Saturday 20 May 2023

The Life of a Talkartoon

All the talk of A.I. replacing everything and anything isn’t new.

Witness this article in Popular Mechanics of July 1931 after a staff writer toured the Fleischer cartoon studio. Whether this “artificial sound” method was ever used at Fleischer’s, I don’t know, but I certainly don’t recall any cartoons without an actual orchestra providing background music.

Regardless, it gives you an idea about how the Talkartoons were made.

How Artificial Voices Are Given Film Funnies
8,000 Drawings Required for Seven-Minute Reel.

AN ARMY of unpaid actors dance, sing and cavort in theaters throughout the civilized world every night, performing superhuman feats that bring forth tears and laughter.
Their seven-minute performance costs about $20,000 and weeks at labor on the part of 100 people.
These robot actors have given birth to an industry capitalized at four million dollars, and they boast 100 million followers all over the globe. They are flesh-less actors but nobody denies them life.
In a breathtaking shift of scenes, the hero swings a lariat and lassos a running locomotive; in an auto race he makes Colonel Campbell's roaring "Bluebird" look like a snail; sailing an airship through the sky, he wipes his brow with the moon as a handkerchief, and commandeers Mars to protect him from the sun’s rays; with one stroke, he slays the great dragon, and in the next stroke conquers the vicious octopus.
Animated cartooning is a hand-made industry; every detail of the action must be drawn out laboriously by artists. From 16 to 24 drawings are necessary to complete one action such as the winking of an eye or the throwing of a rope, and from 8,000 to 10,000 drawings are necessary for a seven-minute reel.
But invention has recently come to the aid of art and will soon make the animated cartoon movies more wonderful to behold, more breathtaking and more awe inspiring. A long painstaking search to find a method of creating synthetic sounds on film has recentty been rewarded by a patent to the Fleischer studios, which supplies Paramount with one "talkartoon" each week.
THE method is really a system of "fingerprinting" sounds, whether they be made by voice or by mechanical device. By first making sound tracks of all the letters In the alphabet, then combining these sounds into words, It has been possible to create characteristic patterns for letters, words, musical notes, and other specialised sounds. Synthetic dialog and synthetic music can now he inserted at precise places in a film, so as to carry out the story. The artist with his pen and brush and magnifying glass enters into the scheme. By magnifying the sound track of a given voice, the artist is enabled to reproduce all or any part of it by copying the horizontal lines and shadings. The drawing ran be reduced optically and printed photographically on a film sound track.
So, by dispensing with paid entertainers, costly orchestras, studios and elaborate machinery, the talkartoon producers can economize on overhead.
FOR example, an artist will be able to examine a photographic sound track made by any individual, and create therefrom either dialog or vocal music. In a new series of experiments now under way, the research staff hopes to develop a method of making to order any instrumental or vocal music, in solo or orchestral form. When filmed and sound tracked, the series of drawings would be ready for the projector.
When the moving picture was in its pre-sound days, the whole animated cartoon industry might have been purchased for a mere $250,000. Spectators were inclined to regard such entertainment as a form of moving picture trickery. But with the aid of sound, the handmade movies achieved a huge popularity. They appeal alike to the Chinese coolie and Alaskan Indian. But sound multiplied production costs to the extent where producers were driven to beg aid from inventors. To make the sound record on a film in the usual way involves great labour, time and expense. The orchestra must rehearse painstakingly; special sound experts are employed. Besides, sound records frequently have flaws, and sometimes a voice or dialog may accidently be omitted.

ANOTHER invention designed to make animated cartoons more natural is a machine which combines two kinds of action on a single print. Thus it is possible to film a background of a busy street, using the ordinary camera. If it is desired to show a robot actor making his way through traffic, the machine combines the two films, one showing the moving vehicles and the other the cartoon actor.
The end product is a single film which portrays a mythical character crossing a real street. The separate actions are so well controlled and co-ordinated that movie fans are mystified.
This invention opens a whole new realm for animated moving pictures. The artist is saved all the labor incident to drawing in a moving background, and the producing cost is reduced proportionately. Hence we find film funnies progressing swiftly and offering manifold opportunities for man’s imagination.
The ordinary photographic camera can reveal only the external activities of man. The animated movies attempt to film what goes on inside the brain. In the short career and in the success of this new industry, its backers have suddenly discovered what passionate interest men take in the picturizations of the brain. What thought do we have on entering a graveyard? An animated carloonist thinks that a dance of skeletons would depict the scene in some people's heads, and that is what he draws.
Earthbound men have often thought of flying through the air on feathered wings. The animated cartoonist brings this thought to life and actually shows how a man imagines he would fly if he had the wings of a bird. The troupe of robot actors leap out of a magic lantern after millions of scratches have been made on sheets of paper.
The original drawings are made in pencil. Then the actors move to the inking department where artists design their clothes; every drawing is traced with ink on celluloid. They are colored in various shades of gray, white and black.
In their costumes the actors march to the filming room to be "shot," The camera is suspended over a table. The robot actors, face up, are placed beneath the lens and photographed in their various poses and moods. Frame by frame, the photographer records their pictures. This method of grinding out film is much slower than the ordinary one used by moving-picture lots.
FOUR cameramen turn out only 1,000 feet of animated movies each week. That means each operator can film only five feet per hour. The finished reel is 1,000 feet long, but one-third of this footage is cut out in editing. Hence, the seven-minute reel showing in the theater measures between 600 and 700 feet, costing from $20 to $30 per foot.
The United States is the home of the animated cartoon and at present practically monopolizes production. Windsor McKay [sic], the cartoon, is said to have made the first successful effort at causing handmade pictures to move across a screen, but he never patented the idea, so that now the basic principle is used freely by half a dozen studios whose yearly productions average about 150 reels.
In the synchronization department, the orchestra conductor and his musicians follow the cue sheet and interpret in tunes and dialog what the cartoonist has imagined. Using hundreds of queer contraptions, the “effects men” can simulate the laugh of the moon, the gurgle of a brook, the fall of rain, the noise of a comet, the roar of a locomotive, the dance of a snail and the wheeze of a walrus.
Amng the studio’s domestic hardware, one finds sandpaper, tinfoil, washboards, toy trains, bricks, bats, building blocks, egg beaters and electric fans. The orchestra leader faces a screen across which the robot actors jump, walk and dance. His musicians face him and follow his directions at the precise moment.
The popularity of film funnies is explained by one producer who paraphrases the old Chinese proverb: "A good cartoon is worth a thousand words." At a time when cartoons were "stills" and consisted of only one drawing, the old proverb held good. But now that cartoons are animated and it takes 8,000 of them to complete one film, the producer argues that one reel is worth 8,000,000 words.
A LEADING animated cartoon producer says that the robot is tending to become more and more simple in his makeup. The present trend, he thinks, is toward more imaginative action. The cartoonist aims to give us impressions of the life around him, not illustrations of it. The imaginative picture is impossible any other way.
Movie cartoonists have made capital of the fact that animals have an intense human appeal. Bimbo and Mickey, two famous characters born in inkwells, are now better known than a good many actors in the flesh. A picture of Bimbo would be as readily recognized in China as in the United States.
The role of the artist becomes more and more important as the film funnies achieve greater popularity. In forthcoming productions more artists will be necessary, since no machinery so far invented can make a cartoon character go through his antics.

The Talkartoon series began in 1929 with Noah’s Lark. Betty Boop pretty much took over the series, which ended in 1932 with The Betty Boop Limited. The cartoons are full of imaginative little gags and are generally great fun to watch.

You can read the article here.

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