The History of Animation

The History of Animation

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is an animation worth?

The History

As humans, we have been trying to explain our emotions through drawing for thousands of years. You know us mortals, we want to leave our mark on the world and make sure we’re remembered and understood. And as our technologies have evolved, so have our abilities to tell stories and convey emotions through the use of drawings.

The earliest forms of drawings have been reported to be from 30,000 to 10,000 B.C.E. They were simply scratches, carvings, or paintings on caves and everyday tools. And they have been incredibly helpful in understanding life at those periods of time.

Many years later, a famous drawing would change the way we depicted movement in our drawings. Around 1490, Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous drawing, the Vitruvian Man, depicted different angles of a male body giving the impression of snow-angel like limb movement. Far from being an animation, this drawing can still gauge how far we have come representing ourselves and the world around us through drawings.

17th century

In the 17th century, a smart dude named Christiaan Huygens invented a cool device called a magic lantern. The first lanterns out there were pretty simple, consisting of hand painted glass slides and a light that projected the drawings onto walls. The stories depicted in the glass slides were narrated live by showmen. In the early ages of magic lanterns, the only sources of light available to create this magic show were oil lamps and candles, which were not sufficient to project images to large groups of people. And much like animations today, the magic lamps were used not only to entertain but also to educate people on various subjects.

magic lantern

Then it was time for the thaumatrope to arrive on the scene. This was an optical toy that was popular during the 19th century. It consisted of a disk attached to two strings. With two images drawn on each side of the disk, you make this simplistic device work by quickly twirl the strings causing the disk to rotate and the two pictures appear to blend into one another due to the

persistence of vision.

19th century

In 1877, the praxinoscope was invented by the Frenchman, Emile Reynaud. This device was much like the zoetrope, with the difference being that the cut-outs had been removed and replaced by a circle wrapped around by mirrors. By 1889, this device received another upgrade by Reynaud itself. The “praxinoscope 2.0” was able to project images on a screen as well as roll a longer series of pictures.

In 1895, the Lumière brothers built photographic equipment and devised an early motion-picture camera and projector called the Cinématographe. They also created what is considered to be the first motion picture. The cool thing about their projector they used the same camera to capture the images as the projector.


20th century

In 1932, the phenakistoscope was invented by Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau. The phenakistoscope is a spinning disc attached vertically to a handle. In the disc, there is a series of equally spaced drawings and cutouts around the disc. When spinning the disc in front of a mirror and looking through the cut outs you are able to see a rapid succession of the images that will appear to be a one moving picture. Pretty cool stuff!

A few years later the phenakistoscope got an upgrade by William George Horner. With the upgrade came a new name, Zoetrope. The difference between the two was that the new version had its images located inside a cylinder with vertical cutouts throughout the cylinder. In the same manner as the phenakistoscope, when you spin the cylinder and look through the cut outs you can see the drawings blurring together giving the appearance of movement.

Then came the flip-book. You may even have had one as a child. They were very popular at the end of the 19th century and beginning of 20th century. In case you don’t know what we’re talking about, the flip-book is a small book -shocker, right?- consisting of a series of images in each of its pages that appear to come to life as you flip through the book.

21st century

From there, things have evolved pretty quickly to what we have today. Pretty much every animation we see now is made digitally. And although the methods used to make an animation have dramatically evolved throughout the years, the time it takes to make those videos remain almost the same. So what’s changed? The quality!

Why We Love It

By definition, an animation is the art of making inanimate objects appear to move. So, as we can see above people have been creating animations for quite some time. More specifically, since the thaumatrope was invented. As humans, we have the innate want to express our feelings and our mundane experiences. And this insatiable want has led us to create some of the most amazing pieces of art.

In 1906, J. Stuart Blackton created the first drawn animation. Given the technology of the time, that is pretty impressive. Thank Blackton for paving the way!
old back and white animation
Then came Walt Disney who with all his ideas and dreams revolutionized the animation world. In 1928, he came out with the first sound cartoon called Steamboat Willie.

A few years later, this is what he had to say about this landmark animations:

“The effect on our little audience was nothing less than electric. They responded almost instinctively to this union of sound and motion. I thought they were kidding me. So they put me in the audience and ran the action again. It was terrible, but it was wonderful! And it was something new!”

If you know anything about Walt Disney, you know that he was not a complacent person. So, a few years later, he created the first hand-drawn animated feature-length movie. It’s very likely that you have even watched this one already.

 That’s right. Snow White! Did you know that this animation took almost 5 years to be completed? Another fun fact is that a multi-plane camera was used to shoot this animation, in order to give the animation the illusion of depth. And after that, these types of cameras became a standard for animation studios.

 In 1960, the first animated series on prime-time tv was broadcasted on ABC. Want to guess which series? I  will give you a hint. The show was about a family that has a dinosaur as a pet. If you guessed The Flintstones, you are right!

And from there we only got more options of animation to watch and love. From the Pink Panther to the Simpsons to Toy Story to you name it… We all have our favorite, or in some cases, favorites. It’s ok. We all love them.

But what is it about animation that we love so much? it because animation is our escape from reality. We love it because with animations we can make the impossible possible. And that is very powerful my friend!

What’s your favorite thing about animation? Let’s keep the conversation going. Tweet us @DigitalBrew_co!

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