The world’s first animated cartoon!
Emile Cohl was a French caricaturist credited with creating the first fully animated film in 1908, entitled Fantasmagorie. The animation is just two minutes long, and while over a century old, it is still impressive and entertaining by today’s standards. Cohl uses a mixture of traditional drawing techniques and stop motion, a now famous form of animation first pioneered by James Stuart Blackton. Fantasmagorie lacks a plot, but the name of the short is a hint of its qualities–random cool scenes put together born out of the imagination of the creator.
Fantasmagorie is simple, yet complex feature; there is a beauty about the simple ink drawings, yet the transformation each figure undergoes is amazingly impressive considering the time period of its release. Without a plot, the short manages to entertain and fascinate as each character changes both shape and form. In one moment, a figure could be a human being, and in the next they transform into a cannon. It is easy to wonder if Cohl created the short because he desired to do so without the complexities of a story and/or just wanted to string images together because its what he wanted.
The stop motion displayed is also impressive; the figures move as if they are cutouts. One scene in particular features the artists’ hands “gluing” the head of the figure back to its body. Believe it or not, the making of Fantasmagorie is simple: Cohl borrowed another one of Blackton’s methods for this short to create the blackboard effect seen in the film. The drawings were illustrated on plain white paper in black ink, and then the negative was reversed. Most of the work came from drawing 700 images to make a two minute cartoon.
Although they are more elaborate and colorful cartoons to enjoy in today’s world, Cohl’s Fantasmagorie is the short that started it all and should be watched at least once to admire what was then and what is now.
Using the technique of stop-motion photography pioneered in America by J. Stuart Blackton, Emile Cohl of France drew Fantasmagorie for the Gaumont Company in 1908. Arguably the first and certainly the most sophisticated cartoon until that time, its stream-of-conscious narrative remains impressive after a century. The vintage 16mm source print acquired from Francis Doublier seems to be the sole surviving full-frame original copy of this important film, and after our transfer, Gaumont used it for a frame-by-frame scan and restoration to 35mm. Music by Frederick Hodges. —Flicker Alley