Émile Cohl, born Émile Eugène Jean Louis Courtet, was a French caricaturist of the largely forgotten Incoherent Movement, cartoonist, and animator.
Cohl was called “the Father of the Animated Cartoon” after his first animated film the 1908 Fantasmagorie using what came to be known as traditional animation creation methods.
When Cohl was 21 he obtained a letter of recommendation from Étienne Carjat to approach André Gill for a job.
Thorugh Gill, Cohl had become acquainted with an artistic circle calling themselves the Hydropathes.
In 1907, Cohl had become aware of motion pictures and how he entered the business is shrouded in legend.
Cohl was walking down the street when he saw a poster advertising a movie stolen from one of his strips. He went to the Gaumont studio and confronted the manager, at the same moment he was hired as a scenarist.
At Gaumont, Cohl worked with other directors whenever possible, learning cinematography.
However, Cohl specialty was animation. He was working with a vertical mounted camera and a single assistant to operate it. He was inspired by the film “The Haunted Hotel”, released by Vitagraph and directed by J. Stuart Blackton.
Considered the first fully animated film ever made, Fantasmagorie was made from February to May or June in 1908. Cohl made up the animation of 700 drawings, each of which was double-exposed, leading to a running time of almost two minutes. The piece was defined as a stream of consciousness style.
Fantasmagorie was released in 1908 along with two more films “ The Puppet’s Nightmare” and “A Puppet Drama”. These three animations are united by their chalk-line style, the constant transformations, and the stick-figure clown character. Cohl made up the plots of these films while he was filming them.
During his life, Cohl made a lot of films and his last was “Puppet Looks for an Apartment”.
In 1931, when his peer George Méliès was awarded the Legion of Honor medal, little attention was given to Cohl’s pioneering work in animated film.
At the age of 80, Cohl burned his face when a candle on his desk set fire to his beard.
The day before he died, a young journalist René Jeanne organized a benefit screening of Cohl’s work which played at the Champs-Elysées Cinema.
Cohl’s ashes are kept in the columbarium of the Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
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