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September 14, 2023

Émile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie, the World’s First Fully Animated Cartoon

On August 17, 1908, Fantasmagorie, the first fully animated feature film was released in Paris by the Gaumont company. Created by Emile Cohl, Fantasmagorie is considered one of the masterpieces of animated cinema and of early cinema as a whole. Done in a white-on-black style, reminiscent of a film negative, the film broke with the realist tradition emerging in live action at the time. It was much more stylized and fantastic, in some ways anticipating the surrealist movement of later decades.

There is no distinctive narrative to the successive images. Therefore, it is believed that Fantasmagorie is in a way a tribute to the short-lived French Incoherent art movement. The film was very short; its projection time was less than two minutes. Yet, the amount of work Cohl had to put in it was enormous, and the final effect – astonishing.

Cohl worked on Fantasmagorie from February to either May or June 1908. It was the single most demanding task that Colh had ever attempted as an artist. First he had made a drawing on white paper with black ink. Then he traced that drawing through a second sheet, changing nothing in the outline except for a minute alteration that would be perceived later as motion. Eventually hundreds of drawings were completed in this manner, then photographed in sequences. The result was printed in negative, so in the final film the illusion was produced of white lines moving on black. At the beginning and end Cohl’s own hands appeared in positive, necessitating in these two shots the use of white ink on black paper to match the negative animation sequence.

Cohl made over 700 drawings. Each one represented one discrete phase which the projector would eventually synthesize into motion. Although the film would be projected at the rate of 16 frames per second, Cohl guessed that he could cut his work in half by making only eight drawings for each second, then photographing each twice. The result was a film with extraordinary fluidity of motion, starling perspective alterations, and a convincing illusion of solid figures moving in spatial depth.

1 comment:

  1. In the end, hundreds of drawings were finished in this way and sequentially photographed.




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