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Gertie the Dinosaur

Gertie the Dinosaur is the earliest animated film to feature a dinosaur. Its star Gertie does tricks much like a trained elephant. She is animated in a naturalistic style unprecedented for the time; she breathes rhythmically, she shifts her weight as she moves, and her abdominal muscles undulate as she draws water.

0076 Gertie the Dinosaur
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Walt Disney World – Florida – United States
GPS: 28.357009, -81.559012

If you are wondering through Disney’s Hollywood Studios and find some colossal dinosaur footprints, follow them to Echo Lake.

Along the shores of this lake you’ll find a large, tame dinosaur coated with a thin layer of snow.

Meet Gertie the Dinosaur, and she is one the very first animated stars in film history.

Gertie first amazed vaudeville audiences in 1914 when she was projected life-size onto a movie screen and shared the stage with her creator, Winsor McCay.

In 1914, animation was a relatively unexplored frontier in film.

There were no schools or books that taught animation, and there were no mentors to teach him.

So with Gertie the Dinosaur, Winsor McCay invented many of the animation techniques that were used in film for the next 100 years.

Nobody had ever seen anything like this before, so McCay used this innovative film as part of his vaudeville act. 

McCay would come on stage dressed in a tuxedo with a huge bullwhip-like an animal trainer and tell Gertie to lift her leg, and on a big movie screen to the side of him, Gertie would lift her leg.

He would pull out a big apple and pretend to toss it.

On screen, Gertie caught the animated apple and ate it as McCay hid the actual prop.

At the end of the act, While audiences were distracted by Gertie drinking an entire lake dry, McCay would walk behind the screen.

Then an animated version of himself would get on Gertie’s head.

And they would leave the scene together while the audiences went wild.

Winsor McCay and Gertie the Dinosaur became massive celebrities of that day.

The Gertie the Dinosaur show toured the United States, blowing the minds of audiences in every city across the country.

Dinosaur Gertie’s Ice Cream of Extinction was built as a tribute to Gertie the Dinosaur, the very first animated cartoon star.

Gertie the Dinosaur was not only the first large-scale key-frame animated film.

But also the very first animated stage show, interactive with a live cast.

To extend the length of the film, while also spending less time on the drawing table, McCay invented the animation concept of “cycling”, which meant re-filming the same set of drawings for a continued action. 

Gertie was the first dinosaur to be featured in an animated film.

Gertie is also considered the first example of what is known as “personality” or “character” animation.

Though Gertie is just pen and ink, she seems to have a distinct personality with a wide range of emotions.

Gertie was also the first cartoon character to ever act, or show emotion.

Gertie is in a lake because, in her animated cartoon, she was near a lake.

In her black and white film, Gertie is white. 

But in her show’s promotional posters, Gertie is colored green… so they made her green at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

The themed style of the ‘Gertie’ building was known as “California Crazy” architecture. 

This style was used for large-scale marketing for shops and food stalls, and it was wildly popular in the 1930s.

The time frame for this section of Hollywood Studios spans the 1930s and 1940s in Los Angeles.

So this California Crazy architecture fits in perfectly, both geographically and chronologically.

In the 1930s, it was believed that an Ice Age that killed off the dinosaurs. 

That’s why it is the ice cream of “extinction” rather than “distinction” that is being sold.

Not only is Gertie covered in a thin layer of snow, she is so cold that she is creating vapor out of her nostrils as she breaths.

But there have been some changes to Gertie since she first appeared when the park opened in May of 1989.

In her original concept sketch, and when she first appeared in the park, the green words “Ice Cream” covered with snow curved over the top of her back.

But over the years, that lettering was removed, and a thin layer of snow was added.

Gertie the Dinosaur was a major artistic influence and inspired the entire next generation of legendary cartoonists.

Walt Disney himself publicly admitted:

Seeing Winsor McCay and his stage act with Gertie was what inspired him to pursue art and animation.

So next time you see Gertie hanging out in Echo Lake, you’ll know that she isn’t just any old dinosaur.

And without her inspiration, Walt Disney might have chosen a very different career.

And the world of entertainment would be very different today.


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