motion pictures created by recording a series of still images—of drawings, objects, or people in various positions of incremental movement—that when played back no longer appear individually as static images but combine to produce the illusion of unbroken motion.
The term animation applies to creations on film, video, or computers, and even to motion toys, which usually consist of a series of drawings or photographs on paper that are viewed with a mechanical device or by flipping through a hand-held sequence of images (for example, a pad of paper can be used to create an animated "flipbook" of drawings). The term cartoon is sometimes used to describe short animated works (under ten minutes) that are humorous in nature.
There are many ways to create animation, depending on whether the materials used are flat (such as drawings, paintings, or cut-out pieces of paper) or dimensional (such as clay, puppets, household objects, or even people). In each case, an animator must keep in mind the basic principle of frames per second (the number of images needed to produce one second of film). Because sound film runs at twenty-four frames per second, a film animator must make twenty-four images for each second of animation that he or she wishes to create. A common time-saving practice is to film animation on twos or on threes, meaning that the animator actually uses one image for two or three frames of film in a row, rather than using each image only once.
The Production Process
After choosing an idea for a film, an animator must think about a concept in terms of individual actions. For instance, if an animator decides on an action that will take 3 seconds of animation to complete, the animator will have to create images to fill 72 frames of film (3 seconds of movement multiplied by a running speed of 24 frames per second). Filmed on twos, 36 drawings, showing progressive changes in the movement, will be needed to create the 3-second action. The ability to think in terms of incremental movement is essential to the animation process.
An animator must do a lot of planning, or pre-production work, before an animation is recorded. Whereas live-action filmmakers might improvise on the set, most animators have everything precisely timed prior to filming. Before any animation of images can be done, many details must be completed, such as developing the concept; storyboarding the concept (sketching the major events in a story with panel-like drawings, much like a comic strip); developing and recording a dialogue track; timing the dialogue and recording it on a time sheet (which shows, in seconds, the length of each bit of dialogue); and timing the action to fit the dialogue.
Depending on the size and budget of the production, the animator may work with a team of character designers, model builders, background artists, inspirational sketch artists, colorists, and other professionals who influence the look of the work. An individual, or independent, animator usually takes on all these roles.
Types of Animation
If an animator is using drawings, one of the most common animation techniques, he or she will first create a series of rough sketches that often will be filmed in a pencil test to determine whether the desired motion has been achieved. If the pencil test is satisfactory, images are refined by removing excess lines. If the animation is to be completed using acetate cels (sheets of celluloid), the technique traditionally employed by many commercial studios, cleaned-up images will be traced onto a cel by a person known as an inker, using special acetate-adhering inks. To save time and money, many large studios use a photocopy process, rather than hand inking, to transfer lines from the drawn original to the acetate cel. Later, a painter will apply vinyl paint colors onto the back of the cel.
Puppet animation (for example, that of Hungarian artist George Pal, Czech artist Jiøí Trnka, or Russian artist Ladislas Starewich) uses three-dimensional figures or puppets that are moved incrementally for each frame of film. This technique has been associated principally with Eastern Europe, which has a strong tradition of toymaking. Another type of dimensional animation, clay animation, uses plasticine figurines, which are changed in small increments through several frames of film to depict action. Clay animation is often associated with the Will Vinton Studio, located in Portland, Oregon, which in 1986 created the famous "California Raisins" television commercials using its trademarked Claymation technique.
Another type of animation, pixilation, uses humans or other live subjects filmed incrementally in various fixed poses; when the movements are played back, the subjects move in an unnatural or somewhat surreal way. One famous example of this type of animation is the short film Neighbors (1952), by Canadian artist Norman McLaren. Pinscreen animation, a relatively unusual animation method, was developed in France.
The pinscreen (also known as a pinboard, or by its official French name, l'écran d'épingles) is composed of a large upright frame containing a white plate that is perforated by millions of pins, or nails. Using rollers of different sizes, these pins are pushed inward or outward. Lit from the side with a single spotlight, the pattern of pins creates shadows. Dark shadows appear black, light shadows appear in variations of gray, and bright light appears white. This technique was used in Une nuit sur le Mont Chauve (Night on Bald Mountain, 1933) and a few other films.
Computer animation uses computers to automate many animation processes, such as shading and coloring
Although computers were once shunned by studios and animators who prided themselves on handmade craftsmanship, recent projects, such as the motion picture Toy Story (1995), demonstrate that new technologies have gained greater acceptance in the industry. As in traditional animation, computer animators benefit from drawing skills and an understanding of incremental movement and timing.
Precursors of animation include optical toys or devices that involve incremental movement and the appearance of motion. One such device is the thaumatrope, a disk with complementary images (a bird and a cage, for example) printed on each side and two strings that serve as handles; when the disk is spun by twirling the strings, the images converge (the bird would appear to be inside the cage). The thaumatrope, which was developed by English physician John A. Paris in 1825, demonstrates the concept of persistence of vision: images remain implanted on the eye for a split second after they have moved; if continuous images appear rapidly enough, they will seem to be connected (overlapped, in the case of the thaumatrope, or in continuous motion, in the case of animated films). Another early animation device, the phenakistiscope, was developed by Belgian scientist Joseph Plateau in 1832. This rotating disk contains successive images that, when viewed properly, give the appearance of motion. The praxinoscope, a cylinder containing a strip of paper with animated images that can be seen through the use of a mirror, was patented by French inventor Émile Reynaud in 1877
Animation has been a part of cinema history from the time the first motion pictures were made in the late 1800s. Some early live-action films, known as trick films, used the animation technique of stop action, whereby the camera is stopped and an object is removed or added to a shot before filming is resumed. Some of the pioneers of drawn animation films were well-known newspaper cartoonists, such as French artist Émile Cohl (whose films include Fantasmagorie, 1908), often considered to have been the first true animator, and American artist Winsor McCay (whose films include Little Nemo, 1911; and Gertie the Dinosaur, 1914). Although dimensional animation techniques were used in the early years of filmmaking, American motion-picture studios soon determined that flat animation was best suited for the assembly-line techniques they had adopted to make the filmmaking process more efficient.
One of the milestones of efficient animation production was the patenting of a cel animation production process by American animator Earl Hurd in 1914. Because they were clear, cels reduced the number of times an image had to be redrawn; as a result, different drawings of moving parts could be laid over a single static image. Cels were not widely used for some time, largely because of the cost of licensing the process. Most early animators used other time-saving methods. With the slash-and-tear system, for example, an artist would draw moving images (the characters, for example) on one sheet of paper and tear away the excess paper surrounding the images. The remaining portion of the sheet of paper would then be overlaid on another sheet of paper that contained static elements (such as the background), which appeared through torn areas.
Today, cel animation has become the industry standard, in part because of the worldwide influence of one studio, now known as the Walt Disney Company. The company's founder, Walt Disney, was born in Chicago, but grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, where he met animator Ub Iwerks and composer Carl Stalling, who were to be important to his future success. After animating films in Kansas City from 1919 to 1923, Disney moved to California in 1923 to work on a new series he called Alice Comedies. These films, which combined a live-action character with an animated environment, were distributed by Margaret J. Winkler, an important producer in the early film industry who also handled the famous Felix the Cat series.
After losing the rights to his Oswald the Rabbit series, which he had developed in the 1920s, Disney (with his then-partner Iwerks) created a character that was to become the most famous animated figure in history: Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse gained real fame in the third film developed for him, Steamboat Willie (1928), which contained a musical score by Stalling and was Disney's first sound film.
The Mickey Mouse series of short films, known simply as shorts, gradually incorporated a number of other popular characters and ran for several years. During the 1930s, Disney also produced the Silly Symphony series of shorts which served as a venue for experimentation with new technologies (for example, Technicolor, one of the first color film systems) and for exploration of the relationship between visuals and music (these shorts can be considered precursors to Disney's full-length animated film Fantasia, which appeared in 1940 and in which animated images served as interpretations of well-known symphonic music). Later in the decade, the studio released Snow White (1937), the first animated feature-length film made in the United States.
Mid- to Late-20th Century Animation
Other important animation studios of the 1930s and 1940s included Columbia Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Inc., Terrytoons, the Van Buren Studio, Walter Lantz Productions, and Warner Bros.
as well as studios headed by animators Ub Iwerks (who had left the Walt Disney Company in the 1930s) and Max Fleischer. In most studios, labor was divided along gender lines, with men having the most flexibility in occupation and women being limited to inking and painting or other relatively noncreative tasks. At the Disney studio, for example, it was a general policy that women could work only in the ink and paint departments, although some women, such as artists Sylvia Holland and Mary Blair, in fact profoundly influenced the look of Disney animation.
Walter Lantz employee Laverne Harding was one of the few women who actually worked as an animator during American animation's so-called Golden Age, in the 1930s and 1940s.
During this period, animation flourished outside the United States as well. In the 1920s and 1930s, French experimental artists such as Marcel Duchamp, in Anémic Cinéma (Anemic Cinema, 1927), and Fernand Léger, in Ballet Mécanique (Mechanical Ballet, 1924), were using animation techniques in conjunction with their work in other fine arts. In England, the General Post Office supported films by experimental animators Len Lye and Norman McLaren. In 1941 McLaren founded the animation department at the National Film Board of Canada.
England was also the home of Hungarian animator John Halas, who in 1940 founded a studio with British animator Joy Batchelor. The Halas and Batchelor studio produced many important films, including Animal Farm (1954). Notable animators working in Germany included abstract painter Oskar Fischinger, who went to the United States in 1936 and later influenced American abstract animators such as Harry Smith, Jordan Belson, James Whitney, and John Whitney. German animator Lotte Reiniger created beautiful animated films using intricately cut-out paper figures silhouetted with backlighting (lighting from behind). Reiniger's most famous film is Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed, 1926), one of the first feature-length animated films
Although many animation techniques have been used through the years with critical and commercial success, the Disney style of cel animation, known as full animation because it has constant movement and a high ratio of drawings per second of film, has had the strongest influence worldwide. Nonetheless, during the mid-1940s a successful alternate style of cel animation was introduced by another studio, United Productions of America (UPA). UPA was founded by Dave Hilberman, Zachary Schwartz, and Stephen Bosustow, all of whom had left Disney as a result of a strike in 1941. Interested in modern art and in addressing social issues, these artists were determined to create a new style of animation, both in form and content. Using simplified designs and stylized color, UPA made an impact on the world of advertising and the then-new field of television. UPA's technique of using fewer drawings in a more stylized way became known as limited animation.
At about the time of UPA's emergence, television was gaining prominence in American society, leading to the establishment of new animation studios by Jay Ward—creator of the "Bullwinkle" series—and the team of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera—creators of "Yogi Bear" (1961-1963), "The Flintstones" (1960-1966), and "The Jetsons" (1962-1963, 1984-1985, 1987-1988). UPA's method of limited animation was embraced by many fledgling studios producing animation for television, as a way to create material economically and quickly. High color contrast and solid color fields were also widely used, since television lacked the resolution of motion pictures and therefore required clearly defined images. However, many of the new television animation studios—which helped fill the market for Saturday morning cartoons developed in the early 1960s—were criticized for producing limited animation that lacked the stylistic refinement of the UPA artwork.
The emergence of college film programs and increased attention to social issues during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s resulted in a proliferation of animation that explored new themes. Particularly notable was the number of American women who began to create animated films during those decades, including Faith Hubley, Mary Beams, Suzan Pitt, Joanna Priestley, and Joan Gratz. Internationally, animation continued to be pursued as an artistic endeavor, particularly in Eastern Europe, Canada, and other countries with government-supported animation studios.
Aside from television, perhaps the largest influence on the style of recent animation worldwide has come from computer technologies. Experiments with electronic animation began in the 1930s, but it was not until the late 1970s that computer animation became viable beyond scientific and government applications, particularly for use by the entertainment industry.
Computer-animated special effects and techniques to enhance live-action images have become a dominant characteristic of contemporary motion pictures, especially in the action, science fiction, and horror genres. The first film to use computer-generated imagery as a major component was Tron (1982), about a computer programmer who enters the world of his own program. Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), a production company headed by American filmmaker George Lucas, pioneered the use of computer-animation special effects techniques in such films as Star Wars (1976), The Abyss (1989), Terminator 2 (1991), Jurassic Park (1993), Forrest Gump (1994), and The Mask (1994). Computer-animation techniques have also found broad applications in the computer game industry.
Producers of motion-picture animation and animation for television have been less receptive to computer work—in part because until recently it has been more expensive to use a computer system than to pay artists to paint cels. Computer-animated figures present aesthetic problems as well. In the past, they tended to be rigid-looking and to lack a sense of weight. Recent innovations in software have enabled animators to create figures with a more realistic sense of movement.
Japanese Animation Japanese animation, known as anime, blossomed after World War II ended in 1945 and today is immensely popular both within Japan and worldwide. The success of such animated feature films as Kaze no Tani no Naushika (Nausicaa, 1984), directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and Akira (1988), directed by Katsuhiro Otamu, in addition to several recent television series, has earned a devoted international following for contemporary Japanese animation.
Some of the first animation produced in Japan includes the short Kachikachi Yama (The Hare Gets Revenge Over the Raccoon, 1939) and the puppet film Musume Dojoji (The Girl at Dojo's Temple, 1946), both directed by Kon Ichikawa, who later also made live-action films. The most important figure in Japanese animation, Tezuka Osamu, created in 1963 the first animated made-for-television series in Japan, "Tetsuwan Astro" (Astro Boy).
Tezuka also made a number of shorts, among them Onboro Film (Broken Down Film, 1985), which parodies American silent motion pictures. Other important Japanese animators include Yogi Kuri, Kihachiro Kawamoto, Renzo Kinoshita, Taku Furukawa and Shinichi Suzuki. The Toei studio, one of Japan's largest producers of live-action films, also has played a significant role in animation history with a number of feature films and made-for-television series.
Two trends in the animation industry are likely to have a profound influence on its future: a significant increase in production and exhibition opportunities, and the growing importance of new technologies.
For many years, animation festivals operating under the auspices of an international animation society, Association Internationale du Film d'Animation (ASIFA), have screened short works from a wide variety of mostly independent (noncommercial) animators. During the mid-1980s, a number of traveling animation festivals, such as the Spike 'n' Mike series and Expanded Entertainment's Tournee of Animation, brought prize-winning films to smaller communities and quickly developed a loyal following in the United States.
The advent of home video and laser discs made more viable the distribution of these works and increased their marketability after festival tours were complete. Traveling festivals and home entertainment have brought recognition to talented animators worldwide, and especially to independent artists from throughout the world. For example, commercially available videotapes showcase animation from the United Kingdom—currently some of the most innovative in the world—including the work of Joanna Quinn, David Anderson, Barry Purves, and Candy Guard. Other artists, such as Bruno Bozzetto, from Italy, and Paul Driessen, from the Netherlands, are also gaining much greater exposure because their work appears on videotapes and laser discs.
While exhibition opportunities for short experimental films and independent animation rose during the mid-1980s, a parallel interest in feature-length, mainstream animation emerged in the commercial motion-picture industry. In the United States, the Disney studio's Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), which combines live-action and animation in a feature-length film, was a box-office success. On television, "The Simpsons" (1990- ), created by American cartoonist Matt Groening, became the first animated series to succeed in prime-time (7 PM to 11 PM) since "The Flintstones" in the 1960s.
During the 1990s, the Walt Disney Company produced an average of one animated feature per year, having released such commercial successes as The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), and Pocahontas (1995), all of which benefited from extensive promotional tie-ins, such as clothing and toys. At the same time, several other Hollywood, California, animation studios, such as Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera, also undertook heavy production schedules of feature-length animation, as well as shorts for television. The Nickelodeon cable network, another major producer of American animation, released a number of original programs in the 1990s, including the controversial but very popular series "The Ren & Stimpy Show," created in 1990 by Canadian-born artist John Kricfalusi.
The increasing significance of new technologies in the animation industry is exemplified in the work of American animator John Lasseter, who in 1986 began working for Pixar, one of the leading computer animation studios in the United States. Lasseter's highly acclaimed film Luxo, Jr. (1986) was one of the first computer-animated shorts to depict a character with a very humanlike personality. In 1988 he won an Academy Award for his computer-animated short film Tin Toy, a forerunner of the first completely computer-animated feature film, Toy Story (1995), which Lasseter directed.
The release of Toy Story by Disney signalled that three-dimensional animation techniques, previously used only to enhance parts of films, had been fully embraced by the commercial animation industry. It is unlikely, however, that other techniques will fade completely. As in the past, independent animators will continue to create innovative personal expressions using a variety of approaches, developing new methods and expanding the definition of animation as an art form.