The history of animation started long before the development of cinematography. Humans have probably attempted to depict motion as far back as the paleolithic period. Shadow play and the magic lantern offered popular shows with projected images on a screen, moving as the result of manipulation by hand and/or some minor mechanics. In 1833 the phenakistiscope introduced the stroboscopic principles of modern animation, which decades later would also provide the basis for the cinematography.
There are several examples of early sequential images that may seem similar to series of animation drawings. Most of these examples would only allow an extremely low frame rate when they are animated, resulting in short and crude animations that are not very lifelike. However, it's very unlikely that these images were intended to be somehow viewed as an animation. It is possible to imagine technology that could have been used in the periods of their creation, but no conclusive evidence in artifacts or descriptions have been found. It is sometimes argued that these early sequential images are too easily interpreted as "pre-cinema" by minds accustomed to film, comic books and other modern sequential images, while it is uncertain that the creators of these images envisioned anything like it. Fluent animation needs a proper breakdown of a motion into the separate images of very short instances, which could hardly be imagined before modern times. Measuring instances shorter than a second first became possible with instruments developed in the 1850s.
Early examples of attempts to capture the phenomenon of motion into a still drawing can be found in paleolithic cave paintings, where animals are often depicted with multiple legs in superimposed positions. It has been claimed that these superimposed figures were intended for a form of animation with the flickering light of the flames of a fire or a passing torch illuminating different parts of the painted rock wall, revealing different parts of the motion.
Archaeological finds of small paleolithic discs with a hole in the middle and drawings on both sides have been claimed to be a kind of prehistoric thaumatropes that show motion when spun on a string.
An Egyptian mural approximately 4000 years old, found in the tomb of Khnumhotep at the Beni Hassan cemetery, features a very long series of images that apparently depict the sequence of events in a wrestling match.
The Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius (c. 99 BC - c. 55 BC) wrote in his poem De rerum natura a few lines that come close to the basic principles of animation: "...when the first image perishes and a second is then produced in another position, the former seems to have altered its pose. Of course this must be supposed to take place very swiftly: so great is their velocity, so great the store of particles in any single moment of sensation, to enable the supply to come up." It must be noted that this was in the context of dream images, rather than images produced by an actual or imagined technology.
The medieval codex Sigenot (circa 1470) has sequential illuminations with relatively short intervals between different phases of action. Each page has a picture inside a frame above the text, with great consistency in size and position throughout the book (with a consistent difference in size for the recto and verso sides of each page).
A page of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) show anatomical studies with four different angles of the muscles of shoulder, arm and neck of a man. The four drawings can be read as a rotating movement.
Ancient Chinese records contain several mentions of devices, including one made by the inventor Ding Huan, that were said to "give an impression of movement" to a series of human or animal figures on them, but these accounts are unclear and may only refer to the actual movement of the figures through space.
Since before 1000 CE the Chinese had a rotating lantern which had silhouettes projected on its thin paper sides that appeared to chase each other. This was called the "trotting horse lamp"  as it would typically depict horses and horse-riders. The cut-out silhouettes were attached inside the lantern to a shaft with a paper vane impeller on top, rotated by heated air rising from a lamp. Some versions added extra motion with jointed heads, feet or hands of figures triggered by a transversely connected iron wire.
Volvelles have moving parts, but these and other paper materials that can be manipulated into motion are usually not regarded as animation.
Shadow play has much in common with animation: people watching moving figures on a screen as a very popular form of entertainment, usually a story with dialogue, sounds and music. The figures could be very detailed and very articulated.
The earliest projection of images was most likely done in primitive shadowgraphy dating back to prehistory. It evolved into more refined forms of shadow puppetry, mostly with flat jointed cut-out figures which are held between a source of light and a translucent screen. The shapes of the puppets sometimes include translucent color or other types of detailing. The history of shadow puppetry is uncertain, but seems to have originated in Asia, possibly in the 1st millennium BCE. Clearer records seem to go back to around 900 CE. It later spread to the Ottoman empire and seems not to have reached Europe before the 17th century. It became very popular in France at the end of the 18th century. François Dominique Séraphin started his elaborate shadow shows in 1771 and performed them until his death in 1800. His heirs continued until their theatre closed in 1870. Séraphin developed the use of clockwork mechanisms to automate the show.
Around the time cinematography was developed, several theaters in Montmartre showed elaborate "Ombres Chinoises" shows that were very successful. The famous Le Chat Noir produced 45 different shows between 1885 and 1896.
Moving images were possibly projected with the magic lantern since its invention by Christiaan Huygens in 1659. His sketches for magic lantern slides have been dated to that year and are the oldest known document concerning the magic lantern. One encircled sketch depicts Death raising his arm from his toes to his head, another shows him moving his right arm up and down from his elbow and yet another taking his skull off his neck and placing it back. Dotted lines indicate the intended movements.
Techniques to add motion to painted glass slides for the magic lantern were described since circa 1700. These usually involved parts (for instance limbs) painted on one or more extra pieces of glass moved by hand or small mechanisms across a stationary slide which showed the rest of the picture. Popular subjects for mechanical slides included the sails of a windmill turning, a procession of figures, a drinking man lowering and raising his glass to his mouth, a head with moving eyes, a nose growing very long, rats jumping in the mouth of a sleeping man. A more complex 19th century rackwork slide showed the then known eight planets and their satellites orbiting around the sun. Two layers of painted waves on glass could create a convincing illusion of a calm sea turning into a very stormy sea tossing some boats about by increasing the speed of the manipulation of the different parts.
In 1770 Edmé-Gilles Guyot detailed how to project a magic lantern image on smoke to create a transparent, shimmering image of a hovering ghost. This technique was used in the phantasmagoria shows that became very popular in several parts of Europe between 1790 and the 1830s. Other techniques were developed to produce convincing ghost experiences. The lantern was handheld to move the projection across the screen (which was usually an almost invisible transparent screen behind which the lanternist operated hidden in the dark). A ghost could seem to approach the audience or grow larger by moving the lantern away from the screen, sometimes with the lantern on a trolley on rails. Multiple lanterns made ghosts move independently and were occasionally used for superimposition in the composition of complicated scenes.
Dissolving views became a popular magic lantern show, especially in England in the 1830s and 1840s. These typically had a landscape changing from a winter version to a spring or summer variation by slowly diminishing the light from one version while introducing the aligned projection of the other slide. Another use showed the gradual change of for instance groves into cathedrals.
Between the 1840s and 1870s several abstract magic lantern effects were developed. This included the chromatrope which projected dazzling colorful geometrical patterns by rotating two painted glass discs in opposite directions.
Occasionally small shadow puppets had been used in phantasmagoria shows. Magic lantern slides with jointed figures set in motion by levers, thin rods, or cams and worm wheels were also produced commercially and patented in 1891. A popular version of these "Fantoccini slides" had a somersaulting monkey with arms attached to mechanism that made it tumble with dangling feet. Fantoccini slides are named after the Italian word for puppets like marionettes or jumping jacks.
Numerous devices that successfully displayed animated images were introduced well before the advent of the motion picture. These devices were used to entertain, amaze, and sometimes even frighten people. The majority of these devices didn't project their images, and could only be viewed by a one or a few persons at a time. They were considered optical toys rather than devices for a large scale entertainment industry like later animation. Many of these devices are still built by and for film students learning the basic principles of animation.
An article in the Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature, and The Arts (1821) raised some interest in optical illusions of curved spokes in rotating wheels seen through vertical apertures. In 1824 Peter Mark Roget provided mathematical details about the appearing curvatures and added the observation that the spokes appeared motionless. Roget claimed that the illusion is due to the fact "that an impression made by a pencil of rays on the retina, if sufficiently vivid, will remain for a certain time after the cause has ceased."  This was later seen as the basis for the theory of "persistence of vision" as the principle of how we see film as motion rather than the successive stream of still images actually presented to the eye. This theory has been discarded as the (sole) principle of the effect since 1912, but remains in many film history explanations. However, Roget's experiments and explanation did inspire some further research by Michael Faraday and by Joseph Plateau that would eventually bring about the invention of animation.
In April 1825 the first thaumatrope was published by W. Phillips (in anonymous association with John Ayrton Paris) and became a very popular toy. The pictures on either side of a small cardboard disc seem to blend into one combined image when it is twirled quickly by the attached strings. This is often used as an illustration of what has often been called "persistence of vision", presumably referring to the effect in which the impression of a single image persists although in reality two different images are presented with interruptions. It is unclear how much of the effect relates to positive afterimages. Although a thaumatrope can also be used for two-phase animation, no examples are known to have been produced with this effect until long after the phénakisticope had established the principle of animation.
The phénakisticope (better known by the misspelling phenakistiscope or phenakistoscope) was the first animation device using rapid successive substitution of sequential pictures. The pictures are evenly spaced radially around a disc, with small rectangular apertures at the rim of the disc. The animation could be viewed through the slits of the spinning disc in front of a mirror. It was invented in November or December 1832 by the Belgian Joseph Plateau and almost simultaneously by the Austrian Simon von Stampfer. Plateau first published about his invention in January 1833. The publication included an illustration plate of a fantascope with 16 frames depicting a pirouetting dancer.
The phénakisticope was very successful as a novelty toy and within a year very many sets of stroboscopic discs were published across Europe, with almost as many different names for the device - including Fantascope (Plateau), The Stroboscope (Stampfer) and Phénakisticope (Parisian publisher Giroux & Cie).
In July 1833 Simon Stampfer described the possibility of using the stroboscope principle in a cylinder (as well as on looped strips) in a pamphlet accompanying the second edition of his version of the phénakisticope. British mathematician William George Horner suggested a cylindrical variation of Plateau's phénakisticope in January 1834. Horner planned to publish this Dædaleum with optician King, Jr in Bristol but it "met with some impediment probably in the sketching of the figures".
In 1865 William Ensign Lincoln invented the definitive zoetrope with easily replaceable strips of images. It also had an illustrated paper disc on the base, which was not always exploited on the commercially produced versions. Lincoln licensed his invention to Milton Bradley and Co. who first advertised it on December 15, 1866.
John Barnes Linnett patented the first flip book in 1868 as the kineograph. A flip book is a small book with relatively springy pages, each having one in a series of animation images located near its unbound edge. The user bends all of the pages back, normally with the thumb, then by a gradual motion of the hand allows them to spring free one at a time. As with the phenakistoscope, zoetrope and praxinoscope, the illusion of motion is created by the apparent sudden replacement of each image by the next in the series, but unlike those other inventions no view-interrupting shutter or assembly of mirrors is required and no viewing device other than the user's hand is absolutely necessary. Early film animators cited flip books as their inspiration more often than the earlier devices, which did not reach as wide an audience.
The older devices by their nature severely limit the number of images that can be included in a sequence without making the device very large or the images impractically small. The book format still imposes a physical limit, but many dozens of images of ample size can easily be accommodated. Inventors stretched even that limit with the mutoscope, patented in 1894 and sometimes still found in amusement arcades. It consists of a large circularly-bound flip book in a housing, with a viewing lens and a crank handle that drives a mechanism that slowly rotates the assembly of images past a catch, sized to match the running time of an entire reel of film.
French inventor Charles-Émile Reynaud developed the praxinoscope in 1876 and patented it in 1877. It is similar to the zoetrope but instead of the slits in the cylinder it has twelve rectangular mirrors placed evenly around the center of the cylinder. Each mirror reflects another image of the picture strip placed opposite on the inner wall of the cylinder. When rotating the praxinoscope shows the sequential images one by one, resulting in a fluent animation. The praxinoscope allowed a much clearer view of the moving image compared to the zoetrope, since the zoetrope's images were actually mostly obscured by the spaces in between its slits. In 1879 Reynaude registered a modification to the praxinoscope patent to include the Praxinoscope Théâtre, which utilized the Pepper's ghost effect to present the animated figures in an exchangeable background. Later improvements included the "Praxinoscope à projection" (marketed since 1882) which used a double magic lantern to project the animated figures over a till projection of a background.
Eadweard Muybridge had circa 70 of his famous chronophotographic sequences painted on glass discs for the zoopraxiscope projector that he used in his popular lectures between 1880 and 1895. In the 1880s the images were painted onto the glass in dark contours. Later discs made between 1892 and 1894 had outlines drawn by Erwin F. Faber that were photographically printed on the disc and then coloured by hand, but these were probably never used in the lectures. The painted figures were largely transposed from the photographs, but many fanciful combinations were made and sometimes imaginary elements were added.
Charles-Émile Reynaud further developed his projection praxinoscope into the Théâtre Optique with transparent hand-painted colorful pictures in a long perforated strip wound between two spools, patented in December 1888. From 28 October 1892 to March 1900 Reynaud gave over 12,800 shows to a total of over 500.000 visitors at the Musée Grévin in Paris. His Pantomimes Lumineuses series of animated films each contained 300 to 700 frames that were manipulated back and forth to last 10 to 15 minutes per film. A background scene was projected separately. Piano music, song and some dialogue were performed live, while some sound effects were synchronized with an electromagnet. The first program included three cartoons: Pauvre Pierrot (created in 1892), Un bon bock (created in 1892, now lost), and Le Clown et ses chiens (created in 1892, now lost). Later on the titles Autour d'une cabine (created in 1894) and A rêve au coin du feu would be part of the performances.
Despite the success of Reynaud's films it took some time before animation was adapted in the film industry that came about after the introduction of Lumiere's Cinematograph in 1895. Georges Méliès' early fantasy and trick films (released between 1896 and 1913) occasionally came close to including animation with substitution splice effects, painted props or painted creatures that were moved in front of painted backgrounds (mostly using wires), and film colorization by hand. Méliès also popularized the stop trick, with a single change made to the scene in between shots, that had already been used in Edison's The Execution of Mary Stuart in 1895 and probably led to the development of stop-motion animation some years later. It seems to have lasted until 1906 before proper animated films started to appear in cinemas. The dating of earlier films with animation is contested, while other films that may have used stop motion or other animation techniques are lost and can't be checked.
In 1897 German toy manufacturer Gebrüder Bing had a first prototype of their kinematograph. In November 1898 they presented this toy film projector, possibly the first of its kind, at a toy festival in Leipzig. Soon other toy manufacturers, including Ernst Plank and Georges Carette, sold similar devices. Around the same time the French company Lapierre marketed a similar projector. The toy cinematographs were basically magic lanterns with one or two small spools that used standard "Edison perforation" 35mm film. These projectors were intended for the same type of "home entertainment" toy market that most of these manufacturers already provided with praxinoscopes and toy magic lanterns. Apart from relatively expensive live-action films, the manufacturers produced many cheaper films by printing lithographed drawings. These animations were probably made in black-and-white from around 1898 or 1899, but at the latest by 1902 they were made in color. The pictures were often traced from live-action films (much like the later rotoscoping technique). These very short films depicted a simple repetitive action and were created to be projected as a loop - playing endlessly with the film ends put together. The lithograph process and the loop format follow the tradition that was set by the zoetrope and praxinoscope.
Katsud? Shashin, from an unknown creator, was discovered in 2005 and is speculated to be the oldest work of animation in Japan, with Natsuki Matsumoto,[Note 1] an expert in iconography at the Osaka University of Arts and animation historian Nobuyuki Tsugata[Note 2] determining the film was most likely made between 1907 and 1911. The film consists of a series of cartoon images on fifty frames of a celluloid strip and lasts three seconds at sixteen frames per second. It depicts a young boy in a sailor suit who writes the kanji characters "?" (katsud? shashin, or "moving picture"), then turns towards the viewer, removes his hat, and offers a salute. Evidence suggests it was mass-produced to be sold to wealthy owners of home projectors. To Matsumoto, the relatively poor quality and low-tech printing technique indicate it was likely from a smaller film company.
The Humpty Dumpty Circus (1898?) by Blackton and Albert E. Smith may have been the first stop-motion film. Use of an animation technique cannot be verified since the film is lost. According to Smith, they used his daughter's set of small circus dolls, which had jointed limbs so they could be balanced in place. This toy set was most likely the popular Humpty Dumpty Circus produced by Schoenhut Piano Company between 1903 and 1930.
The Enchanted Drawing (1900) is considered to be the first film recorded on standard picture film that included some sequences that are sometimes regarded as animation. It shows Blackton doing some "lightning sketches" of a face, cigars, a bottle of wine and a glass. The face changes expression when Blackton pours some wine into the face's mouth and when Blackton takes his cigar. The technique used in this film was basically the stop trick: the single change to the scenes was the replacement of a drawing by a similar drawing with a different facial expression. In some scenes a drawn bottle and glass were replaced by real objects. Blackton had possibly used the same technique in a lost 1896 lightning sketch film.
Blackton's 1906 film Humorous Phases of Funny Faces is often regarded as the oldest known drawn animation on standard film. It features a sequence made with blackboard drawings that are changed between frames to show two faces changing expressions and some billowing cigar smoke, as well as two sequences that feature cutout animation.
Blackton's The Haunted Hotel (1907) featured a combination of live-action with practical special effects and stop-motion animation of objects, a puppet and a model of the haunted hotel. It was the first stop-motion film to receive wide scale appreciation. Especially a large close-up view of a table being set by itself baffled viewers; there were no visible wires or other noticeable well-known tricks.  This inspired other filmmakers, including French animator Émile Cohl and Segundo de Chomón, to work with the new technique. De Chomón would release the similar The House of Ghosts and El hotel eléctrico in 1908.
In 1905 American film pioneer Edwin S. Porter used animated letters and a very simple cutout animation of two hands in the intertitles in How Jones lost his roll. He experimented with a small bit of crude stop-motion animation in his trick film Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906). His 1907 film The "Teddy" Bears mainly shows people in bear costumes, but also features a short stop-motion segment with small teddy bears.
Spanish filmmaker Segundo de Chomón made many trick films and has often been compared to Georges Méliès. De Chomón frequently used stop-motion in his films, even before the release of J. Stuart Blackton's groundbreaking The Haunted Hotel. Le théâtre de Bob (1906) features over three minutes of stop-motion animation with dolls and some objects. El hotel eléctrico (1908) features much stop motion with objects, a bit of pixilation and one effect done with drawn animation (a few lines probably drawn on the negative that represent electric sparks).
Arthur Melbourne-Cooper was a British filmmaker who did much pioneering work in stop motion animation. He produced over 300 films between 1896 and 1915, of which an estimated 36 were all or in part animated.
Based on later reports by Cooper and by his daughter Audrey Wadowska, some believe that Cooper's Matches: an Appeal was produced in 1899 and therefore the very first stop-motion animation. The black-and-white film shows a matchstick figure writing an appeal to donate a Guinea for which Bryant and May would supply soldiers with sufficient matches. No archival records are known that could proof that the film was indeed created in 1899 during the beginning of the Second Boer War. Others place it at 1914, during the beginning of World War I. Cooper created more Animated Matches scenes in the same setting. These are believed to also have been produced in 1899, while a release date of 1908 has also been given. There is also an Animated Matches film by Émile Cohl that was released by Gaumont in 1908, which may have caused more confusion about the release dates of Cooper's matchstick animations.
The lost films Dolly's Toys (1901) and The Enchanted Toymaker (1904) may have included stop-motion animation.Dreams of Toyland (1908) features a scene with many animated toys that lasts circa three and a half minutes.
The French artist Émile Cohl created the first animated film using what came to be known as traditional animation methods: the 1908 Fantasmagorie. The film largely consisted of a stick figure moving about and encountering all manner of morphing objects, such as a wine bottle that transforms into a flower. There were also sections of live action where the animator's hands would enter the scene. The film was created by drawing each frame on paper and then shooting each frame onto negative film, which gave the picture a blackboard look. Cohl later went to Fort Lee, New Jersey near New York City in 1912, where he worked for French studio Éclair and spread its animation technique to the US.
Starting with a short 1911 film of his most popular character Little Nemo, successful newspaper cartoonist Winsor McCay gave much more detail to his hand-drawn animations than any animation previously seen in cinemas. His 1914 film Gertie the Dinosaur featured an early example of character development in drawn animation. It was also the first film to combine live-action footage with animation. Originally, McCay used the film in his vaudeville act: he would stand next to the screen and speak to Gertie who would respond with a series of gestures. At the end of the film McCay would walk behind the projection screen, seamlessly being replaced with a prerecorded image of himself entering the screen, getting on the cartoon dinosaur's back and riding out of frame. . McCay personally hand-drew almost every one of the thousands of drawings for his films. Other noteworthy titles by McCay are How a Mosquito Operates (1912) and The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918).
During the 1910s larger scale animation studios were becoming the industrial norm and artists such as McCay faded from the public eye.
Around 1913 Raoul Barré developed the peg system that made it easier to align drawings by perforating two holes below each drawing and placing them on two fixed pins. He also used a "slash and tear" technique to not have to keep drawing the complete background or other motionless parts for every frame. The parts where something needed to be changed for the next frame were carefully cut away from the drawing and filled in with the required change on the sheet below. After Barré had started his career in animation at Edison Studios, he founded one of the first film studios dedicated to animation in 1914 (initially together with Bill Nolan). Barré Studio had success with the production of the adaptation of the popular comic strip Mutt and Jeff. The studio employed several animators who would have notable careers in animation, including Frank Moser, Gregory La Cava, George Stallings, Tom Norton and Pat Sullivan.
In 1914, John Bray opened John Bray Studios, which revolutionized the way animation was created.Earl Hurd, one of Bray's employees patented the cel technique. This involved animating moving objects on transparent celluloid sheets. Animators photographed the sheets over a stationary background image to generate the sequence of images. This, as well as Bray's innovative use of the assembly line method, allowed John Bray Studios to create Colonel Heeza Liar, the first animated series. Many aspiring cartoonists started their careers at Bray, including Paul Terry (later of Heckle and Jeckle fame), Max Fleischer (later of Betty Boop and Popeye fame), and Walter Lantz (later of Woody Woodpecker fame). The cartoon studio operated from circa 1914 until 1928. Some of the first cartoon stars from the Bray studios were Farmer Alfalfa (by Paul Terry) and Bobby Bumps (by Earl Hurd).
In 1915, Max and Dave Fleischer invented rotoscoping, the process of using film as a reference point to more easily create realistic animated movements. The technique was often used in their Out of the Inkwell series (1918-1929) for John Bray Productions (and others). The series resulted from experimental rotoscoped images of Dave Fleischer performing as a clown, evolving into a character that would become known as Ko-Ko the Clown.
Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst founded International Film Service in 1916. Hearst lured away most of Barré Studio's animators, with Gregory La Cava becoming the head of the studio. They produced adaptations of many comic strips from Heart's newspapers in a rather limited fashion, giving just a little motion to the characters while mainly using the dialog balloons to deliver the story. The most notable series was Krazy Kat, with an early anthropomorphic cartoon cat character. Before the studio stopped in 1918 it had employed some new talents, including Vernon Stallings, Ben Sharpsteen, Jack King, John Foster, Grim Natwick, Burt Gillett and Isadore Klein.
In 1919, Otto Messmer of Pat Sullivan Studios created Felix the Cat. Pat Sullivan, the studio head took all of the credit for Felix, a common practice in the early days of studio animation. Felix the Cat was distributed by Paramount Studios and attracted a large audience, eventually becoming one of the most recognized cartoon characters in film history. Felix was the first cartoon to be merchandised.
The first known animated feature film was El Apóstol by Quirino Cristiani, released on 9 November 1917 in Argentina. This successful 70 minute satire utilized a cardboard cutout technique, reportedly with 58,000 frames at 14 frames per second. Cristiani's next feature Sin dejar rastros was released in 1918, but it received no press coverage and poor public attendance before it was confiscated by the police for diplomatic reasons. None of Cristiani's feature films survived.
The earliest surviving animated feature film is the 1926 silhouette-animated Adventures of Prince Achmed, which used colour-tinted film. It was directed by German Lotte Reiniger and French/Hungarian Berthold Bartosch. Bartosch created depth of field by putting scenographic elements and figures on several levels of glass plates with illumination from below and the camera vertically above. Later on a similar technique became the basis of the multiplane camera.
From May 1924 to September 1926, Dave and Max Fleischer's Inkwell Studios produced 19 sound cartoons, part of the Song Car-Tunes series, using the Phonofilm "sound-on-film" process. The series also introduced the "bouncing ball" above lyrics to guide audiences to sing along to the music. My Old Kentucky Home from June 1926 was probably the first film to feature synchronized animated dialogue, with a dog character mouthing the words "Follow the ball, and join in, everybody".
After failing to earn money with their previous Laugh-O-Gram Studio animations, Walt Disney and his longtime collaborator Ub Iwerks had some success with the Alice Comedies series from 1923 to 1927. The films featured a live-action girl interacting with numerous cartoon characters, including the Felix-inspired Julius the Cat. The fully animated series of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit followed in 1927 and became a hit, but in 1928 Universal Studios took direct control of production and Disney lost the rights to the character.
Disney and Ub Iwerks developed Mickey Mouse in 1928 to replace Oswald. A first film entitled Plane Crazy failed to impress a test audience and did not raise sufficient interest of potential distributors. After some live-action movies with synchronized sound had become successful, Disney put the new Mickey Mouse cartoon The Gallopin' Gauchoon hold to start work on a special sound production that would launch the series more convincingly. Much of the action in the resulting Steamboat Willie (November 1928) involves the making of sounds, for instance with Mickey making music using livestock aboard the boat. The film became a huge success and Mickey Mouse would soon become the most popular cartoon character in history.
The lithographed films for home use that were available in Europe in the first decades of the twentieth century were multi-coloured, but the technique does not seem to have been applied for theatrically released animated films.
The original prints of The adventures of Prince Achmed featured film tinting, but most theatrically released animated films before 1930 were black and white.
A cartoon segment in the feature film King of Jazz (April 1930), made by Walter Lantz and Bill Nolan, was the first animation presented in two-strip Technicolor.
In 1930 Fiddlesticks was the first Flip the Frog film and the first project Ub Iwerks worked on after leaving Disney to set up his own studio. In England it was released in Harris Color, a two-color process, and was probably the first theatrically released standalone animated cartoon with sound and color.
When the Silly Symphonies series, started in 1929, didn't manage to get as popular as Disney had hoped, he turned to a new technical innovation to improve the impact of the series. In 1932 he worked with the Technicolor company to create the first full colour animation Flowers and Trees, debuting the three-strip technique (the first use in live-action movies came circa two years later). The cartoon was very successful and won an Academy Award for Short Subjects, Cartoons. Disney temporarily had an exclusive deal for the use of Technicolor's full color technique in animated films. He even waited a while before he produced the ongoing Mickey Mouse series in color, so the Silly Symphonies would have their special appeal for audiences. After the exclusive deal lapsed in September 1935, full color animation soon became the industry standard.
After the additions of sound and colour were a huge success for Disney, other studios followed. Initially music and songs seemed the focus of many series, as indicated by series titles as Song Car-Tunes, Silly Symphonies, Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes. Although music remained a relevant aspect, the recognizable characters were what really stuck with audiences. Mickey Mouse had been the first cartoon superstar who surpassed Felix the Cat's popularity, but soon dozens more cartoon superstars followed, many remaining very popular for decades.
Disney introduced new characters to the Mickey Mouse universe that would become very popular, including Pluto (1930), Goofy (1932) and Donald Duck (1934). Disney had realized that the success of animated films depended upon telling emotionally gripping stories; he developed a "story department" where storyboard artists separate from the animators would focus on story development alone, which proved its worth when the Disney studio released in 1933 the first animated short to feature well-developed characters, Three Little Pigs. Disney kept expanding his studio and started more and more production activities, including comics, merchandise and theme parks. Most projects were based on the characters that were developed for theatrical short films.
Fleischer Studios added Betty Boop (1930) and adaptations of Popeye (1933) and Superman (1941) to their repertoire. In 1942 Paramount Pictures took over the studio from the Fleischer Brothers and renamed it Famous Studios. Apart from continuing the Popeye and Superman series, Famous Studios created new popular adaptations of Little Lulu (1943-1948), Casper the friendly ghost (1945) and developed several other series.
Warner Brothers Cartoons, founded in 1933, launched their Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes series starring characters like Porky Pig (1935), Daffy Duck (1937), Elmer Fudd (1937), Bugs Bunny (1938), Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner (1949).
Animators were not yet properly credited for their work every time, usually only producers were mentioned. An animator's personal style could sometimes be recognized when they left one studio and started working for another, or got to start their own studio. While Disney's studio was known for its releases being strictly controlled by Walt Disney himself (one of the reasons that Ub Iwerks left and took a lucrative deal to start his own studio), Warner Brothers allowed its animators more freedom, which allowed for their animators to develop more recognizable personal styles.Tex Avery, working for Warner Bros. from 1935 to 1941, was known for his fast-paced, violent, and satirical style, with a slapstick sensibility.Chuck Jones was another Warner Bros. legend who was responsible for hundreds of Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes.
At least eight animated feature films were released before Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, while at least another two earlier animated feature projects remained unfinished. Most of these films (of which only four survive) were made using cutout, silhouette or stop motion techniques. Among the lost animated features were three features by Quirino Cristiani who had premiered his third feature Peludópolis on 18 September 1931 in Buenos Aires with a Vitaphone sound-on-disc synchronized soundtrack. It was received quite positively by critics, but did not become a hit and was an economic fiasco for the filmmaker. Cristiani soon realized that he could no longer make a career with animation in Argentina. Only Academy Award Review of Walt Disney Cartoons -- also by Disney -- was totally hand-drawn. It was released seven months prior to Snow White to promote the upcoming release of Snow White.. Many do not consider this a genuine feature film, because it is a package film and lasts only 41 minutes. It does meet the official definitions of a feature film by the British Film Institute, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the American Film Institute, which require that the film has to be over 40 minutes long.
When it became known that Disney was working on a feature-length animation, critics regularly referred to the project as "Disney's folly", not believing that audiences could stand the expected bright colors and jokes for such a long time. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered on 21 December 1937 and became a worldwide success.
The Fleischer studios followed Disney's example with Gulliver's Travels in 1939, which was a minor success at the box office.
Disney's next features Pinocchio, Fantasia (both 1940) and Fleischer Studios' second animated feature Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941/1942) were all received favorably by critics but failed at the box office during their initial theatrical runs. The primary cause was that World War II had cut off most foreign markets. These setbacks discouraged most companies who had plans for animated features.
Disney cut back on the costs for the next feature, with a simpler economic style for Dumbo (1941). This helped securing a profit at the box office, and critics and audiences reacted positively. Disney's fifth feature Bambi returned to a larger budget and more lavish style, but the more dramatic story, darker mood and lack of fantasy elements was not received very well during its initial run. The film lost money.
Although the next six features were package films, Disney kept faith in animated features. For decades Disney was the only American studio to release animated feature films regularly. Because of the lack of competition, it would last until 2002 before there was an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
Several governments had already used animation in public information films, like those by the GPO Film Unit in the U.K. and Japanese educational films. During World War II, animation became a common medium for propaganda. The U.S.A. had their best studios working for the war effort.
To instruct service personnel about all kinds of military subjects and to boost morale, Warner Bros. was contracted for several shorts and the special animated series Private Snafu. The character was created by the famous movie director Frank Capra, Dr. Seuss was involved in screenwriting and the series was directed by Chuck Jones. Disney also produced several instructive shorts and even personally financed the feature-length Victory Through Air Power (1943) that promoted the idea of long-range bombing.
Many popular characters promoted war bonds, like Bugs Bunny in Any Bonds Today?, Disney's little pigs in The Thrifty Pig and a whole bunch of Disney characters in All Together. Daffy Duck asked for scrap metal for the war effort in Scrap Happy Daffy. Minnie Mouse and Pluto invited civilians to collect their cooking grease so it could be used for making explosives in Out of the Frying Pan Into the Firing Line. There were several more political propaganda short films, like Warner Bros.' Fifth Column Mouse, Disney's Chicken Little and the more serious Education for Death and Reason and Emotion (nominated for an Academy Award). Such wartime films were much appreciated. Bugs Bunny became something of a national icon and Disney's propaganda short Der Fuehrer's Face (starring Donald Duck) won the company its tenth Academy Award for cartoon short subjects.
Japan's first feature anime Momotaro: Sacred Sailors was made in 1944, ordered by the Ministry of the Navy of Japan. It was designed for children and, partly inspired by Fantasia, was meant to inspire dreams and hope for peace. The main characters are an anthropomorphic monkey, dog, bear and pheasant who become parachute troopers (except the pheasant who becomes a pilot) tasked with invading Celebes. An epilogue hints at America being the target for the next generation.
American cel animated films dominated the worldwide production and consumption of theatrical releases since the 1920s. Especially Disney's work proved to be very popular and most influential around the world.
Studios from other countries could hardly compete with the American productions, especially within the medium of cel animation. It seemed easier to stand out with other techniques, like puppet animation, direct animation or cut-out animation. Some countries, like Russia, China and Japan developed their own relatively large "traditional" animation industries. Russia's Soyuzmultfilm animation studio, founded in 1936, employed up to 700 skilled workers and, during the Soviet period, produced 20 films per year on average.
Few titles from outside the U.S.A. gained much international recognition. Notable titles that did have some international success include:
Competition from television drew audiences away from movie theaters in the late 1950s. The theatrical animated short began its decline, while cartoons became quite popular on television, especially after color television was introduced (to the US Market in 1954).
The scheduling constraints of the 1950s American TV animation process, notably issues of resource management, led to the development of various techniques known now as limited animation. Full-frame animation ("on ones") became rare in the United States outside its use for theatrical productions. Chuck Jones coined the term "illustrated radio" to refer to the shoddy style of most television cartoons that depended more on their soundtracks than visuals. The limited animation style was highlighted by the work of Jay Ward on Crusader Rabbit(1950).Other notable 1950s programs include UPA's Gerald McBoing Boing,Terrytoons's Tom Terrific (1958), Hanna-Barbera's Huckleberry Hound (1958) (the first half-hour television program to feature only animation) and Quick Draw McGraw, and rebroadcast of many classic theatrical cartoons from Universal's Walter Lantz, Warner Bros., MGM, and Disney.
The Hanna-Barbera cartoon, The Flintstones, was the first successful primetime animated series in the United States, running from 1960 to 1966 (and in reruns since). While many networks followed the show's success by scheduling other cartoons in the early 1960s, including Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, The Jetsons, Top Cat, and The Alvin Show, few of these programs survived more than a year (save Scooby-Doo, which, despite not being a primetime cartoon, has managed to stay afloat for over four decades). However, networks found success by running these shows as Saturday morning cartoons, reaching smaller audiences with more demographic unity among children. Television animation for children flourished on Saturday morning, on cable channels like Nickelodeon, Disney Channel/Disney XD and Cartoon Network, PBS Kids, and in syndicated afternoon timeslots.
Primetime cartoons for older and adult audiences were virtually non-existent in the mainstream of the United States until the 1990s hit, when The Simpsons ushered in a new era of shows such as Beavis and Butt-head, South Park, King of the Hill, Family Guy, and Futurama.
Although short animated films became less popular in this period, at least one new cartoon character found fame on the silver screen. Pink Panther (1963) started his career in the opening and closing credits of the live-action The Pink Panther film series featuring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. Its success led to a series of short films.
While theatrical animation was dominated by American productions, animation for television programming was something that made much sense for many more countries, mainly for the entertainment of children. Although much was created just for national broadcasting, many titles gained international success, including Calimero (Italy/Japan 1963-1972), La Linea (Italy 1971, 1978, 1986), Barbapapa (The Netherlands/Japan 1973), Doctor Snuggles (U.K./The Netherlands 1979), The Smurfs (Belgium/U.S.A. 1981) and Snorks (Belgium/U.S.A. 1984-1989). Several titles were co-produced with Japanese and American studios, since this was often easier and cheaper than building a new studio.
Japan was notably prolific and successful and got varying levels of airplay in the United States and other countries since the 1960s, with series like Astro Boy (1963), Kimba the White Lion (1965), Sally the Witch (1966) and Speed Racer (1967). Some broadcasters, who thought of animation as something for young children and all too easily programmed Japanese series accordingly, received criticism when some programs turned out to be rather violent. Adaptions of European stories like Vicky the Viking (1974), Heidi, Girl of the Alps (1974), The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (1980-1981) ensured much more success in European countries, helped by the low price.
Animation has been very popular in television commercials, both due to its graphic appeal, and the humour it can provide. Some animated characters in commercials have survived for decades, such as Snap, Crackle and Pop in advertisements for Kellogg's cereals. The legendary animation director Tex Avery was the producer of the first Raid "Kills Bugs Dead" commercials in 1966, which were very successful for the company.
Before the development of cinema, there were several phenomena that can be regarded as early forms of abstract animation or visual music, including color organs, chinese fireworks, the kaleidoscope and special animated slides for the magic lantern (like the chromatrope). Some of the earliest animation designs for stroboscopic devices (like the phénakisticope and the zoetrope) were abstract, including one Fantascope disc by inventor Joseph Plateau and many of Simon Stampfer's Stroboscopische Scheiben (1833).
It took a while before similar ideas popped up in cinema. The first abstract animations with notable impact were created by a group of artists in Germany in the 1920s, referred to as the "Absolute Film" movement: Walter Ruttmann, Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling and Oskar Fischinger.
Len Lye's A Colour Box (1935) was a "direct animation", created by painting patterns on a film strip. It proved to be very influential and had a big influence on Norman McClaren, who would create abstract animations for the National Film Board of Canada since founding its animation unit in 1941.
Abstract animation reached the mainstream with the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor section in Disney's "concert film" Fantasia (1940). Disney was inspired by Lye's A Colour Box and hired Oskar Fischinger to collaborate with effects animator Cy Young. Fischinger's designs were all altered and he would not receive any credits for the finished piece.
Many more artists have made abstract animations that have been appreciated in the art world, but hardly any work has gained mainstream attention.
After the pioneering work by the likes of J. Stuart Blackton, Segundo de Chomón and Arthur Melbourne-Cooper (see above), stop motion became a branch of animation that has been much less dominant than hand-drawn animation and computer animation. Nonetheless, there have been quite a few successful movies and TV series.
Wladyslaw Starewicz (1892-1965) was an early stop motion animator who used the technique to create story lines and characters that conveyed emotions. He started around 1910, using dead insects with wire limbs, and later, in France, using complex and really expressive puppets.
Stop motion became a popular technique for special effects in live-action movies, often to bring life to fantasy creatures. The early Italian feature film Cabiria (1914) already featured some stop motion techniques. Willis O' Brien's animated dinosaur sequences for The Lost World (1925) and especially the big ape in King Kong (1933) are widely regarded as milestones for the technique. Ray Harryhausen, a protege of O'Brien, created many memorable stop motion sequences for adventure films between 1953 and 1981, including The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) and Clash of the Titans (1981). The use of stop motion for special effects has been mostly replaced by computer animated effects.
Popular stop motion productions with puppets have been made by George Pal (Puppetoons (1932)), Rankin/Bass Productions (for instance Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)), Lubomír Bene? with Vladimír Jiránek (Pat & Mat 1979), Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), James and the Giant Peach (1996), and Coraline (2009)).
The first British animated feature was the stop motion instruction film Handling Ships (1945) for the British Admiralty. It was not meant for general cinemas, but did become part of the official selection of the 1946 Cannes Film Festival.
The first Belgian animated feature was a puppet animated adaptation of the Tintin comic The Crab with the Golden Claws (1947).
The first Czech animated feature was the puppet animated package film The Czech Year (1947) by Ji?í Trnka, which won several awards at the Venice Film Festival and other international fetivals. Trnka would make several more stop motion features and short films, and experimented with other forms of animation.
It wasn't until 1954 before a feature animated film was produced in the US with a different technique than cel animation. The first was the stop motion adaptation of 19th century composer Engelbert Humperdinck's opera Hänsel und Gretel as Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy.
Clay animation is a variation of stop motion techniques that gives animators the freedom to create and manipulate any shape they want from a malleable substance, like clay or plasticine. Popular titles using this technique have been Gumby (1953), Mio Mao (1970), The Red and the Blue (1976), Pingu (1990-2000) and many Aardman Animations productions (Morph (1977), Wallace and Gromit (1989))
Cutout techniques were relatively often used in animated films until cel animation became the standard method (at least in the United States). The earliest animated feature films, by Quirino Cristiani and Lotte Reiniger, were cutout animations.
Apart from his early abstract direct animations, Harry Everett Smith also experimented with cutout collage animations, resulting in several short films and the feature Heaven and Earth Magic (first released in 1957 but re-edited several times before a final version was released in 1962).
Early experiments with computers to generate (abstract) moving images have been conducted since the 1940s.
The earliest known interactive electronic game was developed in 1947, paving the way for a medium that can be regarded as an interactive branch of computer animation (which is quite different from animated movies).
A short vector animation of a car traveling down a planned highway was broadcast on Swedish national television on 9 November 1961.
In 1968 Soviet physicists and mathematicians created a mathematical model for the motion of a cat, with which they produced a short animated film.
Since the 1970s digital image processing and computer generated imagery, including early 3D wire-frame model animations, were occasionally used in commercials as well as for the representation of futuristic computer technology in big Hollywood productions (including Star Wars).
Since 1974 the annual SIGGRAPH conventions have been organised to demonstrate current developments and new research in the field of computer graphics.
3D animation started to have more cultural impact during the 1980s, demonstrated for instance in the 1982 movie Tron and the music video for Money for Nothing (1985) by the Dire Straits. The concept even spawned a popular faux 3D-animated AI character: Max Headroom.
More or less photo-realistic 3D animation has been used for special effects in commercials and films since the 1980s. Breakthrough effects were seen in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Jurassic Park (1993). Since then techniques have developed to the stage that the difference between CGI and real life cinematography is seldom obvious. Filmmakers can blend both types of images seamlessly with virtual cinematography. The Matrix (1999) and it's two sequels are usually regarded as breakthrough films in this field.
Due to the complexity of human body functions, emotions and interactions, movies with important roles for fully 3D-animated realistic-looking human characters have been rare. The more realistic a CG character becomes, the more difficult it is to create the nuances and details of a living person, and the greater the likelihood of the character falling into the uncanny valley. Films that have attempted to create realistic-looking humans include Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within in 2001, Final Fantasy: Advent Children in 2005, The Polar Express in 2004, Beowulf in 2007 and Resident Evil: Degeneration in 2009.
The creation of virtual worlds allows real-time animation in virtual reality, a medium that has been experimented with since 1962 and started to see commercial entertainment applications in the 1990s.
In the first decades of the 21st century computer animation techniques slowly became much more common than traditional cel animation. To recreate the much-appreciated look of traditional animation for 3D animated techniques, cel-shading techniques were developed. True real-time cel-shading was first introduced in 2000 by Sega's Jet Set Radio for their Dreamcast console.
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|1917||Feature film||El Apóstol||Created with cutout animation; now considered lost|
|1926||The Adventures of Prince Achmed||Oldest surviving animated feature film, cutout silhouette animation|
|1919||Filmed in Rotoscope||The Clown's Pup||Short film|
|1924||Synchronized sound on film||Oh Mabel||Short film; used Lee DeForest's Phonofilm sound on film process, though none of the characters "speak" on screen|
|1926||Synchronized sound on film with animated dialogue||My Old Kentucky Home||Short film; used Lee DeForest's Phonofilm sound on film process; a dog character mouths the words, "Follow the ball, and join in, everybody!"|
|1930||Filmed in Two-color Technicolor||King of Jazz||Premiering in April 1930, a three-minute cartoon sequence produced by Walter Lantz appears in this full-length, live-action Technicolor feature film.|
|1930||Two-color Technicolor in a stand-alone cartoon||Fiddlesticks||Released in August 1930, this Ub Iwerks-produced short is the first standalone color cartoon.|
|1930||Feature length puppet animated (stop-motion) film||The Tale of the Fox|
|1931||Feature-length sound film||Peludópolis|
|1932||Filmed in three-strip Technicolor||Flowers and Trees||Short film|
|1934||Filmed in Stereoptical Process||Poor Cinderella||Short film|
|1937||First film using the multiplane camera||The Old Mill||Short film. A predecessor of the multiplane technique had already been used for The Adventures of Prince Achmed. Ub Iwerks had developed an early version of the multiplane camera in 1934 for his The Headless Horseman Comicolor Cartoon.|
|1937||Feature filmed in three-strip Technicolor||Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs|
|1942||limited animation||The Dover Boys||Short film|
|1949||First animated series produced specifically for television.||Crusader Rabbit|
|1951||First animated 3-D films||Now is the time - To put on your glasses||Abstract dual-strip stereoscopic short films by Norman McLaren for the Festival of Britain|
|Around is around|
|1953||Presented in widescreen||Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom||Short film|
|1955||First animated feature in widescreen format||Lady and the Tramp|
|Stop-motion television series||The Gumby Show|
|1956||Primetime television series||CBS Cartoon Theatre||Compilation television series|
|1957||Television series to be broadcast in color||Colonel Bleep||Television series|
|1958||Half-hour television series||The Huckleberry Hound Show|
|1959||Syncro-Vox||Clutch Cargo||Television series|
|1960||Xerography process (replacing hand inking)||Goliath II||Short film|
|Primetime animated sitcom||The Flintstones||Television series|
|1961||Feature film using xerography process||One Hundred and One Dalmatians|
|Long-running TV show||Minna no Uta|
|1964||Feature film based on a television show||Hey There, It's Yogi Bear!|
|1969||First animated feature deemed to be x-rated||A Thousand and One Nights||Japanese anime hit. Pornographic animations had already been made for the phénakisticope and the short film Buried Treasure featuring Eveready Harton (circa 1928)|
|1978||Animated feature to be presented in Dolby sound||Watership Down|
|1983||3D feature film - stereoscopic technique||Abra Cadabra|
|Animated feature containing computer-generated imagery||Rock and Rule|
|Animated TV series to be recorded in Stereo sound||Inspector Gadget|
|1985||Feature length clay-animated film||The Adventures of Mark Twain|
|1988||First feature film to have live-action and cartoon animation share the screen for the entire film||Who Framed Roger Rabbit|
|1989||TV cartoon to be broadcast in Dolby Surround sound.||Hanna-Barbera's 50th: A Yabba Dabba Doo Celebration|
|1990||Produced without camera
Feature film using digital ink and paint
|The Rescuers Down Under||First feature film completely produced with Disney's Computer Animation Production System|
|1991||First animated film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture||Beauty and the Beast||As of 2017 no animated film has won the Best Picture award.|
|1993||CGI-animated TV series||Insektors|
|1995||Feature film fully animated with computers
G-rated CGI feature film
|Animated television series to be broadcast in Dolby Surround||Pinky and the Brain|
|1997||First animated series produced for the Internet
|The Goddamn George Liquor Program|
|1999||First animated IMAX feature||Fantasia 2000|
PG-13-rated CGI animated film
|Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within|
|First Academy Award for Best Animated Feature||Shrek||Monsters, Inc. and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius were also nominated.|
|2002||Flash-animated television series||¡Mucha Lucha!|
|2003||First Flash-animated film||Wizards and Giants|
|2005||Feature shot with digital still cameras||Corpse Bride|
|2007||Feature digitally animated by one person||Flatland|
|Presented in 7.1 surround sound||Ultimate Avengers||Blu-ray release|
|2008||Feature film designed, created and released exclusively in 3D||Fly Me to the Moon|
|2009||Stop-motion character animated using rapid prototyping||Coraline|
|2010||Animated feature film to earn more than $1,000,000,000 worldwide
Feature film released theatrically in 7.1 surround sound
|Toy Story 3|
|2012||Stop-motion film to use colour 3-D printing technology for models||ParaNorman|
Modern animation in the United States (1986 through present) Renaissance age of American animation (1986 through late 90s)
Estonian animation began in the 1930s and has carried on into the modern day.
See: Weta Digital