Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The first fully animated film - 1908 - Fantasmagorie - Emile Cohl

As with fellow early animation pioneer J. Stuart Blackton, Emile Cohl had been a cartoonist before he entered into the world of animation. According to popular myth, Cohl was walking down a Parisian street, when he noticed an advertisement for a movie that had been stolen from one of his strips. After confronting the manager of the film studio responsible for the advert (Gaumont), he was hired on the spot. Blackton and Cohl share another connection: Blacton’s 1907 film The Haunted Hotel inspired Gaumont to produce animated films:
The idea for doing animation was born from the huge success of the film "The Haunted Hotel", released by Vitagraph and directed by J. Stuart Blackton. It premiered in Paris in April 1907 and immediately there was a demand for more films using its incredible object animation techniques. According to a story told by Arnaud in 1922, Gaumont had ordered his staff to figure out the "mystery of 'The Haunted Hotel'." Cohl studied the film frame by frame, and in this way discovered the techniques of animation. 

As mentioned in one of this site’s earliest posts, there is an inextricable link between film and modern capitalism. As with contemporary cinema, if a particular genre or style of film became popular with audiences; other studios would attempt to build on (or to put it a bit more crudely, exploit) the success of such films. Whereas in modern cinema this often results in pale imitations of the film that makes a particular genre ‘fashionable’ (see the big budget ‘Roman’ films inspired by Ridley Scott’s Gladiator), during cinema’s embryonic phase, attempting to replicate a particular genre’s success often resulted in boundary pushing and wildly inventive films.

Fantasmagorie is an excellent example of this point. Both technically and visually, it significantly develops animation’s scope from Blackton’s Humorous Phases of Funny Faces. Animation Xpress explains the developments Fantasmagorie makes:
...Gaumont's Emile Cohl created the first fully animated film, Fantasmagorie(1908), and in the process lifted cartoons out of the realm of trick films and started them on the path toward animated features. The two-minute film Fantasmagorie (alternatively, in English: A Fantasy, Black and White, or Metamorphosis) is made up on approximately 700 double-exposed drawings, using what is known as a "chalk-line effect", a technique probably borrowed from early animator James Stuart Blackton...
Technique of the film

To make his film, Cohl placed each drawing on an illuminated glass plate and then traced the next drawing-with variations-on top of it until he had some 700 drawings. This simple technique produced consistent movement and continuity between the drawings, and allowed just Cohl and a camera assistant to create the film. In those days, chalkboard caricaturists were common attractions and the characters in the film look as though they've been drawn on a chalkboard, but it's an illusion. By filming black lines on paper and then printing in negative Cohl makes his animations appear to be chalk drawings. 

Cohl’s film did manage to lift ‘cartoons out of the realm of trick films and started them on the path toward animated features’. In Blackton’s Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, we are presented with separate vignettes of various characters. In Fantasmagorie, there is a remarkable fluidity throughout the entire film; each scene effortlessly interweaves with the next.

The film requires repeat viewing, because some of its transitions are so rapid that the viewer misses some of the movement during a first viewing. The film’s highlight (see above) is when a woman with a pineapple-esque hat sits in front of our protagonist stick figure, and the protagonist attempts to remove various things from what turns out to be a multi layered hat. The slapstick humour one derives from the scene is similar to that found in Max Linder’s Debut d’un Patineur, which had been released a year earlier.

Fantasmagorie confirms the notion which Humorous Phases of Funny Phases suggested: animation is a distinctive branch of film that differs significantly to the moving picture. The films’ rapidity and ability to shape-shift demonstrates that animated film can perform different, and on a certain level, more impressive, visual tricks that those found in Méliès’ or Porter’s films.

Fantasmagorie’s constant inventiveness typifies the forgotten decade of cinema. During this era of film, ideas supersede concerns with both form and narrative. 


  1. That was insane. I think I have a nosebleed.

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  3. this is stupid every body knows fantasmogorie was made in 1907 not 1908

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