The Origins of Wonder
An early animation effect using a deck of cards as a flipbook was created in an attempt to mimic the relatively new advent of the motion picture. Lewis R. Hilliar published “The Moving Picture Cards” in The Sphinx, Vol. 6 No. 3, May 1907, p. 26. In it, he would alternate the court cards based on the direction the head was facing. Then by riffling the cards, it would look as though the heads were turning from side to side. A sub-effect was that he would also alternate the colors of the deck so it would create the appearance of “red melting into the black and vice versa.”
In issue No. 98 of The Jinx (June 1940, p. 604, second column), Theodore Annemann mentions an effect shown by Al Wheatley (stage names: Ching Ling Fu, Tung Pin Soo and Chop Chop) in 1928 at Frank Ducrot's Hornmann Magic Company in New York. Wheatley had handmade a special deck that, when flipped through, showed the drawing of an animated pen tip that wrote the name of a selected card. This was recalled by Annemann because of the appearance of a similar effect, in which the name of a selection appeared letter by letter as the cards were flipped through. This trick was marketed in 1940 by Abbott's Magic Novelty Company under the name of “Abbott's Cinema Cards” (Tops, Vol. 5 No. 6, June 1940, p. 45). Although his name did not appear in the ad, the creator was known to be U. F. Grant. Two issues later in The Jinx (No. 100, July 6, 1940, p. 612), Grant defended this release, claiming he came up with the idea in 1921, but failed to market it because of the investment necessary. While Annnemann accepted Grant's word on this, there is no evidence to support it other than Grant's memory. Annemann followed up by talking with “no less than 8 of the old Ducrot standbys and they remembered it as first being shown around New York by Al Wheatley.”
Many years later, Karl Fulves returned to the idea, animating a miniature card placed into a full-sized deck. When one end of the cards were riffled off, the miniature was seen moving outward and finally flipped out of the deck; see “Flickers” in Fulves's Worknotes on Brainwave, 1983, p. 111. (The above information was spotted by Denis Behr.)
Seven years after that, the plot was again resurrected in another novel way by David Regal; see his “Baby Face” in Spectacle, 1990, p. 27. Regal flips through a bound group of photos to produce an animated photo “film” of a card being produced to match a forced selection.
The following year, David Harkey published his “Animator” in Simply Harkey, 1991, p. 64. Harkey's animation occurred on the backs of a full deck. Dan Harlan later released “Card-Toon”, enabling a free selection, in 1992 (see a mention in Genii, Vol. 55 No. 11, Sep. 1992, p. 742), and eventually inspired a number of variants by himself, Tenyo, and others.