It all starts with a line. You can’t get much simpler than that: a single horizontal line.
La linea [The Line] has become a legend. Born in 1969 the concept is simple but fascinating: Mr. Linea is a silhouette made from a single infinite line running across the TV screen.
I remember watching La linea at home as a kid. I was at an age when the best things in the world were bright, shiny, noisy or messy. Yet there I was in front of the TV with my short attention span captured by a line. I waited to see what it would become…
Osvaldo Cavolandoli’s hand drew the famous line. Before the Second World War Osvaldo was a professional who had been trained for a career in industrial product design and worked on technical drawings for Alfa-Romeo. After the war Osvaldo became interested in animation and began working with big names like the TV program Carosello.
One day Osvaldo started to un-do his normal creative process. Taking a complex cartoon, slowly erased the picture, piece by piece, until eventually he was left with only a single line.
The concept wasn’t just revolutionary because it reduced animation to its bare-bones origins. It was also unique because it created a new breed of cartoon character who interacted with the hand that drew him. This wasn’t a nice or cute animated figure. He had no eyes or ears, but he talked in a way that was both universally impossible to understand and showed a larger than cartoon-sized character. Annoyed, happy, pissed off, the little man always had a personality.
Whether the line transformed into shark-infested waters or a cliff, it always became a dangerous trap and Mr. Linea would beg the animator for help. It was as though Osvaldo were trying to do everything he could to make life difficult for the character he had created.
It was a symbol of the times and the new working world of Milan. In a city of office buildings, huge factories, pushy bosses and an annoying daily commute, middle-class office workers just wanted to get through the day, but something – traffic, paperwork – would suddenly be thrown in the way.
Under an Italian pencil a boring line takes on the shape of everyday life, but with a twist of humor, fun and personality. Turning a line into the line that decades later continues to be followed by generations of TV-watchers around the world, now that’s not just animation, that’s vintage animation.
Watch an episode of La linea: