How The 1940s Superman Cartoon Changed Eveything

How the 1940s Superman Cartoon Changed Eveything

The Superman cartoons from the 1940s were animated with a beauty and fluidity not seen before, but they were also hugely influential outside the world of animation.

In order to achieve realistic movement, the series' animator Max Fleischer — who also created Popeye and Betty Boop — used a technique he invented called rotoscoping. The process involved animating on top of film footage, and has been used since in everything from Star Wars to Waking Life. This was largely possible thanks to the ludicrously high budget he and his studio requested from Paramount (about $US1.6 ($2) million per 10 minute short, adjusted for inflation). But just look at how life-like the results are. Don't feel weird about watching it — the episodes are all public domain.

Monsters in the series, like a gigantic, city-destroying lizard, went on to influence works like Godzilla, and the looming, art deco style of Metropolis would predict the coming trend of film noir and influence the aesthetic of the much beloved Batman: The Animated Series.

The cartoon was also the first that gave Superman the power to fly. Previously he had only been able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

As kaptainkristian points out, not only is Superman a towering achievement of Golden Age animation, but it also teaches an important lesson that too few works have learned from since: origin stories are boooooooooooring.


Comments

    The crazy thing about Fleischer cartoons is many will have actually seen them but not know it as (long, sad story short) Fleischer and his brother had a falling, lost the studio they had and now when the cartoons are shown (either though public domain sourced DVDs or otherwise), the copyright to Fleischer is blacked out of the title card or said card zoomed in so it cannot be seen.

    See case in point, Popeye and the Magic lamp. The version I have on a VHS tape (which I converted to DVD) has the black bar hiding Fleischer's copyright.

    Last edited 30/03/16 7:20 am

    How crazy - I watched this very episode on youtube with my 3 year old this morning - and was thinking to myself how amazing this would have been (in "Technicolour"!!) back when it was made.

    They also featured an amazing link between animation and soundtrack - in particular what part where Superman is hitting back at the ray of energy.

    i just remembered i still have this on VHS. the thing i find awesome is that animation quality and art work is better then a lot of stuff released today. sure the sounds needs work, and its a bit fuzzy, but the actual art work and effects are great.

    I believe I have all the episodes on the Blu Ray box set of Superman series from a few years back.

    My dad introduced me to these cartoons when I was growing up, and it's why I loved the Batman Animated Series so much. Similar style with the feeing you're watching a mini movie every episode.

    I remember having a VHS of these at my grandparents, they must of been sick of it given how many times I would of watched these super short episodes!

    While I know Wikipedia isn't the most reliable source, it claims that each short cost $50,000, not 1.6 million!

      The $1.6 million figure was "adjusted for inflation".

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