Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Films of Winsor McKay The Master Edition

"It was as if the first creature who emerged from the primeval slime was Albert Einstein and the second was an amoeba because after McKay's animation it took his followers nearly twenty years to find out how he did it."
"The two most important people in animation are Winsor McKay and Walt Disney."
-Chuck Jones as quoted by John Canemaker.

He was a man who changed comics and was one of the fathers of the animated cartoon and yet most people don't know who he was.

Winsor McKay was a self taught artist who drifted into newspaper work who changed the art form with his Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend and a short time later Little Nemo. In 1911 McKay turned his attention to animation and things were never the same.
There are two DVDs out of McKays 10 animated films. The oldest is by Lumivision and it's simply the 10 surviving films with a printed insert by John Canemaker, who literally wrote the book on McKay. It's a good collection. However if you really want to see the films and understand them you need to get your hands on the edition put out by Milestone and Image called The Master Edition. While the films are the same as on the Lumivision edition, it has two big bonuses.
The first is a short film by John Canemaker called Remembering Winsor McKay. The short film is an interview with John Fitzsimmons who was one of the very few people to work with McKay on his films. McKay drew all of his films more or less by himself. He employed Fitzsimmons to do the monotonous task of redrawing the backgrounds when each image was all drawn on one sheet of paper,or later, when he started to use cells, he drew things like the waves in The Sinking of the Lusitania.

The other bonus is the commentary by Canemaker that accompanies the films. Though it starts off a little slow Canemaker's commentary is a must. Not only laying out how McKay put his films together, it gives you a brief biography of the man and it puts his films into a historical context. If you want to know why McKay is such a big deal listen to the commentary.

Actually, if you have any sense of the history of animated films you'll quickly realize that that no one was doing what he was doing until Disney made Snow White. If you want proof take a look at Lusitania and try to compare it to any animated film after it until Disney. It really can't be done other than perhaps on a one shot basis. The most amazing thing is that McKay was doing the detailed work pretty much alone. Yes, Fitzsimmons helped him, but all he was doing was copying over the dull bits for McKay. And when you think of it even people like Davinci had assistants.

Without McKay there would never been a Disney, and if no Disney no Miyazaki or Pixar.
These films and the man who made it are responsible for popular culture as we know it.
This is a super DVD and the only way it could have been better would have been if it went into more detail into McKays newspaper and comic work. However since several of the films are based on McKay's comics there is some discussion, just nothing in detail (besides there is a still gallery on the DVD).
I really like this DVD a great deal, and considering that the films spent decades sitting forgotten in a garage, it's a miracle we have them at all.(The fragmentary nature of some films is the result of the film reels deteriorating and the damaged parts being hacked away.)
If you like animation or true pieces of art (McKay was always striving to create art) you need to see this.

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