One of the many first animations made in the early 1900s became majorly famous and notable for how technologically advanced it was for its time. Fantasmagorie is a French animated film by Émile Cohl. This animation was released around August of 1908. It is referred to as one of the first animated cartoons to exist. It is a French animated silent film that runs for one minute and twenty seconds.

The film presents a character that resembles a magician. His character design is very simple, resembling the amateur stick figure. Throughout the film, the character weaves through scenes transforming objects around him. A few comedic scenes also present themselves, such as one character sitting at the movie theaters, plucking feathers off a woman’s hat in order to see the screen in front of him. The animator’s hand comes into play with the animation, as he is seen assembling or disassembling the main character when he “falls apart” in the short film. Cohl animated this short film as a tribute to the Incoherent movement, an avant-garde art movement that occurred in France. This movement included themes of nonsensicality, and work was described as iconoclastic. Sketches, drawings of children, and amateur drawings made up some of the art works prevalent in this movement.

Woman with the feathered hat, and a grumpy customer at the theaters.

Cohl used a particular method for this animation, which attracted many people at its time. The animation was done traditionally, on paper. Cohl decided to shoot each frame on negative film, to give the animation the “chalkboard effect.” This effect was able to be conceptualized effectively with traditional tools. The chalk-line effect was borrowed from J. Stuart Blackton, and the stop trick effect was borrowed from Georges Méliès. The sto trick effect allows for an appearance or disappearace in a film by altering selected aspects between two shots while maintaining the same framing. It is usually seamless when used in film or animation.

The film remains one of the masterpieces in the genre of animated films. Cohl was able to conceptualize a whole other setting with the use of his imagination. He breaks the fourth wall in the film by integrating himself into the spastic nature of the animation. The animation encompasses kaleidoscopic visual transformations, which are playfully abstract for the viewer. Although mostly fantastical, there are bouts of reality depicted in the animation such as death being the main source of biolent imagery in this film. Its compelling nature is what kept this film to be significant in today’s discussions of animation history.

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