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Academic Scholars’ Blog – A Very Brief History of Animation

Saturday 7 March 2015

Emma Poppleton (Lower Sixth) is a keen animator, and founded Queenswood’s Animation Club in 2013.

Of the 291 feature films released in 2013, only 66 of them were Animations. Many people regard Animation as a childish form of film but its origins are far from it and date back earlier than the first real-time film.


The earliest known forms of conveying motion in a still image date back to 17,000 years ago and can be seen in the prehistoric caves of Lascaux in France. In these caves there are over 2200 paintings by early man and over 900 of these are of animals such as deer, bulls and cattle with a few others. The majority of these animals were painted with the legs closest to the painter joined to the animal and the legs that make up the pairs not quite joined to the body. The artists would have painted by fire light and it is easy to imagine that, due to the clever construction of the paintings and the shadows and flickering from the fire, the animals would have looked like they were running.

Queenswood Academic Scholars Blog - Emma Poppleton's History of AnimationAlthough there have been many pieces of art in history which show movement through a sequence of images they can’t really be classified as animation as there was no equipment to show them in motion. It was only in the Victorian era that inventions such as the phenakistoscope, the zoetrope and the praxinoscope were invented. These all used the idea of looking through slots on a rotating circle at a sequence of cyclical images which, due to the physical movement of the images, gave the illusion of movement and were the first true forms of animation.

Other inventions such as the kineograph or flip book as it is now known were also invented at this time.

In 1908 the first animated film which was 3 minutes long called Fantasmagorie was made by the French director Émile Cohl using 700 negatives of drawn images to make the animation look like it was drawn on a chalk board. This was quickly followed by other drawn animations as people started to realise the possibilities and potential of telling a story through silent moving images.

It was at this time that huge film and animation studios were founded such as Walt Disney Studios in 1923, the founder of which had recently had his first studios Laugh-O-Gram go bankrupt. Warner Brothers Cartoons were also founded and in 1934 they produced the first colour animation.

A lot has evolved and developed since then in the world of animation. Animated films now are not only made using traditional animation of drawn images but are stop motion films of puppets, plasticine and inanimate objects as well as the Computer generated animation that is so often the form of animation that is on our cinema screens.

So next time you watch an animated film, you’ll know a bit more about the origins of this brilliant art form than most.