What I know about the history of animation
I’m going to write down what I know about animation history. I’ve read various books and looked at a lot of cartoons. I won’t look at Wikipedia, I’ll just write exactly what I can remember.
(I’m still looking for a thorough documentary on the history of animation. I have not found any, please let me know if you know one.)
Gertie the dinosaur (1914) by Winsor McKay is considered the first real animated cartoon. He made a bet he could make an animal come to life from drawings. He chose a dinosaur so it could not have been traced from a film.
He had to draw each frame fully. Cels were not around yet. He had to draw the character and the background for every frame.
Later someone invented cels: You can draw the character on a transparent piece of plastic (celluloid) and place that cel on top of a background. It saves a lot of time, you don’t have to redraw the static background every frame.
It’s one of those ideas, you can’t believe they didn’t think of that before. Like the paperclip.
The animators were recognized by the walking style of their characters. Not the static drawings, but the cadence, the movement, which sets the personality of the character.
Important drawings were made by animators, the inbetween drawings were drawn by “inbetweeners”. The term motion tween is still used in animation software.
At first drawings were drawn with pencil on paper. Later they were traced with ink on celluloid. Ink is more precise, but it also loses some spontinaety.
At some point they figured out a way to Xerox the pencil drawings straight to the cels. The result was a livelier line, as you can see in classics like Jungle Book. This style was only used for a while.
In the early days, Disney made most of his money on merchandising, not on animation. Short animations were shown before the main feature, and theaters did not pay much.
Disney made a character called Oswald the Rabbit. Through some business dispute he lost the rights to the character, but he didn’t give up. He created Mickey Mouse. Ub Iwerks was the animator/designer of Mickey Mouse. Another studio thought Iwerks was the real talent so they made him an offer and he left Disney studios. Iwerks’ solo cartoons were kind of dull, without Walt’s ideas. Disney went on to create his empire.
80s Saturday morning cartoons were made very cheaply, at a fast pace. Chuck Jones called it illustrated radio. You recognize them by lots of characters who hardly move except for their mouth. This was done a lot in Japan as well. Akira was an exception, they invested a lot of money in the animationa and it paid off.
The 70s saw a lot of “freaky” cartoons with adult content… sex, drugs, rock n roll…
The Simpsons were one of the first mainstream cartoon series targeted at adults.
South Park’s content was very controversial in their early days. They made their pilot episode in stop motion with paper-cut-figures. Later the effect was recreated in 3D software. You can still see the paper texture in the animation.
An episode of The Simpsons takes 8 months from start to finish. An episode of South Park takes 6 days.