‘Gertie the Dinosaur,’ one of the earliest animations, turns 100

Cartoonist and animator Winsor McCay manages not to be eaten by his brontosaurus creation in "Gertie the Dinosaur." Credit: Provided
Cartoonist and animator Winsor McCay manages not to be eaten by his brontosaurus creation in “Gertie the Dinosaur.”
Credit: Provided

On February 8, 1914, the world was first introduced to “Gertie the Dinosaur,” a lovable if mildly mischievous brontosaurus created by cartoonist Winsor McCay. It is often called the first animated film. This is incorrect. In fact, McCay had previously done a film on his extremely popular “Little Nemo” comic strip in 1911, plus “How a Mosquito Operates” in 1912.

It is, however, the first animated dinosaur on film, and also the first to use such animation techniques as keyframes, tracing paper, registration marks and animation loops. The relative sophistication, coupled with the charm and wit, of the film have kept it in the public consciousness the last 100 years. And the film was a major inspiration on the likes of Walt Disney. (In case you’re wondering, the first fully animated film — that we know of, that is, as much of early cinema is lost — is J. Stuart Blackton’s “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces,” made in 1906.)

In addition to featuring one of the first — and one of the nicest — dinosaurs, “Gertie the Dinosaur” is also an early example of meta filmmaking. The twelve minutes is split between the main attraction and a lead-up, in which the real McCay — whose cartoons, including “Little Nemo” and “Dream of a Rarebit Fiend,” were popular enough that he could make himself an attraction — bets that he can bring a brontosaurus to life. Indeed he does, with Gertie parading out of her cave to perform tricks as though she were an elephant. She also picks on a poor wooly mammoth, drinks a lake whole and finally gives an animated McCay a ride without eating him.

Feel free to watch it below. If you absolutely must skip to Gertie herself, she scampers out into the frame around the seven minute mark.


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