J. R. Bray

Active - 1927  |   Born - Aug 25, 1879   |  

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The father of modern animation, artist John Randolph "J.R." Bray was born August 25, 1879. Beginning his career as a magazine artist, he first entered animation in 1910 with The Dachshund and the Sausage, the first cartoon ever to contain a structured narrative. Within four years, Bray had created a system whereby a single background image would be reprinted on hundreds of sheets of tracing paper, creating a series of translucent overlays which were then combined with animated characters to foster the appearance of a cohesive scene. He soon teamed with another cartoonist, Earl Hurd, who devised a similar technique utilizing transparent celluloid sheets, later inking his characters directly onto the celluloid. Bray took the process to the next level by introducing multiple layers of celluloid, each with a distinct element of the scene; the fusion of ideas ultimately simplified animation production to an unprecedented degree.

Quickly, the Bray-Hurd technique became the industry standard, the multi-layer concept later emerging as the paradigm for the use of optical-assembly special effects as well. Decades beyond their first introduction, the same techniques found their way into television production, and even many computer software programs operated under the same principles of overlapping action and independent movement of figures. The innovation was not to be Bray's last, however. By 1922, Bray Studios was at the vanguard of the modern assembly-line animation process, assigning tasks like painting and inking to separate art departments and introducing the common use of practices including camera dissolves between scenes, gray tones, title cards, and the integration of live-action footage; even the brand of surreal humor so long a staple of the more famous Warner Bros. studios evolved under Bray's guidance. He died in 1978.