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Animation as the Performance of Labor

by Nicholas Sammond

From its very beginnings, American commercial animation has foregrounded its labor practices. Rather than hiding the labor that go into their products, animation studios celebrate that work. But they celebrate it in a very specific way. During the Golden Age of animation, that performance usually occurred in a studio's public relations. But in animation's earliest days, that performance actually occurred on the vaudeville stage, or (as in this case) in filmed prologues and epilogues that linked the animator's work to...his or her work. In this instance, Winsor McCay has converted the lightning sketch act through which he presented Little Nemo (1911) onstage into a narrative that weaves in and around the animation itself. Having done the intense labor of animation, he now performs it for the camera. Note the vaudevillian staging conventions.

 

Winsor McCay's Little Nemo

Winsor McCay's 1911 film of his stage show.

from Little Nemo/Watch Me Move (1911)
Creator: Winsor McCay
Distributor: Vitagraph
Posted by Nicholas Sammond
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