Few silent cartoons were ever made due to the expense involved. At first glance, one might not realize how expensive it was to produce cartoons. However, back in the early twentieth century, artists needed to draw twenty-four separate cartoons for an individual second of airing time. This took time and money.
Stop-frame cinematography was used to film individual frames or drawings that differed only slightly from each other. Then, to give the illusion of movement, the frames would be projected in rapid succession. Two-dimensional art gave the appearance of motion and suddenly became alive.
Later, when transparencies, known as cels, were made available, the cost decreased considerably. A transparent celluloid, or cel, would be placed upon an existing drawing. The artist would redraw only the part of the cartoon that needed to change for the animation. However, even though legal difficulties disrupted the availability of this invention and production of silent cartoons remained slow, most silent cartoons were produced between 1914 and 1920.
The precursors of the silent cartoons were the newspaper comic strips of the late nineteenth century. Between the years, 1900 and 1921, social attitudes were reflected in silent cartoons. In particular, the silent cartoons from 1914 to 1921 reflected World War I social attitudes and life styles. Current viewers of such classics may have difficulty understanding exactly why they were considered comical.
Earliest animated films had flickering due to the difficulty of handling a camera to shoot one frame at a time through cranking. New York City was home to the film industry at this time. The first silent cartoon, or short, animated film, was “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces” produced in 1906.
It wasn’t until the time of sound and color capabilities that cartoons began to be drawn in earnest. It was at this time that storyboards, small drawings of individual pictures, were also created. This allowed cartoons to be drawn at a much faster cheaper cost.
Silent cartoons, precursors to today’s animated films, began as an expensive venture. Yet they remain a treasured part of the history of cinematography. Although the production of silent cartoons led a brief life, their legacy remains.