Otto Messmer (1892-1983) was a pioneering American animator and cartoonist best known for his work on the iconic character Felix the Cat, one of the earliest and most beloved animated characters in the history of American animation.
Born on August 16, 1892, in West Hoboken, New Jersey (now Union City), Otto Messmer displayed an early aptitude for art. He attended the Thomas School of Art in New York City and honed his skills as an illustrator. It was during his time as an art school student that he began his career in animation.
Messmer’s entry into animation was at the pioneering animation studio of Pat Sullivan. He started as an assistant to Sullivan, an Australian animator, and soon rose to a prominent position as a head animator and director. It was at Sullivan’s studio that Messmer created Felix the Cat, which would become his most enduring and iconic creation.
Felix the Cat made his first appearance in the short film “Feline Follies” in 1919. Felix was an instant sensation, thanks to his simple yet endearing design, featuring large, expressive eyes, a toothy grin, and a bag of tricks. The character’s adventures often involved surreal and imaginative scenarios, making it a favorite of both children and adults. Felix was known for his playfulness and resourcefulness, using his magical bag of tricks to solve problems and navigate a whimsical world.
Messmer was not only the character’s creator but also the principal animator and director of the Felix the Cat series. His work on Felix’s early adventures laid the foundation for the character’s enduring popularity. The series quickly became one of the most popular and successful animation franchises of its time.
Felix the Cat’s fame extended to comic strips and merchandise, and the character became an iconic symbol of early animation and the silent film era. Messmer’s contributions to animation were pivotal in establishing the medium’s potential for storytelling and entertainment.
In 1929, Otto Messmer’s collaboration with Pat Sullivan came to an end, and Sullivan retained ownership of Felix the Cat. Messmer continued to work in animation, contributing to various projects, including producing the pioneering sound-on-film cartoon “Dinner Time” (1928).
Despite losing ownership of Felix the Cat, Messmer’s animation career continued, and he worked for several animation studios, including Van Beuren Studios and Terrytoons. He contributed to various projects and cartoons, maintaining his passion for the art form.
In the later part of his career, Messmer received recognition for his contributions to animation. He was acknowledged as the creator of Felix the Cat and began receiving the credit he deserved. He received awards and honors, and he continued to work in animation until his retirement.
Otto Messmer passed away on October 28, 1983, leaving behind a rich legacy in the world of animation. His work on Felix the Cat continues to be celebrated by animation enthusiasts and historians, and the character remains a beloved figure in animation history. Messmer’s contributions to the medium played a vital role in shaping the future of animation and establishing it as a form of entertainment with enduring appeal.