(Link to short teaser video "Miaou Song")
One of the landmark early stop-motion films was called "The Tale of the Fox" (Le Roman de Renard) by Ladislas Starevitch, a Russian immigrant of Polish descent, living in France after the Soviet revolution. This teaser gives a sampling of the style of animation (note the lioness breathing at 1:57). The technique uses posable animal puppets in elaborately constructed sets, shot on film one frame at a time, with no ability to review footage until it was processed.
The feature-length film is usually listed with three different release dates: 1930, 1937, and 1941. This is because various versions of the soundtrack were added and changed during the thirties. By the time the full fledged version was available in wartime, its reception was overwhelmed by events in Europe. The film took ten years to make, and was mostly created by Starevitch and his wife.
The basic animation was completed three years before King Kong and seven years before Disney's Snow White, which often gets wrongly credited as the first animated feature. According to Steven Cavalier in The World History of Animation, it was “more fluid than the more celebrated King Kong released three years later."
(Direct link to video, part 1)
Here's the first part of the full feature on YouTube. The stop motion puppets are beautifully constructed. I presume they used fur and fabric and latex skins over what must be fairly sophisticated metal armatures. He also used some real animal bones and feathers—not surprising, since some of his first stop motion work was done with dead insects.
I'm struck by the skillful timing and personality of the character animation, considering that there was little precedent for such artistry at the time.
(Continuing with Part 2 of 6)
(Part 3 of 6) Don't miss the "angel rabbits" at 1:22, and the hand-held camera effects during a dance sequence at 7:05.