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What are the Key Events in Animation History?

Animation history is a tapestry of technological innovation and creative storytelling. From the early days of stop-motion to the digital revolution sparked by Pixar's "Toy Story," each key event has expanded our horizons of the possible. How did these milestones shape the animated worlds we cherish today? Join us as we delve into the moments that defined this magical art form.
J.M. Densing
J.M. Densing

The art of animation has a rich and varied history, starting with toys that utilized a principle of animation called persistence of vision. From this simple concept employed by toys, animation began. Some key events in animation history include the first example captured on film, the first animated character, and the first such film with sound. Later events include the first full length feature film, and the first digital- or computer-generated animated film.

Animation history began before it was recorded on film. With toys such as the Zoetrope where the viewer would look through a slit at a turning wheel with a series of pictures on it. While the wheel turned, the pictures would appear be one image in motion rather than many separate ones. This phenomenon is called persistence of vision, and is the concept that inspired future advances in animation.

Computer generated imaging is a popular alternative to stop motion animation.
Computer generated imaging is a popular alternative to stop motion animation.

An important event in animation history is the first animated film. It was created in 1906 by J Stuart Blackton, using pictures drawn with chalk on a blackboard. It was called "Humorous Phases of Funny Faces." Blackton drew a picture of two faces, filmed it, then stopped the film, erased the drawing and drew a new one, then filmed the new picture. This continued in a cycle, called stop motion animation, and the faces in the finished product looked like they were moving when the film was played back.

Just a short time after this was the birth of the first animated character in animation history, Gertie the Dinosaur. She was created by Winsor McCay in 1914, out of hundreds of hand drawn pictures that he drew and filmed himself. This painstaking process meant one five-minute film could take more than a year to complete. He was the first person to use animation to portray a character. He is credited with being the father of the modern cartoon for his efforts.

Another major event in animation history was the first animated film with synchronized sound, "Steamboat Willie." This was actually a very early Mickey Mouse film by Walt Disney in 1928. Prior to this animation was silent, with separate music added at times. Synchronized sound allowed animators to use sound more effectively as part of their storytelling, eventually leading to dialog between characters.

The first surviving full length feature film in animation history was Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in 1937. It was the first feature released by Disney and was also the first in color. It employed a new type of camera called a multiplane that allowed the illusion of depth. It was considered groundbreaking at the time and remains a cherished classic. It was the first in a long string of Disney films.

A more recent event in animation history was the release of "Toy Story" in 1995 by Pixar. It was the first feature-length animated film to be made entirely using computer generated animation. Each frame took hours to complete, and the finished film showed amazing clarity, depth and color. Many people consider computer-generated animation to be the future of animated film.

Frequently Asked Questions

What was the first full-length animated feature film?

The first full-length animated feature film is "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," released by Walt Disney Productions in 1937. This groundbreaking film took three years to produce and was a significant risk for the studio. However, it became a massive success, earning over $8 million during its initial release, which would be over $140 million today, adjusting for inflation.

How did the introduction of computer-generated imagery (CGI) change animation?

The introduction of CGI revolutionized animation by allowing for more complex and realistic images. The 1995 release of "Toy Story" by Pixar Animation Studios marked the first feature-length film made entirely with CGI. This technological advancement not only changed the visual possibilities but also expanded storytelling capabilities, leading to a new era of animated films that appealed to both children and adults.

What impact did television have on the animation industry?

Television had a profound impact on the animation industry by creating a new, rapidly growing market for animated content. In the 1950s, shows like "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons" became popular, marking the transition of animation from cinema to TV screens. This shift led to the production of more serialized content and the development of Saturday morning cartoons, which became a staple of American childhood for decades.

Who are some influential figures in the history of animation?

Influential figures in animation history include Walt Disney, who pioneered feature-length animated films and created an entertainment empire; Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, known for his rich storytelling and beautiful animation; and John Lasseter, who played a key role in the development of CGI animation with Pixar. Each of these individuals has left an indelible mark on the industry and the art form.

What are some milestones in the evolution of animation techniques?

Key milestones in animation techniques include the development of cel animation, which became the standard method for creating cartoons in the early 20th century. The multiplane camera, introduced by Disney in the 1930s, added depth to animation. The 1960s saw the rise of limited animation, popularized by studios like Hanna-Barbera. The late 20th century brought CGI, which has continued to evolve with motion capture and 3D technology, further pushing the boundaries of what is possible in animation.

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Discussion Comments


@Mammmood - I have a friend who’s studying animation in a well-known art school. He’s definitely got some talent and creativity. I agree that you do need some patience in this field, but it’s like anything else--if you love what you’re doing time just flies. He’s hoping to land some work in a film studio.

The kinds of jobs animation specialists will perform involve meeting with clients, building characters and backgrounds, animating them, helping out in “tween” animations (the in-between animations) and so forth. I think he’s going to do well, and the pay for this field is quite good.


I love animation. The problem is that I’m not an artist. However, I’ve discovered some tools that have enabled me to take my storytelling to a new level, without the need to learn traditional key-frame animation.

It’s called machinima, a form of film-making that uses computer engine technology to produce films. Think about the famous Sims games or other programs like it. These programs let you make your own mini-movies by using recording features inside the software. You just think of a script idea and then direct the actors. You can shoot from different angles, build sets and so forth. You don’t have to focus on art, just direction and having a great story idea.

Already there are a lot of films online that use well-known games to create mini-movies. I believe that machinima is the best 3d animation software for the amateur like me. It’s like having a Pixar on your home computer.

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    • Computer generated imaging is a popular alternative to stop motion animation.
      By: Yury Teploukhov
      Computer generated imaging is a popular alternative to stop motion animation.