Monday, 27 December 2010

Critical Study (Origins/History)

Animation through time

Animation has come a long way since the beginning of time and not many know of the historic value it holds.

Animation started over 35,000 years ago where paintings on walls of caves depicted animals with more than the ordinary amount of limbs to give the sense of movement or by showing the animal in the actual movement itself i.e running. 

Depiction of an animals movement

Following the cave paintings, humans had started to evolutionise and discover more techniques to create movement in their art. In 1600 BC the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramases II built a temple dedicated to the goddess Isis, in this temple he had created 110 columns or panels in which he had painted the figure of the goddess, in each of the panels he painted the goddess moving progressively with minimal movement, this was the first concept of key frame animation. The effect this had on horsemen was amazement when they rode past. 

In Greece they would decorate pots with figures in different stages of an action, when spinning the pot this would also create the sense of movement. 

Ancient Greece pot

Thousands of years later in 1640 a German priest and scholar named Athonasius Kircher had discovered a method to project drawings onto the wall using a 'Magic Lantern', in relation to this he created his figures on seperate pieces of glass and then placed them into his apparatus which then projected the image onto the wall. He would then in turn move the different glass pieces by using a piece of string, this would create the effect of a moving image like a slideshow.
The magic lantern was something new to people which led to new ideas being generated and one of the many ideas was to use the magic lantern to create scare shows, also known as Phantasmagoria. This was a form of theatre where images of ghosts and horrific beings were shown and made to look real. Around that time superstition was heavily involved in peoples lives, and many people could not bear the thought of this, causing the audience paranoia and fright which eventually led a ban to these shows.

Magic lantern

Magic Lantern show

In 1824 Peter Mark Roget had discovered the principle, 'persistence of vision'. This gave him an understanding that a humans eyes retain an image for a temporary amount of time (afterimage), hence why our eyes can't see the shift of one frame to another frame in a series of images.
Roget understood the fundamentals of creating the illusion of movement, which led to the production of various contraptions which gave the sense of movement. One of which is the thaumatrope. This toy was quite popular during the victorian times, the way it works is quite simple its a cardboard with images on both sides attached to two strings, and when the strings are pulled the cardboard spins, causing the two images to merge together. The classic version features a bird and a cage.


Following the thaumatrope, another contraption which used the principle 'persistence of vision' was the phenakistoscope. This was invented in 1832 by Belgian physcist Joseph Plateau. The device consisted of two disks attached on to a shaft, the first disk has slits around the edges while the rear disk has drawings, when the two are aligned and spun at the relevant speed you have the illusion of motion.
The thaumatrope was replaced by the Zoetrope (Wheel of life) in 1867 and was sold as a toy in the USA, it is a similair device to its predecessor. This was an upgraded version of the thaumatrope which consisted of a cylinder with a strip of drawings on the inside of the cylinders surface, when the cylinder was spun you could see the movement of the figure through the open slits.


The Praxinoscope was then invented in 1877 by a Frenchman called Emile Reynaud. He had improved on the previous two devices, and made the praxinoscope feature an inner circle of mirrors rather than the slits to look through, this gave the person looking in the mirrors a clearer, brighter and a more stationary image, unlike the distorted image which the zoetrope would give. He also improved on the inner length of the strip inside, giving a much longer sequence of motion.
Reynaud later upgraded his own device in 1889 by making it project images on to a screen using an even longer roll of pictures, making him the first to show short sequences of animation to large audiences.

In 1868 the flipper book appeared worldwide. The most simplest and popular device for animating drawings. The device involves holding the book from the edge while the other hand flips the pages, the pages would obviously have illustrations of something moving gradually throughout each page and once the pages flipped, it would result in animation.

In 1906 James Stuart Blackton and Thomas Edison created the first animation using a combination of photography and drawings. Blackton impressed Edison by his skill of drawing quite fast, while Edison was experimenting with moving pictures he asked Blackton to create a series of drawings. Edison later photographed each of these individual drawings coming upto 3000, he then put them together to create the first animated picture, 'Humorous Phases of Funny Faces'. The result was an instant hit and created laughter amongst the many audiences. Blackton is now considered as one of the forefathers of American animation.
One year later a french man called Emile Cohl showed a full animated film in Paris using inspiration from Blackton. He used the same drawing technique of white lines on black paper to achieve the effect of drawing on a black board using chalk, he achieved this by reversing the negative film. The unique point of Cohls animation was the fact that his story was sophisticated and had a plot, it was a tale of a girl, a jealous lover and a policeman. In his animation he gave objects such as lamposts and houses a persona of their own by showing different moods and emotions, this was a mile stone for animation.

Winsor McCay, creator of the popular comic strip 'Little Nemo in Slumberland' recognised animation and started to experiment with it. He used a flipper book to create 4000 drawings of his character, 'Little Nemo' to move, these were later flashed in Hammerstein's Theatre in New York, 1911 and were a big hit. His second experiment with animation was a short film called 'How a Mosquito Operates', the response he received from his audiences was quite enthusiastic, even though the contents of the animation was quite crude.

How a mosquito operates (1912)

Following his second animation, McCay set the bar higher when he created 'Gertie the Dinosaur' in 1914. Gertie's character was unique and new to animation as she gave off emotions, different moods and this for the audience was something new as the character showed a personality and gave them the ability to empathise with the character. Another unique point was the fact that McCay himself performed live in front of the projected animation interacting with the dinosaur and giving Gertie commands to follow, this wowed the audiences as it was a new style of performance called live action/animation.
Winsor McCay went on to make many animated films, including the first dramatic cartoon which was also the first animated documentary called 'The Sinking of Lusitania', made in 1918. This was a huge step forward in realism and drama as it was based on war propaganda and was the longest animated film so far, consisting of 25,000 drawings and two years of work.
Earl Hurd who was a pioneer in animation invented cel animation in 1914. This was a technique which made it more efficient and less time consuming for an animator by drawing less frames. The cel was an acetate transparent type of sheet which animators could draw on and lay over a still background, this helped animators by using the required frames for one subject to move and another to stay static, rather than re-drawing the static character over and over again which causes a jittery appearance. This was quite an expensive method, and was not used much until later on.

In the 1920's 'Felix the cat' started becoming more popular. He had a comic strip about him and now the character had entered into animation. These short films debuted by Paramount pictures were inventive and did what a camera can't do. The character showed a real personality and slowly emerged from a black and white character with no sound to a character full of colour and sound later on in the 1950's, which audiences worldwide had followed from the beginning and watched the transition.
An episode of Felix the cat

The Felix cartoons led to the arrival of Walt Disney's character, Mickey Mouse in 1928. He took his first appearance in 'Steamboat Willie', this was the first ever cartoon synchronised with sound, which was a turning point in the animation industry.
Ward Kimball had said to Richard Williams: "You have no idea of the impact that having these drawings suddenly speak and make noises had on audiences at that time. People went crazy over it."
Following Steamboat Willie, Disney created 'The Skeleton Dance' which was also the first Silly Symphony, a term used for a series of short films made by Disney. For the first time action was co-ordinated with proper musical notes, giving a great effect of story telling.

Finally in 1932 Disney leapt forward by creating the first ever fully coloured cartoon using coloured film, with 'Flowers and Trees'.

Five years after introducing colour, Disney released 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' in 1937, it was the worlds first fully animated feature-length film, with a running time of 83 minutes. This film raised the level of art in animation, with the drawings being so fluid, the film staggered the audiences with amazement. The film was made in 3 years using cel animation, considering the technology of those times that is an incredibly short space of time for a feature length movie of that quality to be made. This set the foundation and the standard for all movies to come within the animation industry. 
The budget intended for the film was $250,000, but rather ended up with spending $1,500,000 (estimate). The financial success was rewarding and sufficent enough to create the 'Golden Age' of animation for Disney, which gave birth to Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942) and Fantasia (1940).

Following traditional animation, recent technology called CGI (Computer-generated imagery) has revolutionised the world of animation. It consists of using computer intelligence to create virtual images and animate them too. The principles of traditional animation are basically the same as CGI, the only difference lies on matter of tools used to generate animation on the chosen platform, that being by hand or by computer. One of the first feature length films to use CGI was Toy story (1995).

CGI has opened up many new possibilites and pathways for animation, that new things are being discovered just as they were from the beginning of animation. Animation itself plays an important role in media, film, television and the gaming industry as it has opened up many gateways for people to discover since time began i.e. Stop-motion, 2D/3D animation, computer animation, hand-drawn animation, claymation, puppet animation, pixilation, rotoscoping, motion capture and many more. This art form will continue to grow into many new exciting things being discovered for the future and has firmly planted itself into the present ground with its rich history.

Book: 'The Animators Survival Kit' by Richard Williams