Friday, April 12, 2013

History of Animation by Sarah Bushin

Sarah Bushin

The History of Animation: From Ancient Times to the 19th Century

Animation is a medium that has surprisingly been around for many, many

years. When we consider the modern day style animation, whether it be cut paper,

clay, or computer, it is distinctly different than what it was when it first started.

The desire to depict a moving image has been around for over thirty five thousand

years. Back then, individuals used caves to create these images. They used a style

called smear frame, which is an animation technique in which rapid movement is

portrayed as a “blur.” They would draw animals that were sometimes drawn with

4 pairs of legs to show motion. This is a convention to have 4 pairs of legs or all legs

up in the air to show a moving animal.

It took many years for the next key advancement in animation to occur. In

1600 BC, the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II built a temple to the Goddess Isis which

had 110 columns. Each column had a painted figure of the goddess in a

progressively changed position. He was trying to show movement and in order to do

that, each picture would have to be subtly different. To horsemen or charioteers

riding past, Isis would have appeared to be moving. The ancient Greeks used a

similar technique but instead they did it on pottery. They would paint a person

multiple times with gradual changes to each image. Then, if you were to spin the

pot, it would look like the people were moving. This is an ancient example of the


The first known attempt to actually project drawings onto a wall was made

in 1640 by Athonasius Kircher with his Magic Lantern. Kircher drew each figure on

separate pieces of glass which he then placed in his apparatus and projected it on a

wall. He would then move the glass with strings from above. Originally, this

apparatus would have worked with candlelight. While this technique was difficult, it

was the first example of trying to show movement from a distance.

Peter Mark Roget then rediscovered the principle “the persistence of vision”

in 1824. He stated that there is the essential fact that our eyes temporarily retain

the image of anything they’ve just seen. So, when we look at an image and it then

changes to another, that original image will still be in our eye. When you put images

consecutively that are similar but slightly different to the one before, our eye will

attempt to connect them together. To describe this discover, he said, “the human eye

will blend a series of sequential images into a single motion if the images are

presented rapidly, with sufficient illumination and interrupted regularly.” This was

instrumental in the start of modern animation and actually allows animation to be


Roget’s principle actually gave birth to various optical contraptions that tried

to harness his discovery. The Thaumatrope was popular in Victorian times as a toy

and was invented in 1825 by John Ayrton Paris. It was an optical toy that uses the

persistence of vision. There was a card or disk with different designs on either side,

and then when the card or disk was twirled normally with a string, the designs

appeared to blend into one. Another invention that used the persistence of vision

was the Phenakistoscope. It was invented by Roget but then improved by the

Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau in 1841. There two discs mounted on a shaft with

the front disc having slits around the edge and the rear disc having a sequence of

drawings. When the slits were aligned with the drawings, if you looked through the

openings and as the discs revolved, you could see the illusion of motion.

Only about twenty-five years after that, the Zoetrope appeared in the USA.

This amazing instrument was considered the “wheel of life” because it appeared to

create life and movement from drawings on paper. There were long strips of paper

with a sequence of different drawings that were then inserted into a cylinder with

slits in it. If you spun the cylinder and looked through the slits, the creature or

drawing would appear to move. The American developer was William F. Lincoln,

though there were numerous earlier forms of the invention. Only ten years after the

Zoetrope, the Frenchman Charles Emile Reynaud invented the Praxinoscope in

1877. This invention was successive to the zoetrope and improved upon it by

replacing the viewing slits with mirrors. This was more stationary therefore

creating a brighter and less distorted image. Reynaud was actually the first person

to create short sequences of dramatic action when he drew on a 30-foot strip of

transparent substance called crystalloid.

Go back a few years to 1868 and there was something else that was

advancing animation. However, this was not a new object or invention. People

around the world were playing with flipper books. This is simply a pad of drawings

bound like a book. If you hold the book in one hand and flip the pages, you can see a

moving image. The result of the flipper book is directly animation: the illusion of

continuous action or drawings in time.

The next advancement was in 1896 when New York Newspaper cartoonist

James Stuart Blackton interviewed the inventor Thomas Edison who was

experimenting with moving pictures. Blackton did some sketches of Edison who was

impressed by his ability to draw fast and efficiently Edison asked him to do some

successive drawings, which Edison later photographed. This was the first

combination of both drawings and photography. And finally, in 1906 both Edison

and Blackton publicly released Humerous Phases of Funny Faces. It consisted of

3000 drawings photographed by Thomas Edison and was the forefather of the

animated cartoon!

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