British-American filmmaker, James Stuart Blackton, is regarded as one of the fathers of American animation. A prominent artist of the silent era of cinema, Blackton translated several literary classics to the cinematic medium. After moving to the United States with his family, he founded Vitagraph Studios in 1897 and proceeded to conduct several memorable experiments with stop-motion and drawn animation.
Inspired by figures like the English conjurer Albert Smith and innovator Thomas Edison, Blackton decided that he could manifest his magical mastery through cinema. One of his first animated films The Enchanted Drawing can be traced back to the turn of the century. It featured techniques used by other influential animators like Georges Méliès including stop-action animation. Blackton moved on to stop-motion around 1905 when his crew accidentally discovered the illusion of continuity produced by steam on stop-action effects.
Blackton’s 1906 silent animated cartoon Humorous Phases of Funny Faces is considered by many film historians to be the first work of animation that was recorded on standard picture film. It’s a charming short film consisting of funny scenes featuring the likes of a clown and a dog jumping through a hoop. Humorous Phases of Funny Faces starts out in traditional live-action and moves on to the unexplored territory of stop-motion, presenting scenes where it looks like the drawings are moving on their own due to the illusion of cinema.
The film proved to be vastly influential, inspiring other American filmmakers to try their hands at stop-motion animation as well. His 1907 animated short The Haunted Hotel proved to be immensely popular in Europe, urging French producers to figure out how Blackton managed to execute all the special effects. While the world decoded Blackton’s magic, the art of animation changed forever.
Watch the world’s first animated cartoon from 1906, below.