Sunday, 11 March 2012

Animator Profiles: Winsor McCay

Winsor McCay is known as the father of animation. His work has been the starting point for many works of animation that are iconic today. As Maria Popova, "Cartoonist and artist Winsor McCay (1869-1964) is often considered one of the fathers of true animation, pioneering the drawn image in film and influencing iconic creators for generations to come" Popova, Maria. (2011). Brain Pickings.Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo: The First True Animation, 1911
Fig 1: Nemo in Slumberland

McCay began his life in a family who looked down upon the arts as a profession. His father enrolled him into a business school in hopes that he would take to a 'proper profession'.
During his time studying, Winsor McCay struggled to achieve high scores and dreamed of a life away from where he was.
The first earnings that McCay was subject to in terms of art was at The Dime Museum where he drew portraits of people for 25 cents each.
He was later taught by teacher who was skilled at perspective drawing which is what taught Winsor McCay.

Fig 2: Gertie The Dinosaur Comic

In 1903, McCay was offered a job in the city of New York at The New York Herald. He focused his time on making cartoon. McCay really developed his skill of drawing during this period of time. He created comic strips. His break into the comic strip artist 'community' was Little Sammy Sneeze in 1904 which lasted for 2 1/2 years.
At around the same time, Dream of a Rarebit Friend had begun taking shape. The thing about these two comic strips was that the scenarios in which they were based, required constant re doing. There was no continuous flow to the story. As a result of that frustration, Little Nemo is Slumberland was born.
The New York Herald was home to the best printing press and colour printing staff. This is what made Little Nemo magical.
When Little Nemo hit broadway, McCay began drawing as a chalk and talk artist- an artist who would draw for an audience whilst telling a story. During this time, he also began work on an animated film called How a Mosquito Operates.
In December 1913, Winsor McCay showcased his work Gertie The Dinosaur to an audience where he joined the dinosaur in a finale on screen.

Fig 3: Gertie The Dinosaur Animation Still

This film involved a dinosaur named Gertie who interacted with the voice of Winsor McCay himself.
McCay also created an animated film called The Sinking of The Lusitania. The drawings of this film are detailed and tell the story of the sinking of a ship that facilitated the Second World War which according to John Canemaker " it was the first to use cels." John Canemaker, Winsor McCay, His Life and Art (New York, Abbeville Press, 1987) 
The scene when the ship is hit by a missile and the smoke is escaping from the chimneys, captures the true nature of smoke. It dissipates dramatically and in a beautiful pattern.
Winsor McCay was an artist. He lived to draw. He wanted to make the world better with art.
He died in 1934, leaving behind a legacy of revolutionary images that led to the creation of the animation industry in existence today. As Jim Vaderboncoeur states, "While he wasn't the first person to make an animated cartoon, he was the man who defined the industry" Vaderboncoeu, JVJ Publishing.


Vaderboncoeu, JVJ Publishing.Available online at:

Popova, Maria. (2011). Brain Pickings.Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo: The First True Animation, 1911
Available online at:

John Canemaker, Winsor McCay, His Life and Art (New York, Abbeville Press, 1987) 


Fig 1: McCay Winsor. (1911). Little Nemo in Slumberland
Fig 2: McCay Winsor. (1914).Gertie The Dinosaur

Fig 3: McCay Winsor. (1914).Gertie The Dinosaur|G%3AHI%3AE%3A1&page_number=51&template_id=1&sort_order=1

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