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The History of Animation
Transcript of The History of Animation
Humans have always sought to communicate and tell stories and have often used images to do this. We can see this in tapestries, hieroglyphics and even cave paintings. In this sense animation pre-dates cinema.
The Experimental Era: 1900 - 1927
Arguably one of the most influential filmmakers to emerge from this time period was George Méliès.
A professional magician Méliès first saw the Lumiére brothers' new 'moving pictures' in 1895 and soon began working on his own films bringing his flair and showmanship from this magic.
Whilst the Lumiére brothers focused mainly on 'actualities' Méliès soon established several genres including sci-fi, fantasy and horror. He also became a pioneer in many film techniques including stop motion and using fades and dissolves.
Previously animators were dubious about the uses of CGI. However with Toy Story Pixar proved to the world that it was possible to make believable and sympathetic characters. Toy Story was the first fully CGI animated film and as such a monumental landmark in animation history.
Felix the Cat
Felix the Cat was biggest animation star of the 1920s. At this time lots of cheap, low quality animation made to cash in on the new animation craze. Felix was an exception to this featuring a bold, simple design that worked effectively without sound.
A wide range of merchandise was also created for Felix, a relatively new phenomenon.
Felix has been appriately updated throughout the decades to maintain his success and relevance. Today he is owned by Dreamworks.
Modern animation is generally thought to date back to 1824 when Peter Roget discovered the 'persistence of vision'.
This explains the way that our eyes and brain hold on to an image for a short time after the image has been changed, and so if we are shown a series of images in quick succession they appear to move.
A History of Animation
Following this discovery various devices were created that paved the way for the traditional forms of animation we know today.
A series of images or photographs were arranged around a reel and spun using a lever to to create a 'flip book' effect.
Created in 1834 (then called the Daedalum) this device consisted of a spinning drum lined with images that, when spun appeared to move.
Primitive forms of this device were created as early as 180AD in China and it is still used in some forms today to create 'bullet time' footage.
Created in 1825 by John Ayrton Paris this simple device consisted of two discs with separate images on. These devices would be connected with string or a pole and when spun would create a visual illusion.
For example, when spun an image of a bird and the image of an empty cage would come together to display a caged bird.
Generally animation is now defined as 'a series of single-frame images viewed in rapid succession by some form of mechanism, to create an illusion of movement.'
In the year 1895 there were three significant developments in the field of cinema and animation.
The Lumiére brothers opened their early version of the cinema in France.
Birt Acres and Robert W. Paul completed their 35mm cine camera (the Kineopticon).
The Skladanowsky brothers in Berlin started screening films using their Bioskop projector.
Despite these advances in the very early days the history of animation and the history of cinema are heavily linked.
It wasn't until the turn of the century that they started to become distinct from one another.
Cendrillon (Méliès, 1899)
Le Voyage dans la lune
Widely considered as Méliès' most well known film
A clear example of Méliès use of stop motion.
Méliès was at his most successful and innovative between the years 1899 and 1902.
Although he continued to make hundreds of films after this he was soon overtaken and left behind by the bigger, developing film companies.
Aside from Méliès there are a number of other notable contributors to the development of animation from this time.
Also referred to as 2D or paper animation, involves the tracing of separate frames over a light box. Often these images are transferred to transparent sheets then placed over separate backgrounds. Now these images are usually scanned and coloured or altered digitally.
Similar to cel animation this process was created by Max Fleischer in 1916. In this case photographic images, or live action frames are traced instead of hand drawn images. This allows for smooth, realistic movement to be created.
The Lost World
(Hoyt and O'Brien, 1925)
The Lost World was the first feature film to include stop frame animation. The film combined both live action and stop motion dinosaurs. Its accomplishments astounded both audiences and critics and provided the basis for King Kong (1933) and many other of the early monster movies.
Disney started animating in 1920 making short Laugh-O-Grams for various different production companies. Things were not easy for him and he was not an instant success; he had to make several risky financial decisions but was always determined and inspirational.
His most significant success was with the creation of Mickey Mouse in the late 20's.
Mickey Mouse made is debut in the short animation 'Steamboat Willie' (1928). This animation is also an example of an early 'sound cartoon'. There was nothing extraordinary about Mickey's character, instead he served as an everyman, relatable character that reacted to the chaotic situations around him.
Like Felix, Mickey also a variety of merchandise opportunities for Disney.
Walt Disney views that animation is an art form led to the increase in the levels of realism in his films. However, this meant that the production of his short cartoons soon became too expensive and effected his profits.
At this point Disney stretched his finances to breaking point to create the worlds' first full-length cel animated film; Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.
This process involves cutting out a drawing into sections, then placing these over a background. The separate sections can then be moved frame by frame to create an animation.
This was used to create the illusion of depth in 2D animation. Artwork, some of which would be partially transparent, would be passed by the camera at varying speeds and distances to create a sense of 3D.
During this time studios continued to build on the foundations that had been established earlier. Disney went on to create other short films including The Skeleton Dance then later Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs . Several iconic characters including Betty Boop and Popeye were created, both by Fleischer Studios. Stop frame continued to develop with the iconic King Kong (1933).
The Golden Age:
1928 - 1957
The Skeleton Dance
Popeye (Fleischer, 1933)
(Cooper, Shoedack and O'Brien, 1933)
Drawn-on Film Animation
Also known as direct animation, this technique involves painting or scratching directly onto the film strip.
Len Lye experimented with this technique in the 1930's, for example in his film A Colour Box (1936).
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Fantasia started out as a short animation designed to debut a reimagined Micky Mouse. However, when it became clear this would not make a profit the idea was developed into a feature. The film aimed to raise the profile of animation as an art form, but, like Pinocchio (1940) was a financial flop at the box office.
Disney went on to produce many more of his 'classics' during this time including Bambi (1942), Cinderella (1950), Peter Pan (1953). He also produced Alice in Wonderland (1951) which included many surrealist elements.
The Television Age: 1958 - 1985
The Dawn of Digital:
1986 - 2012
Now referred to as the king of stop-frame animation, Harryhausen learnt his craft through working alongside Willis O'Brien (The Lost World and King Kong).
In The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) Harryhausen had a very limited budget to work with yet produced fantastic effects. This allowed his career to flourish as he contributed to a huge variety of films including, Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and Clash of the Titans (1981). He also contributed to BBC's Walking with Dinosaurs in 1999.
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
Clash of the Titans (1981)
At this time the rise of television as competition for cinema, the end of the ability for studios to 'block book' in cinemas and the rising cost of animation led to a decline in the production of animated shorts, ending the Golden Age of animation.
The rise in TV did raise opportunities for animation however. It started to be used more frequently in advertising and animated series became more popular but the quality declined as costs were stripped back and animations were simplified.
William Hanna and Joseph Barbera formed their company in 1957 after working at MGM. Their first big success was with The Huckleberry Hound Show (1958). This quickly established their simple style of using a stripped down animation with less detail and lacking rich backgrounds. This simplicity did allow them to become almost an 'animation factory'.
The Flintstones (1960-66) is one of Hanna-Barbera's biggest successes. This was the first animated sitcom and the only cartoon to fill a prime time slot until The Simpsons 30 years later.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (Disney, 1961)
Following the success of Lady and the Tramp (1955) Disney continued with the use of canine characters and a modern day setting. In this film however, they used a new Xerox process for the first time. This involved using an adapted copier to transfer the artists' drawings onto the transparent cells to be painted. This eliminated the need for hand-tracing but meant that the artists rougher pencil line was seen not clear traced line. This gave the animation a softer feel than earlier films.
Without this process, and with so many puppies and so many spots the film may not have been made!
Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit (Godfrey, 1961)
In 1961 Godfrey created this fast-moving, very simplified, cutout animation with very surreal, eccentric, British humour. This style greatly influenced Terry Gilliam and can be found later in the Monty Python films and TV shows.
Mary Poppins (Disney, 1964)
The Clangers (1969)
A popular stop animation of the time the Clangers is another example of the surreal, low budget cartoons that were popular in the UK at this time. This one from Postgate and Firmin has a particularly 'homemade' quality.
(Fuji Television, 1969)
Based on a manga comic strip, Sazae-San is an animated TV sitcom. It is still produced today and is the most watched anime in Japan.
Influenced by the art of manga comics, anime is a form of animation characterised by characters with large eyes, elongated limbs and exaggerated facial expressions.
Caroline Leaf was an animator who worked by manipulating sand images over a light box. Her first film Sand or Peter and the Wolf was made in 1968 and followed up with this short.
Dot and the Kangaroo
Gross was an Australian animator who worked by illustrating his characters over photographs of bakcgrounds. He wanted a distinctly Australian feel in his cartoons and was successful with this as Dot led to seven sequels and TV shows.
70s Computer Animation Breakthroughs
During the 1970s new program developments enabled the beginnings of 3D animation. The first use of this in film was in Futureworld (1976) with the animation of a human hand. Early pixel based drawing programs were also developed in this time.
1981 saw the first computer generated 'real' character in a video game with Donkey Kong. It also marked the first appearance of Super Mario, a now iconic cartoon character.
Tron was the first film to be based entirely around a computer animation, and to use significant amounts of computer generated animation.
Tim Burton started his career as an animator at Disney. Whilst there he was able to impress the producers enough to encourage them to fund Burton's first short. In this short Burton established the visual style that would go on to become iconic and synonymous with his name.
80s Computer Animation Breakthroughs
Throughout the 80s technology continued to develop to allow more realistic environments to be created. Professional workstations were continuing to grow and become capable of high-spec work like CGI and animation so that by the end of the decade the first versions of industry standard programs for character animation and 3D animation were released.
Claymation is a form of stop motion animation where the models are created from a malleable substance (e.g. plasticine). The term was coined in 1985 by Will Vinton to describe his work on The Adventures of Mark Twain.
As early as the mid-90s John Lasseter was producing shorts such as Luxo Jr to display the capabilities of Pixar.
This later became part of the iconic Pixar brand.
When The Wind Blows
When the Wind Blows was released as a follow up to the highly successful The Snowman. Models of the sets were created in this case, then photographed with traditional hand drawn animation over the photographs.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
During the later 1980's Disney was in a bit of a low point; cartoons were deemed to be out of favour. With Roger Rabbit Disney successfully merged live action and animation in ways that hadn't really been achieved before. The camera was able to move about naturally whilst characters remained 3D in appearance and had realistic shadows. This was a box office smash and sparked a revival of Disney's success through into the 90s.
The Little Mermaid
Disney followed up their success with Roger Rabbit with their first princess film since 1959 (Sleeping Beauty). The Little Mermaid had been imagined by Disney very early on but not attempted. Now with new technologies the film could be done properly - 80% of the film required special effects because of the underwater settings.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (Burton, 1993)
Dexter's Lab, Johnny Bravo and 2 Stupid Dogs (1993)
In 1991 Cartoon Network purchased Hanna-Barbera before starting to produce their own content in 1993. This allowed for a new energy in animation creation. Many of the cartoons now being created by Cartoon Network mirrored the simple Hanna-Barbera stye or had a retro style such as with Dexter's Lab and Johnny Bravo.
Jurassic Park was the first film to really show audiences that CGI technologies made anything possible. The film mainly used animatronics to create the dinosaurs but also used a feed of 'stop-motion' like animation to create computer generated dinosaur movements. This film spawned a surge in CGI use in Hollywood films.
Like Vincent this film was partly funded by Disney and helped to remind people of Disney's reputation as an experimental and pioneering company. This time Burton worked with Henry Selick who had also previously worked for Disney and was also experienced in stop-motion animation. This film continues where Vincent started in establishing Burton's style.
Though early shorts of The Simpsons were quite crude in style it was later refined as the show became more popular. The Simpsons was the first animation to fill a prime time slot since The Flintstones. Like many American sit-coms the show featured simple, recognisable character types and often had celebrity guest appearances that helped the show rise to a worldwide phenomenon.
Mary Poppins, now an iconic part of Disney's brand image, was the company's first attempt to mix live action with animation since the 1940s.
The late 80's and early 90s saw a number of positive developments in animation. The rise in popularity of video games also meant that computer technologies were creating new opportunities and possibilities.
In the first few years the obssession was with making animation as realistic as possible, however animators soon came to realise the potential for creating different, more exciting realities.
Matches: An Appeal (1899)
Possibly the first proper animation:
Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906)
First fully animated film containing over 700 images.
The Lumieré Brothers
Arrival of a Train (1895)
Possibly the first hand drawn animation: