Nowadays, animation is a medium of artistic expression which is used by a vast number of professionals, to make conventional cinema and television movies but they are not alone. Each day, thanks to 3D animation and the widening field of multimedia, more and more artists are beginning to see animation as an ideal way of giving expression to their ideas, through image to image sequences.
Today it is not very difficult at all to succeed with such projects, thanks to all of the technological aids we have at our disposal, but the endeavours that have been made up until now (over more than a century) deserve to be known and remembered.
This blog attempts to pay tribute to the pioneers who made possible the birth of animated cartoons, via a chronology which begins with the first and rudimentary optical toys and concludes with the innovations which have made possible the execution of animated cartoons as we know them today.
Seasons will be included, as will retrospectives and all of the animated shorts from those classic creators who, with their inventiveness, advanced the development of animation in each period.
We would be grateful for any kind of comments or information you feel disposed to share with us in this little space.
So, welcome and... LET´S GO TO THE SHOW!
Prehistoric Era people were already trying to give expression to the essence of movement, by painting four pairs of legs on the images with which they decorated their caverns. After them, the ancient Egyptians and Greeks sequenced images with movements in wall decorations, as well as many other kinds of utensils.
1640 - THE MAGIC LANTERN
However, the first known serious attempt to project drawings in motion, on a screen, was not done until 1640, by the German Athanasius Kircher. The system was very rudimentary but effective; it consisted of several layers of movable glass slides, with images drawn on them which, when manipulated mechanically, gave movement to the characters.
These are some examples of the results achieved with the magic lantern prototype.
1824 "THE PERSISTENCE OF VISION"
In 1824 the Englishman Peter Mark Roget, who arrived at the conclusión that “all movement could be broken down into a series of fixed images” discovered the principle of “the persistence of vision”. Thanks to this discovery, researchers in the second half of the nineteenth century dedicated themselves to creating artifacts that have been improved upon over the years.
1826- THE TAUMATROPE
John Ayrton Paris invented the Taumatrope. It was a disc with a different image on each side; one of them, the image of a bird and the other, the image of a cage. The disc was suspended between two strings which were twisted in such a way that when they were pulled tight, they made the disc turn at high speed, creating the optical illusion that the bird was inside the cage. Invention of the Taumatrope has also been attributed to John Herschel and Charles Babbage, amongst others, but Paris was the first to distribute it commercially.
1832- THE PHENAKISTOSCOPE
By Joseph Antoine Plateau (1832). It consisted of a series of drawings in continuous steps of motion on a disk that turned independently of another disk that had slots cut in it; looking through them caused the figures painted on the disk behind it to seem to move.
1867- THE ZOETROPE
Actually, the original inventor of the Zoetrope was the mathematician William George Horner (1786-1837), who created a device consisting of a roll of paper with drawings on it, which was placed inside a turning drum, perforated right around with slots, creating the impression of movement. He called his invention the Daedalum (Wheel of the Devil) but the mechanism was not popularized until 30 years later, when it was renamed the Zoetrope (Wheel of the Life), by William F. Lincoln, in the United States.
1878- THE PRAXINOSCOPE
Emile Reynaud patented the Praxiniscope, a device consisting of a system of mirrors, which reflected Zootrope images in a way that enabled a huge number of people to watch them at once.
1891- THE KINETOSCOPE
It was Thomas Alva Edison, the prestigious American inventor who (taking as a base all those earlier inventions) created the Kinetoscope, the device which is considered to be the first cinema machine. It consisted of a box through which a reel of photos were passed, at a rate of 46 images per second, and lit by an incandescent lamp; the spectator could see the show through a peephole. It was already being used in the last decade of the 19th century and soon became popular at carnivals, parties, and funfairs. Kinetoscope halls, which were coin-operated, appeared in New York around the same time.
In 1896, Edison shot The Kiss, amongst other movies. Though it was barely twenty seconds long, it was the first kiss in all of cinema history and it unleashed the rage of the moralists of the time.
1894- THE CINEMATOGRAPH
The Lumière brothers (Louis and Auguste), intrigued by Edison´s Kinetoscope, developed an inventive combination of camera and projector, called the Cinematographe, which was patented in February of 1895. After some private presentations to scientific audiences, the Lumière brothers made their first open audience presentation of their movies on the 28th of December, 1895 – the date that most historians consider to be the birth of cinema.
The Lumière brothers’ movies La Sortie des Usines and L´Arrivée d´un Train a la Ciotat are available in the ‘Pioneers’ section of this blog.
1895- LA SORTIE DES USINES
Although the invention of animated cartoons occurred earlier than that of the Cinematographe, I would not like to begin this section without paying homage to the Lumière brothers and to the first projected movie in a public place (the Indian Salon at the Grand Café of Paris, on the 28th of December, 1895). This was not only the first public screening but also the first time an audience had bought tickets to see a movie. That movie was La Sortie des Usines.
The plot, the argument, the editing, and the special effects are of no importance here. The really important thing is to try to travel back to that early era and re-live the magic and emotion which must have been experienced that first audience, watching the very first images in movement, in all the history of cinema.
1896- L'ARRIVÉE D'UN TRAIN A LA CIOTAT
This other Lumière brothers movie is, without a doubt, their best known. It is even often wrongly referred to as their first movie but the truth is that it was actually shot a year after La Sortie des Usines, in 1896.
Legend has it that when the audience at that first screening saw how the train came hurtling towards the camera, they stood up from their seats, frightened they would be run down by it.
1900- THE ENCHANTED DRAWING
By the film producer James Stuart Blackton, was a production of Vitagraph Company of America. Mistakenly considered the first animated film. Actually, it was filmed continuously, with only a few cuts in it to change the expresion of the character.
1905- EL HOTEL ELÉCTRICO
Segundo de Chomón, in his studios in Barcelona (Spain), filmed the experimental film titled El Hotel Eléctrico (The Electric Hotel). This was the first picture filmed using the technique of pixilation, which consist of manipulating elements and characters in the set between each filmed frame. The viewer has the sensation that the objects and characters are moving by themselves. El Hotel Eléctrico was not the first animated cartoon, but it was the first animated film and the first to use the one turn, one picture system, which is still being used by animators today.
1906- HUMOROUS PHASES OF FUNNY FACES
Again a production of Vitagraph Company of America. In it we see the artit drawing characters on a blackboard; the characters come to life through the frame-by-frame technique.
The frenchman Émile Cohl is considered by many historians to be the true father of animated cartoons. His movie Fantasmagoria, 177 feet (36 m) long and 1 minute 57 seconds in duration, is completely interpreted by simple line characters animated frame by frame. Émile Cohl made about 300 films, but barely 65 have been preserved. He worked in France, England, and the United States.
1911- LITTLE NEMO
The American, Windsor McCay, made the first adaptation to animated cartoons of his own character, Little Nemo. 4000 drawings were needed to do it and, after that first animated adventure, the author combined his comic strip career with animated cartoons, throughout the rest of his life.
1914- GERTIE THE DINOSAUR
One of Windsor McCay’s first successful characters was Gertie the Dinosaur. In this movie, we can see how the animated dinosaur obeys the orders given by her creator, who was placed in front of the projection screen, and who interacted with her.
1915- EARL HURD
The American, Earl Hurd, was the inventor of the acetate for animation. This consisted of a transparent sheet on which the animated objects and characters were painted, which was then laid over a fixed background. It revolutionized the incipiend industry of this era; because of the transparent acetate it was no longer necessary to draw the background in each frame, which saved a great deal of work.
The invention was patented by BRAY STUDIOS INC and EARL HURD, this movie filmed in 1916 is an example of it: BOBBY BUMPS STARTS A LODGE.
1916- KRAZY KAT
The animated cartoon industry was born with Krazy Kat, a creation of the American George Herriman, followed by a proliferation of characters in a vast number of shorts; the majority of them were comic adaptations who were brought to the screen, following their earlier popularity with readers.
The Krazy Kat short we have selected is Krazy Kat Goes A-Wooing and it was one of the first made in 1916, by the International Film Service, Inc.
1917- MAX FLEISCHER
In 1917, the filmmaker Max Fleischer patented a device called the Rotoscope which was used to capture live action images and use them as references for traditional animation, giving nearly real movements to the characters. With it he made a series called Out of the Inkwell, starring Koko the Clown, who was partially rotoscoped in a lot of the episodes.
The next episode, called The Tantalizing Fly, was made in 1919 and it is the second chapter produced at Bray Studios.
1919- FELIX THE CAT
Pat Sullivan and Otto Mesmer made the first Felix the Cat movie. The advntures of the charming character created by Otto Mesmer and produced by Pat Sullivan were recounted in approximately 175 films made between 1919 and 1930. Felix the Cat could be considered the first series of the animated cartoon industry.
1928- STEAMBOAT WILLIE
Walt Disney made the first animated film with sound, with Mickey Mouse as the star, titled Steamboat Willie. It lasted 7 minutes and 45 seconds. Ub Iwerks was the principal animator, and the sound was done using the Cinephone monaural system, which syncroniced the sound effects with the music, performed by Carl Stalling.
1932- FLOWERS AND TREES
The first animated film in color was also produced by Disney. Flowers and Trees was the first to use the Technicolor system.