Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Unit 5: Animation - Animator Profile - Winsor McCay 1869 - 1934

Figure 1. Winsor McCay

One can only admire the characters expressed by McCay’s visual humour. The sheer comedic elements expressed in McCay’s work is & should be considered the bench mark to which the industry of animation was to aspire to. Who would have thought that the very origin of this practice would go back to a fun loving dinosaur?

Best known for:

•Newspaper Clip “Little Nemo in Slumberland”
•Animated cartoon “Gertie the Dinosaur”

Figure 2. Little Sammy Sneeze

McCay’s work began with the National Printing and Engraving Company in which he would produce wood cuts for circus and theatrical posters. His first major comic strip series began with “A Tale of the Jungle Imps by Felix Fiddle” which was based on poems by George Randolph Chester. From this point McCay continued to expand on his knowledge of moving visual exposition. As much was applied to his comic strips showing an engaging eye for progressive action, each movement, trip or gazing glance was readable by the consumer. Little Sammy Sneeze is one of many examples that show McCay’s ability to express the action of a scene. Cartoonist group’s John Canemaker observes:
“The concepts that McCay explored in his comic strips, such as progressive action, proved to be useful preparation for his animation”. (Canemaker: 1987)
One cannot help but notice the stylised movement of Gertie (from McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur) animated in such a way that the off screen narrator is seemingly giving him commands. This shows a level of forethought on McCay’s part narrowing down Gertie’s responses to seemingly simplistic commands. For this one could argue that McCay was considering the basic narrative device of cause and effect. I.e.: Cause - the narrator wants to feed Gertie, Effect – Gertie receives a mouthful of grass from an off-screen locale. This is just an example of forethought on McCay’s part showing his distinctive strength toward progressive action.

Figure 3. Gertie the Dinosaur

The truth is the experience would not be as pleasant had the artist not enjoyed the experience in creating this fictitious world. To be great at anything one has to have the desire, to keep moving forward no matter how difficult the task shifts and folds. All of the hard work leads up to that moment when one looks back at their workflow to where they are now, not with regret but with the aspiration to continue, McCay was such a man. He wanted to make beautiful work & he wanted to convey his vision to everyone the only way he knew how. JVJ Illustrators Jim Vadeboncoeur observes:
“McCay was a light-hearted man who just wanted to make beautiful pictures. He wanted animation to be an art. He wanted newspaper strips to appeal to the eye and the soul. He wanted to draw. No matter how many barriers stood in his way, he managed to accomplish that”. (Vadeboncoeur: 2000)
Animation is one of true perseverance, a trade which has gotten easier to produce due to technological advances but the work is still that of the individual with the vision and determination. Artist Winsor McCay sat down one day with an idea, he knew what he wanted and he knew an undetermined path which could get him there. After putting an entire year of his life into the idea it became bigger to this world then he could have ever imagined an idea which reached people on an entirely different level. Figments of our imagination could interact with us, bringing us that much closer to the fun and innocence of our dreams.

Figure 4. McCay with his idea Gertie

McCay’s perseverance shows one just what it is to be an animator, respecting every single frame to bring about a specific vision. A vision no one else had experienced and one they would experience for years to come. One could argue that McCay wanted one of his creations to interact with him as many artists seemingly do, this could even possibly be why he based Gertie the dinosaur on his (the narrators) interaction to be with his creation. One spends a year looking at a fictitious creature long extinct just so one day they can cross realms and finally co-exist. One could argue that this is what McCay was getting from this creation, not the promise of money but reward by breaching reality itself, finally crossing paths with an idea. Digital Media FX’s Michael Crandol observes:
“McCay animated his films almost single-handed; from inception to execution each cartoon was his and his alone. He took the time to make his films unique artistic visions, sometimes spending more than a year to make a single five-minute cartoon”. (Crandol: 1999)
Winsor McCay was a visionary with an extraordinary mindset, he did not want his ideas to remain locked within a page in a newspaper or in an obscure art canvas. He wanted so much more from his ideas, he wanted them to engage to seemingly breach the page and co-exist with him. McCay wanted them to have personality and have a specific demeanour, to react to situations how they would with the basics of a cause and effect logic. The truth is one can admire McCay for his vision and enthuse with his idea of bringing his creations to life, one could argue that that is the true gift for an animator: The day their creation walks across their page and engages with them how the artist always envisioned that they would.


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Winsor McCay. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 07/03/12)

Figure 2. Little Sammy Sneeze. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 07/03/12)

Figure 3. Gertie the Dinosaur. (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 07/03/12)

Figure 4. McCay with Gertie. (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 07/03/12)



Canemaker, John. (1987) Background About Winsor McCay. At:
(Accessed on: 07/03/12)

Vadeboncoeur, Jim. (2000) Winsor McCay + Little Nemo = fame and fortune. The End At: (Accessed on: 07/03/12)

Crandol, Michael. (1999) The History of Animation: Advantages and Disadvantages of the Studio System in the Production of an Art Form At: (Accessed on: 07/03/12)

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