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What are the Key Events in Animation History?

By J.M. Densing
Updated May 23, 2024
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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.

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.

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Discussion Comments
By NathanG — On May 08, 2011

@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.

By Mammmood — On May 07, 2011

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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