Animation has been with us since the advent of the silent film. And as the technology advanced with the sound and later on the color, animated films or the so-called cartoons were always in stride with the feature film.
His maiden appearance in a comic strip was on January 17, 1929 inside the Thimble Theater comic strip. Immediately, the budding star with disproportionate arms became the focus of the said comic strip. And before the year was over, Thimble Theater was the best seller of King Features Syndicate, a company specializing in caricatures that caters to the children. Popeye The Sailor Man was the new hero and the highest income earner of King Features Syndicate.
When his creator, Elzie Segar, died in 1938, Segar’s assistant took over the chores. Bud Sagendorf renamed the comic strip Popeye. For the novelty of that spinach magic, the “childish” approach of the plot was always friendly and interesting for kids despite the violence exhibited by the perennial rivalry of Popeye and Bluto for the love of Olive Oyl. Some other weird but lovable characters included in the original cast were Sweepea, the baby who never grew up, and Wimpy, the hamburger addict.
Actually, Paramount pictures came out with the Popeye character in their cartoon shorts in 1933. King Features Syndicate had signed a contract with Fleischer Studios (managed by Max Fleischer) for Popeye and their other characters to appear in a series of animated cartoons. As a feeler for marketing, it was already established that Popeye was a blockbuster such that the one-eyed hero remained on top of Paramount’s distribution list for a period of 25 years.
The theme song “I’m Popeye The Sailor Man” was composed by Sammy Lerner, an established songwriter. For the first few editions of Popeye the cartoon, the instrumental of “The Sailor’s Hornpipe” accompanies the opening credits. When AAP (Associated Artists Productions) bought the rights of Popeye in 1957, the traditional opening and closing credits were changed, particularly the logo of Paramount which was replaced with AAP’s.
After a year, UA (United Artists) acquired the rights of Popeye but the company was later merged with MGM (Metro Goldwyn Meyer). When Turner Entertainment, owned by media mogul Ted Turner (former husband of Jane Fonda, the actress), bought Popeye in 2001, they created the Popeye Show in TNT Cartoon Channel, the favorite cable channel of kids around the world.
Ahead of Popeye by a year was the most popular and most successful cartoon character created by the legendary Walt Elias Disney. This animal character was actually just a replacement for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit which was also created by Disney for Universal Studios. Owing to Oswald’s popularity, Disney asked for a higher budget in creating Oswald cartoons. But Charles Mintz, the head of the Universal Studios, vehemently refused Disney’s request.
Since Universal Studios owned the rights to Oswald, Walt Disney felt that they were just employees undergoing severe repression and suppression. Making matters worse, majority of Disney employees shifted their loyalty to Universal Studios.
Disney asked Ub Iwerks to make up a new character. Iwerks did some sketches of different animals but Disney’s taste did not agree. One of the rejected character was that of a female cow which later became Clarabelle Cow. Also rejected were a male horse and a frog. The horse turned out to be Horace Horsecollar and the frog became the star of Flip the Frog series.
Having a pet mouse in the farm provided Walt an inspiration. When Disney’s artist Hugh Harman drew sketches of a mouse around Disney’s image, Ub Iwerks got a clearer idea thus Mortimer Mouse was born. But Mortimer soon became Mickey. Some say that Mickey Mouse was named after the actor Mickey Rooney. But Walt issued a statement as an official rebuttal that the amiable character of Mickey Mouse was patterned after Charlie Chaplin. The secret of Mickey’s popularity, according to Walt Disney, was Mickey’s human personality.
Having learned his lesson from the Universal Studios rejection, Walt Disney concentrated on his new character, a lovable mouse that would easily be recognized by the public. Co-directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, Steamboat Willie was released on November 18, 1928. The very successful debut of Mickey boasts of the Click Track, a sound recording system with accurate synchronization. In those times of low technology, seeing movements and hearing sounds in synched is like magic.
The precise timing of Mickey’s movements in consonance with the music generated by the instruments of the live orchestra was simply awesome to the young audience. Surprisingly, Walt Disney himself voiced not only the character of Mickey but also of Minnie Mouse.
After successfully appearing in 15 animated shorts, Mickey Mouse was offered by King Features Syndicate to appear in a comic strip. On January 13, 1930, Mickey Mouse was born in the comic strip with credits to Walt Disney himself. Ub Iwerks was the artist and inking was handled by Win Smith. With the success in the comic strip, Mickey also saw print in book form with the title Lost On A Desert Island.
Cartoons greatly contributed in the acceptance and popularity of the Television in the late 1950s. Even in black and white, the young audience savored the pleasant sensation of seeing caricatures in movement with matching music.
In 1960, when television was already an established home appliance, King Features Syndicate created a version of Popeye for television. For this version, Bluto was changed to Brutus to sidestep probable legal entanglement in case Paramount, supposedly the owner of right to the name Bluto, would complain.
Even cartoons were not free from intrigues. A poll was taken by the theater owners to prove that Popeye was more popular than Mickey Mouse. In 1935, Paramount Pictures sponsored the Popeye Club as the main feature of their Saturday matinee program as a direct competition of the Mickey Mouse Club. Members of the Popeye Club were treated to a regular weekly meeting with a novelty called Let’s Sing With Popeye.
A cartoon or animation film is created from drawings or sketches. First to be drawn is the scene itself, complete with the foreground and the background before applying Rotoscoping, a technique which uses tracing. So as to save on time and effort, the first drawing is copied by tracing, with focus on the background, and only the foreground is altered to denote the desired movement.
The so-called Loop is a “captured moment” of movements consisting of 8 slides which is equivalent to 8 hand-drawn frames. Most publicized was the effort of Walt Disney and his artists in creating sequences in art works. In a documentary demo, the cartoon master had shown how a cartoon was made using the drawings, the variations of drawings and the lighting plus the required sound effects. And since there was no computer at that time, recording (or filming) is a tedious process because the movements should be synchronized with the music.
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