Animation 1900 – 1930: Max Fleischer
Max Fleischer was an influential animator who founded Out of the Inkwell Films, creating cult icons such as Koko the Clown and Betty Boop and animating the classics Popeye the Sailor and Superman. He invented a revolutionary motion capture technique he dubbed ‘Rotoscoping’ and innovated sound and picture synchronization predating Disney’s Steamboat Willie, which is mistakenly believed to be the first sound-sync animation.
Influenced by cartoonist Joseph Bray and the environment of his birthplace, Krakow, Poland , the Max’s animating content became more focused on surrealism, dark humour, adult psychological elements and sexuality. Though Walt Disney remained on top of the industry, Popeye began to outdistance Mickey Mouse in popularity.
Max Fleischer’s style is at surface wacky and enjoyable. The dark humour hidden not so far underneath can be tapped into by the mature mind and the animations become double-sided and appealing to any age. The images consist of groovy lines and zany movements (watch Popeye here www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPulJzMIzck) and of course were initially black and white with grey tone shading. Very luscious detail for that era.
Then colour made its debut.
Max Fleischer’s company,
now renamed Fleischer
Studios, employed vast
used of bright contrasting colours that clashed violently for appeal.
Backgrounds gained realistic
stippled texture. The characters were emphasised and separated from the backgrounds as they had block colours - in contrast to the background’s quality detail and shading.
His innovative technique, Rotoscoping, (animation cells tracing real movement) was an influential innovation in animation and would become a widely used technique. His ‘rotoscopic’ work on Superman is considered the final and greatest triumph of this great pioneer. I believe its animated detail has not yet been outdistanced – fantastic!