Monday, 9 April 2012

Animator Profile : Winsor McCay

Fig. 1
Winsor McCay (1867-1934) was an American Cartoonist and Animator. Best known for his animation Gertie the Dinosaur McCay is seen as a pioneer in the animation industry and is known as the 'father of animation'. Another well known work McCay was made famous for was the newspaper comic strip Little Nemo In Slumberland. McCay originally started off studying to be a business man at Cleary’s Business College, Ypsilanti. It was there in Ypsilanti where he received his only form of art training from John Goodison, who taught him the fundamentals of perspective and in turn influenced McCay’s bold colour use. After working for the National Printing and Engraving Company, he finally landed a job as an artist for Kohl and Middleton's Vine Street Dime Museum.

McCay's style and determination has made him into the success his is today. After all this time McCay's work is still appreciated amongst the old and the young. Keith Phipps suggests, "Still lovely, if admittedly not paced to contemporary tastes, McCay's work is remarkable. He recognized the potential of the form, how a few carefully chosen lines could accomplish effects that a human actor never could, and how animation could shake off the restrictions of time and physics." (Phipps 2004) Phipps sums up how much of an inspiration McCay has been and also states his accomplishments that many other animators have failed to grasp in the following years. 
Fig. 2
The comic strips Little Nemo and Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend were dream sequences of the characters featured in the narrative, where McCay attempted to create this fantasy art to capture what he perceived dreams to feel and look. Although not overly popular his work gained a strong admiration due to his expressive and unique graphic style. Maria Popova observes, "Cartoonist and artist Winsor McCay (1869-1964) is often considered one of the fathers of true animation, pioneering the drawn image in film and influencing iconic creators for generations to come, from Walt Disney to Moebius to Bill Watterson. His celebrated Little Nemo comic strip appeared in the New York Herald and New York American newspapers between 1905 and 1911." (Popova 2011) Popova states the admiration felt towards one of the worlds most innoative animators. She then continues to observe his most well know successes witnessed over the years. The other animators included allows the reader to grasp how important McCay is within the industry.
Fig. 3
McCay created numerous short animations where, in each, he and at times he assistants, hand drew every single frame. Whilst touring with the films he animated he would present lectures and interact with the clips – such as holding his hand out to ‘feed/pet’ his animated characters. The star of McCay’s animations has to be the film Gertie the Dinosaur, which is classified in history to be the first cartoon character created purposefully for film with a unique and realistic personality. McCay features within the film, where he is pictured as if he is riding the dinosaur. Jim Vadeboncoeur states, "While he wasn't the first person to make an animated cartoon, he was the man who defined the industry. The quality of his cartoons would not be matched for another 25 years. His pacing and understanding of the medium was far ahead of his time. And he drew all of the 4,000 cels of his first film, Little Nemo, (natch!) himself! This while he was still drawing his three strips and performing his vaudeville act. The Little Nemo film was released to theater and used in his act, as was his second, How a Mosquito Operates - this 6,000 drawings long. When these films were released into wider distribution, McCay's fame spread, especially to the fledgling animation community." (Vadeboncoeur 2000) Vadeboncoeur observes McCay's achievements and states the difficult task of what it really means to call yourself or be called an animator, in which every way McCay was successful.

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Winsor McCay. At: (Accessed on:17/3/12)

Figure 2. McCay, Winsor (1905-1927) Little Nemo in Slumberland. At: (Accessed on:17/3/12)

Figure 3. McCay, Winsor (1914) Gertie The Dinosaur. At: (Accessed on:17/3/12)


Maria Popova (2011) Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo: The First True Animation, 1911. At: (Accessed on:2/4/12)

Jim Vadeboncoeur (2000) Winsor McCay. At: (Accessed on:2/4/12)

Keith Phipps (2004) Winsor McCay: The Master Edition. At:,11425/ (Accessed on:2/4/12)

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