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History of Animation

Some sources claim that the true origins of animation started with cave men drawing on walls. Although there is some evidence that cave men understood how to illustrate 2 dimensional images and imply motion from one picture to another, there was no way to move these images rapidly in sequence to imply motion in the drawing.


One of the first devices to do this was the Thaumatrope which used two still images and persistence of motion to create a very simple animation. The image on the left shows an example of a traditional Thaumatrope. Instructions on how to make one can be found at

The Thaumatrope has also been created in other ways as seen on the right.





The Zeotrope consists of a cylinder with slits cut vertically in the sides. Beneath the slits, on the inner surface of the cylinder, is a band which has either individual frames from a video/film or images from a set of sequenced drawings or photographs. As the cylinder spins, the user looks through the slits at the pictures on the opposite side of the cylinder's interior. The scanning of the slits keeps the pictures from simply blurring together, so that the user sees a rapid succession of images producing the illusion of motion, the equivalent of a motion picture.


The Praxinoscope was invented in France in 1877 by Charles-Émile Reynaud. Like the zoetrope, it used a strip of pictures placed around the inner surface of a spinning cylinder. The praxinoscope improved on the zoetrope by replacing its narrow viewing slits with an inner circle of mirrors, placed so that the reflections of the pictures appeared more or less stationary in position as the wheel turned. Someone looking in the mirrors would therefore see a rapid succession of images producing the illusion of motion, with a brighter and less distorted picture than the zoetrope offered.

In 1889 Reynaud developed the Théâtre Optique, an improved version capable of projecting images on a screen from a longer roll of pictures. This allowed him to show hand-drawn animated cartoons to larger audiences, but it was soon eclipsed in popularity by the photographic film projector of the Lumière brothers.

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Cel Animation

Cel animation marked the beginning of the animated movie where all frames are hand-drawn. The drawings are traced or copied onto transparent plastic sheets called cels, which are then placed over a painted background and photographed one by one on a rostrum camera.

Now, the use of cels (and cameras) is mostly obsolete, since the drawings are scanned into computers, and digitally transferred directly to 35 mm film. The "look" of traditional cel animation is still preserved, and the character animator's work has remained essentially the same over the past 70 years. This type of animation has spawned others in recent years.

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More Information About The Rostrum Camera

Stop Motion Animation

This is any type of animation which requires the animator to alter the scene, shoot a frame, alter the scene and shoot a frame and so on. One of the most popular types of stop motion animation is Claymation. Examples of claymation include Gumby, Chicken Run, and Wallace & Gromet.

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Computer Generated Animation

This refers to the drawing of three-dimensional models and sets on the computer. Images can be scanned into the computer using digital photography or made within the computer itself. Human characters can be built from clay while sets and furnishings are modelled using design systems similar to architect drawings. These models are scanned into the computer as wire-frame models which are gradually built up into a coloured and textured form which will finally be recorded onto film. The wire-frame model (far left) was made on a computer before being built up into the character (left).

Computers are becoming cheaper and easier to use than traditional animation. The computer animated film 'Toy Story' cost $30 million to make and used 110 animatiors. "The Lion King' using drawn animation cost $45 million to make and used 800 animators.

Is Video a Form of Animation?

Although the two mediums are similar in the way they are viewed, the difference between animation and video is that video takes continuous motion and breaks it up into discrete frames, while animation starts with independent pictures and puts them together to form the illusion of continuous motion.