A BRIEF HISTORY OF GERTIE THE DINOSAUR

IN FEBRUARY OF 1914, WHAT MANY CONSIDER THE FIRST FULLY ANIMATED CARTOON PREMIERED AT THE PALACE THEATRE IN CHICAGO.




Winsor McCay had made two animated films before "Gertie". The first, "Little Nemo"(using characters from his popular newspaper strip), debuted in 1911. "Little Nemo" used four thousand animation drawings. McCay then hand-colored the 35mm frames to achieve a very striking effect. The film was used in his vaudeville act. There is no storyline to "Little Nemo", it is more an experiment in movement. The animation is quite precise and the effect very dreamlike.


"Little Nemo" was well received, and McCay began work on his second film, "The Story Of A Mosquito". The film took one year to complete. "The Story of a Mosquito" tells a comic story of a mosquito's encounter with a drunken man. The film also made a big hit, but theatre patrons suspected that McCay was performing some sort of trick with wires. Motion pictures were quite new, and movie audiences were quite naive and still getting accustomed to the idea. The idea of a drawing coming to life was almost unheard of.


McCay decided to animate a Dinosaur to prove that his drawings were moving. The notion of bringing a dinosaur "to life" was astonishing. Thus, in 1913 McCay began to animate "Gertie The Dinosaur".


McCay enlisted the help of a young neighbor, John A. Fitzsimmons. Fitzsimmons traced the backgrounds onto rice paper, and McCay did all the drawings of Gertie. Ten thousand drawings were inked on rice paper and then mounted on cardboard for registration. By mounting them on cardboard, McCay was able to flip the drawings through a primitive machine to check his work.


Without guidance, or anything but his own experience to rely on, McCay produced an astonishing piece of animation that holds up even to today's standards. McCay painstakingly animated details such as particles of dirt falling, and water dripping. He gave Gertie personality and emotions. We see her eating, drinking, playing, and even crying.


In February of 1914, "Gertie the Dinosaur" debuted in Chicago as part of McCay's vaudeville act.

McCay brandishing a whip, would appear onstage to the right of a movie screen. He would first speak to the audience, explaining how animated films were made, photographed, and projected. He would then introduce Gertie as "the only Dinosaur in captivity". At the crack of the whip, the film would start.

At first, Gertie shyly pokes her head out from behind some rocks in the distance. She is hidden, and the audience has no indication of her height and girth.

McCay encourages Gertie and cracks the whip several more times. Finally, Gertie hops out from behind the rocks, and lumbers towards the audience. On her way to the foreground, Gertie picks up a rock and swallows it whole. As she reaches the foreground, she casually, bites off most of a tree and eats it.

McCay cracks his whip, and commands Gertie to bow to the audience, and to raise her foot. At one point Gertie gets angry and snaps at McCay. The animation here is tremendous as Gertie lunges forward towards McCay. McCay scolds Gertie, and she begins to cry.

McCay appeases Gertie by offering her an apple. In a wonderful example of interaction with Gertie, McCay appears to toss an apple towards Gertie. The apple appears on the screen, and Gertie catches it in her mouth.

As the act proceeds, Gertie continues to be distracted from obeying McCay. A sea monster momentarily appears in the lake, a four-winged lizard flies across the background. At one point a Wooly Mammoth, "Jumbo" walks across the screen in front of Gertie. She picks him up by the tail and hurls him into the lake. While Gertie dances in triumph, Jumbo squirts her with water. She retaliates by picking up a rock and throwing it at him.

Gertie becomes thirsty from all of her activities, and decides to take a drink from the lake. She drinks the lake dry.

In the films finale, McCay himself walks onto the screen and becomes part of the animation. He cracks his whip, and Gertie obediently places him on her back. Together they walk off camera.

The act was an instant sensation, and Gertie became one of the first cartoon "stars". Although no film exists of McCay performing the act, in September of 1914 a film with a live-action prologue and epilogue was produced. In the film McCay makes a bet with friends that he can bring a Dinosaur to life. McCay's stage dialogue with Gertie was replaced with intertitles, and the film still kept much of its charm.

A film with a "star"and a storyline,"Gertie the Dinosaur" became a landmark in the history of animation.

Of the ten thousand drawings used to make the film, only about four hundred are known to exist.

McCay went on to create several more animated films, and made one of the first to use Cels rather than paper. "Gertie" still stands as his masterpiece, and the most influential animated film of all time

A STORYBOARD OF GERTIE THE DINOSAUR 

Hearing McCay's calls, Gertie emerges from behind some rocks in the distance. This drawing, from the very opening of the film shows us our first glimpse of Gertie.
Gertie sees the audience, and begins to emerge from her hiding place. Here again, a very early drawing from the film of this piece.
Gertie, now in full view, lumbers towards the audience.
As Gertie approaches the audience, she decides to pick up and eat a rock along the way.
Gertie makes her way to the foreground, and eyeing a tree decides to have a little snack.
Gertie is distracted by a sea monster rising out of the lake.
Gertie finishes off what is left of the tree. An amazing image with lots of detail.
Gertie licks her lips.
After a run in with a Wooly Mammoth, Gertie picks up a rock and hurls it at the Mammoth which can be seen swimming away in the background.
Gertie is distracted by a flying lizard.
Gertie lies down for the audience.
Thirsty after all the hard work, Gertie turns to take a drink from the lake.
Gertie proceeds to drain the entire lake.
As Gertie continues to drink, McCay with his whip in hand, enters the picture. Gertie picks up McCay and they ride off together.


ABOUT WINSOR MCCAY

Winsor McCay was born in 1867 in Canada. McCay had an interest in drawing from the moment he could hold a pen. His father was a real estate agent and encouraged him to become a businessman. Unknown to his parents, he worked as a portrait artist in a "Dime Museum" in Detroit while attending Business college. "Dime Museums" were popular forms of entertainment in the 1800's. Patrons could view carnival type acts and oddities including "Freak Shows", as well as other forms of entertainment.

McCay left school at the age of 21, and went to work at the National Printing Company of Chicago. Here he illustrated posters for Circuses and other promotions. After two years he moved to Cincinnati, creating advertising posters for the Kohl and Middleton Dime Museum. He began to create quite a name for himself as a very talented artist.

McCay picked up additional work as a billboard painter. His ability to construct a figure's outline in one continuous line was quite a sight to see. He would draw crowds wherever he painted.

In 1891, after a whirlwind courtship, McCay married Maude Leonore Dufour. In 1896 she bore him a son, Robert, and in 1897, a daughter, Marion.

The economic hardships of supporting his family forced McCay to take a new job as a cartoonist/reporter for the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune. It was here he learned to fine tune his talent as a draftsman. He was also able to pick up freelance work for other magazines. In 1903 he produced an experimental comic strip entitled "Tales of The Jungle Imps by Felix Fiddle", based on poems by George Chester. At the end of 1903, McCay was being courted by the New York Herald, and promptly moved his family to New York. It was this period of time when the newspaper comic strip was becoming very popular. McCay began experimenting with his own original strips.

After a few unsuccessful tries, McCay developed "Little Sammy Sneeze" in 1904. This was followed by "Dream of a Rarebit Fiend" for the New York Telegram (also owned by the Herald) that same year. Both strips were quite successful. "Dream" was actually so popular that there was talk of producing a Broadway musical. The editor of the Herald wanted to separate his work for the two papers, so his contract would not allow him to sign his real name to the "Dream " strip. McCay used the alias "Silas" instead. In 1905 McCay began "Little Nemo in Slumberland", an extremely popular strip that was made into a Broadway musical. This strip is considered by many to be McCay's masterpiece.
McCay's popularity increased, and he began performing on Vaudeville. His act consisted of "Speed Drawing" various characters including those from his strips. At the same time, McCay was still producing several daily strips, and editorial cartoons. After Eight years, hundreds of editorial cartoons, and seven strips, McCay left the Tribune and went to work for William Randolph Hearst at the New York American. His arrival was a much publicized and heralded event.

While working for Hearst, McCay began to experiment with the idea of using animated pictures as part of his vaudeville act. His first attempt was made using the popular characters from the "Little Nemo" strip. It was a huge success and captivated audiences everywhere he went. He followed this experiment up with "How a Mosquito Operates", again a success. Finally, in 1914 McCay developed "Gertie The Dinosaur". Rather then just showing the film as he had with his previous attempts, McCay actually interacted with Gertie, giving her life and charm. Gertie was an instant success and is the first original character developed solely for the animated cartoon and not based on a preexisting comic strip.

Hearst felt that McCay's vaudeville act was taking valuable time away from the newspaper, and since McCay was under contract, he forbid him from any more live performances outside the New York area. Gertie was made into a feature film with a live-action prologue and epilogue and shown around the world. Hearst eventually forbid McCay from any vaudeville related performances and even doing daily strips. McCay was only to draw editorial cartoons.

McCay began working heavily on animated films during this time. His next film released in 1918 was "The Sinking Of The Lusitania", one of the first films to use cels. Even when Hearst opened his own animation studio, McCay continued to work on his own, producing six more films through 1921.

McCay continued to draw editorial cartoons until his death by stroke on July 26th, 1934.