The Pioneers In Animation Animation Essay


Animation has its roots in traditional art. Its evolution over the years has been facilitated by not only artists but also visionaries and technically skilled experts. Presented below are the noteworthy pioneers and their creations that helped animation reach unprecedented heights as we see today.

It was in 1895, three years after Emile Reynaud, inventor of the praxinoscope, an animation system using loops of 12 pictures, showed the first animated film in Theatre Optique system, devised by him, that two French brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumiere, presented the first authentic demonstration of what we now think of as cinema. Lumiere Brothers' characters which were images of real people became a better alternative to the Emile Reynaud's presentations of moving drawings. Georges Melies, a fantasy filmmaker- the maker of Voyage to the Moon (1902), was prided himself as 'stage-illusionist' and used the medium of cinema as a natural extension of his magical arts with their transformations, and mysterious disappearances. Many of the visual tricks employed in his fantasy film Voyage to Moon were achieved by 'stopping the film', altering the image and photographing the new scene. This later became one of the basic techniques of 3-D animation films. Hence, arguably, George could be termed as the first filmmaker to use Stop Action {or Stop Motion}.

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Stuart Blackton, a Briton, is the pioneer in "Chalk Animation". His work in Humorous Phases of Funny Faces", made in 1906, is based essentially on line animation. It is commonly known that the first animated work on standard picture film was Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906) by Blackton. It features a cartoonist drawing faces on a chalkboard, with the faces apparently coming to life. Blackton's process of drawing a picture, photographing it, rubbing a part of it out and then redrawing it was the most basic use of the stop-motion technique. Blackton, along with Albert E Smith, had employed stop motion photography to create wonderful effects in his 1907 live -action film 'The Haunted Hotel'. He is credited with the making of the first stop motion puppet film 'The Humpty Dumpty'.

British film maker Arthur Melbourne Cooper also claimed having made the first ever puppet animated film. Cooper is also perhaps the maker of the world's first animated commercial film using stop -motion photography in his film 'The Matches: An Appeal', a film of 'moving matchsticks' produced way back in 1899. Copper's other notable creations were 'Cindrella' (1912), 'Wooden Athletes' (1912) and The Toymaker's Dream (1913).

Another pioneering effort in stop-motion techniques was that of Parisian caricaturist and film maker Emile Cohl who in his film 'Fantasmagorie,' depicting the adventures of a little clown, drawn as a rudimentary stick figure, used some two thousand drawings which ran for under two minutes.

Those animators who used the puppet model (the other method being clay model) as the basis of their 3D Animation were Giovanni Pastrone {'The war and the Dream of Momi'} and Wladyslaw Starewicz {' The Magic Clock', 'Love in Black and White'}. Starewicz had enormous passion for drawings and sculpture and was influenced by Emile Cohl's 1908 film 'The Animated Matches'. He later became known as Ladislas Starevich (after he moved over to Paris) and is till date acclaimed as the pioneering puppet animator because he created the first puppet-animated film -'The Beautiful Lukanida' (1912). His cast of insect characters appeared in a series of modern fables viz. 'The Cameraman's Revenge', featuring tiny miracles as a grasshopper on a bicycle and a dragonfly ballet dancer. Other well known puppet films of Starevich were 'Town Rat', 'Country Rat' and the 'Tale of Fox'. Charlie Chaplin is one of the several Hollywood -inspired performers in 'Love in Black and White' (1927) by Ladislas Starevich. 'The Mascot'(1934) showcased Starevich's live action story with toys.

Quirino Cristiani from Argentina is the maker of possibly the first animated feature film -'El Apóstol', in 1917. He also directed two other animated feature films, including 1931's 'Padeopilis' the first to use synchronized sound. None of these, however, survive to the present day. German Lotte Reiniger and French/Hungarian Berthold Bartosch were the directors of the earliest-surviving animated feature, which used colour-tinted scenes, in their silhouette-animated Adventures of Prince Achmed' (1926).

Jan Svankmejer brought to the cinema the theatrical skills of masks and puppets through his first film 'The Last Trick' (1964) -he was clearly inspired by Ladislas Starevich's 'The Mascot', made nearly three decades earlier. Svankmejer's films often combined animation with live action, as in 'Alice' and his other feature film 'Faust' (1994). Svankmejer is regarded as an undisputed renegade of animation art because he had a penchant for pixillating live actors or manipulating china dolls. Some of his macabre creations were joints of uncooked meat or as in 'Dimensions of Dialogue' (1982) in which he formed two lumps of deathly-grey clay which form themselves into heads and then eat and regurgitate another! The heritage of Svankmajer's animation films was the motivating factor behind many of the earliest puppet movies.

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The Russian animator Alexander Ptushko was yet another trend setter in 1930s. 'The New Gulliver' made by him in 1935 includes scenes filmed in camera (unlike the usual method of creating through optical techniques in processing,) incorporating a live actor and some 3000 puppets. The other feature films made by Ptushko combining animation and live action were 'The Fisherman and the Little Fan' (1937) and 'The Little Golden Key' (1939).

Yet another well known name in stop -motion animation was Hungarian born animator George Pal, maker of a classy film, 'The Ship of the Ether' featuring the voyage of a ship made from blown glass. Pal worked in the biggest puppet -animation studio in Europe and created a series on fairy tale subjects and also produced short entertainment films for commercial sponsors such as Philips Radio, Unilever, and Horlicks. He is the creator of the theatrical shorts called 'Puppetoons' from his studio in America. One of the most popular characters of Pal was a little black boy named Jasper who appeared in nearly twenty films such as 'Jasper Goes Fishing'(1943)', 'Jasper and Beanstalk'(1945) and 'Jasper in a Jam'(1946).Those who followed Pal and made successful careers in puppet films were Joop Geesink and Ray Harryhausen. Some of the notable films made by them were 'Little Red Riding Hood', 'Hansel and Gretel', 'The Story of Rapunzel', and 'The Story of King Midas'.

Jiri Trnka, the Czech animator, was an illustrator beyond comparison who created what is known as 'Disneyfied' characters in such folk tale films as 'Grandpa Planted a Beet'(1945) and 'The Animals and the Brigands'(1946). He later became the maker and operator of marionettes- animating the puppets. Arguably, 'The Emperor's Nightingale' was a masterpiece film made by Trnka based on Hans Anderson fairy tale. Trnk's last film 'The Hand' (1965) featured the central character with a typical impassive face and dressed to look like a pierrot. With an outsized head, a beaky nose and two large soulful eyes, he is clearly the comic tragedian.

Trnka's creative heirs were Brestilav Pojar ('Lion and Song') and the Japanese animator Kihachiro Kawamoto ('Demon', 'A Poets Life', 'House of Flame'). In recent times, the puppet animation scaled greater heights through the films made by BBC and the British and American television companies with makers like Jim Henson {'Seasame Street' and 'The Muppet Show'}. Garry Anderson who made 'The Adventures of Twizzle' and 'Torchy the Battery Boy' is rated as a pioneer in puppet films on the television. Other successful puppet films of Anderson were 'Supercat' (1961), 'Stingray' (1964) and 'Thunderbirds' (1965).

There were many artists who advanced animation such as the brilliant American cartoonist Winsor McCay whose comic newspaper strip 'Little Nemo in Slumberland' became an animated picture in 1911. Winsor was the man behind the creation of the interactive 'GERTIE, The Trained Dinosaur'.

Raoul Barre, whose film series 'The Animated Grouch Chasers' featured a caricature album that came to life, was credited with several significant developments such as registration holes in animation paper, to stop the drawings from wobbling when filmed etc.

J R Bray (creator of the comic character Colonel Heeza Liar) pioneered the technique of drawing the backgrounds on sheets of celluloid and placing them on top pf the animation drawings. This process was later refined by Earl Hurd (maker of 'Bobby Bump') by animating characters on celluloid sheets that were positioned over painted backgrounds.

Some of the talents/ artists who dominated the early years of animation were as follows:

Pat Sullivan (creator of 'Felix the Cat'), his collaborator Otto Mesmer;

Dave Fleischer (who made the series ' Out of the Inkwell')

Paul Terry, the creator of Aesop's Fables'

Walter Lantz- who made first 'Dinky Doodle' and later ' Woody Woodpecker'

It is widely believed that Walt Disney, the genius who created Mickey Mouse, took animation to an entirely new level altogether. In 1928, with the premiere of 'Steamboat Willie', he became the first animator to add sound to his movie cartoons. Another milestone in Walt Disney's life was the first full length animated feature film, named 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' produced in 1937. Walt Disney, till date, is the synonym for the cartoon film. 'Flowers and Trees' (1932) made by Disney Studios which won an academy award for this work was the first animation to use the full, three-color Technicolor method.

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Lou Benin made a version of 'Alice in Wonderland' in 1948 using live and puppet players. Tim Burton is another pioneer in a negative sense, because he made the first ever horror animation film for children- 'Vincent'. He also made the macabre film 'Frankenweenie' in 1984 and became a Hollywood legend creating the new dark breed of Batman movies. Burton's 'A Nightmare Before Christmas' (1993) was the first stop motion feature film to receive worldwide distribution.

BBC and the Moscow based group of animators, Christmas Films have been known, in recent times, for producing finest puppet animation series. Jim Henson's glove-puppets achieved international fame with 'Sesame Street' and 'The Muppet Show'. Garry Anderson is considered yet another pioneer with his fantastic puppet animation shows on the television such as ' The Adventures of Twizzle', 'Torchy the Battery Boy', 'Super Cat' 'Fireball XL5', 'Stingray' and last but not the least ' Thunderbirds'. Cosgrove Hall has the distinction of having achieved live movements animating his rubber moulded heads. His 3-D recreation of Toyland home of Enid Blyton's 'Noddy' and 'Okie Dokie' is well known.

American Willis O' Brien is credited with pioneering work in clay animation. He made pre historic comedies through claymation such as 'Curious Pets of our Ancestors' The Birth of Flivver'( both 1917) which featured dinosaur characters. He also created the special effects for Merian C Coopers classic fantasy 'King Kong'-till date a powerful film for stunning animation sequences. O'Brien's work has been the inspiration for many, notably his protégé Ray Harryhousen who even surpassed his master in animation techniques. 'Might Joe Young' (1949), 'The Animal World'(1956), 'The Beast 20,000 Fathoms'(1953), 'It Came from Beneath the Sea' (1955) boast of Ray'S memorable characters.

Max Fleischer and his collaborator Roland Crandall are known for moving away from claymation and using cel-animation. Perhaps, it was Art Clokey who revived claymation with an innovative film based on stop-motion clay animation through his film 'Gumby' (1955). The term Claymation was coined by Will Vinton who made Academy Award winning movies like 'Closed Mondays' followed by Leo Tolstoy's 'Martin the Cobbler', Washington Irwing's 'Rip Van Winkle' and 'Little Prince '. Joan Gatz, who worked with Vinton and made claymation films 'A Claymation Christmas Celebration' and the Academy Award winning film 'Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase'( 1992). Will Vinton's classic creations included 'The Adventures of Mark Twain' and 'Return of Oz'. Vinton excelled himself through his advertising films in America which helped claymation to reach new heights of invention and sophistication.

The renaissance in clay animation is due to the works of an animator from the age of 13, Peter Lord who has the reputation of having made his first animated film as a school boy. He has thus been involved with animation for more than three decades. Peter is credited with pioneering clay character- MORPH, a simple clay character developed by him when working with BBC that became a well known claymation character on television. It was a simple model yet displaying a personality and charm, a hallmark of Peter's characters. Peter Lord and Sproxton focused on plasticine / clay animation, a medium rarely used in Europe.

Peter along with Mr. David Sproxton, another pioneer in animation, founded Aardman Animations in 1976, named after a character in an early film of Peter. Peter and David were classmates in Working Grammer School for Boys. Over the years Peter and David, the cofounder of Aardman Studios, have produced many commercials, pop videos, children's series and short films. Two of Peter's own short films- Adam & Wat's Pig- have been nominated for Academy Awards. The other ground breaking films from Arrdman were 'Animated Conversations',' Conversation Pieces', Confessions of a Foyer Girl' and 'On Probation'. The studio also specialised in giving human form to a variety of edible products such as singing sausage man, a fruit-and-vegetable man etc. Aardman have produced remarkable commercials using animation techniques -its characters like Douglas the Butterman for LURPAK are memorable.

Peter has been working on a full length feature film with fellow Aardman animator, Nick Pick, son of a professional photographer and the most famous of the filmmakers who joined Aardman Studios. Nick Park completed 'A Grand Day Out' for Aardman in 1989 featuring Wallace and Gromit which was nominated for Academy award-its sequel was 'The Wrong Tousers' followed by 'A Close Shave' which won Oscar and helped clay animation to scale unprecedented heights. Nick Park won his first Academy award for his fifth film in this series- ' Creature Comforts' in 1990. Nick Park and Peter Lord produced the most ambitious project of Aardman Studios- 'Chicken Run' in 2000. Chicken Run was perhaps the earliest of films that made significant use of computer animation techniques.

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Peter, Aardman Animations has become the preferred destination to many talents in animation. Peter Peake who produced 'Pib and Pog', Richard Goleszowski who made 'Indent' (Rex the Hunt series), 'Dinosaur and Dreams' and Steve Box are the notable animators from Aardman.

Peter Lord, along with Mr. Brian Sibley, has authored the much sought after book titled "Cracking Animation"- a book which is supposed to have opened up the vistas to the World of 3D Animation. Nick Park, in his forward to this book, has commended that Peter and David were the first animators he met with expert knowledge and technique in animation and this book is a pioneering publication to impart detailed information and insights into computer animation.

Brian Sibley, as a writer and broadcaster, pioneered in publishing numerous books and programmes in arts and animation. His books include 'Shadowlands: The Story of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman' and 'The Disney Story'.

One of the pioneers in using computers and computer related technology in animation was an MIT student Ivan Sutherland who in 1951 created a computer drawing program, Sketchpad, further giving a boost to animation. 'Tron' made in 1982 was a pioneering effort in computer animation. The rapid transition in the field of computer animation have seen innovative creators like Phil Tippet ('Star Wars', 'Empire Strikes Back', 'Jurassic Park'), Peter Jackson ('The Lord of the Rings'). Pixar Animation Studios has the distinction of having produced the first full length feature film animated totally on computers. While Pixar made marvels of computer animation like 'Toy Story' (1995), followed by 'A Bug's Life' and the super hit 'Finding Nemo', the rival Studio Dreamworks created 'Shrek' series. Aardman also pioneered Pixillation, the modern technique of computer animation through their films 'Angry Kid'.

Certainly, the days ahead are going to witness breathtaking visuals and special effects as more and more technological innovations are pioneered by the large studios across the world.