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Culture Re-View: The first ever fully animated cartoon film makes it debut

Fantasmagorie, by Émile Cohl
Fantasmagorie, by Émile Cohl Copyright Émile Cohl
Copyright Émile Cohl
By Jonny Walfisz
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17 August 1908: The world’s first animated cartoon film makes its debut


On a summer evening in a Paris cinema just eight years after the turn of the 20th century, the very first animated cartoon was shown to the public.

The film was Émile Cohl’s Fantasmagorie, a 1 minute and 45 second short that starts with a pair of human hands drawing a stick figure man. The stick figure drawing then comes to life and goes to a cinema, meets a clown and an elephant.

Cohl was inspired by the stop-motion techniques that had been displayed in British-American filmmaker J. Stuart Blackton’s 1900 film The Enchanted Drawing and 1906 film Humorous Phases of Funny Faces. Both utilised an early form of animation, using stop-motion techniques to place sequential hand-drawn images together to create the short films.

Émile Cohl in 1910Anon

While Blackton’s films are considered the films with animation as a feature, Cohl’s film was the first to make an entire film from traditional animation techniques.

Painstakingly drawing each frame of the film on a blackboard, Cohl created his story in the style that would dominate the animation field until the rise in computer-led animation decades later.

To create Fantasmagorie, Cohl drew 700 frames. The result is an incredibly exciting piece to watch even today. No single image stays around long as the characters enter, change form and shape, and manipulate the environment.

It may be short, but Cohl’s film is a mighty short silent wonder to behold.

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