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John Randolph Bray was an early American animator. Notable for both his animation patents and for his production of the first commercial color animated film, The Debut of Thomas Cat (1920), his production company, Bray Productions created over 500 films between 1913 and 1937. [1]

Bray’s career began in broadcast journalism. After a failed stint as a reporter for Detroit’s Evening News, Bray began freelance work selling cartoons to newspapers and magazines. However, inspired by watching the early-animated film The “Teddy” Bears, Bray decided to try animation and in 1913, he released his first animated film The Artists Dream. [2]

Eager to both streamline and patent the techniques that he used to make his animated films, in 1914 Bray applied for a patent, which essentially entailed the use of cels, or clear sheets on which figures could be drawn. Bray soon applied for more patents and went into business with Earl Hurd (encompassing his important patent on the use of celluloid) to form the Bray-Hurd patent company, which received royalties on cell animation until 1932 when the patents expired. [3]

Bray’s production of so many cartoons, as well as his patenting the process for cell animation has led Donald Crafton to refer to him as the “Henry Ford of Animation.”

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