Saturday, 6 November 2021

Heeza Funmaker

When you think of cartoons of the silent era, you probably think of the characters of the mid to late 1920s—Felix the Cat, Oswald the Rabbit, Koko the Clown—and maybe the Fleischer Screen Songs with the bouncing ball. Commercial animation pre-dated that with comic strip characters from the Hearst (and other) newspapers.

But before them was Colonel Heeza Liar, the product of the J.R. Bray studio.

Bray eventually restricted himself to educational cartoons, but he put old man Heeza on the big screen starting in November 1913 through 1917 and again in the early ‘20s.

Either film magazines doted on the little colonel, or Bray’s PR machine worked overtime. A number of newspaper and magazine articles were written about him, with Film Fun even turning the Bray cartoons into full-page comic strips. Bray spent a chunk of space promoting all the patents he “allowed” others to use (for a fee; this lasted into the sound era).

The article (and picture) comes from the February 1916 edition.

He's a Busy Little Funmaker
THERE isn't a funmaker on the screen to-day who draws more laughs to the minute than the busy little Colonel Heeza Liar, who was invented and created by J. R. Bray some three years ago. He keeps six cartoonists, twenty assistant artists and four camera men constantly at work getting them out.
Now, you want to know how he does it, don't you? Just how he makes the queer little Colonel Heeza Liar go through his extraordinary antics, and how his funny animals laugh and trot about and seem so human in their endeavor to amuse the public. Well, we'll let Mr. Bray himself tell you about it. Once in a while he will stop long enough from his work to explain the motive power of the busy little chap, although, as a rule, he is too occupied in his work to stop to talk.
"It's a lot of work," says Mr. Bray. "There are thirty-four different processes to go through for each cartoon, and there are about four thousand cartoons in each thousand feet of completed film. First, I make a background on a sheet of heavy paper. This background is printed on many sheets of tracing paper. In this way it is necessary only for the artist to draw the parts which are to appear in motion. You see, the background remains stationary throughout the scene. We can easily erase or draw over this background.
"Each position must be drawn in. And in order that the movement on the screen will run smoothly, we have to use great care in the drawing. See that artist over there carefully tracing off a figure? He is drawing it for a new motion, and in order to get it exactly right, he traces over the figure with the thin tracing paper and draws in the new motion from that.
"There isn't a drawing that I do not personally supervise, and I make the first sketch of the plot. Sure, I create all the plots. My cartoonists do most of the sketching and filling in, but I draw most of the movements. When a set of drawings is completed, the camera men photograph them. I have an invention for controlling the speed of action in the picture done by varying the number of photographs taken of each cartoon. Here, for instance, you watch that camera man there, and you will see what I mean. That scene requires an object to move rapidly, then slowly, and finally come to a stop for a moment. The pictures representing the quick action will be given one exposure, and as the movement of the object diminishes in rapidity, each picture is given a correspondingly increasing number of exposures. As soon as the action stops, a number of photographs are taken of the same picture, the number being dependent upon the length of time that the action is suspended. In this way I can control the speed of the different parts of the picture.
"I couldn't tell you just where I did get the idea. It simply evolved, I guess. I was a newspaper artist on the New York papers for seven years, and I always had a notion in my brain of this funny little chap going through all sorts of amusing adventures. Everybody likes kid pictures and animal pictures, no matter how old they get, and Colonel Heeza Liar was popular from the start. There is a promising future in the animated cartoons, and I am figuring on some surprises for the future.”
Mr. Bray is drawing cartoons for the Paramount Program.

Here’s a little extra from the December 1916 edition.

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