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What Is Cartoon Animation?

Cartoon animation breathes life into static drawings, transforming them into vibrant stories that captivate our imaginations. Through a sequence of meticulously crafted frames, animators create the illusion of movement, infusing characters with personality and emotion. It's a magical blend of art and motion, inviting us to explore limitless worlds. Ready to see how these animated wonders are crafted? Join us on this animated adventure.
Alan Rankin
Alan Rankin

Cartoon animation is created with traditional hand-drawn or computer-generated animation techniques. While animation can include any subject, style, or age group, the word “cartoon” usually describes colorful short pieces that are often intended to be humorous and to appeal to children. Cartoon animation has been used for this purpose since the dawn of animated film in the early 20th century. The term “cartoon” is also used to describe printed humorous drawings that appear in newspapers or periodicals. These, however, are more accurately called comic strips or gag panels.

Animation originated at the same time as motion picture photography. Both exist because of a function of the human eye and mind known as persistence of vision. This causes a rapid sequence of different images to be perceived as a single moving image by the observer. The first animated films appeared shortly after the debut of motion pictures in 1896. Cartoon animation followed soon after, pioneered by comic strip artist Winsor McKay with his groundbreaking cartoon Gertie the Dinosaur.

A flower drawn by an animation artist.
A flower drawn by an animation artist.

During the golden age of American cinema in the 1930s and 1940s, it was common for movie theaters to show several short films before the main feature. These short films often included a brief news capsule, called a newsreel, and a cartoon. The creators of this era of cartoon animation were some of the greatest animators in history, including Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and the artists of the Walt Disney studios. Many of these theatrical cartoons became beloved classics of animation, winning acclaim and awards. When television gained widespread popularity in the 1950s, these cartoons became regularly syndicated items.

Some animators produce art for comic books.
Some animators produce art for comic books.

The spread of television ushered in a new era of cartoon animation. Studios such as Hanna-Barbera provided numerous cheaply produced cartoons for children’s programming. At one time, a viewer would find broadcast television channels saturated with cartoon programming on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons. The rise of computer animation in the 1990s coincided with the rapid expansion of cable networks, including many for children. Several of these new channels displayed nothing but cartoons on a 24-hour schedule.

Television shows may feature animated characters, like Porky Pig, that are created by a cartoon illustrator.
Television shows may feature animated characters, like Porky Pig, that are created by a cartoon illustrator.

The turn of the 21st century saw yet another boon for cartoon animation. Major film studios created feature-length theatrical films with huge budgets and celebrity voice actors. Broadcast and cable networks launched numerous successful animated series. Some of these new cartoons were intended for adults but imitated the simple drawing styles of earlier eras. The animation styles of countries such as Japan gained worldwide followings, while increased respect for the art form was demonstrated by a new Academy Award category for Animated Feature Film.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is cartoon animation and how does it differ from other forms of animation?

Claymation is a form of cartoon animation.
Claymation is a form of cartoon animation.

Cartoon animation is a genre of animation that emphasizes stylized, often humorous and exaggerated characters and storylines. It differs from other forms of animation by its focus on caricature and its roots in comic strips and early cinematic history. Unlike some other forms of animation that may aim for realistic movements and scenarios, cartoon animation thrives on its whimsical and imaginative approach, often bending the rules of physics and reality for comedic or dramatic effect.

What are the key techniques used in creating cartoon animations?

Cartoons frequently use voice actors to bring characters to life.
Cartoons frequently use voice actors to bring characters to life.

Creating cartoon animations involves several key techniques, including traditional hand-drawn animation, where artists create each frame by hand, and digital animation, which utilizes computer software. Other techniques include stop-motion, using physical models, and rotoscoping, where animators trace over live-action footage. Each technique brings a unique texture and feel to the animation, with digital methods now dominating the industry due to their efficiency and versatility.

How has technology impacted the evolution of cartoon animation?

Technology has significantly impacted cartoon animation, revolutionizing the way animations are produced and viewed. The advent of computer-generated imagery (CGI) has allowed for more complex and visually stunning animations. According to a report by Grand View Research, the global 3D animation market size was valued at USD 16.64 billion in 2020 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.7% from 2021 to 2028, highlighting the growing influence of advanced technologies in animation (https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/3d-animation-market).

What role does voice acting play in cartoon animation?

Voice acting is crucial in bringing cartoon characters to life, providing them with distinct personalities and emotional depth. A talented voice actor can add layers of nuance to a character, making them memorable and relatable. The synchronization of voice with animated movements, known as lip-syncing, is also vital in creating a believable and engaging viewing experience. The voice performance can greatly influence the audience's connection to the characters and the overall impact of the animation.

Can you explain the cultural significance of cartoon animation?

Cartoon animation holds significant cultural importance as it often reflects and shapes societal values, trends, and humor. It has the power to address complex issues in an accessible way, influence generations, and serve as a historical record of changing cultural dynamics. Cartoons like "The Simpsons" have become cultural icons, offering commentary on social and political issues while entertaining audiences worldwide. Moreover, cartoons can bridge cultural gaps, as their universal appeal allows them to be enjoyed by diverse audiences across the globe.

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Discussion Comments

anon318578

Adobe flash CS5 in just the best software for animation for me.

profess

My all time favorite cartoon always has been and always will be Scooby Doo.

I loved it as a kid and I still have a soft spot for it now. I know that as far as animation goes it did not push any boundaries. But I have always been a sucker for mysteries and they nailed that aspect.

vigilant

I saw a fascinating documentary about the heyday of cartoon animation that saw the production of all those Disney movies, the Looney Toons characters right up until the Flintstones.

Those artists are some of the unsung heroes of 20th century art. The work they made had an impact that has lasted longer and cut deeper than a lot more famous artists. And seeing them work and how much time and concentration it took was amazing.

There is a reason those cartoon still seem so vibrant. There was an energy to that period and it shows up in the work.

BAU79

Does anyone know of any easy to use but effective cartoon animation programs that I can find online or download for free? I would like to experiment with a few things for a short film I am working on but I do not have any experience with animation.

I can draw a little and I know Photoshop so I think I can pick something up if it is easy enough. Any suggestions?

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    • A flower drawn by an animation artist.
      By: lenka
      A flower drawn by an animation artist.
    • Some animators produce art for comic books.
      By: Joseph Bremson
      Some animators produce art for comic books.
    • Television shows may feature animated characters, like Porky Pig, that are created by a cartoon illustrator.
      By: Rusty Clark
      Television shows may feature animated characters, like Porky Pig, that are created by a cartoon illustrator.
    • Claymation is a form of cartoon animation.
      By: Yermashkevich Pavel
      Claymation is a form of cartoon animation.
    • Cartoons frequently use voice actors to bring characters to life.
      By: David Stuart
      Cartoons frequently use voice actors to bring characters to life.