Saturday, December 26, 2009

Seventy Years Plus Four Days

Back on December 22, 1939, the first mo-cap feature made its debut:

Gulliver's Travels is a 1939 American cel-animated Technicolor feature film, directed by Dave Fleischer and produced by Max Fleischer for Fleischer Studios. The film was released on Friday December 22, 1939 by Paramount Pictures.... The sequences for the film were directed by Seymour Kneitel, Willard Bowsky, Tom Palmer, Grim Natwick, William Henning, Roland Crandall, Thomas Johnson, Robert Leffingwell, Frank Kelling, Winfield Hoskins, and Orestes Calpini ...

Of course, the name for "mo cap" in 1939 was "rotoscope." The Fleischers had developed the system in the 1920s, and Disney used it sparingly in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Max and Dave employed roto extensively for their feature's title character ...

... and it paid off, as Gulliver rushed through production at the spanking new Miami studio, but was released in time for the Christmas holidays, and ended up an unalloyed hit for their mother studio Paramount. (Disney's second feature rolled down the gangway a month and a half later, to do half the business of Snow White.)

The Fleischers' second feature, Hoppity/Mr. Bug Goes to Town had the bad luck to get released two days after Pearl Harbor and tanked. A year later, Paramount dissolved the Miami studio and got out of the feature cartoon business, leaving the field to Disney. And so today we have the mega-corporation Disney Co. instead of Fleischer International. But maybe somewhere out in the cosmos, in a parallel universe, the tale is different ....

Fleischer Studios artist Bill Turner penned the cartoon above -- and less faintly than shows up here -- for a company newsletter after the completion of Gulliver's Travels. Of course, we all know this kind of thing doesn't happen any more. (Courtesy Harvey Deneroff. Click on the image to enlarge it, and make the darn thing more visible.).


Anonymous said...

According to the IMDb Trivia site, writer Cal Howard served as the live-action model for Prince David in Gulliver. He recalled that he had to have padding on his legs because they were so skinny.
For animation fans and historians, the personnel credits on this movie are quite impressive.
The IMDb credits for Cal Howard are equally amazing and amusing.

Harvey Deneroff said...

The Fleischers developed the rotoscope in 1915, not the 1920s. It was probably modeled after the Lucigraph or Luci, which was used by newspaper and comic strip artists (which Max Fleischer was once one).

Apparently, the original idea was to have Gulliver be a live-action character, much like in the 1935 Soviet live-action/puppet combo feature, The New Gulliver.

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