Animation pioneer Max Fleischer, who brought Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, Koko the Clown, and Superman to the big screen, was born in Krakow, Poland on this date in 1883. He came to New York at age 4 and eventually married his childhood sweetheart. Trained as an illustrator at Cooper Union, he created the Rotoscope, a device that allows frames of live-action film to be traced and translated into animation. He and his brother Dave used the Rotoscope to make their first cartoon in 1914. (Richard Linklater would revive the Rotoscope to make his 2001 film, Waking Life.) The Fleischer Studios also introduced the “follow the bouncing ball” singalong and introduced many other innovative — and risqué — elements to their cartoons, with far more artistic khutspe than Walt Disney, their main competitor. They were the first studio to synchronize sound and animation, which they brought to tremendous heights, using jazz music and pulsating, dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish animation. They also produced two 20-minute educational features that combined live action and animation to explain Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. To watch Max Fleischer (and Koko) battling a fly, look below. To see his Einstein film, look below that. To see Betty Boop vamping for Halloween, look at the bottom.
“The ‘Out of the Inkwell’ series set the trend for Fleischer cartoons to come; they had a certain self-awareness about them, it was as if all participating (Koko included) knew that they were part of a cartoon and in turn they worked the medium accordingly. Fleischer was certainly not the first animator to mix the real world with the cartoon one, but he certainly did it like no other.” —Noell Wolfgram Evans, “The Technical Innovation of Max Fleischer”