Tuesday, December 16, 2014

When it Rains, it Purrs...

Last week, the skies grew dark and something fell, then a lot more of it fell and soon everything was getting wet. It rained, which is far and few between for us here in California. And with this change in the weather, several opportunities made themselves known to our cause. 

For one, ToonBoom Animation, makers of various 2D software like Animate Pro, Storyboard Pro and Harmony, promoted WatchCat on their Facebook page! We used ToonBoom Studio for Episode One and hope to try out Animate Pro for our next episode.

We also added our WatchCat Films channel to YouTube and below is our Holiday greeting promoting WatchCat Episode 2 in 2015.

Interest has been growing and we are asking everyone to subscribe to our YouTube channel to show your support. 

But until then,

The name Felix is from Latin meaning (happy, lucky) and was a very popular name back in 1900. It was also the name of a very famous black and white cartoon cat who had a bag full of tricks who's image is still known today.

 Felix the Cat

His origin begins with an Australian, newspaper cartoonist named Pat Sullivan who worked as assistant to newspaper cartoonist William Marriner, and drew four strips of his own. When Marriner died in 1914, Sullivan joined the new animated cartoon studio set up by Raoul Barre. In 1916 William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper giant, set up a studio to produce animated cartoons based on his paper's strips and hired Barre's best animators. 
There is some dispute if Felix was created by Sullivan or his top animator Otto Messmer. However Messmer is claimed to animated, the (unnamed) cat's first two cartoons which were the five-minute Feline Follies (1919) and Musical Mews (1919).  

Here is Felix's cartoon beginnings as Master Tom in the silent cartoon, Feline Follies.

Anything can happen in animation, the cat can remove his tail using it for a prop or as a way to tell the audience what he is thinking. Before animated films, there were newspaper comics and without sound, a lot of the jokes were written out to let the audience know what was going on. The first few cartoons. MasterTom looked more like a dog or rat with little pointy ears, but his look slowly evolved over time.By the third cartoon, Master Tom was renamed Felix.

Paramount Pictures distributed the first 25 Felix the Cat cartoons to theaters from 1919 to 1921. Here is the first cartoon where we found out the name of this cartoon cat in Felix saves the Day (1922). It contains stock footage, which reminds me of Chicago, however the live action was filmed at New York's Polo Grounds. This also has some stereotyping of African Americans. You can also see how Felix's design is slowly changing.

Margaret J. Winkler was the first woman to help produce and distribute animated films for Max and Dave Fleischer, Pat Sullivan, Otto Messmer, and Walt Disney. 

In 1922, Winkler signed a contract with Pat Sullivan Productions to produce Felix the Cat cartoons. This act cemented her reputation as the top distributor in the cartoon world and distributed 64 Felix cartoons from 1922 to 1925.  

Winkler was open to viewing a pilot reel submitted by then neophyte animator Walt Disney, called "Alice's Wonderland", which was the first entry in the "Alice Comedies" series. Winkler was intrigued with the idea of a live-action girl in a cartoon world. Disney formed a new studio, Disney Brothers, which was the first cartoon studio in Hollywood and soon to change its name to The Walt Disney Company on October 16, 1923. 

Disney was helped by Winkler, who insisted on editing all of the "Alice Comedies" episodes herself. One of her suggestions was the addition of a suspiciously Felix-like character called Julius. This was apparently the "straw that broke the camel's back" for Sullivan, who signed with rival distributor E. W. Hammons of Educational Pictures in 1925.

Luck was on Felix's side as well as Pat Sullivan and Educational Pictures became the series largest distributor yielding 78 cartoons from 1925 to 1928. Felix was becoming the first animated star who had merchandise before Mickey Mouse. Here's Felix in another silent cartoon called Two-Lip Time from 1926, stereotyping the Dutch this time.

The Sound Era had begun and soon Felix changed distributors again to Copley Pictures where old cartoons were given sound, but sound synchronization still wasn't perfect. Two Lip Time was one of the silent films that was later given a sound track. Copley was the distibutor from 1929 to 1930

Felix on Television
Philo Farnsworth 

In 1927, Philo Farnsworth was the first inventor to transmit a television image comprised of 60 horizontal lines. RCA  and Farnsworth fought over the patient rights, eventually pioneering his invention and in 1929, NBC would broadcast a 13" paper mache Felix doll rotating on a turntable. For two hours every day, the same non-animated cartoon character, simply spun around and around. The broadcast image was a mere 2 inches tall and compiled of a paltry 60-line screen picture. Felix the Cat was the early broadcast image best remembered, most likely due to RCA's publicity machine, thus, becoming television's first true icon. 

Here you can see 4 lights which surround the camera lense area which recorded Felix on a turntable.
That same year, Felix the cat became the first giant balloon ever made for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
The last Felix the Cat cartoon, The Last Life (1928), was due to the advent of the talkies and the success of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse. Messmer continued with his comic strip (begun in 1923) until 1966.

Felix the Cat sound cartoons weren't very successful and Pat Sullivan died in 1933. Felix saw a brief three cartoon resurrection in 1936 by the Van Beuren Studios. Felix cartoons began airing on American TV in 1953. Joe Oriolo introduced a redesigned, "long-legged" Felix, added new characters, and gave Felix a "Magic Bag of Tricks" that could assume an infinite variety of shapes at Felix's behest. The cat has since starred in other television programs and in two feature films. 

In 2010, Felix is featured on a variety of merchandise from clothing to toys. Oriolo's son, Don Oriolo, later assumed creative control of Felix. Others say, Felix got out of the cartoon business and decided to sell cars instead. One thing is for certain, in 2014 Dreamworks Animation acquired the rights to Felix the Cat and currently owns the character.


Felix the Cat is only one of many cartoon cats we will explore in the coming months, that is, when we're not telling you more about WatchCat Episode 2.

Happy Holidays and we hope to hear from you in the new year.