Saturday, 22 November 2014

Fun Factories of Filmland, 1916

J.R. Bray invented the animated cartoon. Well, that’s what the papers suggested.

A 1916 syndicated newspaper feature looked at the Paramount-Bray Pictographs which had started appearing on movie screens that year. There had been animated cartoons before that, but the story makes no mention of Winsor McCay or Raoul Barré. Bray was the one being interviewed, and he wasn’t going to share credit with anyone. Indeed, as events soon revealed, Bray’s claim of the invention of the animated cartoon extended to the U.S. Government Patent Office, which he used to attempt to rake in royalties from other studios from the animation process. Bray eventually forsook cartoons for educational films.

Tom Stathes has compiled a fine, footnoted primer on the Bray Studio HERE.

This story appeared in newspapers on a variety of dates; I’ve found one as early as June 13, 1916. These pictures appeared with the story; I’ve had to omit one of Bray himself because it’s not visible in any of the copies I’ve found.

J. R. Bray of the Paramount-Bray Studios is the Wizard of Laugh Getters.
His Animated Cartoons Make Film Fun For the Nation

When the original stone-age caricaturist created the first mother-in-law joke by hammering rock against rock, he is credited with having stepped back to view his efforts with this wish:
“If I could only make her more alive and breathe and still look like that, I’d make the old rocks grin.”
Shades of Tom Nast and Phil May! It was scores of centuries later that these world’s greatest caricaturists made the world jump over the same overworked jest. No doubt they, too, uttered the cave man’s thoughts as they viewed their grotesque conceptions of the much-abused mother-in-law:
“If I could only make her move I’d make the world laugh.”
That was all before the days of the screen drama. Now, at one bound, an ingenious comic artist has succeeded in making his characters not only move and act as he wills, but accomplish feats that no human actor would find possible. To say that he is making whole world laugh would hardly be an exaggeration since his piquant conceptions furnish amusement for a greater number of men and women than any artist ever before dreamed of reaching. Fifth million mirth-loving patrons of Paramount Pictures go into paroxysms of laughter over his comic figures on the screen each week.
J. R. Bray, creator of the Paramount-Bray animated cartoon may well be called the Edison of caricaturing. What the wizard of electricity did in his field, Mr. Bray has succeeded in doing for laugh-making.
Blase moving-picture directors to whom life is a yawn and who wouldn’t possibly twist a single smile out of five reels of the most ridiculous gyrations of the slap-stick comedian admit that they get enough mirth out of a few feet of animated cartoons to create a hearty appetite or add several years to their lives.
For J.R. Bray has accomplished what every cartoonist since the days of the stone-age joker has no doubt wished he could do—he has made his cartoons move. He hits given to the screen what photography cannot give it—the fantastic brain children which the public craves, but which do not exist in reality—the dragons and dodoes and other mythical creatures of the fairy tales. Colonel Heeza Liar, in a brief life, has acquired a reputation as a leading man at Paramount that few living comedians can equal, and Inbad the Sailor and a bottle of tabasco sauce have created comedy for a nation.
Back of the debut of Colonel Heeza Liar lies an interesting story. Mr. Bray, who was born in Detroit, Mich., and has been a resident of New York since 1901, was a newspaper artist and a regular contributor to “Life” and other weeklies before he turned his attention to the screen. He had acquired a reputation for Teddy Bear drawings and had often remarked to Mrs. Bray—
“Wouldn’t those bears be funny if they could move?”
Sitting in a motion picture theatre one evening in the days before the flicker had been taken out of the reel, Mr. Bray caught the glimmer of an idea. He suggested a plan to his wife:
“Put the Teddy Bears into motion pictures.”
Little by little Mr. Bray began to experiment with his drawings. Suddenly he found himself in the position, not so much of a cartoonist, but of a director of comedy. His studio became a dressing room for a stock company of comedians that sprang into life when he sat before his drawing board, and he, himself, assumed the role of stage director.
His characters assumed their roles at the stroke of his pencil, but he found his power more wonderful than that of any director of the legitimate drama. He gave the actors not only life and action—he created them at his need or pleasure. Perhaps his cast consisted of a dragon and a flying brickbat if the day’s work called for that. Heeza Liar came and went at his will.
The legitimate stage director may have his limitations. Not so the animated cartoonist. His equipment is limited only by his imagination and the versatility of his brain.
Out in the sunny Bray studio in New York City, Heeza Liar, Farmer Al Falfa and the rest of the merry troupe rehearse their antics and evolutions for the mirth-mad public. No back-of-the-scenes setting was ever more devoid of decoration than this studio. Certainly no comedies were ever staged with so little disturbance. The walls are lined with the necessary ceiling-to-floor windows and the properties consist of many tables covered with drawing boards at which sit busy artists turning out one hundred drawings a day.
There is no shifting of scenes, no careless disarray of make-up and costumes and no bellowing of orders from a feverish stage director in this motion picture studio. Heeza Liar wins a pennant or directs a charge from a trench at the top of Dead Man’s Hill. No 23, Bobby Bumps, breaks all the speed laws on record in his goatmobile and Farmer Al Falfa flirts with a group of milkmaids or conducts a scientific dairy as the case may be. Nobody in the Bray studios turns a hair even when Heeza Liar wins the greatest battle of the European war. It’s all in the picture and the drama lies in the inventive brain and fingers of J.R. Bray and the splendid staff of artists which he has associated with him in his work including L.M. Glackens, Paul Terry, Earl Hurd, Frank Masses and most important of all C. Allen Gilbert, who among other great illustrators made the American girl famous on canvas.
Sixteen different drawings are flashed on the screen each second in the Paramount-Bray Animated Cartoons. Each artist in the studios turns out approximately one hundred drawings each day, or more, and thousands are turned out to the course of a week. Much of the scenery remains stationary during an entire cartoon so that much of the routine work can be timed out automatically without being repeated countless drawings.
Each movement of his brain children is carefully laid out by Mr. Bray himself in a series of successive positions showing with infinite care the projected movement of each animated figure. It is the fine touches in the animated cartoons which place them among the most popular features on the program.
For a guiding genius of comedy Mr. Bray at first glance appears more than necessarily serious. But that is before you have discovered that life’s an eternal smile with this originator of the animated cartoon, who is slight, rather blonde, and very boyish.
“Every born caricaturist since the days of the cave-man would probably have given half his life to make his characters move,” declares Mr. Bray.
“Cartooning is a comparatively recent art development, but caricaturists have lived since the days when the care man’s feelings of the mother-in-law topic became too much for him and he took to the stone yard to vent his sorrows on the rocks. Research has shown that the stone-age man invented the first joke and it was one on mothers-in-law carved in stone. The Chinese reduced their conception of trouble to five lines representing two women and one man under a single roof; Egyptians carved the comedies of their dynasties on the pyramids, and the Peruvians reproduced on pottery drawings that closely resembled cartoons.”
On his work and the qualifications necessary for a successful screen cartoonist Mr. Bray has distinctive and original ideas. He believes that the public wants the animated cartoon because it gives to the screen what the camera-man can never photograph, the fantastic creatures we have never seen, but never fail to be interested in.
“The animated cartoon marks an epoch in motion pictures as well as in caricaturing,” asserts the Paramount’s cartoonist. “Its possibilities are as yet undreamed of. Eventually it will become to the screen what the drawn illustration is to the magazine of today.
“It takes more than a sense of humor and the skill of the caricaturist to make a man a successful animated cartoonist. The man who is valuable in my studio is the one who has the technique of the cartoonist and the dramatic sense of the stage director. He must not alone be capable of drawing a ridiculous character to provoke mirth or to merely create strange monsters in his brain and transfer them to the screen. His sense of the dramatic must be as finely developed as that of the man who directs a Paramount feature play so that his fantastic actors may be convincing.

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