Animation – A history of

To animate

– To give life to

The term Animation, by definition, refers to the act of giving life. Rather than refering to a single technique or genre within itself, animation acts more in the way of a blanket term, that can refer to one of any innumerable methods, techniques or genres. Rather than a genre, animation is infact a medium that has been developed over the course of many decades, being influenced by cultural, social and even political issues.

© Jim Henderson

It is difficult to put an exact date upon the beginning of animation – evidence dating back as early as ancient egypt, or indeed before recorded history, exists in the form of cave paintings and artwork found within tombs and burial chambers,

suggesting the most basic of concepts of animation. While not animations themselves, these pieces clearly try to suggest movement, and the progression of a visual narrative.

An example of a Zoetrope

The earliest example of true animation came in the form of the zoetrope (From the greek words zoe, meaning life, and tropos, meaning turn), created in China. Allowing for a small number of frames to be looped in quick sucession, the zoetrope is the earliest example of a sequence of images being used to simulate movement in a way that is not so distant from modern day methods of displaying film, albiet in a simple form. Another example of this would be William Horner’s Daedalum, which rose greatly in popularity in around 1860, leading the way for improvements upon the original concept, such as the Praxinoscope.

Created in 1906, J Stuart Blackthon‘s ” Humorous phases of funny faces” was one of the earliest examples of stop-motion, and proved to be hugely important in the popularisation of animation in modern american culture. Blackton is widely regarded as the father of american animation, and was one of the first film makers to make use of stop-motion and animation techniques.

This was closely followed in france, by Fantasmagorie (Émile Cohl, 1908). Fantasmagorie was particularly important, in that is not only considered to be the first animated cartoon, but was also the first animation to be projected, within a traditional cinema environment.

Works such as these in effect, opened the gates to the so called “Golden Age” of animation. Generally regarded as being between the 1930’s and 1960’s, the golden age is responsible for studios such as Disney. Due to the considerably larger ammount of time and money now being invested into animation,  huge leaps were made in terms of the development of animation as a medium, for example Disneys further development of tools such as the multiplane camera. In addition to this, the larger budgets eventually resulted in the ability to produce a great number of feature length films.

Notably, around the begining of this period, Walt Disney Studios released the animated short, Steamboat Willie (1928). One rather important aspect of this short, was that it was the first to feature a post-produced, syncronised soundtrack.

Over the following years Walt Disney Studios would prove to be incredibly succesful, further shaping the industry. As technology advanced, more and more possibilities became available; in 1978, Ed Catmull produced the first computer-generated animation – a 3-dimensional representation of a human hand. The following year, Catmull would go on to found Pixar, a subsidary of Walt Disney Studios, resulting in an entire new sector within the industry.



One thought on “Animation – A history of

  1. Paul S. says:

    OK. Brief but interesting. You should start blogging your essay ideas now.

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