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Bray-Hurd Patents

Posted in WB Cartoon Companion on January 30, 2004

    At the end of some of the earliest Merrie Melodies, there is a reference to a license granted under the Bray-Hurd Patents. These patents were essential to the animation process, being connected with the use of celluloid sheets which revolutionized animation, making large-scale production possible.

    J.R. Bray patented a background process (Patent No. 1,107,193 granted August 11, 1914). He met up with Earl Hurd, the inventor of the cel process by which sheets of celluloid were laid over backgrounds, enabling the animator to redraw only those parts of the image that moved. The two formed the Bray-Hurd Processing Company in 1914. (Hurd, about whom relatively little is known, had by far the more important of the two innovations.) When Bray obtained another patent in 1916, the firm had a virtual monopoly on the animation process, which led to a long series of lawsuits with cartoon producers. The most important patents expired in 1932, as Bray had failed to make significant improvements on them, and the animation process entered the public domain.

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