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Ko-Ko the Clown was a signature character of Flesicher Studios’ cartoon repertoire. In “Big Chief” Ko-Ko, the animated clown competes with a Native American artist for the attention of cartoonist Max Fleischer settting off a series of misadventures. Although rife with Native American stereotypes that were prevalent in cartoons of this era, “Big Chief” Ko-Ko, is a prime example of Flesicher’s technical innovation. It features rotoscoping, a technique Fleischer developed in which the movements of a live-action figure are traced and converted into animation.
Fleischer Studios, Inc. was a pioneering American animation studio founded in 1921 by brothers Max and Dave Fleischer. The company was Walt Disney Productions’ leading competitor in the 1920s and 30s, producing successful cartoons such as Koko the Clown, Betty Boop, Popeye the Sailor, and Superman. While most famous cartoon characters of the early 20th century were animals, Fleischer Studios’ most popular characters were humans. In 1914, Max Fleischer developed a machine called the rotoscope, which allowed animators to trace over live-action film movement for use in hand-drawn animations. The technique was used in the production of the Koko the Clown cartoons, with Dave Fleischer, dressed in a clown costume, serving as Koko’s live model. Rotoscoping was a significant contribution to the advancement of animation and was adopted by Walt Disney Productions as well.