B2 High-Intermediate US 59 Folder Collection
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This walrus didn't get these dance moves on his own.
They came from Cab Calloway, a 1930s jazz singer and band leader.
Do you see it now?
Cab was a source of endless inspiration for early animators, who transformed his dancing
into that walrus, and a ghost, and a very moonwalky old man of the mountain.
“The old man of the mountain!”
The way those moves got from real life to cartoon was a breakthrough in technology and
It's an idea that forever changed animation, when an inventor took pictures that had just
started to move and made them dance.
As…“riveting” as that was...early animation had a problem: the first animated shorts didn't
look right.
Don't focus on the drawing.
Look at the motion.
See how clunky his arm move is here?
And how his shoulder doesn't move realistically?
Max Fleischer saw that problem too.
This is him, the inventor, blowing bubbles in some of the first films that revolutionized
And this is the clown that did it.
See how naturally Koko the clown moves compared to the umbrella guy?
That's where the invention called the rotoscope comes in.
You can understand it from the patent application.
It was a way to film real movement to create better animation.
First, they filmed live action motion in the wild — for Koko the clown, they filmed Max's
brother, Dave Fleischer, dancing around in a clown costume on Max's roof.
He was in front of a white sheet, for contrast.
The sheet actually blew around so much that once Dave almost fell off the roof.
So, don't try this at home.
That film gave them individual frames of Koko moving around, like in the patent.
They used a projector, hooked up to a car headlamp to amp up brightness, and it showed
each frame on a screen with tracing paper.
Then they just played it back, frame by frame, tracing what they needed.
It had the creativity of animation, but the precision of live action.
The results were astonishingly smooth, and lots of people noticed.
The New York Times said Koko, “The Inkwell Man,” “leaps as a human being,” and
it made sense — he was one.
Take Cab Calloway's performance.
Now, animators didn't have to guess what subtle movements came in the middle.
They had a filmed guide to every frame.
Later, it helped out with Superman — using photos and film to model Lois, like here.
Gulliver's Travels also had hyperreal movement inspired by real motion.
When the patent expired, other animation studios followed.
But Fleischer's work was more than just one invention.
Now these cartoons and other ones at the time are filled with tons of cringey stereotypes
that wouldn't pass muster today.
But the creativity?
That, that is not dated at all.
“Here we go!”
Fleischer studios invented the bouncing ball song, where you can follow along with the
Oh yes, there's a patent.
Max and Dave patented multiplane animation as well.
See how they could film the main character moving and separately move the background
elements, like pictures and models?
This created depth and saved animators time.
It enabled gorgeous motion like in this scene from Superman.
As it evolved, Fleischer animation mixed all these technologies with skilled artistry and
And that's why rotoscoping is a versatile tool still, whether it's inspiring some
of the animation in early video games or in its logical extension in motion capture, where
real movements are given over to animators' fancy.
But even that undersells their achievements a little.
That Cab Calloway Walrus cartoon — Minnie the Moocher — is a Betty Boop cartoon.
But it is a work of art filled with infinite delights that tantali—...
Scratch that.
It is straight up weird, in the best way possible.
Phones have lips, handkerchiefs talk, ghost skeletons get drunk, tonsils scream — the
list goes on.
When Cab Calloway saw himself turned into a dancing walrus, he fell to the floor laughing.
An invention made that work, but it was a different type of genius that made Cab Calloway
fall to the floor.
You can patent a device.
But you can't patent that.
That's it for this episode in this series about big changes to movies that came from
outside of Hollywood.
If there are any other animation examples you find striking, let me know in the comments.
I do want to take a chance though to underscore just how far outside of Hollywood the Fleischers
were — in addition to their New York Studios, they had one in Miami, Florida, and that is
where Gulliver's Travels was actually made.
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The trick that made animation realistic

59 Folder Collection
minami.kuo published on December 4, 2019
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