Animation is a dynamic medium in which images or objects are manipulated to appear as moving images. In traditional animation the images were drawn (or painted) by hand on cels to be photographed and exhibited on film. Nowadays most animations are made with computer-generated imagery (CGI). Computer animation can be very detailed 3D animation, while 2D computer animation can be used for stylistic reasons, low bandwidth or faster real-time renderings. Other common animation methods apply a stop motion technique to two and three-dimensional objects like paper cutouts, puppets or clay figures. The stop motion technique where live actors are used as a frame-by-frame subject is known as pixilation.

Commonly the effect of animation is achieved by a rapid succession of sequential images that minimally differ from each other. The illusion—as in motion pictures in general—is thought to rely on the phi phenomenon and beta movement, but the exact causes are still uncertain. Analog mechanical animation media that rely on the rapid display of sequential images include the phénakisticope, zoetrope, flip book, praxinoscope and film. Television and video are popular electronic animation media that originally were analog and now operate digitally. For display on the computer, techniques like animated GIF and Flash animation were developed.

Apart from short films, feature films, animated gifs and other media dedicated to the display moving images, animation is also heavily used for video games, motion graphics and special effects.

The physical movement of image parts through simple mechanics in for instance the moving images in magic lantern shows can also be considered animation. Mechanical animation of actual robotic devices is known as animatronics.

Animators are artists who specialize in creating animation.


The word "animation" stems from the Latin "animationem" (nominative "animatio"), noun of action from past participle stem of "animare", meaning "the action of imparting life". The primary meaning of the English word is "liveliness" and has been in use much longer than the meaning of "moving image medium".[1]


The history of animation started long before the development of cinematography. Humans have probably attempted to depict motion as far back as the paleolithic period. Shadow play and the magic lantern offered popular shows with moving images as the result of manipulation by hand and/or some minor mechanics. In 1833 the phenakistiscope introduced the stroboscopic principle of modern animation, which would also provide the basis for the zoetrope (1866), the flip book (1868), the praxinoscope (1877) and cinematography.

A projecting praxinoscope, 1882, here shown superimposing an animated figure on a separately projected background scene

Charles-Émile Reynaud further developed his projection praxinoscope into the Théâtre Optique with transparent hand-painted colorful pictures in a long perforated strip wound between two spools, patented in December 1888. From 28 October 1892 to March 1900 Reynaud gave over 12,800 shows to a total of over 500.000 visitors at the Musée Grévin in Paris. His Pantomimes Lumineuses series of animated films each contained 300 to 700 frames that were manipulated back and forth to last 10 to 15 minutes per film. Piano music, song and some dialogue were performed live, while some sound effects were synchronized with an electromagnet.

When film became a common medium some manufacturers of optical toys adapted small magic lanterns into toy film projectors for short loops of film. By 1902 they were producing many chromolithography film loops, usually by tracing live-action film footage (much like the later rotoscoping technique).

Some early filmmakers, including J. Stuart Blackton, Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, Segundo de Chomón and Edwin S. Porter experimented with stop-motion animation, possibly since around 1899. Blackton's The Haunted Hotel (1907) was the first huge success that baffled audiences with objects apparently moving by themselves and inspired other filmmakers to try the technique for themselves.

J. Stuart Blackton also experimented with animation drawn on blackboards and some cutout animation in Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906).

The oldest known animated film created by using what became known as traditional (hand-drawn) animation - the 1908 Fantasmagorie by Émile Cohl

In 1908 Émile Cohl's Fantasmagorie was released with a white-on-black chalkline look created with negative prints from black ink drawings on white paper.[2] The film largely consists of a stick figure moving about and encountering all kinds of morphing objects, including a wine bottle that transforms into a flower.[3]

Inspired by Émile Cohl's stop-motion film Les allumettes animées [Animated Matches] (1908), Ladislas Starevich started making his influential puppet animations in 1910.

Winsor McCay's Little Nemo (1911) showcased very detailed drawings. His Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) was an also an early example of character development in drawn animation.[4]

Charlie in Turkey (1916), an animated film by Pat Sullivan for Keen Cartoon Corporation.

During the 1910s, the production of animated short films typically referred to as "cartoons", became an industry of its own and cartoon shorts were produced for showing in movie theaters.[5] The most successful producer at the time was John Randolph Bray, who, along with animator Earl Hurd, patented the cel animation process that dominated the animation industry for the rest of the decade.[6][7]

Italian-Argentine cartoonist Quirino Cristiani showing the cut and articulated figure of his satirical character El Peludo (based on President Yrigoyen) patented in 1916 for the realization of his movies, including the world's first animated feature film El Apóstol.[8]

El Apóstol (Spanish: "The Apostle") was a 1917 Argentine animated film utilizing cutout animation, and the world's first animated feature film.[9][10] Unfortunately, a fire that destroyed producer Federico Valle's film studio incinerated the only known copy of El Apóstol, and it is now considered a lost film.[11][12]

In 1932, the first short animated film created entirely with Technicolor (using red/green/blue photographic filters and three strips of film) was Walt Disney's Flowers and Trees, directed by Burt Gillett. But, the first feature film that was done with this technique, apart from the movie The Vanities Fair (1935), by Rouben Mamoulian, was "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", also by Walt Disney.[13]

In 1958, Hanna-Barbera released The Huckleberry Hound Show, the first half hour television program to feature only in animation.[14] Terrytoons released Tom Terrific that same year.[15][16] Television significantly decreased public attention to the animated shorts being shown in theaters.[14]

Computer animation has become popular since Toy Story (1995), the first feature-length animated film completely made using this technique.[17]

In 2008, the animation market was worth US$68.4 billion.[18] Animation as an art and industry continues to thrive as of the mid-2010s because well-made animated projects can find audiences across borders and in all four quadrants. Animated feature-length films returned the highest gross margins (around 52%) of all film genres in the 2004–2013 timeframe.[19]


Traditional animation

An example of traditional animation, a horse animated by rotoscoping from Eadweard Muybridge's 19th-century photos

Traditional animation (also called cel animation or hand-drawn animation) was the process used for most animated films of the 20th century.[20] The individual frames of a traditionally animated film are photographs of drawings, first drawn on paper.[21] To create the illusion of movement, each drawing differs slightly from the one before it. The animators' drawings are traced or photocopied onto transparent acetate sheets called cels,[22] which are filled in with paints in assigned colors or tones on the side opposite the line drawings.[23] The completed character cels are photographed one-by-one against a painted background by a rostrum camera onto motion picture film.[24]

The traditional cel animation process became obsolete by the beginning of the 21st century. Today, animators' drawings and the backgrounds are either scanned into or drawn directly into a computer system.[25][26] Various software programs are used to color the drawings and simulate camera movement and effects.[27] The final animated piece is output to one of several delivery media, including traditional 35 mm film and newer media with digital video.[28][25] The "look" of traditional cel animation is still preserved, and the character animators' work has remained essentially the same over the past 70 years.[29] Some animation producers have used the term "tradigital" (a play on the words "traditional" and "digital") to describe cel animation that uses significant computer technology.

Examples of traditionally animated feature films include Pinocchio (United States, 1940),[30] Animal Farm (United Kingdom, 1954), and The Illusionist (British-French, 2010). Traditionally animated films produced with the aid of computer technology include The Lion King (US, 1994), The Prince of Egypt (US, 1998), Akira (Japan, 1988),[31] Spirited Away (Japan, 2001), The Triplets of Belleville (France, 2003), and The Secret of Kells (Irish-French-Belgian, 2009).

Full animation

Full animation refers to the process of producing high-quality traditionally animated films that regularly use detailed drawings and plausible movement,[32] having a smooth animation.[33] Fully animated films can be made in a variety of styles, from more realistically animated works like those produced by the Walt Disney studio (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King) to the more 'cartoon' styles of the Warner Bros. animation studio. Many of the Disney animated features are examples of full animation, as are non-Disney works, The Secret of NIMH (US, 1982), The Iron Giant (US, 1999), and Nocturna (Spain, 2007). Fully animated films are animated at 24 frames per second, with a combination of animation on ones and twos, meaning that drawings can be held for one frame out of 24 or two frames out of 24.[34]

Limited animation

Limited animation involves the use of less detailed or more stylized drawings and methods of movement usually a choppy or "skippy" movement animation.[35] Limited animation uses fewer drawings per second, thereby limiting the fluidity of the animation. This is a more economic technique. Pioneered by the artists at the American studio United Productions of America,[36] limited animation can be used as a method of stylized artistic expression, as in Gerald McBoing-Boing (US, 1951), Yellow Submarine (UK, 1968), and certain anime produced in Japan.[37] Its primary use, however, has been in producing cost-effective animated content for media for television (the work of Hanna-Barbera,[38] Filmation,[39] and other TV animation studios[40]) and later the Internet (web cartoons).


Rotoscoping is a technique patented by Max Fleischer in 1917 where animators trace live-action movement, frame by frame.[41] The source film can be directly copied from actors' outlines into animated drawings,[42] as in The Lord of the Rings (US, 1978), or used in a stylized and expressive manner, as in Waking Life (US, 2001) and A Scanner Darkly (US, 2006). Some other examples are Fire and Ice (US, 1983), Heavy Metal (1981), and Aku no Hana (2013).


Live-action/animation is a technique combining hand-drawn characters into live action shots or live action actors into animated shots.[43] One of the earlier uses was in Koko the Clown when Koko was drawn over live action footage.[44] Other examples include Who Framed Roger Rabbit (US, 1988), Space Jam (US, 1996) and Osmosis Jones (US, 2001).

Stop motion animation

Stop-motion animation is used to describe animation created by physically manipulating real-world objects and photographing them one frame of film at a time to create the illusion of movement.[45] There are many different types of stop-motion animation, usually named after the medium used to create the animation.[46] Computer software is widely available to create this type of animation; traditional stop motion animation is usually less expensive but more time-consuming to produce than current computer animation.[46]

  • Puppet animation typically involves stop-motion puppet figures interacting in a constructed environment, in contrast to real-world interaction in model animation.[47] The puppets generally have an armature inside of them to keep them still and steady to constrain their motion to particular joints.[48] Examples include The Tale of the Fox (France, 1937), The Nightmare Before Christmas (US, 1993), Corpse Bride (US, 2005), Coraline (US, 2009), the films of Jiří Trnka and the adult animated sketch-comedy television series Robot Chicken (US, 2005–present).
    • Puppetoon, created using techniques developed by George Pal,[49] are puppet-animated films that typically use a different version of a puppet for different frames, rather than simply manipulating one existing puppet.[50]
A clay animation scene from a Finnish television commercial

Computer animation

Computer animation encompasses a variety of techniques, the unifying factor being that the animation is created digitally on a computer.[27][69] 2D animation techniques tend to focus on image manipulation while 3D techniques usually build virtual worlds in which characters and objects move and interact.[70] 3D animation can create images that seem real to the viewer.[71]

2D animation

A 2D animation of two circles joined by a chain

2D animation figures are created or edited on the computer using 2D bitmap graphics and 2D vector graphics.[72] This includes automated computerized versions of traditional animation techniques, interpolated morphing,[73] onion skinning[74] and interpolated rotoscoping.

2D animation has many applications, including analog computer animation, Flash animation, and PowerPoint animation. Cinemagraphs are still photographs in the form of an animated GIF file of which part is animated.[75]

Final line advection animation is a technique used in 2D animation,[76] to give artists and animators more influence and control over the final product as everything is done within the same department.[77] Speaking about using this approach in Paperman, John Kahrs said that "Our animators can change things, actually erase away the CG underlayer if they want, and change the profile of the arm."[78]

3D animation

3D animation is digitally modeled and manipulated by an animator. The animator usually starts by creating a 3D polygon mesh to manipulate.[79] A mesh typically includes many vertices that are connected by edges and faces, which give the visual appearance of form to a 3D object or 3D environment.[79] Sometimes, the mesh is given an internal digital skeletal structure called an armature that can be used to control the mesh by weighting the vertices.[80][81] This process is called rigging and can be used in conjunction with keyframes to create movement.[82]

Other techniques can be applied, mathematical functions (e.g., gravity, particle simulations), simulated fur or hair, and effects, fire and water simulations.[83] These techniques fall under the category of 3D dynamics.[84]

3D terms

Mechanical animation

  • Animatronics is the use of mechatronics to create machines that seem animate rather than robotic.
    • Audio-Animatronics and Autonomatronics is a form of robotics animation, combined with 3-D animation, created by Walt Disney Imagineering for shows and attractions at Disney theme parks move and make noise (generally a recorded speech or song).[89] They are fixed to whatever supports them. They can sit and stand, and they cannot walk. An Audio-Animatron is different from an android-type robot in that it uses prerecorded movements and sounds, rather than responding to external stimuli. In 2009, Disney created an interactive version of the technology called Autonomatronics.[90]
    • Linear Animation Generator is a form of animation by using static picture frames installed in a tunnel or a shaft. The animation illusion is created by putting the viewer in a linear motion, parallel to the installed picture frames.[91] The concept and the technical solution were invented in 2007 by Mihai Girlovan in Romania.
  • Chuckimation is a type of animation created by the makers of the television series Action League Now! in which characters/props are thrown, or chucked from off camera or wiggled around to simulate talking by unseen hands.[92]
  • Puppetry is a form of theatre or performance animation that involves the manipulation of puppets. It is very ancient and is believed to have originated 3000 years BC. Puppetry takes many forms, they all share the process of animating inanimate performing objects. Puppetry is used in almost all human societies both as entertainment – in performance – and ceremonially in rituals, celebrations, and carnivals. Most puppetry involves storytelling.
Toy Story zoetrope at Disney California Adventure creates illusion of motion using figures, rather than static pictures.
  • Zoetrope is a device that produces the illusion of motion from a rapid succession of static pictures.[93][94] The term zoetrope is from the Greek words ζωή (zoē), meaning "alive, active", and τρόπος (tropos), meaning "turn", with "zoetrope" taken to mean "active turn" or "wheel of life".[94]

Other animation styles, techniques, and approaches

World of Color hydrotechnics at Disney California Adventure creates illusion of motion using 1200 fountains with high-definition projections on mist screens.
  • Hydrotechnics: a technique that includes lights, water, fire, fog, and lasers, with high-definition projections on mist screens.
  • Drawn on film animation: a technique where footage is produced by creating the images directly on film stock, for example by Norman McLaren,[95] Len Lye and Stan Brakhage.
  • Paint-on-glass animation: a technique for making animated films by manipulating slow drying oil paints on sheets of glass,[96] for example by Aleksandr Petrov.
  • Erasure animation: a technique using traditional 2D media, photographed over time as the artist manipulates the image. For example, William Kentridge is famous for his charcoal erasure films,[97] and Piotr Dumała for his auteur technique of animating scratches on plaster.
  • Pinscreen animation: makes use of a screen filled with movable pins that can be moved in or out by pressing an object onto the screen.[98] The screen is lit from the side so that the pins cast shadows. The technique has been used to create animated films with a range of textural effects difficult to achieve with traditional cel animation.[99]
  • Sand animation: sand is moved around on a back- or front-lighted piece of glass to create each frame for an animated film.[100] This creates an interesting effect when animated because of the light contrast.[101]
  • Flip book: a flip book (sometimes, especially in British English, called a flick book) is a book with a series of pictures that vary gradually from one page to the next, so that when the pages are turned rapidly, the pictures appear to animate by simulating motion or some other change.[102][94] Flip books are often illustrated books for children,[103] they also be geared towards adults and employ a series of photographs rather than drawings. Flip books are not always separate books, they appear as an added feature in ordinary books or magazines, often in the page corners.[102] Software packages and websites are also available that convert digital video files into custom-made flip books.[104]
  • Character animation
  • Multi-sketching
  • Special effects animation


An animator is an artist who creates a visual sequence (or audio-visual if added sound) of multiple sequential images that generate the illusion of movement, that is, an animation. Animations are currently in many areas of technology and video, such as cinema, television, video games or the internet. Generally, these works require the collaboration of several animators. The methods to create these images depend on the animator and style that one wants to achieve (with images generated by computer, manually ...).

Animators can be divided into animators of characters (artists who are specialized in the movements, dialogue and acting of the characters) and animators of special effects (for example vehicles, machinery or natural phenomena such as water, snow, rain).


The creation of non-trivial animation works (i.e., longer than a few seconds) has developed as a form of filmmaking, with certain unique aspects.[105] Traits common to both live-action and animated feature-length films are labor-intensity and high production costs.[106]

The most important difference is that once a film is in the production phase, the marginal cost of one more shot is higher for animated films than live-action films.[107] It is relatively easy for a director to ask for one more take during principal photography of a live-action film, but every take on an animated film must be manually rendered by animators (although the task of rendering slightly different takes has been made less tedious by modern computer animation).[108] It is pointless for a studio to pay the salaries of dozens of animators to spend weeks creating a visually dazzling five-minute scene if that scene fails to effectively advance the plot of the film.[109] Thus, animation studios starting with Disney began the practice in the 1930s of maintaining story departments where storyboard artists develop every single scene through storyboards, then handing the film over to the animators only after the production team is satisfied that all the scenes make sense as a whole. [110] While live-action films are now also storyboarded, they enjoy more latitude to depart from storyboards (i.e., real-time improvisation).[111]

Another problem unique to animation is the requirement to maintain a film's consistency from start to finish, even as films have grown longer and teams have grown larger. Animators, like all artists, necessarily have individual styles, but must subordinate their individuality in a consistent way to whatever style is employed on a particular film.[112] Since the early 1980s, teams of about 500 to 600 people, of whom 50 to 70 are animators, typically have created feature-length animated films. It is relatively easy for two or three artists to match their styles; synchronizing those of dozens of artists is more difficult.[113]

This problem is usually solved by having a separate group of visual development artists develop an overall look and palette for each film before animation begins. Character designers on the visual development team draw model sheets to show how each character should look like with different facial expressions, posed in different positions, and viewed from different angles.[114][115] On traditionally animated projects, maquettes were often sculpted to further help the animators see how characters would look from different angles.[29][114]

Unlike live-action films, animated films were traditionally developed beyond the synopsis stage through the storyboard format; the storyboard artists would then receive credit for writing the film.[116] In the early 1960s, animation studios began hiring professional screenwriters to write screenplays (while also continuing to use story departments) and screenplays had become commonplace for animated films by the late 1980s.


Criticism of animation has been common in media and cinema since its inception. With its popularity, a large amount of criticism has arisen, especially animated feature-length films.[117] Many concerns of cultural representation, psychological effects on children have been brought up around the animation industry, which has remained rather politically unchanged and stagnant since its inception into mainstream culture.[118]

Animation and Human Rights

Currently, animation is used as a method of entertainment, and employed to criticize or defend certain aspects of society. Most of these projects have been nominated for the Oscars or have gone viral on the Internet. For example, In a Heartbeat, directed by the American Esteban Bravo and Beth David, is one of the candidates to take the Best Animated Short Film award at the Oscars 2018.

"In a Heartbeat" is about a love story between two teenage boys, as the directors wanted to break the prejudices towards the LGBT community. It's a short animation without dialogue where the heart of one of the boys escapes to pursue the other young person. The short film already has more than 32 million views on YouTube, and despite its success, it has created some controversy.[119]


As with any other form of media, animation too has instituted awards for excellence in the field. The original awards for animation were presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for animated shorts from the year 1932, during the 5th Academy Awards function. The first winner of the Academy Award was the short Flowers and Trees,[120] a production by Walt Disney Productions.[121][122] The Academy Award for a feature-length animated motion picture was only instituted for the year 2001, and awarded during the 74th Academy Awards in 2002. It was won by the film Shrek, produced by DreamWorks and Pacific Data Images.[123] Disney/Pixar have produced the most films either to win or be nominated for the award. The list of both awards can be obtained here:

Several other countries have instituted an award for best animated feature film as part of their national film awards: Africa Movie Academy Award for Best Animation (since 2008), BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film (since 2006), César Award for Best Animated Film (since 2011), Golden Rooster Award for Best Animation (since 1981), Goya Award for Best Animated Film (since 1989), Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year (since 2007), National Film Award for Best Animated Film (since 2006). Also since 2007, the Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Animated Feature Film has been awarded at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. Since 2009, the European Film Awards have awarded the European Film Award for Best Animated Film.

The Annie Award is another award presented for excellence in the field of animation. Unlike the Academy Awards, the Annie Awards are only received for achievements in the field of animation and not for any other field of technical and artistic endeavor. They were re-organized in 1992 to create a new field for Best Animated feature. The 1990s winners were dominated by Walt Disney, however, newer studios, led by Pixar & DreamWorks, have now begun to consistently vie for this award. The list of awardees is as follows:

See also




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External links