The Sinking of the Lusitania
|The Sinking of the Lusitania|
An original cel from The Sinking of the Lusitania, signed by Winsor McCay
|Directed by||Winsor McCay|
|Produced by||Winsor McCay|
|Written by||Winsor McCay|
|Release date(s)||July 20, 1918|
|Running time||12 minutes|
|Language||Silent with English intertitles|
In 1915, a German a U-boat torpedoed and sank the RMS Lusitania; 128 Americans were among the roughly 1,200 dead. The event outraged McCay, but his employer William Randolph Hearst's newspapers downplayed the tragedy, as Hearst was opposed to the U.S. joining in World War I, and he was made to illustrate anti-war and anti-British editorial cartoons for Hearst's papers. In 1916, McCay rebelled against his employer's stance and began to make the patriotic Sinking of the Lusitania in his own time.
The film followed McCay's earlier successes in animation, Little Nemo (1911), How a Mosquito Operates (1912), and Gertie the Dinosaur (1914). These films were drawn on rice paper, onto which backgrounds tediously had to be traced; The Sinking of the Lusitania was the first film McCay made using cel technology. McCay and his assistants spent two years making 25,000 drawings for the 12-minute short.
The film opens with a live-action prologue, with intertitles that boast of McCay as "the originator and inventor of Animated Cartoons", and of the 25,000 drawings needed to complete the film. McCay is shown working with a group of anonymous assistants on "the first record of the sinking of the Lusitania".
The Lusitania leaves New York harbor, passing the Statue of Liberty. After some time, a German submarine is shown cutting through the waters. A torpedo is fired, and hits the liner, which billows smoke that builds until it envelops the entire screen. Passengers scramble to lower lifeboats, some of which capsize in the confusion. The liner tilts from one side to the other, with passengers tossed into the ocean.
A second blast rocks the liner, which sinks slowly into the deep as more passengers fall off its edges. After the Lusitania vanishes from sight, an intertitle declares: "The man who fired the shots was decorated by the Kaiser. And they tell us not to hate the Hun."
Winsor McCay (c. 1869–1934) developed his prodigiously detailed and accurate drawing skills early in life. He earned a living as a young man drawing portraits and posters in dime museums, and attracted large crowds with his ability to draw quickly in public. He began working as a newspaper illustrator full-time in 1898, and in 1903 began drawing comic strips. His greatest comic strip success was the children's fantasy comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, which he began in 1905. In 1906, McCay began performing on the vaudeville circuit, doing chalk talks—performances during which he drew in front of a live audience.
Inspired by the flip books his son brought home, McCay "came to see the possibility of making moving pictures" of his cartoons. His first animated film, Little Nemo (1911), was composed of four thousand drawings on rice paper. His next film, How a Mosquito Operates (1912), naturalistically showed a giant mosquito draw blood from a sleeping man until it burst. McCay followed this with a film that became an interactive part of his vaudeville shows—in Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), McCay commanded his animated dinosaur with a whip.
On May 7, 1915, a German submarine torpedoed the RMS Lusitania. 128 Americans were among the 1,200 who lost their lives. McCay's employer William Randolph Hearst's newspapers downplayed the tragedy, as Hearst was opposed to the U.S. joining in World War I. His own papers' audience was increasingly pro-war in the aftermath of the Lusitania. McCay was as well, but was made to illustrate anti-war and anti-British editorial cartoons by Hearst editor Arthur Brisbane. In 1916, McCay rebelled against his employer's stance and decided to make the patriotic Sinking of the Lusitania in his own time.
McCay said that he gathered background details on the Lusitania from Hearst's Berlin correspondent August F. Beach, who was in London at the time of the disaster and was the first newsman at the scene.
Production history 
Lusitania took nearly two years to complete. McCay had assistance from artist neighbor John Fitzsimmons and Cincinnati cartoonist William Apthorp "Ap" Adams. McCay did newspaper illustrations during the day for William Randolph Hearst, and spent his off hours drawing the film on sheets of cellulose acetate (or "cels") with white and black India ink at McCay's home. The cels were taken to the Vitagraph studios to be photographed.
As with all his films, McCay financed it himself. It was the first film in which he drew on sheets of clear cellulose acetate. The cels were an added expense, but the technique allowed for a static background to be placed behind the cels, which reduced the amount of drawing necessary. This saved great amounts of effort in contrast to McCay's earlier efforts, in which the backgrounds had to be painstakingly retraced onto each of thousands of drawings. Registration was kept consistent by having holes punched into the cels which matched pegs under the animation camera.
The cels used were thicker than those that would later become industry standard, and held pencil lines, wash, and crayon, as well as ink lines. The amount of rendering caused the cels to buckle, which made it difficult for the camera to shoot them. Fitzsimmons developed a technique using a loose-leaf binder with a hole punched in the middle, which kept the cels firmly in place for tracing and shooting.
McCay said it took him about eight weeks to produce eight seconds worth of film which took an hour to photograph. The completed film took 25,000 drawings. It was registered for copyright on July 19, 1918, and first shown July 20. After a few years in theaters, Lusitania brought McCay about $80,000.
McCay's biographer, animator John Canemaker, called The Sinking of the Lustania "a monumental work in the history of the animated film". Though admired by his animation contemporaries, it was technically ahead of its time, and "did not revolutionize the [animation] medium". It was not until Disney's feature films in the 1930s that the animation industry caught up with McCay's level of technique.
See also 
- Canemaker 2005, p. 195.
- Canemaker 2005, p. 196.
- Canemaker 2005, pp. 23–24.
- Canemaker 2005, pp. 38, 40, 43–44.
- Canemaker 2005, p. 47.
- Canemaker 2005, p. 60.
- Harvey 1994, p. 21; Hubbard 2012; Sabin 1993, p. 134; Dover editors 1973, p. vii; Canwell 2009, p. 19.
- Canemaker 2005, p. 97.
- Canemaker 2005, pp. 131–132.
- Beckerman 2003; Canemaker 2005, p. 157.
- Canemaker 2005, p. 157.
- Canemaker 2005, p. 160.
- Berenbaum 2009, p. 138; Telotte 2010, p. 54.
- Canemaker 2005, p. 175.
- Canemaker 2005, p. 186.
- Canemaker 2005, pp. 207, 209.
- Canemaker 2005, p. 193.
- Canemaker 2005, p. 188.
- Canemaker 2005, p. 197.
- Harvey 1994, p. 241.
Works cited 
- Beckerman, Howard (2003). Animation: The Whole Story. Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 978-1-58115-301-9.
- Berenbaum, May R. (2009). The Earwig's Tail: A Modern Bestiary of Multi-Legged Legends. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-03540-9.
- Canemaker, John (2005). Winsor McCay: His Life and Art (Revised ed.). Abrams Books. ISBN 978-0-8109-5941-5.
- Canwell, Bruce (2009). In Mullaney, Dean. Bringing Up Father: From Sea to Shining Sea the Cross-Country Tour of 1939-1940. IDW Publishing. ISBN 978-1-60010-508-1.
- Dover editors (1973). Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend. Dover Publications. ISBN 978-0-486-21347-7.
- Harvey, Robert C. (1994). The Art of the Funnies: An Aesthetic History. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-0-87805-612-5.
- Hubbard, Amy (2012-10-15). "Celebrating Little Nemo by Winsor McCay; his 'demons' made him do it". Los Angeles Times.
- Sabin, Roger (1993). Adult Comics: An Introduction. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-04419-6.
- Telotte, J. P. (2010). Animating Space: From Mickey to Wall-E. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-2586-2.
- The Sinking of the Lusitania (National Geographic DVD release) at the Internet Movie Database
- The Sinking of the Lusitania is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
- Eye Witness To History page concerning The Sinking of the Lusitania