Animation Pioneer. He was the world's first filmaker to devote himself exclusively to animation. In 1908 he amazed Paris movie audiences with his first film, "Fantasmogorie," in which white stick figures cavorted against a black background. He went on to create some 100 brief cartoons, drawing and photographing each frame himself. Cohl introduced the first regular cartoon character, "Fantoche," a little puppet who appeared in several of his films, and the first cartoon series, "The Newlyweds and Their Baby" (1912 to 1913). He also developed an animation trick he called "metamorphosis", achieved through skillful use of line, in which a character or object seamlessly transforms into another. (Now known as "morphing," Cohl's idea is a staple effect of computer-generated imagery, in both animated and live-action films). Though rudimentary, Cohl's surviving work still has the power to charm and amuse. Among his other films are "The Puppet's Nightmare" (1908), "The Moon-Struck Matador" (1909), "The Wonderful Adventures of Herr Munchausen" (1910), and "The Museum of Grotesques" (1911). Cohl was born Emile Courtet in Paris. He was a political cartoonist for French newspapers before joining the Gaumont studio as a writer in 1905. From 1912 to 1914 he worked at the Eclair studio in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The sensational appearance of Winsor McCay's cartoon "Gertie the Dinosaur" (1914) stole much of Cohl's thunder and he returned to France, only to find himself unable to adapt to new animation trends. He left films in 1921 and was soon completely forgotten. His death at 81 resulted from a freak accident. Living in abject poverty, in a slum room without heat or electricity, Cohl was trying to warm himself with a candle when his long white beard caught fire. Horribly burned, he died of pneumonia and other complications in a hospital charity ward. Reflecting on the sad fate of film pioneers like Cohl, historian David Robinson mused, "The Cinema has never been a grateful child." Most of Cohl's films are considered lost. Today an Emile Cohl Prize is awarded annually in France for excellence in animation.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards