Sunday, February 9, 2014

Lightning Sketch Artists, Part 3

We've been having a look at the Victorian form of parlour entertainment called the lightning sketch act. So far we've seen the work of J. Stuart Blackton and Winsor McCay, two of the most famous American practitioners.

Another of Blackton's tricks that Edison committed to film was "The Enchanted Drawing,"  (Video link) where Blackton draws a gentleman with a top hat and a bottle and glass of wine. By halting the camera and exchanging them for real objects, he turned the lightning sketch performance into a magical act of conjuring.

The French filmmaker Georges Méliès (1861-1938) was using the stopped camera trick right around the same time. In Le Livre Magique, drawings in a giant book become costumed characters.

Méliès also recorded on film his caricatures of Adolphe Thiers, Chamberlain, Queen Victoria, and Bismark, and most likely those early films were what inspired Blackton.

A good source on this topic is the book: Before Mickey: The Animated Film, 1898-1928
Previously on GurneyJourney:


S. Stipick said...

I am sitting here watching this with my nine year old daughter who felt the need to tell me

"That's the worst CG 'Ive ever seen. Look, they just stop the camera and put a real person in place of the drawing. See that! Right there..."

How to explain, in an age of digital dependency, that CG had nothing to do with it. The concept is as foreign as Mars.

It reminds me of a trip to the Watlers Museum in Baltimore. There is a lovely allegorical painting with a dove flying over a crowd projecting the word of god, it's on the wall adjacent to the Raphael's Madonna on the Candelabra. To a child it looks as if the dove is flying over shooting destructive laser beams out of it's eyes. Which during the time of the painting's creation was beyond imagination, but today is very real.

Fun stuff!

James Gurney said...

Shaun, that's a fascinating comment. I guess we can't be surprised that kids see things in terms of their experience, and her world has always been CG. It sounds to me like your daughter is very sophisticated. Not only did she figure out the technique, but she's conscious of bad CG. I had no clue about how movie magic was created until my college years.

S. Stipick said...
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S. Stipick said...

Thank you for the compliment. There's no denying it, I am a doting and proud father through and through.

In this case though, she and many other children like her have something we both didn't have...DVD extras.

Being a visual person and to help illustrate my previous point,here is a similar painting (but not the one I described) that hangs in the same gallery at the Walters.

See... laser beams! Why not? In many cases, to those unschooled in art history and allegorical meaning (how much of the population is that I wonder?), the thought (especially to a child) that the dove is firing a specific and focused light wave, is probably a more apt description given that lasers are such huge part of our lives. In this case, not only has the meaning been lost to the masses, but stands to be completely reinterpreted into something more accessible in our day to day lives.

I would have liked to have sat in on the first screening of "Gertie the Dinosaur" or "Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat". I imagine it as an absolutely overwhelming experience. Something so new, groundbreaking, indescribable, and what a bombardment to the senses it must have been.

Katharine said...

This is a great old art, but not lost. There was an act on "America's Got Talent" season 7 called "David Garibaldi and his CMYKs". They did a modern version of this very thing, I really enjoyed them. Here's a link: