Image source: Wikimedia Foundation (
Download Movie [Video Format: MP4]
Movie Source: Internet Archive (

The Sinking of the Lusitania


The Sinking of the Lusitania, released in 1918, is an animated short film by American artist Winsor McCay. It features a short 12 minute explanation of the sinking of RMS Lusitania after it was struck by two torpedoes fired from a German U-boat. The film was one of many animated silent films published to create anti-German sentiment during World War I. McCay illustrated some 25,000 drawings for the production. The film is stylized as a documentary, informing viewers on details from the actual event, including a moment by moment recap, casualty list, and a list of prominent figures who were killed.

The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918) is a silent film animated short film by American cartoonist and animator Winsor McCay. A work of propaganda, it is a re-creation of the never-photographed 1915 Sinking of the RMS Lusitania. At twelve minutes it has been called the longest work of animation at the time of its release. The film is the earliest animated documentary and serious, dramatic work of animation to survive.
In 1915, a U-boat torpedoed and sank the RMS Lusitania; 128 Americans were among the 1,198 dead. The event outraged McCay, but the newspapers of his employer William Randolph Hearst downplayed the tragedy, as Hearst was opposed to the American entry into World War I. McCay was required to illustrate anti-war and anti-British editorial cartoons for Hearst's papers. In 1916, McCay rebelled against his employer's stance and began to make the self-financed, patriotic Sinking of the Lusitania on his own time.
The film followed McCay's earlier successes in animation: Little Nemo (1911 film) (1911); How a Mosquito Operates (1912); and Gertie the Dinosaur (1914). The earlier films were drawn on rice paper, onto which backgrounds had to be laboriously traced; The Sinking of the Lusitania was the first film McCay made using the new, more efficient cel technology. McCay and his assistants spent twenty-two months making the film. His subsequent animation output suffered setbacks, as the film was not as commercially successful as his earlier efforts, and Hearst put increased pressure on McCay to devote his time to editorial drawings.


The film opens with a live-action prologue in which McCay busies himself studying a picture of the Lusitania as a model for his film-in-progress. Intertitles boast of McCay as "the originator and inventor of Animated Cartoons", and of the 25,000 drawings needed to complete the film. McCay is shown working with a group of anonymous assistants on "the first record of the sinking of the Lusitania".
File:Winsor McCay (1918) The Sinking of the Lusitania.webm
The Lusitania passes the Statue of Liberty as she leaves New York Harbor. After some time, a U-boat is shown cutting through the waters. A torpedo is fired and hits the liner, which billows smoke that builds until it envelops the entire screen. Passengers scramble to lower lifeboats, some of which capsize in the confusion. The liner tilts from one side to the other, and passengers are tossed into the ocean.
A second blast rocks the liner, which sinks slowly into the deep as more passengers fall off its edges. and the ship submerges amid scenes of drowning bodies.The Lusitania vanishes from sight, and the film closes with a mother struggling to keep her baby above the waves, after which an intertitle declares: "The man who fired the shot was decorated for it by the Kaiser! And yet they tell us not to hate the Hun."


Winsor McCay (–1934) }} produced prodigiously detailed and accurate drawings early in life. He earned a living as a young man drawing portraits and posters in dime museums, and attracted large crowds with his ability to draw quickly in public. He began working as a newspaper illustrator full-time in 1898, and in 1903 began drawing comic strips. His greatest comic strip success was the children's fantasy comic strip Little Nemo, which he began in 1905. In 1906, McCay began performing on the vaudeville circuit, doing chalk talks—performances during which he drew in front of a live audience.
Inspired by the flip books his son brought home, McCay said he "came to see the possibility of making moving pictures" of his cartoons. His first animated film, Little Nemo (1911 film) (1911), was composed of four thousand drawings on rice paper. His next film, How a Mosquito Operates (1912), naturalistically showed a giant mosquito draw blood from a sleeping man until it burst. McCay followed this with a film that became an interactive part of his vaudeville shows—in Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), McCay commanded his animated dinosaur with a whip.
The Germans U-boat Campaign (World War I) during World War I, and in April 1915 the German government issued a warning that it would target British civilian ships. On May 7, 1915, during a voyage from New York, the British liner RMS Lusitania was Sinking of the RMS Lusitania; 128 Americans were among the 1,198 who lost their lives. Newspapers owned by McCay's employer, William Randolph Hearst, downplayed the tragedy, as Hearst was opposed to the American entry into World War I. His own papers' readers were increasingly pro-war in the aftermath of the Lusitania. McCay was as well, but was required to illustrate anti-war and anti-British cartoons by editor Arthur Brisbane. In 1916, McCay rebelled against his employer's stance and decided to make the patriotic Sinking of the Lusitania in his own time.
The sinking itself was never photographed. McCay said that he gathered background details on the Lusitania from Hearst's Berlin correspondent August F. Beach, who was in London at the time of the disaster and was the first newsman at the scene. The film was the first attempt at a serious, dramatic work of animation.

Production history

McCay's working methods were laborious. On Gertie the Dinosaur an assistant painstakingly traced and retraced the backgrounds thousands of times. Rival animators developed a number of methods to reduce the workload and speed production to meet the increasing demand for animated films. Within a few years of Nemos release, it became near-universal practice in animation studios to use American Earl Hurd's cel technology, combined with Canadian Raoul Barré's registration pegs, used to keep cels aligned when photographed. Hurd had patented the cel method in 1914; it saved work by allowing dynamic drawings to be drawn on one or more layers, which could be laid over a static background layer, relieving animators of the tedium of retracing static images onto drawing after drawing. McCay himself adopted the cel method beginning with The Sinking of the Lusitania.
As with all his films, McCay financed Lusitania himself. The cels were an added expense, but the technique allowed for a static background to be placed behind the cels, which reduced the amount of drawing necessary. This saved great amounts of effort in contrast to McCay's earlier methods. The cels used were thicker than those that later became industry standard, and had a "tooth", or rough surface, that could hold pencil, wash (visual arts), and crayon, as well as ink lines. The amount of rendering caused the cels to buckle, which made it difficult to keep them aligned for photographing; assistant John Fitzsimmons addressed this problem using a modified loose-leaf binder.
Lusitania took twenty-two months to complete. McCay had assistance from his neighbor, artist John Fitzsimmons, and from Cincinnati cartoonist William Apthorp "Ap" Adams, who took care of layering the cels in proper sequence for shooting. Fitzsimmons was responsible for a sequences of waves, sixteen frames to be cycled over McCay's drawings. McCay provided illustrations during the day for the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst, and spent his off hours at home drawing the cels for the film, which he took to Vitagraph Studios to be photographed.
McCay said it took him about eight weeks to produce eight seconds worth of film. The claimed 25,000 drawings }} filled 900 feet of film. Lusitania was registered for copyright on July 19, 1918,{{efn|John Canemaker dates the first showing as July 20; Earl Theisen dates the première as August 15, 1918. }} and was released by Jewel Productions who were reported to have acquired it for the highest price paid for a one-reel film up to the time. It was included as part of a Universal Studios Weekly newsreel and featured on the cover of an issue of Universal's in-house publication The Moving Picture Weekly.{{efn|The issue of The Moving Picture Weekly for July 27, 1918. }} Its première in England followed in May 1919. Advertisements called it "he world's only record of the crime that shocked humanity".


Combining editorial cartooning techniques with live-action-like sequences, the animation is considered McCay's most realistic effort; the intertitles emphasized that the film was a "historical record" of the event. McCay animates the action in what animation historian Donald Crafton describes as a "realistic graphic style". The film has a dark mood and strong propagandist feel. It depicts the terrifying fates of the passengers, such as the drowning of children and human chains of passengers jumping to their deaths. The artwork is highly detailed, the animation fluid and naturalistic. McCay used Cross-cutting to simulate the feel of a newsreel, which reinforced the film's realistic feel.
McCay made stylistic choices to add emotion to the "historical record", as in the anxiety-inducing shots of the submarines lurking beneath the surface, and abstract styling of the white sheets of sky and sea, vast voids which engorge themselves on the drowning bodies. Animation historian Paul Wells suggested the negative space in the frames filled viewers with anxiety through psychological projection or introjection, Psychoanalysis ideas that had begun circulating in the years before the film's release. Scholar Ulrich Merkl suggests that as a newspaperman, McCay was likely aware of Freud's widely reported work, though McCay never publicly acknowledged such an influence.

Reception and legacy

The Sinking of the Lusitania was noted as a work of propaganda, and is often called the longest work of animation of its time.{{efn|The running times of surviving copies of McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) and Lusitania are close in length, but the animated portion in Gertie is significantly shorter than that of Lusitania. An Argentine animator, Quirino Cristiani, reportedly produced a lost film 70-minute animated film El Apóstol, whose first screening was November 9, 1917. }} The film is likely the earliest animated documentary. }} McCay's biographer, animator John Canemaker, called The Sinking of the Lusitania "a monumental work in the history of the animated film". Admired by his animation contemporaries, it "did not revolutionize the film cartoons of its time" as McCay's skills were beyond what his contemporaries were able to follow. In the era that followed, animation studios made occasional non-fiction films, but most were comedic shorts lasting no more than seven minutes. Animation continued in its role supporting feature films rather than as themselves the main attraction, and were rarely reviewed. Lusitania was not a commercial success; after a few years in theaters, Lusitania brought McCay about $80,000. McCay made at least seven further films, only three of which are known to have seen commercial release.
After 1921, when Hearst learned McCay devoted more of his time to animation than to his newspaper illustrations, Hearst required McCay to give up animation. He had plans for several animation projects that never came to fruition, including a collaboration with Jungle Imps author George Randolph Chester, a musical film called The Barnyard Band, and a film about the Americans' role in World War I. Later in life, McCay at times publicly expressed his dissatisfaction with the animation industry as it had become—he had envisioned animation as an art, and lamented how it had become a trade. According to Canemaker, it was not until Walt Disney Animation Studios's feature films in the 1930s that the animation industry caught up with McCay's level of technique.
Animation historian Paul Wells described Lusitania as "a seminal moment in the development of the animated film" for its combination of documentary style with propagandist elements, and considered it an example of animation as a form of Modernism. Steve Bottomore called the film "he most significant cinematic version of the disaster". A review in The Cinema praised the film, especially the scene in which the first torpedo explodes, which the review called "more than reality".


=Works cited=


  • <!-- Barrier 2003 -->
  • <!-- Beckerman 2003 -->
  • <!-- Berenbaum 2009 -->
  • <!-- Bottomore 2000 -->
  • <!-- Canemaker 2005 -->
  • <!-- Canwell 2009 -->
  • <!-- Crafton 1993 -->
  • <!-- Dover editors 1973 -->
  • <!-- Harvey 1994 -->
  • <!-- Kundert-Gibbs & Kundert-Gibbs 2009 -->
  • <!-- Marshall 1964 -->
  • <!-- Roland, Bolster & Keyssar 2008 -->
  • <!-- Sabin 1993 -->
  • <!-- Sito 2006 -->
  • (on included DVD)
    • <!-- Telotte 2010 -->
    • }}
    • <!-- Wells 2002 -->

    • ==Journals==

    • ==Other sources==

      <!-- |colwidth=40em}} -->

    • }}

      Further reading

    • Category:1918 films
      Category:1910s short films
      Category:American films
      Category:American World War I propaganda films
      Category:American silent short films
      Category:Animated short films
      Category:Animated documentary films
      Category:Black-and-white films
      Category:Films directed by Winsor McCay
      Category:RMS Lusitania
      Category:Documentary films about maritime disasters
      Category:Films set in the Atlantic Ocean
Winsor McCay

More Public Domain Movies