of silent film.
Blackton died in 1941 after being struck by a car while crossing a Los Angeles street. To the very end of his life, he was actively involved in making the film industry better and should be regarded as one of its true trailblazers.
Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!