Dead Bugs and Other Classics of Early Stop-Motion Animation

Bugs cavort in Wladyslaw Starewicz’s “The Cameraman’s Revenge.”

Bugs cavort in Wladyslaw Starewicz’s “The Cameraman’s Revenge.”

As a film buff and former film student, I have a natural affinity for silent movies.  They’re a mark of cultural history, even though in those early days, many considered the medium little more than a passing fad.  But, almost from the start, film captured some historical events; such as the 1896 coronation of Nicholas II, the last tsar of Russia, and the moments before Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria – Hungary and his wife, Sofia, were assassinated in 1914 – an event considered the trigger for World War I.

But, many early filmmakers also saw the potential in cinema.  Among them was Wladyslaw Starewicz, a Russian-born artist now considered one of the pioneers of film animation.  In 1912, he produced “The Cameraman’s Revenge,” which combined his fascination with insects and the then-revolutionary stop-motion method.  The result is amazing, even by today’s standards.

The earliest stop-motion animated movie, “The Humpty Dumpty Circus” from 1898, has been lost.  But, a 1902 piece, “Fun in a Bakery Shop,” made by Edwin S. Porter and produced by Thomas Edison, has stop-motion animation elements.  Porter is best known for “The Great Train Robbery,” which came out in 1903, and has a scene where a character fires a gun directly at the camera lens; a stunt that terrified audiences and made them duck.

Also in 1903, Edison produced the first example of claymation with “Dream of a Rarebit Friend.”

In 1905, Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomón released “El Hotel Electrico,” which features bags flying around.

In 1906, Edison presented “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces,” which features the first example of direct digital manipulation: an image is moved, changed, or erased in each frame.

All of this proves you don’t need fancy graphics or design to make good animation – just a great story and a wild imagination.

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