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Sunday, May 02, 2010

Heinrich Kley

When I first moved out to California several years ago, I thought I knew a lot about the artists that influenced animation. I figured that it all started with Windsor McCay and his Gertie the Dinosaur.

One of the first things I learned was that I hadn't even scratched the surface.

I went to the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive and was introduced to the work of an artist who has left me in awe ever since. His name is Heinrich Kley and he was an illustrator/painter for the German magazines Judges and Simplizissimus during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Before I heard of him, when I thought of 1800s art, this was generally the image that came to mind:
Which, don't get me wrong, its solid. But for the most part, it's static and boring. The story says: "Abe Lincoln likes to sit and when he does, he sits at this chair in this arbitrary corner." In fact, I'm not even sure he likes to sit. His expression doesn't really look like one of joy or even contentment. Not much of a story there. But still solidly drawn.

After seeing what Kley brought to the table, I was floored at what I was missing. His drawings ooze with story and character, moreso than really anything I have seen people produce since.

I went to several libraries around town to check out both of his sketchbooks to study his drawings as closely as I could. Just yesterday, I found one of his books in a great used book store in Glendale. I wanted to post up some of his artwork so that if you haven't seen it yet, you can see what a great artist he was.

Try and conceive of something like this, even with all of the reference resources we have available now through the internet:

And he did this all from observation and memory. Unbelievable. There are 2 different sketchbooks (1 and 2) out there for anyone who is interested in seeing more. There are some pictures online but if I learned anything from ASIFA and Steve Worth, it's to "Touch Art." There is nothing like breathing on an original in order to study it closer. If you don't have access to and original (like the rest of us) either buy or check out the books and see for yourself what an amazing talent this guy was. (An added bonus is to then watch the original Fantasia and see for yourself what an influence he was on those guys...)

If you are interested in stuff like this, be sure to check out an upcoming ASIFA-Hollywood Podcast where we talk to Steve Worth about some of the unknown origins of animation and how those people can influence what we produce today. We hope to do a podcast in the future specifically about Heinrich Kley also (I know I am looking forward to that one).

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