Celluloid Beginnings...and Endings
In July 1914, animator John Bray began applying gray shades to his drawings to eliminate the reoccurring flicker from using all-white paper backgrounds. This use of shades marked the first introduction of celluloid to animation, but at the same time, a young animator from Kansas City developed a more direct and game-changing application of celluloid to animation.
Earl Hurd, a young animator and mechanical inventor, quickly applied for a patent in 1914. The illusion of movement was achieved via Hurd's process: "by drawing upon a series of transparent sheets. In my process a single background is used for the entire series of pictures necessary to portray one scene...I prefer to paint the figures of the background on strong blacks and whites upon a medium dark gray paper, and when the transparent sheet carrying the movable objects is placed over this gray tone of the background, the objects on the transparent sheet appear to stand out in relief, giving what may be termed a 'poster effect.'"
As early animator Dick Huemer noted of Earl Hurd, "The whole idea of using cels was his, instead of doing it the way McCay did with everything on paper and traced." Later in 1914, Earl Hurd and John Bray united their claims with patented designs, forming the Bray-Hurd Processing Company to collect royalties on their patented method. The Bray-Hurd method revolutionized the animation industry and quickly became the standard approach to a burgeoning animation industry.
While initially profitable for over a decade, over time, the approach became standardized and as the industry grew, animation houses refused to pay and royalties were soon phased out. An early comic strip artist, Hurd's studio produced his creation, the "Bobby Bumps" animated shorts. Deemed the greatest animator of his time, after the closure of his studio, Earl Hurd later animated at Ub Iwerks studio before making his way to Disney studios. A talented storyboard artist, Hurd's contributions can be seen in such classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia and various shorts while at Disney.
Sadly, in the Fall of 1940, Earl Hurd, the man who revolutionized animation by creating the celluloid process, passed unexpectedly. Fittingly, his fellow workers dedicated a plaque to Hurd in the Studio's newly built theater: "to serve as inspiration from a man who devoted his whole life to the industry." The only honor of its kind, this plaque remains in the Studio Theater to this day.