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Published on Jul 27, 2009
One of the world's first animated films. It was the first to be created using keyframe animation.
Gertie the Dinosaur was originally created to be used in McCay's vaudeville performances, as a sideline to his regular newspaper cartooning. In 1911, McCay began presenting animated films on stage. Plans for Gertie were announced in 1912. The first presentation of the film was at the Palace Theater in Chicago on February 8, 1914; later performances were at the Hammerstein Theater in New York City.
McCay's employer, William Randolph Hearst, was displeased with McCay's success outside of the newspapers, and used his contractual power to reduce McCay's stage activities. In late 1914, William Fox offered to market Gertie the Dinosaur to moving-picture theaters. McCay accepted, and extended the film to include a live-action prologue and intertitles to replace his stage patter. This is the version of the film generally seen today; the original animation comprises roughly 5 minutes of the entire 12-minute film.
Gertie the Dinosaur was produced before the introduction of later time-saving techniques such as cel animation. To create the film, McCay himself drew thousands of frames of Gertie on individual 6.5 x 8.5 inch sheets of rice paper. He hired neighbor and art student John A. Fitzsimmons to draw the backgrounds. Fitzsimmons carefully re-traced the rocks, lake and tree from a master drawing onto each sheet of rice paper. In creating the film, McCay came up with a number of techniques that would later become standard in the animation industry.
The film features McCay with several of his cartoonist friends, such as George McManus, Roy McCardell, and Thomas A. Dorgan. As the film opens, they are 'on a joy ride', when their automobile suffers a flat tire in front of a museum. The cartoonists enter the museum, and see a 'Dinosaurus' skeleton. McCay bets McManus a dinner that he can 'make the Dinosaurus live again by a series of hand-drawn cartoons'. He then spends six months making 'ten thousand cartoons'; when McManus visits, McCay shows him the drawings, although an assistant trips and scatters a large pile of them over the floor. The scene then shifts to a dinner party with the group of cartoonists. McCay begins by sketching a single drawing of Gertie. Someone complains that 'your bet was that you could make it move', following which the film shifts to the original animated Gertie. McCay, through intertitles, tells Gertie to come out and bow, and continues through the same interaction as in the vaudeville show (although the 'apple' that McCay throws to her is now referred to as a pumpkin, which was more appropriate for the size of Gertie's mouth). The film concludes with the group telling George (McManus) to pay for the dinner.