On May 19, the Academy Theater in New York City was filled with animation enthusiasts for The History of Silent and Early Sound New York Animation screening, presented by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
This evening was part of An Animation Showcase: From Celluloid to CGI and was hosted by Tommy Stathes, film archivist, historian, and collector, and J.J. Sedelmaier, author, illustrator, and animator, responsible for MTV’s Beavis and Butthead and Saturday Night Live’s Saturday TV Funhouse. The event began with Sedelmaier talking about animation’s origins in New York City, saying, “New York is indeed the capital of where animation started.” He discussed that the evening’s cartoons were new prints from the original negatives and that all the silent animated films were in their original forms before inviting Stathes on stage.
Before introducing the first reel, they talked briefly about how the earliest silents were Vaudevillian “chalk talks” — drawings, in chalk that were changed quickly without any skip in the action. The first reel presented cartoons from the early 1900s, and was still very entertaining to a modern audience. They were silent, accompanied by live jazz piano. Before moving onto the second reel, they chatted again about the evolution of animation and the introduction of celluloid sheets, which allowed the animators to draw one standard background, instead of constantly redrawing the background as the action progressed. Reel number two consisted of cartoons that were formatted for television, featuring background music and narration. The third and final reel showcased some of the first sound cartoons, featuring iconic and beloved characters like Felix the Cat and Steamboat Willie. The animation showcase was a fun, educational evening, chronicling the developing style of early animation and giving perspective on how animation has changed since its creation 100 years ago.