What is animation ? History and types of animation

In Art by improveyourdrawings

Now a days, when we speak of “animation” , we refer to what popularly is known as cartoons. Aldo all of us can remember different cartoons from our childhood, the word cartoon has been more an more linked to an specific western style of animations. So the word cartoon, in my opinion, felts short in the effort to define the idea of animation.

What is animation?

Animation is more than the cartoons we know and love. For example, animation not only belongs to the western culture. In japan you can find animation movies called Animes. Animation is not anymore only based on a sequence of drawings. With the arrival of the computer graphics and the 3D softwares on the 90’s, the animation world lived a total revolution in their production methods. Animation includes different styles and production methods. In nature, is quite a broad term.

But what is the purpose of animation then?

Image courtesy of depilbooru.com

Traditionally, animation is understood as the process that manages to give movement to drawings or inanimate objects in general. This is possible thanks to a sequence of drawings or photographs that, when ordered consecutively, manage to generate a credible movement before our eyes, which lend themselves to the game of visual illusion. For example, if we want to generate the sensation of a walk in a character, we should draw each of the steps that it will take on separate sheets (each sheet drawn with a different pose is defined or known as “frame” or “frame”) so that when we pass them consecutively, we perceive the sensation of movement.

To achieve a believable sensation when creating an animation will depend on the patience, effort and dedication we put on the process. We can even suggest than the act of animate an object is to give life to it. The very same word animation comes from the Latin word “anima”, which means soul. So we can say that to animate is to give soul to an inanimate object or thing.

Giving soul to an object is a job that has much more to do with an artistic than a mechanical process. The animation starts from the observation of the living beings that surround us. This observation will allow the animators to give a more real, more human touch to elements as simple as a square, a logo, a created character or even a desk lamp. In fact, a desk lamp was the main character of the first animation short the founders of Pixar did in 1986. This short film called “Luxo Jr.” showed to the world how talented animators, using computer graphics, could give life to anything they wanted. Emotions like happiness, sadness, fear, etc.. where transmitted without the need of facial expressions, only by posse and gesture. A true masterpiece of animation.

The History of Animation

The idea of recreating the illusion of movement with a series of drawings is older than the birth of cinema. Some historians go back to prehistory, in which, by means of cave paintings, an attempt was made to express movement, so that they remain static. Other subsequent discoveries in Egypt and Greece corroborate this tendency to represent different phases of movement in their art.

The first known attempt of an animation through the projection of images dates back to 1640, when the German Athanasius Kircher invented the first projector of images, the “magic lantern”, in which, through glass engravings, he was able to project different consecutive phases of the movement, changing the crystals mechanically. In one of his projections he represented a man while he slept, opening and closing his mouth.

The incipient world of animation was stalled until 1824, when Peter Mark Roget discovered the principle of persistence of vision, the foundation on which all the projected images we know today are based. It showed that the human eye retains the image it sees for enough time to be replaced by another, and so on, until a complete movement is made, as seen in its “Thaumatrope.”

Animation courtesy of dribbbel.com

Although there were many inventions born in the shadow of the principle of persistence of vision, none passed from the toy category until the arrival of the «Phenakistoscope» by Joseph Antoine Plateau, in 1831, in which he managed to capture a complete movement through the use of drawings. Between the bases of the origin of the animation is the same game of shadows and the projection of cut paper silhouettes created by Chinese culture.

The animation appeared before the cinematographer himself. In 1888 the French Émile Reynaud, father of the animated cinema, invented the praxinoscope, one of the many optical toys of the time, in which a pre-cinematographic animation technique was used. Later he perfected it with his optical theater, which allowed him to show animated films with an argument on a screen for an audience and, accompanied by music and sound effects, he maintained a cartoon show from 1892 until the end of the 19th century. From his production The animated film, nowadays, Poor Pierrot !, of 12 minutes duration, is preserved.

The next pioneer of animation was the French Émile Cohl, who since 1908 made the first short films of cartoons, among which stands out Fantasmagorie, one minute and twenty seconds long. In 1912 he created what is probably the first character in the history of animated films, Baby Snookum. Another pioneer was George Méliès, who used in his films abundant effects made with animation techniques.

Max Fleischer made a great contribution to the world of animation by inventing in 1917 the rotoscope, a device that projected a real movie on a table, allowing the drawing of the fictional characters based on that of the real characters, a technique similar to the capture of movement, which would appear much later.

In the same year, 1917, the first  Animation Film ( not short 9) was born. The name was “The Apostol” by Quirino Cristiani. The original footage was lost, becuse back in those days the film rolls were recycle for other comercial purposes. So it´s quite sad we don´t have anymore the original art piece.

But the creator of what we understand today as animation cinema is certainly Walt Disney, for the innovations and contributions he made to this field. Disney began his career shooting commercials in a garage in the state of Kansas with a rental camera. I photographed some letters that were moving until they were in their correct position to transmit a message. After a brief period working at the Ad Films production company, where he learned animation techniques, he founded the production company Laugh-O-Gram Films with Ub Iwerks and many other animators and small entrepreneurs. His early films were revisited adaptations of traditional children’s stories such as Little Red Riding Hood or Cinderella.

Disney founded his company in the mid 20’s. In the beginning the company was called Disney Brothers Cartoons Studios. Was founded by him and his brother, after  a production company commission him a 12 episodes of Alice in Cartoonland. This animated series was a total success and a new series was commission based on the same genre. For this new production, Disney founded in 1926 Walt Disney Studios.

Disney Studios gave birth during the 30’s and the 40’s to some of the most memorable cartoon characters like mickey, Goofy and Donald. Is in the 40’s when the rapid growth of the studio, with more than 800 workers, forces Disney to set a work pipeline similar to the fabrics. Several artists could work in different parts or aspects of the same photogram. New departments were born and each of them was in charge of single or multiple parts of the production.

In the 1960s and 1970s, with. the popularization of television, the animated short films disappeared definitively from the cinemas, from then limited to commercial feature films, a field dominated by Disney until the 1990s. Despite this, the short film flourished in other distribution channels (festivals, specialized circuits, etc.), especially with the appearance of numerous animation schools around the world. In the United States, Hanna-Barbera dominated animation for television and Disney animation for cinema, until the 90’s, when animation studios like Dreamworks and Pixar started to produce their own films.

In Japan the launch and great success of Astroboy by Osamu Tezuka meant the beginning of the worldwide phenomenon of the Anime. Animes are usually adaptations of popular japanese comics known as Mangas. Tezuka was the first one in adapting his Manga production into Animes for TV and cinema. There is a huge list of Animes on the market, with some memorable manga adaptations like Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Appleseed, Dragon Ball , etc…

The Animators

The artists who creates an animation, or animators, as they are popularly called, are those who carry out the process of animation and are able to attribute the sensation of mobility to various images, drawings and even inanimate objects. It is worth noting that the optical illusion has a decisive influence on the appreciation of this phenomenon created by the animators.

There is a huge variety of techniques to generate animations, for example, the various paintings can be created by drawing them or painting them in each tiny change that a real model or a virtual three-dimensional model plays.

It is worth mentioning that animation is a complex, intense work and, for that matter, an enormous infrastructure is necessary to achieve it. So, most of the available animated production is the product of specialized companies. Now, this in no way has made the work of the author animator disappear but it is less in relation to the production of the previous one.

When talking about animation you can not refer only to cartoons as there are thousands of elements with which to make animation. In this sense, the stop motion technique is one that allows animation to be generated with real objects rather than with drawings. This technique is realized through the capture of thousands of tiny changes in an object such as an apple, a cup or a book. Its name comes from the fact that part of the state of no animation, that is to say of stillness.

Types of Animation

1- Cartoons or Traditional Animation

It consists of pictures showed in succession, frame by frame.
In its beginnings it was made through the drawing and painting of each painting (including the background, stage or background of the animation), to be later filmed in a movie tape
In the decade of 1910, the process is streamlined by the appearance of cell animation, invented by Bray and Hurd, which consisted of using transparent sheets (known as acetado), in which the characters were animated without having to paint the background in each frame. Currently, various digital media are used.
If you are interested in cartoon style drawing feel free to check my article on “How to draw a Cartoon Face, Facial Expressions and emotions”

2- StopMotion

Animation courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Originally known as “Bulk Animation””  is also referred to as “frame-by-frame animation”, “frame-by-frame animation”, “image stop”, “crank step” or “photo-to-photo animation”. In recent years his name has also been popularized in English: stop motion. It does not animate drawings or flat images but static and immobile objects placed in front of a camera. It consists in pretending the movement of these objects by capturing frames: in each one the object has been moved slightly and in each new change of position the object must always have been oriented in a certain direction in relation to the previous position and frame change, keeping, in as far as possible, the greatest logical continuity of the movement that one wants to imitate.
Later, when reproducing the frames one after the other, as is the case in fact with any cinematographic projection obtained through real filming, the projection on the screen creates the optical illusion that the object moves by itself. Any three-dimensional object can be animated in this way, but dolls are generally animated (usually with an articulated metal internal skeleton, such as the dinosaur dolls used in the television documentary Dinosaurs), puppets, plasticine figures (such as the Italian series Mio Mao) or other materials.
It’s divided in :
– Animation of plasticine or claymotion (malleable material): The plastimación, known in English as claymation, is the animation with clay, plasticine or any other malleable material. It can be done in free style, when there is no defined figure but the figures are transformed in the progress of the animation (as do the Mio and Mao cats in the Italian series Mio Mao); or can be oriented to characters, which remains a constant figure in the course of the film
– Animation of rigid objects like the animation of models and maquetas that we can see in movies like Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. Also we can include here a type of animation called  Pixelation.

3- Pixelation

Variant stop-motion in which the objects are neither models (dolls and plasticine) or models, but are common objects and even people.
As in the StopMotion Objects are photographed repeatedly and shifted slightly between each photograph. Norman McLaren popularized this technique, used in his famous short animated Neighbors, but already in 1908, the Aragonese Segundo de Chomón, used in his work Hotel Electric the same technique to animate objects. It is widely used in video clips.

4- Rotoscopy

Animation by clarx from Deviantart

This type of animation consists oin drawing directly over the reference. For example on the pictures of the filming of a real person.
In Snow White, the protagonist of Disney’s first animated feature was animated in this way.
He is considered a precursor of “mocap” or motion capture, a name used to capture computer-generated movement used to recreate digital characters in movies, such as “Golum” in the trilogy “Lord of the Rings. “

5- Animation by Cutting or Cut out Animation

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Technique that uses cut-out figures, either paper or photographs. Different parts of the body of the characters are built based on cuts. Animation is achieved by moving and replacing cut body parts. Among the first animators to use this technique was the Argentine Quirino Cristiani. Quirino made the first animated feature film of the story called “The Apostle”.
If you are interested in learning 2D animation you can check this 2 very affordabel courses:

6- 3D animation

Animation courtesy of Pacific Penguin – Deviantart

In the animation in three dimensions a program editor allows to realize animations and simulation of textures, illumination, movement of cameras and special effects. It is a complete and wonderful tool when the animator who manages knows how to endow its elements with soul.
3d animator’s work is based placement of bones on a 3d model. This will help to move and animate the character or object in question. The process is known as “rigging”. Once the bones are placed the animator will try to create a sequence of movements that will give life to the model. Aldo you have preset animations you can use for specific rigging, the true artistic nature of the animator lays in the creation or modification of believable animations.
On today’s animation market 3D productions are very common, although 2D graphics are still widely used for slow connections and real-time applications that need fast rendering.  In animation, however, images are not taken, but are produced individually and, therefore, do not necessarily have to meet the standard of cinema. An animated film always has 24 frames per second, but not necessarily all those frames show different images since they are often repeated in several frames.
Another field, non related to the film or TV industry, where 3D and also 2D animation is used heavely is in video games. Animators are one of the main group of professional artists populating the video game studios.
If you are interested in pursue a carreer as an animator in the video game industry, maybe you will find interesting my article on ” How much an artist earns in the video game industry on 2018-19 “.
Also if you are interested in learning 3D modelling you can check this affordable course:

7- Other Techniques

There are many animation techniques that have only been used by some and that are unknown to the general public. Every day many animators explore and discover more of them. These include:
  •  Painting on glass
  • Sand animation
  • Needle screen
  • Painting on celluloid.