History of ANIMATION

Animation is an art form which, in its modern apearance, appeared alongside the development of motion pictures. Earlier attempts at making drawings move were only experimental.

The past

Cave paintings

The earliest examples derive from still drawings, which can be found in Palaeolithic cave paintings, where animals are depicted with multiple sets of legs in superimposed positions, clearly attempting to convey the perception of motion.

Pottery of Persia

A 5,200-year old earthen bowl found in Iran in Shahr-i Sokhta has five images painted along the sides. It shows phases of a goat leaping up to a tree to take a pear. However, since no equipment existed to show the images in motion, such a series of images cannot be called animation in a true sense of the word. Similar forms of sequential images can also be found in medieval Persian Islamic pottery.

Egyptian murals

An Egyptian mural, approximately 4000 years old, shows wrestlers in action. Even though this may appear similar to a series of animation drawings, there was no way of viewing the images in motion. It does, however, indicate the artist’s intention of depicting motion.


A zoetrope is a device which creates the image of a moving picture. The earliest elementary zoetrope was created in China around 180 AD by the prolific inventor Ting Huan. Driven by convection Ting Huan’s device hung over a lamp. The rising air turned vanes at the top from which were hung translucent paper or mica panels. Pictures painted on the panels would appear to move if the device is spun at the right speed.

The modern zoetrope contraption was produced in 1834 by William George Horner. The device is basically a cylinder with vertical slits around the sides. Around the inside edge of the cylinder there are a series of pictures on the opposite side to the slits. As the cylinder is spun, the user then looks through the slits producing the illusion of motion. No one thought this small device would be the initial beginnings for the animation world to come. As a matter a fact, in present day beginning animation classes, the Zoetrope is still being used to illustrate early concepts of animation.

Leonardo shoulder study (ca. 1510)

Seven drawings by Leonardo da Vinci extending over two folios in the Windsor Collection, Anatomical Studies of the Muscles of the Neck, Shoulder, Chest, and Arm, show detailed drawings of the upper body (with a less-detailed facial image), illustrating the changes as the torso turns from profile to frontal position and the forearm extends.

The magic lantern

The magic lantern is the predecessor of the modern day projector. It consisted of a translucent oil painting and a simple lamp. When put together in a darkened room, the image would appear larger on a flat surface. Athanasius Kircher spoke about this originating from China in the 16th century. Some slides for the lanterns contained parts that could be mechanically actuated to present limited movement on the screen.

Thaumatrope (1824)

A thaumatrope was a simple toy used in the Victorian era. It was a small circular disk or card with two different pictures on each side that was attached to a piece of string running through the centre. When the string were twirled quickly between the fingers the two pictures appear to combine into a single image. The creator of this invention may have been either John Ayrton Paris or Charles Babbage.

Phenakistoscope (1831)

The phenakistoscope was an early animation device, the predecessor of the zoetrope. It was invented in 1831 simultaneously by the Belgian Joseph Plateau and the Austrian Simon von Stampfer.

Praxinoscope (1877)

The praxinoscope, invented by French scientist Charles-Émile Reynaud, was a more sophisticated version of the zoetrope. It used the same basic mechanism of a strip of images placed on the inside of a spinning cylinder, but instead of viewing it through slits, it was viewed in a series of small, stationary mirrors around the inside of the cylinder, so that the animation would stay in place, and provide a clearer image and better quality. Reynaud also developed a larger version of the praxinoscope that could be projected onto a screen, called the Théâtre Optique.

Flip book (1868)

The first flip book was patented in 1868 by a John Barns Linnet. Flip books were yet another development that brought us closer to modern animation. Like the Zoetrope, the Flip Book creates the illusion of motion. A set of sequential pictures flipped at a high speed creates this effect. The Mutoscope (1894) is basically a flip book in a box with a crank handle to flip the pages.

The present

Traditional animation

The first animated film was created by Charles-Émile Reynaud, inventor of the praxinoscope, an animation system using loops of 12 pictures. On October 28, 1892 at Musée Grévin in Paris, France he exhibited animations consisting of loops of about 500 frames, using his Théâtre Optique system – similar in principle to a modern film projector.

The first animated work on standard picture film was Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906) by J. Stuart Blackton. It features a cartoonist drawing faces on a chalkboard, and the faces apparently coming to life.

The first puppet-animated film was The Beautiful Lukanida (1912) by the Russian-born (ethnically Polish) director Wladyslaw Starewicz (Ladislas Starevich).

The first animated feature film was El Apóstol, made in 1917 by Quirino Cristiani from Argentina. He also directed two other animated feature films, including 1931’s Peludopolis, the first to use synchronized sound. None of these, however, survive to the present day. The earliest-surviving animated feature, which used colour-tinted scenes, is the silhouette-animated Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) directed by German Lotte Reiniger and French/Hungarian Berthold Bartosch. Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), often considered to be the first animated feature when in fact at least eight were previously released. However, Snow White was the first to become successful and well-known within the English-speaking world.

The first animation to use the full, three-color Technicolor method was Flowers and Trees (1932) made by Disney Studios which won an academy award for this work.

 Stop motion

Stop motion is used for many animation productions using physical objects rather than images of people, as with traditional animation. An object will be photographed, moved slightly, and then photographed again. When the pictures are played back in normal speed the object will appear to move by itself. This process is used for many productions, for example, clay animations such as Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit, as well as animated movies which use poseable figures, such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach.

Stop motion animation was also commonly used for special effects work in many live-action films, such as the 1933 version of King Kong and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.

CGI animation

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) revolutionized animation. The first film done completely in CGI was Toy Story, produced by Pixar. The process of CGI animation is still very tedious and similar in that sense to traditional animation, and it still adheres to many of the same principles.

A principal difference of CGI Animation compared to traditional animation is that drawing is replaced by 3D modeling, almost like virtual version of stop-motion, though a form of animation that combines the two worlds can be considered to be computer aided animation but on 2D computer drawing (which can be considered close to traditional drawing and sometimes based on it).

The future

Animated humans

Most CGI created films are based on animal characters, monsters, machines or cartoon-like humans. Animation studios are now trying to develop ways of creating realistic-looking humans. Films that have attempted this include Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within in 2001, Final Fantas : Advent Children in 2005, The Polar Express in 2004, and Beowulf in 2007. However, due to the complexity of human body functions, emotions and interactions, this method of animation is rarely used. The more realistic a CG character becomes, the more difficult it is to create the nuances and details of a living person. The creation of hair and clothing that move convincingly with the animated human character is another area of difficulty.

Cel-shaded animation

A type of non-photorealistic rendering designed to make computer graphics appear to be hand-drawn. Cel-shading is often used to mimic the style of a comic book or cartoon. It is a somewhat recent addition to computer graphics, most commonly turning up in console video games. Though the end result of cel-shading has a very simplistic feel like that of hand-drawn animation, the process is complex. The name comes from the clear sheets of acetate, called cels, that are painted on for use in traditional 2D animation. It may be considered a “2.5D” form of animation. True real-time cel-shading was first introduced in 2000 by Sega’s Jet Set Radio for their Dreamcast console. Besides video games, a number of anime have also used this style of animation, such as Freedom Project in 2006.


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