A Brief History of Early Animation 1890 -1950

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A Brief history of early animation 1890 - 1950

While experiments in creating moving images can be traced back to 180BCE it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that animation was truly realised through the advance of technology and creativity of the early pioneers such as J. Stuart Blackton and Emile Cohl. Driven by a desire to capture motion, many artists tried their hand at animation once the technology arrived, and up until the 1940s new and improved techniques for animation were being created every decade. Animation’s rise in popularity with the people and the advancement in techniques and technology culminated in a “golden era” in the US, where animation became a commercial and social triumph. Investigating this initial forty years of animation history, it is possible to witness the effects of not only technology on a growing industry, but how social and commercial aspects came to shape, for better or worse, this industry towards its ultimate high point.An early foray into playing moving images for a crowd was achieved with the Praxinoscope. Created by Charles-Emile Reynaud, a French inventor who designed the device and subsequently played short animations daily for delighted audiences at the Theatre Optique (optical show), from the year 1892 in the Musee Grevin of Paris. Using a form of perforated film, along with hand painted images these ‘moving drawings’ were a forerunner to the animated cartoon (Bawden, 1976). Meanwhile in the USA Thomas Edison, a famous American inventor was working with his own cinematic device called the Kinetoscope. The Kinetoscope used celluloid film to project moving images, much more advanced than the method of the Praxinoscope, but relied on a peephole system where only one viewer could watch. However the Praxinoscope as well as the Kinetoscope were soon out dated by the advancement of projection theatres which were much more cost effective than the single view Kinetoscope, as one machine was able to play a film for a whole crowd of people, and far more efficient in practice than the manually rotated Praxinoscope. This projected cinema technology was in use as early as 1895 in France; courtesy of the Lumiere brothers Cinematograph, and in the United States the Vitascope was first used in 1896 (History of Edison, 1999).

In 1896 John Stuart Blackton came into contact with Thomas Edison during an interview while serving as a cartoonist at the New York Evening World. The meeting went well and Edison requested Blackton do some drawings for the motion picture camera (Lussier, 1999). Blackton made a pair of drawing-based shorts for the Vitascope, first was the Enchanted Drawing (1900) considered to be more of a stop-action photography trick; were the camera is stopped a change is made and the camera is started again. However this gave Blackton the inspiration for a second foray, made up almost completely of drawings. The result was Humourus Phases of Funny Faces (1906) using an adaptation of stop-action photography called stop-motion photography. This technique gave a sense of motion to the subject. Although Blackton quickly lost interest in animation, it inspired many others. One such inspired artist was Emile Cohl, a Parisian artist who made the dream-like Fantasmagorie (1908), this was the first film comprised entirely of animation (Davis, 2008). Cohl had a long career in animation; however his films failed to gain popularity, unlike his contemporaries across the Atlantic. One such contemporary was Winsor McCay. McCay was eager to bring the art of animation to his own comic strip characters and worlds. An idea was inspired by his son's flip books - and four thousand individual drawings later the animated Little Nemo (1911) cartoon was released. McCay hand coloured his animation frame by frame and it was showcased in his Vaudeville act to enthusiastic audiences. Due to popularity it was subsequently shown in movie theatres (Bijou Blog, 2009). McCay followed up Little Nemo with his second...
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