Monday, September 07, 2015

Fundraiser For Bray Studio: Animation Pioneers DVD - Ends September 9

On the heels of the first Cartoon Roots Blu-ray/DVD set, film historian and collaborator with Andrew Smith on the upcoming Cartoon Carnival documentary, Tommy Jose Stathes, is on to his latest restoration: Bray Studio: Animation Pioneers.

Here's the trailer for the new release, which is the logical extension of the Bray Animation Project that Mr. Stathes established in 2011.

Now just who the heck was John Randolph "J.R" Bray? No, you dumb bunny, he wasn't an oily oil baron played with villainous glee by Larry Hagman in the 1970's TV show Dallas.

John Randolph Bray was one of THE pioneering producers of animation in the United States. To quote Mr. Stathes: "From 1913 to 1927, the New York City production company, headed by John Randolph Bray, produced well over 500 animated films."

John R. Bray began making cartoons back in the days when Charlie Chaplin, the first "British Invasion" in American pop culture, had just arrived in America to join "Madcap Mabel" Normand, Ford Sterling, Fred Mace and Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle at Mack Sennett's Fun Factory.

J.R. Bray's first film, The Artist's Dream, was produced at a time when the innovators of animation production - Ladislaw Starewicz and Emile Cohl and Winsor McCay - were relatively few.

The Artist's Dream was a hit and earned J.R. Bray a contract to produce more cartoons for Pathe. The Bray Studio's first popular cartoon character was the the first recurring animated character created specifically for the movies, the Baron Munchhausen style "tall tale teller" Col. Heeza Liar. For the first few years of the series, Bray darn near animated the cartoons single-handedly.

And then another innovator, Earl Hurd, quite literally the father of cel animation (he patented the technique in 1915) joined forces with Bray in 1915. To list of all the ways that the J.R. Bray Studio helped establish the art of cel animation, as well as mass production in the industry, would be longer than the grocery shopping list possessed by those responsible for an NFL team's post-game banquet.

Hurd's "cels-and-backgrounds" process of drawing characters on clear sheets of celluloid which were then placed over still background paintings or drawings during photography was quite the breakthrough; up to that time, such animators as Winsor McCay painted new backgrounds for every frame. Hurd and Bray held a patent for the process, for which they received licensing payments from all studios using it until 1932.

The patents and technology established by Bray and Earl Hurd were the cornerstones of a foundation that subsequent animation producers, led by Walt Disney, would develop into a new industry in the following decades.

Earl Hurd's Bobby Bumps cartoons were the first to be produced using cels.

The sheer number of groundbreaking animators associated with Bray, who transitioned to a behind-the-camera producer's role as the WW1 era progressed, is mindboggling. A host of future producers got their start in Classic Cartoonland with films made under J.R. Bray's auspices. These include:

  • New York's Fleischer Studio, led by Max and Dave, later the most successful challengers to Disney (creating Bimbo, Betty Boop, Talkartoons, Popeye and Superman) in the sound era, which developed the Out Of The Inkwell series, starring Ko-Ko the Clown.

  • Paul Terry's first Farmer Alfalfa cartoons

  • Walter Lantz (Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda, Swing Symphonies) created his own first series, Dinky Doodle, at Bray Studios.

Lantz, before ending up as the producer of the Universal talkie cartoons featuring former Disney character Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, made the last series of Colonel Heeza Liar for Bray Studios from 1922-1924.

While the initial dough-re-me goal for producing the Bray Studio: Animation Pioneers Blu-ray/DVD set has been met, the Kickstarter fundraiser nonetheless has been extended, with high hopes to fund an additional restoration of silent animation rarities from glorious vintage film prints.

The cartoon-crazed gang at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog enthusiastically supports this fundraiser, which runs through September 9.

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