Captivating Moments in Animation History
Once upon a time, in the early twentieth century, there were just a handful of people working in the film industry, and even fewer were exploring animation as a serious creative medium. These early pioneers didn’t have Wacom tablets, laptop computers, or mobile phones, and often the materials they were using were highly flammable. Still, animation had great potential as an exciting new medium with endless possibilities and a large audience waiting in the wings.
Bear in mind that many important industries were in their embryonic stage of development during this period in history. The Model T had yet to make its public debut, the Wright brothers hadn’t made a dime for their plane designs, and in Washington DC, Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt was beginning his second term as president. It was the era of the silent film, and filmmakers were required to tell their stories using only visual elements. The stronger the visuals, the more entertaining the film. To craft better visuals, these early filmmakers often relied on a variety of animation techniques, and it didn’t take long (1906) before the very first fully animated film was released.
“Humorous Phases of Funny Faces” featured both stop-motion and hand-drawn animation techniques. Just under three and a half minutes long, J. Stuart Blackton’s groundbreaking short film showcases a cartoonist drawing faces on a chalkboard, and as you would expect, the faces come to life:
Another decade or so went by before an attempt was made to create a full-length animated feature film, and there still seems to be some debate over which film should rightfully claim the distinction of being the first to do so. “El Apostol” made in Argentina by Quirino Cristiani, is most widely recognized as the first animated feature film, still others cite “Creation“, made in 1915, to be first. Very little art remains from either film, making it all the more difficult for historians to decipher a proper verdict. “Creation,” happens to be the creation (hyuk) of Disney’s Goofy, or rather the man who voiced Goofy, Pinto Colvig.
Pinto had a long and engaging career in the animation industry, the bulk of it working for Walt Disney studios. There is a short documentary video offers more information on his extraordinary talents.
During the three-year span between 1918 and 1921, several filmmakers were attempting to capture the interaction of a live action actor/animator with the animation itself. Max Fleischer produced the “Out of the Inkwell” shorts which featured rotoscoped footage of Dave Fleischer in a clown costume interacting with Max himself.
Around 1926 in Germany, Lotte Reiniger released a one hour shadow puppet film entitled “Adventures of Prince Achmed.” The film claimed to be the first full-length animated feature, although it comes in under the traditional 75 minutes.
In 1923, Walt (and Roy) Disney founded Disney Bros Cartoon Studio, and in 1928 the studio created the first cartoon with synchronized sound entitled “Steamboat Willie.” This classic animation featured Disney’s most recognizable character Mickey Mouse.
Later, in 1932, Disney studios produced “Flowers and Trees,” a highly successful film, which captured the first Academy Award for Animated Short Subjects, and was the first animation to utilize the full three-color Technicolor method.
Disney also bears the distinction of creating the first animated full-length feature film to be made entirely using hand drawn animation. The historic film “Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs,” directed by David Hand in 1937, was hugely successful and continues to be impactful on the entertainment industry today. In fact, in 2013 the US Patent and Trademark offices issued a trademark to Disney Enterprises, Inc, for the name “Snow White” that covers all live and recorded movie, television, radio, stage, computer, internet, news, and photographic entertainment uses, except literature works and nonfiction.
Over the years, Disney’s artistic achievements continued to set new standards for the animation industry, and many animators cite the technical brilliance of “Pinocchio” (1940) as being unsurpassed, even to this day. Check out this abbreviated video respecting the Disney classic:
Like Disney Studios, the Warner Bros studio utilized an assembly-line-system, and this can be readily seen in the development of Bugs Bunny, arguably the greatest cartoon character of all time. Bugs’ suave and cagey personality did not happen overnight. It took ten years of continuous tweaking, redesigning, and collaboration by the likes of Bob McKimson, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, and Friz Freleng, (during the span of thirty films) to craft Bugs into the wily comic hero we have come to know and love. While most Bugs Bunny cartoons were created over half a century ago, they continue to entertain us to this day. Here is a sample of one of the many ways classic Bugs Bunny cartoons are being featured in the modern era:
As we continue to find new ways to feature the older Bugs Bunny cartoons, new legions of digital animators are hard at work coming up with new material to keep Bugs fresh and vibrant for generations to come. Many of us will remember the movie “Space Jam” which continued the tradition of combining live action with 2D animation:
In a career that spanned almost seventy years, Warner Bros studio wunderkind Chuck Jones contributed to the development of some of the greatest cartoon characters of all time. There is a documentary that gives us the scoop on Chuck and the rest of the Looney Tunes gang.
As the recipient of 4 Academy Awards (while being nominated for six others) Chuck Jones is one of the most celebrated directors in the history of animation. Here is a video where Chuck Jones received his honorary Oscar (Academy Award) for lifetime achievement in the animation industry.
Bill Hanna and Joe Barbara’s limited animation style entertained audiences with great success during the 60s and 70s. Growing up, Hanna- Barbara cartoons made Saturday mornings special with classic titles such as: Tom & Jerry, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, and many more. For more insider info on this dynamic duo, grab your Scooby snacks and watch this:
Now we know that Hanna – Barbara set the standard for animated primetime television (primarily with The Flintstones), but who knew the tradition would continue with the animated juggernaut that is “The Simpsons.” Learn more about this amazing show with creator Matt Groening here:
Matt Groening has developed and produced many shows, one of them being a holiday special featuring Drew Barrymore called “Olive the Other Reindeer.”
I had the good fortune of working as an animator on “Olive” and met Mr. Groening himself. He’s a good guy and was kind enough to stand for a photo for my hometown newspaper:
Over the last century many Academy Awards were awarded to deserving animation directors and Producers. Walt Disney himself was nominated 59 times and won over 22 Oscars.
Oddly enough, the Academy award for best-animated feature film did not come about until 2001. Once again, I had the good fortune of working as a character animator on the Paramount Pictures feature film “Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius”, one of the three nominees for the Oscar that year. Here is a picture of our hard working “Jimmy Neutron” animation team at DNA Productions in Irving, Texas.
If you would like to see which other films were nominated (and find out who won) take a look here:
So, what happens now? When do we start animating?? Well, as you know, digital technology is woven into nearly every fabric of our society, including 2D animation. We are going to explore new animation techniques using the latest hardware and software, but also incorporate a good deal of the classic animation techniques from the last century. With a little luck, we might be able to create a few captivating moments of our own.
OK, If you are ready to dive into the nuts and bolts of the modern 2D animation pipeline, click here: