Bray, J. R.

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Animator. Nationality: American. Born: Addison, Michigan, 25 August 1879. Career: 1906–10—newspaper cartoonist; 1914—set up the Bray Studio Inc. and drew the first Colonel Heezaliar cartoon; 1917—formed the Bray Hurd Process Company, which controlled licencing for cel animation; 1920—produced the first commercial colour animated film The Debut of Thomas Cat. Died: 1978.

Films as Animator (Selected List):


The Artist's Dream (The Dachshund and the Sausage)


Colonel Heezaliar, Naturalist; Colonel Heezaliar's African Hunt; Colonel Heezaliar, Shipwrecked; Colonel Heezaliar, Explorer; Colonel Heezaliar, Farmer; Colonel Heezaliar in Mexico; Colonel Heezaliar in the Wilderness; Colonel Heezaliar in Africa


Colonel Heezaliar and the Zeppelin; Colonel Heezaliar At the Bat; Colonel Heezaliar At the Front; Colonel Heezaliar— Ghost Breaker; The Adventures of Colonel Heezaliar— He's a Daredevil; Colonel Heezaliar and the Torpedo; Colonel Heezaliar, Dog Fancier; Colonel Heezaliar Foils the Enemy; Colonel Heezaliar in the Haunted Castle; Colonel Heezaliar in the Trenches; Colonel Heezaliar, War Aviator; Colonel Heezaliar, War Dog; Colonel Heezaliar Invents a New Kind of Shell; Colonel Heezaliar Runs the Blockade; Colonel Heezaliar Signs the Pledge; Ramiet and Julio; Rastus' Rabid Rabbit Hunt


Colonel Heezaliar and the Bandits; Colonel Heezaliar at the Vaudeville Show; Colonel Heezaliar Captures Villa; Colonel Heezaliar's Bachelor Quarters; Colonel Heezaliar on Strike; Colonel Heezaliar Plays Hamlet; Colonel Heezaliar Gets Married


Colonel Heezaliar, Detective; Colonel Heezaliar on the Jump; Colonel Heezaliar, Spy Dodger; Colonel Heezaliar, Temperance Advocate


The Best Mouse Loses; The Chinese Honeymoon; Family Affair; The Great Cheese Robbery; Happy Hooldini and Lampoons; His Last Legs; Jerry and the 5.15 Train; Kats Is Kats; Knock on the Window, the Door Is in a Jamb; The Debut of Thomas Cat


How I Became Krazy; Izzy Able the Detective; The Awful Spook; The Chicken Thief


Colonel Heezaliar's Mysterious Case; Colonel Heezaliar


Colonel Heezaliar, Nature Faker; Colonel Heezaliar's Ancestors; Colonel Heezaliar's Horseplay; Colonel Heezaliar's Knighthood; Colonel Heezaliar, Skypilot


The Adventures of Togo and Dinky; A Fitting Gift


Captain Kidd


On BRAY: articles—

Canemaker, Jon, "Profile of a Living Animation Legend: J.R. Bray," in Filmmaker's Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), vol. 8, no. 3, January 1975.

"Bray-Hurd: the key animation patents," in Film & History, no. 2, 1988.

Callahan, D., "Cel animation: mass production and marginalization in the animated film industry," in Film & History, no. 2, 1988.

Langer, Mark, "La parola a John Randolph Bray, pioniere dell'animazione," in Griffithiana (Baltimore), May 1995.

Langer, Mark, "The Reflections of John Randolph Bray," in Griffithiana (Baltimore), May 1995.

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Many media and artistic techniques can be used to create the illusion of movement in an animated film, like charcoal, paint on glass, computer graphics, or the manipulation of objects like clay, sand, or models with the use of frame-by-frame exposure by a camera. The most common method, however, is "cel" animation, a technique so popular it almost seems alone to define "animation" in the popular imagination. The control of its patent was wielded primarily by John Randolph Bray from 1917 onwards, although the use of "cels" or panes of celluloid on which images are painted was actually patented by Earl Hurd in 1915. Bray himself took over several crucial patents on the registration and use of translucent sheets for backgrounds in 1914, and in 1917, in order to avoid a costly legal battle with Hurd, they together formed the Bray Hurd Process Company, to which all animators had to apply for a license to use the cel technique. These technical accomplishments alone would be enough to ensure Bray's place in the history of film, but in addition, he was also responsible for drawing and producing the first commercially distributed animated cartoon (The Artist's Dream or The Dachshund and the Sausage) (1910), founding the first commercial animation studio organized along Taylorist principles of production, and producing the first colour cartoon (The Debut of Thomas Cat; 1920); he was, as Donald Crafton has appropriately called him, "the Henry Ford of Animation."

Like most of the animators of the silent period, Bray came to the medium from a background in newspaper cartoons, starting in 1906 with single panel cartoons for Judge, moving on to a full-page comic strip called "The Teddy Bears," a well-drawn if somewhat prosaic series based on the exploits of a group of magical stuffed toys. Inspired by Porter's film The "Teddy" Bears (1907) which used stop motion photography to animate real toys, Bray experimented with animating his own drawings of frolicsome furry animals, but abandoned the project eventually. His second attempt, The Artist's Dream, about a greedy Dachshund who explodes after overindulging in sausages, was more successful once Bray realized that time could be saved enormously by minimizing detail. This second film was made around 1910 or 1911, but not released until 1913. Unlike Winsor McCay's first two films, Little Nemo (1911) and The Story of a Mosquito (1912) (or all his films for that matter) which Bray had seen on the vaudeville stage and which were made by laboriously tracing over every single line frame-by-frame, Bray, inspired by his experience in journalism, printed his backgrounds and then experimented with using translucent pages that could be laid over the changing character drawings. He realized he could further save time by having a staff of artists each responsible for the different stages of the process, and in 1914 he formed Bray Studios, Incorporated and went into production of the Colonel Heezaliar series, based on a character part Teddy Roosevelt, part Baron Munchausen, featuring his fantastic exploits abroad. Only seven films in 1914, according to Crafton, were actually animated by Bray himself. After that he delegated the work to his staff, many of whom went on to be famous in the field, like Walter Lantz, Max and Dave Fleischer, Paul erry, Cy Young, and Shamus Culhane.

Culhane described Bray as "a sallow, lean man with a very military bearing. It was hard to believe he was ever a humorist." Indeed, once the theatrical cartoon department was established and running smoothly, Bray began to devote his energies to the production of animated military training and educational films, a specialized but lucrative market that he exploited in the best tradition of sound business management, with the help of his strong-willed wife Margaret, who was endowed with considerable business acumen in her own right. This part of the corporation has survived up to the present, run by Bray's descendants, while the theatrical cartoon department, depleted of talented staff and ideas, ran aground with the advent of sound cartoons.

Although it was the largest independent animation studio of the silent period, its output, though popular at the time, has not been canonized with the same reverence accorded now to the Felix the Cat series by Otto Messmer, or Fleischer's Out of the Inkwell series, lacking as it did in commensurate wit and invention. Nonetheless, the products of the Bray Studio helped to establish the place of the animated cartoon in the theatrical program, and the technique that he and Hurd patented remains an exceptional contribution to the art of animation. In his 90s, concerning cel animation, Bray remarked, "I'm very much pleased that they haven't been able to improve on the process. It's still the same old process that I invented." Although it does now seem that cel animation is gradually being assisted and replaced by more widely available computer technology, Bray's hierarchical model of production remains an industry standard, and his position as a key figure in animation and film history remains irrefutable.

—Leslie Felperin Sharman