A Year: Day to Day Men: 11th of September, Solar Year 2018

Packing Heat

September 11, 1972 marks the passing of Polish-American animator and film producer Max Fleischer.

By 1914 the first commercially produced animated cartoons started to appear in movie theaters. Max Fleischer devised an improvement in animation through a combined projector and easel for tracing images from live action film. This device, known as the Rotoscope, enabled Fleischer to produce the first realistic animation since the initial works of Winsor McCay. The patent to Fleischer and his two brothers was granted in 1917.

Max Fleischer started working with The Bray Studios, which had a contract with Paramount Pictures, after World War I. His initial series, the “Out of the Inkwell” films featuring “The Clown” character, was first produced at The Bray Studios. The films featured the novelty of combining live action and animation and served as semi-documentaries with the appearance of Max Fleischer as the artist who dipped his pen into the ink bottle to produce the clown figure on his drawing board. While the technique of combining animation with live action was already established by others at The Bray Studio, it was Fleischer’s clever use of the technique combined with Fleischer’s realistic animation that made his series unique.

It was during this time that Max Fleischer developed the Rotograph, a means of photographing live action film footage with animation cels for a composited image. This was an improvement over the method used by Bray Studios where a series of 8″ x 10″ stills were made from motion picture film and used as backgrounds behind animation cels. The Rotograph technique went into more general use known as “Aerial Image Photography” and was a main staple in animation and optical effects companies for making titles and various forms of matte composites.

In 1924, Fleischer partnered with Edwin Miles Fadiman, Hugo Riesenfeld and Lee DeForest to form Red Seal Pictures Corporation, which owned 36 theaters on the East Coast, extending as far west as Cleveland, Ohio.  During this period, Fleischer invented the “Follow the Bouncing Ball” technique in his “Ko-Ko Car Tune” series of animated sing-along shorts. The series lasted until early 1927, becoming very popular with theater goers.

Max Fleischer’s most famous character was Betty Boop, born out  of a cameo caricature in the early animated films. The “Betty Boop” series began in 1932, and became a huge success for him. However, Fleischer’s greatest business decision came with his licensing of the comic strip character Popeye the Sailor, who was introduced to audiences in the 1933 Betty Boop cartoon, “Popeye the Sailor”. Popeye became a box office hit and was one of the most successful screen adaptations of a comic strip in cinema history. Much of this success was due the perfect match of the Fleischer Studio style combined with its unique use of music. By the late 1930s a survey indicated that Popeye had eclipsed Mickey Mouse in popularity, challenging Disney’s presence in the market.

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