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History of Animation

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The History of Animation
Animation /anɪˈmeɪʃ(ə)n/ 1the technique of using successive drawings or objects to create an illusion of movement when the film is shown as a sequence 2the manipulation of electronic images by means of a computer to create moving images

Animation has been around since the beginning of time. Evidence of this can be found from discoveries of cave paintings from the Paleolithic period (approx. 2.6 million years ago). To the right is an example of a Paleolithic cave painting . It features a foal growing up into an adult horse. This could be interpreted as a very basic animation but it shows very interesting observations.
Another example of early animation could be the Ancient Egyptian mural found in the tomb of Khnumhotep , which is predicted to be around 4000 years old. The mural depicts the story of a wrestling match as there are a series of drawings which follow on from each other. Although this is another example of basic animation, it could be argued that these early animations provided the future animators with inspiration.
However, it wasn’t until the 19th Century where animation devices were being invented. The first real invention was the Thaumatrope (1824) which was originally a simple toy. It featured a small disc with two different pictures on each side, and when the string attached to the disc was twisted, the two separate pictures appeared as a single merged image. This device relied upon the persistence of vision, which is a theory that the afterimage is thought to persist for approximately one twenty-fifth of a second on the retina , which therefore creates the illusion that the two images have merged together.
The next animation device was the Phenakistoscope (1831) which consisted of a disc with a series of images and slots spaced around the centre of the disc. The device would then be placed in front of a mirror and spun, the viewer would then look through one of the slots and witness the illusion of animation by seeing a series of images in quick succession. The Phenakistoscope also relied upon the persistence of vision theory to create the illusion.
Soon after the Phenakistoscope, the Zoetrope (1834) was invented. The Zoetrope was essentially a more efficient and complex Phenakistoscope. It was a cylindrical spinning device with several frames printed on paper. The viewer looked through the slots on the device and as it spins, the slots act as a sort of shutter and therefore the illusion is more effective. The Zoetrope had several advantages, as it did not require a mirror, and due to its cylindrical shape, it could be viewed by more than one person at a time. At this time in the 1800’s, more and more animation devices were being invented and the development of animation was rapidly progressing.

The next invention of the 1800’s was the Praxinoscope (1877) which was the device used for the first known animated projection on to a screen. Not only this, but the film is also notable as the first known instance of film perforations being used. The Praxinoscope improved upon the Zoetrope by replacing the viewing slots with an inner circle of mirrors. So therefore, the reflected images could be projected onto a screen which was arguably, the most influential invention regarding modern day animation.
The final animation invention of the 19th Century was the Kinetoscope (1892) which was another early motion picture exhibition device. It was the basic approach to projection which would become the standard for all cinematic projection before the advent of video. It created the illusion of movement by conveying a strip of film with a sequence of images over a light source with a high-speed shutter. The Kinetoscope was a ground breaking invention, as it was the first device to use perforated film, and later in 1895, there was the projecting kinetoscope, coined as the ‘Projectoscope’ , which really helped bring animation to life.
It could be argued that without these basic animation devices that were created in the 19th century, then animation today would not be as advanced, as most animation technology that is used in the present day relies on basic developments from the first animators. They provide inspiration and basic information about the complex and interesting modern uses of animation.
From the beginning of the 20th Century, animation took a different path, however it was still heavily dependent upon earlier inventions. It marked the beginning of the ‘Traditional Animation’ era , where the animations were often recorded on standard picture film, for example, the 1908 film Fantasmagorie made by Émilé Cohl which featured a stick figure encountering morphing objects, also, the title is a reference to the ‘Fantasmograph’, also known as the 19th Century variant of the Magic Lantern invention, originally created in 1650, which projected ghostly images across the walls of the room it was in. This is a classic example of how old animation devices inspired more modern creations.
‘Traditional Animation’ quickly became an influential era as it led to many fascinating and inventive creations, such as the character ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’ by Winsor McCay, who was a successful cartoonist and extremely popular amongst the animators. Animation which followed the ‘Traditional’ technique was coined as the ‘Silent Era’ which covered all animations throughout the early 20th century as it wasn’t until the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, for example, the first feature length animation to use synchronised sound was ‘Peludópolis’ made in 1931. Also, memorable animator Walt Disney began his career towards the end of this era in 1920. Disney began by creating the Laugh-O-Grams animation company with his co-worker, Fred Harman, where they created the Alice Comedies which were ultimately a failure. However, Disney later found success at Universal Studios with his character Oswald the Rabbit. Although, it wasn’t until Disney left Universal Studios and collaborated with Ubbe Iwwerks, where they both created Mickey Mouse who is a character still often used today in Disney productions, which proves that creations and inventions from the earlier animation developments have a substantial influence upon animation today.
Following the Silent Era of animation comes the Golden Age, where animation was at its peak, for example, many characters such as Bugs Bunny, Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, Popeye and Betty Boop emerged from this era. Not only this, but feature length animation began during this period, including Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Dumbo.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released in 1937 by Disney and was the first film made completely by using hand-drawn animation, as although there were seven animation films released before Disney’s Snow White, they were created using cut-out, silhouette and stop-motion techniques. Also, due to Snow White’s ground breaking box office impact and popularity that has survived even up until the present day, Disney’s main focus from then on has been on feature length animations.
However, following the Golden Age of animation was the Dark Age , regarded as fairly unsuccessful era due to its lack of innovative animation films and move towards focussing on children’s television cartoons. This era lasted from the late 1950’s up until the 1980’s and saw the rise of television animators such as Hanna-Barbera and Filmation. These animation companies heavily relied upon ‘limited animation’ which was regarded as a cost-effective option due to its process of re-using parts of frames to shorten the re-drawing process. This resulted in a quickly produced animation but was not as artistic or skilful as other animation techniques such as cel-animation used by Walt Disney. Examples of Hanna-Barbera’s cartoons include Scooby Doo, The Smurfs and Yogi Bear which, although they were very successful and popular with a children audience, were often regarded as basic and not very progressive. Consequently, due to the failure of these children cartoon companies, influential companies, such as Disney, began to regress and face a creative block. Walt Disney decided to play it a bit safer and release more family-friendly material and his focus was elsewhere. Although, he did attempt one last experiment with his film, Sleeping Beauty (1959), but this was a box office failure, particularly because of its lack of creativity and a powerful storyline.
Fortunately, better days were soon to come. Following they Dark Age of animation was the Renaissance Age, which was regarded as “the sunshine after a storm.” Disney began to invest in animation television shows and produced shows like DuckTales and Goof Troop which were extremely successful and ended up lasting until the late 1990’s. At the same time, rival companies such as the television networks Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network began creating their own shows which saw Nickelodeon release their ‘Nicktoons’ brand with Doug, The Rugrats and The Ren and Stimpy Show, while Cartoon Network made shows like Dexter’s Laboratory, Ed Edd ‘n’ Eddy and Codename: Kids Next Door. Not only this, but Disney also stepped up its game in animated movie production with the release of Oliver & Company in 1988 and Disney’s newly-established label Touchstone Pictures produced Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Which combined live-action and animated fantasy that served as a box office sensation of 1988. This was then followed by Disney’s The Little Mermaid in 1989 which was a refreshing musical and also another box office hit, and with the success of three ground-breaking films in just over a year, Disney was well and truly back in the game. Continuing Disney’s success was the release of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King of which all three were incredible successes of the Disney production company, and many argued that this era should have been called the ‘Disney Renaissance’ as Disney’s success with hand-drawn animation lasted until the rise of 3D computer animated films.
By the end of the 1990’s, rival studios had launched their own animation units, in particular DreamWorks, who ultimately failed miserably mainly due to Disney’s aggressive marketing campaign, for example, Disney re-released The Lion King in 1994 so it could crush the rival, The Swan Princess, from DreamWorks. On the other hand, adult-aimed animation, such as The Simpsons, which became a full-fledged series in 1989, and went on to become the most critically acclaimed television cartoon series of all time. Whereas, MTV became renowned for its series, Beavis and Butthead, which with the combination of new and innovative cartoon series, went on to cement the rise of television cartoons.
The Renaissance era also began the rise of computers in animation, as due to the digital revolution in the late 1980’s, PC’s were now available to the masses, so Disney employed CG for major parts of their films, starting with The Rescuers Down Under and had significantly improved by the release of The Beauty and the Beast. This arguably lay down the foundations for the following era which emerged in the late 20th century and is still prevalent today.
The Millennium Age of animation is the final era and it is the era we are currently in today. It has essentially abandoned the traditional 2D animation methods that thrived in the previous eras and has advanced to using CGI and Flash animation as its main format for production of animation films. The Millennium Age has seen the success of most popular animation companies including Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks, for example, the success of Toy Story in 1995 was a result of the collaboration between Disney and Pixar and proved to be a box office hit due to it being the first fully computer-animated feature length film. Not only this, but many of Pixar’s films, including Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Monsters Inc. had similar box office results and reviews to the films released by Disney throughout the ‘Disney Renaissance’ era. However, Disney’s releases of Bolt (2008), Tangled (2010) and Frozen (2013) have proven extremely successful not only in the box office but also with the audience as they are essentially films aimed at children but they are thoroughly enjoyed by an adult audience as well.
To conclude, inventions of animation devices set down the foundations for the animation successors including Winsor McCay and Walt Disney by allowing them to use their creativity whether it be stop-motion, cut-out or hand-drawn animation. Since the early 20th century, animation has advanced greatly through the invention of computer animation programs used by companies such as Disney and Pixar, which are still prominent today. Also, the early inventions such as the kinetoscope, which allowed animators to screen their productions, have enabled modern animators to improve upon animation techniques through highly detailed drawings shown by McCay and even the more modern Wallace and Gromit stop-motion production using clay models, which has collectively opened up an entire world of creativity that is still expanding and evolving today.…...

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