First and foremost it is important to understand what animation is exactly and how it came to be. Depending on a person’s outlook Animation can either be seen as an evolution or devolution of paintings or drawings. At both points in their existence painting and drawing were both widely and respectively seen as being skills. During the Classical era of painting, painting was widely considered a skill, and in some ways it was a science. If someone wanted to be a painter they had to be a painter’s apprentice, live with them, and through many years had to learn and master the various techniques and elements associated with painting during the Classical era. Drawing has typically had more rules associated with it than painting. It still has some association with math and science. Drawing can still be considered a skill because the elements of shape, form, and composition are more often applied in that art form than in modern painting.
Keeping its precursors, in mind animation is first and foremost a skill. It is not a genre of cinema or television. Animation is used as a medium to visualize a story, whereas in the world of cinema film or digital video is the medium used instead. In the very early days of animation various ideas were used to bring life to the medium, which most failed. Flipbooks were an early experimentation, another was drawing out each scene and photographing them frame by frame then playing it back, later each scene was painstakingly painted onto filmstrips frame by frame. In each of these examples the basic principles of drawing and painting were applied. This is why Animation should be recognized as a skill. As time has progressed the “style” of an animated story has evolved. Animated stories no longer have to be subdued into one generic style. Instead a unique style of animation is important to help bring the story to life and shape its world.
1908 – 28
The first recorded animated film in history was called Fantasmagorie. It was a French film released in 1908. In the worlds of both animation and cinematography both mediums had a hard and slow start. Cinematography has its roots in photography, its start was simple a number of photos shot in secession and played back to convey movement of the subject or object. The film was made by Emile Cohl, the movie seems to follow a clown morphing into various people and objects. Emile made the the film by drawing each frame and photographing it, he photographed each frame twice in order to increase the run time of his movie. In all the film was composed of 700 drawings. Needless to say this is likely the first modern example of animation that most people can akin their favorite animated story to.
In 1911 Winsor McCay’s animated film Little Nemo was released. The story revolved around a character from his comic strips. It was very art like in nature instead of having a conventional narrative. The film was made up of around 3000 drawings. Winsor once expressed the difficulty of animation saying, “Any idiot that wants to make a couple of thousand drawings for a hundred feet of film is welcome to join the club.” The run time of the movie was only about 2-3 minutes.
In 1914 World War One broke out in Europe. A major effect of the war was the hindrance of cinema in Europe, animation included. However America remaining relatively neutral in the war proves to be an advantage as the animation sector beings to bomb without restriction.
In 1919 the animated film Feline Follies is released by Paramount Pictures. The story introduces the world to Felix the Cat, the first popular cartoon character. Felix was birthed through Pat Sullivan and Otto Messmer. Though Felix’s creation is still debated as both men laid claim to him. Around this time popular animated films tended to be those with animals, and centering on their misadventures in life.
In 1927 Walt Disney creates the character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit for Margaret Wrinkler who distributed the films through Universal Studios. The animated film Trolley Troubles is Oswald’s first appearance, and Oswald is a hit for Universal. Animated films about animals were popular around this time. Oswald was very much like Mickey Mouse, or it should be said that Mickey Mouse is very much like Oswald. In later renderings Oswald can even be seen wearing red shorts, a forshadowing to Mickey’s own style. It seemed as though Walt and his animators were content for working under Universal Studios. He makes good profits from his Oswald cartoons and all is well for Disney.
However in 1928 Walt Disney goes to New York to try and get a raise for animating Oswald, he instead was offered a pay cut. When Disney refused the new contract many of his animators were hired to work for Charles Mintz, who was Margaret’s husband, likewise Mintz technically owned Disney’s character. Distraught Disney leaves New York feeling remorseful over giving up Oswald. Mintz made a few more films for Universal until Universal opts to have Oswald made by their animators. While on the train back to Hollywood California, Disney creates the character who will later be known as Mickey Mouse.
What characterizes this era the most is that animation finally found its medium, that being in motion pictures. The first animated stories were films, as television had not yet been established and so episodic animated shows were nonexistent. Furthermore many of these films had no real narrative stories. The reason being that the first animators came directly from the art world and so many of them used animation as an art form. It wasn’t until film studios saw the potential profit in animated films, that animators began to develop narratives and uniformity in animation style.