Animating America

        As long as people have been alive, they have been drawing. There are prehistoric cave drawings dating back thousands of years. Children draw from the time they can hold a pen, and truly before that with finger paintings. What is the natural evolution of drawing? Animation. Merriam-Webster defines animation as "The act, process, or result of imparting life, interest, spirit, motion, or activity." Animation can be learned about by knowing the history, the evolution, and the important films in the history of animation.

        The history of animation can certainly be traced back to the cave drawings mentioned before. There are cave drawings depicting horses with multiple legs spread out to give the illusion of movement. In the 1800's, flip books became popular with young people, where one could flip through a small book quickly to give the illusion that the pictures were actually moving. Animation really took off with the advent of the motion picture. Film is just a series of pictures played rapidly giving the impression of actual movement. The human eye does not detect a lull in video shown at more than 30 frames per second. 30 pictures shown back to back over the course of one second is what we can see. Above 70 frames per second, the human eye cannot perceive any difference. So 500 frames per second and 70 frames per second are the same to us. Taking pictures and playing them together can also be called stop-motion photography. J. Stuart Blackton's Humorous Phases of Funny Faces is regularly cited as the first true animated film, and Blackton is considered the first true animator. This happened in 1906. Many newspaper cartoonists decided to enter the medium of video with their cartoons, which were drawn on paper and had to be reanimated each time. Later in the 1910's, these cartoons became an industry unto themselves and were eventually shown in movie theaters. According to Wikipedia, "The most successful early animation producer was John Randolph Bray, who, along with animator Earl Hurd, patented the cel animation process which dominated the animation industry for the rest of the decade."

        Cel animation allowed different parts of the scene to be animated on different "cels" and then stacked to create a scene. This kept animators from having to draw entire images repeatedly. This helped to streamline a slow moving industry. Animation comes about when the picture that preceded [the following one] is different from the next. This creates movement. There are three types of traditional animation; full animation, limited animation, and rotoscoping. Full animation looks as though the characters are moving naturally; limited animation is less detailed and more jerky and is often done to give style or save money; and rotoscoping is where animators trace over actual video to give style. There is also stop motion animation, in which pictures are taken, the subjects are moved, more pictures are taken, so on and so forth until the illusion of movement is created. Claymation, in which clay is used in stop-motion photography, is also prevalent in many children's programs.

        The natural evolution of animation led to computer animation when the machines became powerful enough to do this. There is 2D computer animation, which is basically just drawing and animating with the help of a machine to reduce production times; and then there is 3D animation, which is more lifelike and real. 3D animation allows people to create realistic scenarios for films that would otherwise be impossible, such as King Kong climbing the Empire State Building in the 2006 Peter Jackson King Kong remake. It also allows producers to create entirely computer-animated films such as the 1995 Pixar film Toy Story, which was the first completely computer-animated film.

        The original animation film, as stated before was Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, by J. Stuart Blackton. Other early examples of animated films include Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) and The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918). These paved the way for some Disney animated features including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Pinocchio (1940). Television allowed cartoons to come from the Silver Screen to people's living rooms. As previously theater-only cartoons such as The Looney Tunes, which began in 1930 came to the smaller screen, more and more cartoons began to populate children's programming in the new medium. Saturday morning became a hot time for televised cartoons for children who were not in school on the weekends.

        The next big step in animation history came about with the advent of the computer-animated film, which became popular in the early 1990's with such films as The Lion King (1994). This film used some computer animation on top of hand-animated material to add style and reduce work time. As said before, the first completely computer-animated film was Toy Story (1995) and has since led to many other computer only features including The Incredibles (2004), Shrek (2001), and Finding Nemo (2003). These are generally marketed toward children, as most animation has been throughout the age of film and television, although the market for adult animation is starting to grow. Perhaps initially made famous by such shows as The Simpsons and Beavis and Butthead, there is now quite a boom in both comedy and action types of adult animation. Such shows as South Park and Family Guy are still very popular with young adults and older ones. Japanese Anime is also very popular not only in Japan but also throughout the world. It varies from content aimed at young children, to content featuring very violent situations and nudity, obviously marketed toward adults.

        So, what is the future of animation? There are cheap, readily available computer programs that can create professional level animation with that one can almost teach oneself to use. The next big hit could be made in a high schoolers' room. Will it get to the point where actors and actresses are no longer needed but for voices due to the rise in technology? Will studio execs not want to work with and pay people when they can animate lifelike actors? What is the next technological boom that will again change the way animation is done and viewed? Truly, only time will tell.

Dustin Howard

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