collections

The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy (1917)

This is the first film by stop-motion animation pioneer Willis O’Brien. From the age of just 11, O’Brien worked a huge variety of jobs including cattle rancher, farmhand, factory worker, fur trapper, cowboy, bartender, rodeo man, and guide to palaeontologists in Crater Lake. Spending his spare hours sculpting and illustrating he soon became employed as architect’s draftsman and then as cartoonist for the San Francisco Daily News. After a period working the railways he returned to more creative endeavours, becoming a marble sculptor and assistant to the head architect of the 1915 San Francisco World’s Fair, where some of his work was displayed. During this time he began to make little models. Perhaps inspired by his time at Crater Lake, amongst his creations was a dinosaur and caveman and he soon began to animate using the stop-motion technique. In 1915, after a San Fransico exhibitor saw his test sequences, O’Brien got his first film commission to make The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy for a budget of $5000.

Thomas Edison saw the film and was impressed. O’Brien was promptly hired by the Edison Company to animate a series of short films with a prehistoric theme, including R.F.D. 10,000 B.C. and Prehistoric Poultry (both 1917). The dinosaur theme continued when he gained a commission from Herbert M. Dawley to write, direct, co-star and produce the effects for dinosaur film The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918), though their relationship turned sour and Dawley made sure O’Brien received little financial reimbursement from this success. The film however did help to secure his position on Harry O. Hoyt’s The Lost World, a 1925 film based on the novel by Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle. Eight years later he would do sop-motion animation for best known film, King Kong (1933).