FUN FRIDAY: The evolution of animation

This little montage popped up a few weeks ago and I’ve been meaning to feature it. It’s sort of a highlight reel for the best of animation up until 1990, when computers started to take over and essentially took all the fun out of everything.

A couple of takeaways:

1. You don’t really think about it but there wasn’t any animation at all until about 1890, because there wasn’t any movie production. There used to be flipbooks, where each moment in time was on one page of a book and you flipped through it at high speed. That must have been somewhat more entertaining than making a doll out of corn silk, but not much.

2. I don’t know if it’s just me but it’s like every cartoon made before about 1935 is pretty much terrifying. I mean, the weird, dead eyes of the characters are the stuff of nightmares. It makes you really understand why Snow White won an Oscar. It’s not just that it was a feature-length animated film, one of the first, but it’s also one of the first that won’t scare the bejeezus out of you. Hollywood continued to make animated films that looked like a horror-story acid trip through the 1950s but it seems like they were eventually eclipsed by less scary stuff when people realized cartoons are for kids.

3. At the same time, you really come to see that there were some really beautiful things being done with animation, and you have to realize at some level that there was practically nothing mechanical about it. Sure, there were cameras and some of them had motors, but hand-drawn animation has to be one of the most loving and yet tedious things in the world. Draw the same picture 20 times with only a slight difference in movement. Back then, a master animator would draw a few frames and mostly unsung heroes would flesh out the inbetween frames. These “tweeners” have names largely lost to history and yet they’re responsible for the masterpieces of animation that live on today.

4. You also see that Disney really dominated animation for a large part of the 20th century, and while they did change things quite a bit, it’s not until the 1970s when you see a lot of other experimental animation that things really get going. The pseudo-3D stuff you see, all hand drawn, set the stage for computer-generated imagery in the 1990s and up until today. Today even traditional animation relies heavily on computers to do the tedious stuff, but of course CGI has crossed over from showing us fabulous new worlds to being an essential tool for creating the world we think we’re already seeing.

I hope you enjoy this video as much as I did. The author seems to be working on a “volume 2” but when I watched the video it wasn’t done yet.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.