History of Animation

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The Early Days

Persistence of vision was discovered in the early 1800's. Our eye and brain retain a visual impression for about 1/30th of a second. Persistence of vision prevents us from noticing that a motion picture screen is dark about half the time, and that a television image is just one bright, fast, discrete dot sweeping the screen. Motion pictures show one new frame (still picture of the movie clip) every 1/24th of a second and the same frame is shown three times during this time period (Persistence, 2001). The eye retains the image of each frame long enough, giving an illusion of smooth, continuous motion. Animation uses exactly the same principle to render the idea of motion. This led to such devices as the zoetrope, or "wheel of life." The zoetrope has a short, fat cylinder, which rotated on its axis of symmetry. Around the inside of the cylinder was a sequence of drawings, each one slightly different from the one next to it. The cylinder had long slits cut into its side in between each of the images so that when the cylinder was spun a slit would allow the eye to see the image on the oppose wall of the cylinder. As the cylinder was spun on its axis, the sequence of slits passing in front of the eye would present a sequence of images to the eye, creating the illusion of motion.

Another low-tech animation piece of equipment was the flipbook. The flipbook was a tablet of paper with an individual drawing on each page so the viewer could flip through them. This was also popular in the 1800s. However, these devices were little more than parlor curiosities used for light entertainment. While studying the early days of conventional animation is interesting in itself, the purpose for presenting an overview here is to gain an appreciation of the technological advances, which drove the progress of animation in the beginning. The earliest hint of using a camera to make lifeless things appear to move was by Meleis in 1890 using simple tricks. The earliest pioneers in film animation were Emile Cohl, a Frenchman who produced several vignettes, J. Stuart lackton, an American, who actually animated 'smoke' in a scene in 1900 and who is credited with the first animated cartoon in 1906, and the first celebrated animator, Winsor McCay, an American best known for his works Little Nemo and Gertie the Dinosaur. Winsor McCay is considered by many to have produced the first popular 'animation'. Like many of the early animators, he was an accomplished newspaper cartoonist. He redrew each complete image on rice paper mounted on cardboard. He was also the first to experiment with color in animation. Much of his early work was incorporated into vaudeville acts in which he would 'interact' with the animated character on the screen. Similarly, early cartoons often incorporated live action with animated characters. When considering such a popular entertainment format, in order to appreciate the audience reaction the reader should keep in mind the relative naiveté of the viewers at that time; they had no idea how film worked much less what hand- drawn animation was. It was, indeed, magic. The first major technical developments in the animation process can be traced to the work (and patents) of John Bray starting in 1910. His work laid the groundwork for the use of translucent cells ( short for celluloid) in compositing multiple layers of drawings into a final image as well as the use of grey scale (as opposed to black and white) drawings. Later developments by Bray and others enhanced the overlay dea to include multiple translucent pieces of celluloid (cels), added a peg system for registration, and the drawing of the background on long sheets of paper so that panning (translating the camera parallel to the plane of the background) could be performed more easily. Out of Bray's studio came the likes of Max Fleischer (Betty Boop), Paul Terry (Terrytoons), George Stallings (?), and Walter Lantz (Woody Woodpecker). Fleischer patented...
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