Watch Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, the First Animated Movie (1906)

August and Louis Lumière might have made the first film – a sim­ple, sta­t­ic shot of work­ers leav­ing their fac­to­ry for the day – but George Méliès invent­ed the art form of cin­e­ma. Through his exper­i­ments, Méliès dis­cov­ered that mag­ic hap­pened when he turned the cam­era off and on. Peo­ple sud­den­ly dis­ap­peared into thin air. Objects appeared out of nowhere. A famed magi­cian, Méliès knew he was on to some­thing. His dis­cov­ery plant­ed the seeds for just about every cin­e­mat­ic tech­nique in the book — includ­ing ani­ma­tion. You can watch six of Méliès’ films here, includ­ing his land­mark 1902 short A Trip to the Moon.

The per­son cred­it­ed with mak­ing the first film-based ani­ma­tion, how­ev­er, is James Stu­art Black­ton with his film Humor­ous Phas­es of Fun­ny Faces (1906). You can watch it above. The short starts with the artist’s hand draw­ing on a chalk­board. Soon, how­ev­er, the draw­ing starts to move on its own. The film is as prim­i­tive as it is fun. A man in a top hat blows cig­ar smoke into a woman’s face. A clown dances. Imag­ine the shock and awe of an audi­ence not weaned on Pixar and Mick­ey Mouse watch­ing a pic­ture come to life for the first time.

Black­ton start­ed his career as a jour­nal­ist and a vaude­ville car­toon­ist. In 1896, he was assigned to cov­er Thomas Edi­son’s brand new inven­tion – the Vitas­cope, an ear­ly film pro­jec­tor. Edi­son proved to be such a good sales­man that Black­ton end­ed up buy­ing one. Soon he, along with his vaude­ville part­ner Albert Smith, found­ed one of the first ever movie stu­dios — the Amer­i­can Vita­graph Com­pa­ny. The com­pa­ny even­tu­al­ly became known for cre­at­ing some of the first movie adap­ta­tions of Shake­speare and Charles Dick­ens, but before that, they made short “trick” movies — flashy shorts to be shown dur­ing vaude­ville shows. One of those movies, The Enchant­ed Draw­ing (1900) is essen­tial­ly a filmic ver­sion of Blackton’s act with some cin­e­mat­ic sleight-of-hand thrown in. And as you can see below, it points the way to Black­ton’s break­through with Humor­ous Phas­es.

In 1911, Black­ton, along with his co-direc­tor, the spec­tac­u­lar­ly tal­ent­ed Win­sor McCay, made Lit­tle Nemo, a movie that hints at the true poten­tial of ani­ma­tion. Sure, their movie has way too much half-heart­ed live action slap stick, which pads out the run­ning time to an over-stuffed 10 min­utes, but the actu­al ani­ma­tion, which starts around 8:30, is utter­ly gor­geous. Watch it below.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Ger­tie the Dinosaur: The Moth­er of all Car­toon Char­ac­ters

Vis­it the World of Lit­tle Nemo Artist Win­sor McCay: Three Clas­sic Ani­ma­tions and a Google Doo­dle

Ear­ly Exper­i­ments in Col­or Film (1895–1935)

How Walt Dis­ney Car­toons are Made

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing one new draw­ing of a vice pres­i­dent with an octo­pus on his head dai­ly. 


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