One of the first stars of animation, created by comic strip artist Winsor McCay.
Gertie was not McCay's first attempt at animation, although it may be his best known one.
In 1910, he brought his own comic strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland, to life with 4000 drawings. He uses the animated film in his vaudeville act. (McCay would often play vaudeville houses with a "chalk talk" act-- He was a quick sketch artist). He did a second film, The Story of a Mosquito, which also played in the new movie houses.
In 1913, McCay began work on his dinosaur animation. He used the erroneous brontosaurus display at the American Museum of Natural History as a model. It took him 2 years to ink the 10,000 drawings on rice paper needed for the piece. McCay got his neighbor, John A. Fitzsimmons, to trace the backgrounds onto rice paper (Transparent cels were not in use yet, so each background was hand drawn). The drawings were mounted on cardboard for registration.
Gertie debuted in Februrary 1914 in Chicago. MCay stands onstage with a whip. The film, as it begins, shows only the background. McCay introduced his creation, Gertie, with a crack of the whip, who then walked out into the foreground of the screen (McCay made the screen large enough to make the brontosaurus life size). She eats a rock and a tree, and bows to the audience. McCay requests that she raise her right foot, which she does. At one point she snaps at McCay, who scolds her, and she cries. To reconcile with her, he takes a real apple, tosses it to her, and she catches it and eats it. She looks at a sea serpent, is supposed to raise her left foot, is called a "bad girl," eats a pumpkin, finally raises the left foot, and eats a stump. Jumbo, a small wooly mammoth meanders by; Gertie flings him into the lake, gets sprayed when he returns with a trunk full of water, and rests on her side. A four-winged lizard passes overhead. Gertie drinks the lake. For a finale, McCay walks into the frame, into Gertie's mouth and then onto her back, and they walk off camera. In 1914, animation was still new, and the illusion brought down the house (McCay, of course, like the apple, merely disappeared behind the screen just as an animated version of him appeared on).
McCay's act was so popular it threatened to take him away from his work on Nemo for the Hearst newspapers. McCay managed to turn the act into a stand alond one reel film. He added a live action prologue and epilogue, featuring "the making of Gertie." McCay and cartoonist George McManus are shown at the American Natural History Museum observing the fossil brontosaurus, and McManus bets McCay he can't bring a dinosaur to life. McCay takes the challenge, and we see him drawing Gertie. Then we see his act, his spoken lines replaced with intertitles, and the epilogue has him winning his bet. In November 1914, it was released to theaters through Vitagraph.
McCay created a sequel in 1917, entitled Gertie on Tour.
Sources: Summer, Edward. "Gertie the Dinosaur." The Dinosaur Interplanetary Gazette. <http://www.dinosaur.org/Gertie.htm> (1 December 2000)
Van Eaton Gallery Web Site. <http://www.vegalleries.com/gerthistory.html> (1 December 2000)