Animation Overview

Animation is the “art of movement.” Whether it is a drawing or a lump of clay, a puppet or paper-cut collage, the animator infuses life and meaning into things by making them move. The illusion of movement in animation is created by a physiological phenomenon called persistence of vision.

Animation involves the production of a series of still images that, when played back in quick succession (usually on film or video), appear as continuously moving. This illusion is produced by a physiological characteristic of our eyes known as persistence of vision. That is, when human eyes are stimulated – for example, by a still image – a slight afterimage is left on the retina of each eye after the stimulus is taken way. As a sequence of still images, or frames, plays back, each eye retains an afterimage of each frame for a brief moment, and this afterimage fills in the minuscule gap between the frame just past and the frame yet to come. As a result, adjacent frames seem to flow together smoothly. (from Principles of Three-Dimensional Computer Animation by O’Rourke.)

We can think about animation in this technical sense — the emergence of motion over time through a sequence of still images. But we can also consider animation in a poetic sense, animating as the act or process of bringing to life, creating movement not as simply a useful effect, but as a vital mode of expression.

Motion has intrigued artists for thousands of years. From cave paintings created over 25,000 years ago to Edward Muybridgeʼs photographic studies of human and animal locomotion during the late 1800s, we can trace efforts to depict movement that foreshadowed contemporary animation techniques. It seems relevant to note that most early animation techniques were associated with toys…




Flip Book

Stop Motion

Film animation developed in the early 1900s. J. Steward Blackton produced the first stop-frame animated cartoon, titled Humorous Phases of a Funny Face, in 1906. Another early landmark was Winsor McCayʼs Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), a popular animated feature consisting of 10,000 illustrations hand-drawn on rice paper by the McCay and an assistant. The best known of these early film animators was Walt Disney, who in 1928 produced Steamboat Willie starring Mickey Mouse, and who in 1937 brought to the American movie screen the first full-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Early digital computer animation was developed at Bell Telephone Laboratories in the 1960s. Two of the main innovators in early computer animation were Lillian Schwartz (video below) and John Whitney.

From Wikipedia :/

Lillian F. Schwartz (born 1927) is a 20th-century American artist considered a pioneer of computer-mediated art, basing almost her entire oeuvre on computational media. Many of her ground-breaking projects were done in the 1960s and 1970s, well before the desktop computer revolution made computer hardware and software widely available to artists.

The first feature-length computer animated film was Toy Story (1995) by Pixar.

The video below shows 12 “principles of animation”…

Some different types of animation

popfini from Rachel Moore on Vimeo.

River Lethe from Amy Kravitz on Vimeo.


18 Thoughts

  • Sophie Fields

    Woohooooo animation is so fun to watch!!!! The first animations (from the early 1900s) were really interesting to see. It’s easy to forget just how recent the medium is given the abundant presence of it today. I want to do more research/learn more about just how the frame animations were created (like the disney skeletons one) since they weren’t created on a computer. (right? I think) Also liked how the video of the tiny flip book was included in this section, it’s mesmerizing to watch..

    FAVORITE favorite animations in this section were from the optional “art of animation” video. How can I create animations that look similar to the ones in the video?? (specifically the one at 11:00 and 19:00). Is it just frame by frame drawing? To be honest I didn’t watch the entire hour long video so maybe there’s some explanations in there…Maybe I just like how clearly dated all of them are visually and in sound quality. Regardless, I want to explore hand drawn animation more. I think the effort is always worth it in terms of drawing vs computer.

    So cool to see how far we’ve come in terms of what our capabilities are for animating things these days!

    • Gillian

      I hadn’t really thought about hand-drawn/physical animation as the analog (lol) to shooting live-action on film, but now I realize that they match up aesthetically rather well. I am also excited about hand-drawn animation for its marvelous possibilities when it comes to paying tribute to a physical material—like how River Lethe is a tribute to pencil lead. (I think?) Same goes with stop-motion and how it demonstrates how beautifully clay and other moldable materials can mimic movement. It’s certainly one of the most surreal art forms, and it’s like poetry; it makes you see the world differently.

    • Meesh

      Yes, I agree! It’s also interesting to see how a lot of artists have returned the aesthetic of what looks like early computer animation / the aesthetic of early looking animation in general. My favorite video was the DDMMYYYY animated music video. I think this came out in 2008 and animation was well on its way to what it is today at that point, but the band(or the artist who created the video) decided to create what looks like a sloppy, hand-drawn animation. I love its reflexivity though. The viewer is so hyperaware of the drawn outlines and sometimes unfilled in color that it again draws on nostalgia. SORRY to bring nostalgia up again (feel like I do in every comment). Anyways, this is what creates depth in the piece of me. It’s almost being untrusting of visuals and instead focusing on the feeling of what the visuals create. The audio of the video also adds to creating a fun, energetic past space

    • Ori

      Watching some of the first animations definitely garnered a new appreciation of the medium for me. I feel like growing up inundated with so much animation has desensitized me to all of the care and craft that goes into its production. It’s difficult to actually sit down and watch classical animation (hand-drawn, stop-motion) because I’m skeptical that it will challenge/interest/appeal to me since I assume it 1) was intended for children and 2) I already understand the medium/how it’s made (which I definitely don’t). I know that my attitude is pretty outdated given all of the animated content made for older audiences that we have today, it’s just hard to get over the association with being for children. That makes me wonder why the medium has developed to be so child-focused over the years. There doesn’t seem to be anything inherently childlike about creating motion from a sequence of still images… Maybe something to do with the other-worldly/imaginative quality to animation we talked about a few classes ago; something that children are more likely to step into and imagine with.

  • Matt

    I love animation so much. One of my favorite things about living in the modern age is that I can find so many talented animators online super easily. I would definitely recommend checking out Felix Colgrave. He’s an amazing talent that pairs a lot of his work with great music. I’d also recommend checking out the work of Masaaki Yuasa, who does some of the coolest anime I’ve every seen (seriously, watch Kaiba it’s fantastic). Animation, particularly drawn animation, is really powerful to me because it takes something resembling the stream of perception, but allows the creator to inject an incredibly high density of information into each second of experience. The animator is able to put minutes or even hours of thought and care into each frame. This leads some of the most powerful animation being incredibly rich with communication. If a sketch can warrant minutes of time to examine, then showing hundreds of sketches every minute presents a huge opportunity.

    Two pieces, The Dimensions of Dialogue and popfini, both highlighted aspects of animation that I’m not used to seeing. Dimensions of Dialogue used a degree of realism with it’s used of props and stop-motion. While a lot of it’s skits involved claymation that is more abstract, the real-life objects present throughout allowed it to keep a tangible quality. This lends some additional strangeness to its law-defying actions (paper bending metal). Popfini stood out to me because of its reliance on sound. I think it is the first animation I’ve seen that relied more on audio than visuals to create a world. Even though a lot of the effects were obviously not recorded from the objects depicted (a lot were mouth noises), the density and accuracy of sound does the bulk of the work in building space. It’s an interesting choice because most of the time when given complete control over visuals, an animator sees it as an opportunity to give a large amount of density. Instead the artist choice to move towards minimalism and actually created a work where the visuals are almost a supplement of the the audio.

    • Amber

      YES. My favorite animations are these kind of object studies you are talking about, I think animations which act like tributes to a physical material (@gillian&pencil lead)/explorations of the unknown landscapes and potential manifestations of familiar objects.
      The whole overarching term of animation is so broad, and I break it down in my head in a couple different conceptual categories so I can even begin to think about them…
      First you have hand-drawn frame-by-frame animation, which feels like the most virtuosic (not as a positive or negative term here) medium of animation, due to the sheer scale of time/work/frames and it makes me respect the artist even if I don’t particularly “like” the content of the animation itself, because they dedicated so much work to such a short clip. I also think now using programs like aftereffects hand-drawn-animation is in a new renaissance because you don’t have to redraw every frame, you can take your drawing and move it around in different frames without having to draw it again until you want a new action.
      Then there is animation which is real-object /material manipulation (stop motion?). This is my personal favorite and probably the direction I will move in with my project. For me working with “real-life” materials is the most helpful way to experience art, because its root in reality allows you to take the results of your world-building through animation and have it in your brain as you experience the material world around you in everyday life.
      Yet at the same time I understand the draw of computer animation and its power to create the fantastical/impossible worlds which can never be experienced in “real life” insofar as defying the laws of light, gravity, etc. I think it will be compelling to work with real materials (I don’t want to keep using this word “real” because it has some implied value or something but you know what I mean) and incorporate some of the fun computer manipulation techniques I have learned to further warp the world of my animation.

      • Amber

        sorry that first paragraph makes no grammatical sense but you get the picture.
        FYI you cannot edit your comments haha

  • Lona

    It’s nice to see such a variety of videos here! I didn’t know animation could take on so many forms. The River Lethe was one of my favorites because it felt like I was watching rhythms in a way. I also found that the sound in a lot of these videos were so narrative. The orchestration in Silly Symphony and Dimensions of Dialogue made the animation come to life. It seems like maybe if I had watched those animations without the sound, it would be a completely different experience.

    • Michelle

      I agree that the sound felt like a crucial part of the viewing experience, to me it made the difference between feeling like I was watching a work of animation (seeing it as drawings or clay models) and feeling like I had entered another world and succumbing to that reality. Particularly in the pieces that used diegetic sound, like the Stop Motion piece and Silly Symphony. Without the sound, I feel as though there’s a sort of barrier that prevents the animation from coming to life for me – perhaps because silence mimics the quiet studio in which I imagine the animation was created in. Somehow I feel the presence of the animator too much, which prevents a new reality from fully being created. I think part of why I feel this way is that both Humorous Phases of Funny Faces and Gertie the Dinosaur are silent and feature humans invading the space of the animation.

  • Amber

    I’ve been thinking about the genera idea of what things could be classified as animation and what fall outside of that label for our purposes, and I think I want to revoke my basic categories of animation– that is so not reflective of reality or of what I think, I realized. I think animation can be anything where life is given to a material (digital/physical) which outside the choices/explorations/discoveries of the artist would not be alive or captured in its live form.
    Thinking specifically of Shwartz’s “mutations”- no idea what the materials of this are, but it obviously doesn’t fall into any of our clear categorizations. How much of this was manipulated video (water?), how much originated in the computer (any?)? But the lights are anthropomorphized in an interesting way in this video, and given life through the compositional choices.

  • Susan Grochmal

    Wow so many cool things

    I was watching The Illusion of Life and thinking, isn’t it crazy how just a white cube can be anthropomorphized, very interesting, I wonder how people came up with the formula

    The Dimensions of Dialogue video was so great, I felt many different ways (all good until the PENCILS touched in that one part it was unsettling *shoutout to Gillian for the mention of the tribute that’s clever*, it was a great part but the textures were scary together)

    on how the part/video was cool: the anticipation of what would pop out of a head next, and what the interaction would be (really the whole video kept you on your toes – so much MOVEMENT, animation in terms of movement is interesting )

    On movement: how everything MOVES (back to the illusion of life) and what the sounds make you feel, everything moves together

  • Susan Grochmal

    The element of control in animation: you can make any kind of reality,
    the imagination unbounded

    but to know how to achieve these realities …

  • Corrinne

    Karen Aqua and Jesi Jordan are magical women. I researched more about them after watching these videos and I’m feeling really inspired and pumped to approach this next project. I agree w what Sophie is saying about the hand drawn elements, something feels so personable ~ very human and emotive.

    The Boston Globe — Karen Aqua
    “Once I saw my drawings move, it was a big magical connection,’’ she told the Globe in 1994. “It is a really addicting experience, to see the things moving. For all the things we come to hate about it, like the process being so tedious and how long it takes to do it and how hard it is to get your stuff shown, it seems impossible to do anything else.’’

    Reading what Karen Aqua had to say about animation being addicting is something that made me feel really calm inside. I do think its one of those mediums that you can’t turn away from once you get into because it really is such a direct way of displaying the projection of your brain. It’s so magical to me, but it’s not that constant *this is so happy and magical* feeling. It’s really intense and feels like a big math problem in a weird way, you constantly have to solve problems as you work and after learning more of after effects my brain totally has this weird part of it that thinks in layers. It’s just so comforting to me that she acknowledges how crazy the process can be but also how she can’t do anything else. I read somewhere else that she really adapted to a lifestyle (cheap living) that placed her art first and I think it really shows in her work. Ah I just think she’s so genuine and I like knowing about her because she gives me more confidence when I’m thinking about my own goals and approaches. I’m kind of sad that I haven’t heard about her until now. I also hate that almost every article that includes her has to bring up the fact that she animated for Sesame Street. I know that’s an awesome thing and a pretty big deal but her work also stands alone from that fact and I just feel weird when artists are totally associated with a certain job. I don’t know though, maybe I should get over that.

  • Isabella

    It’s amazing to browse through the possibilities of animation! Each of these artists animated with a unique style and it was inspiring to watch the videos in succession. I loved River Lethe. The soft pencil marks blended the frames together with a gentle elegance that left me enthralled. The limited color scheme and additional atmospheric music drew me into a beautiful, enchanting world.Some parts of this video were so fluid that I couldn’t tell whether or not there had been any post manipulation on a computer, or was River Lethe entirely hand drawn?

    I thought it was interesting to watch the relationship between audio and animation in popfini. I’m curious about Rachel’s work flow for this animation. Was she drawing in response to the sounds or making sounds in response to the drawings? I am intrigued by hand drawn animations and I think I would like to experiment with various mediums to see how different mediums correspond to sound and emotions differently.

  • Liza

    The pursuit to capture a moving image has been the conundrum of many artists throughout time, but specifically since the beginning of the 20th century. In the class I’m TAing, they are studying the Futurist movement, whose major aim was to capture the dynamism of a changing technological world. In many ways, they looked to movement as a vehicle to express this. I could go on a tangent about Muybridge and Marey and chronophotography, but I’m really just excited about the connection between what we as artists are looking to do now as compared to back then…much of the core objective remains the same.

    I really like the notion of animation in a “poetic sense”; I think this mode of thinking will allow more possibilities to arise. Motion through animation becomes a manner of expression, and not simply a technical tool. I’m really interested in this way of working and thinking about working. The earlier tools to create motion (ie the examples seen in the blog post) help to frame motion in this more poetic framework. I don’t have a complete thought about this, but I think it presents a lot of exciting futures.

    As a photographer, I feel that I have a complicated relationship with the moving image. On the surface, I think that photography, film, animation, so on have a close relationship, making the transition between the two fluid, on one level. On another, in making photography, I am aware of the absence of motion, the absence of sound…these are the tools that film/animation harness. In writing this, I’m starting to consider how the idea of noticing absence can help to create animation in this poetic sense that was mentioned earlier.

    I really loved what Gillian said about animation paying tribute to a physical material. Materiality becomes vitally important in this sense, especially in stop motion, where the possibilities for animation/movement come from the properties of the material itself. As far as my favorite videos of the examples, I loved the popfini video by Rachel Moore, primarily for its simplicity and use of sound. It also has a really nice fluid rhythm (and uses silence, stillness) that I hope to be able to accomplish in my work.

    Also, sorry I know this wasn’t posted before 10…I read it as 11 last night. :/

  • Will

    I think it’s significant that a lot of early animation techniques were associated with toys. There is a novel quality to animation that comes from imbuing still objects with life and motion. In Karen Aqua’s animation we are drawn to the coffee cup when it is given a personality. Animation has gotten a lot more sophisticated since the invention of the zoetrope, but there is still a sense of playfulness. I really liked the Svankmajer animation moznosti dialogu. The different ways in which the objects interacted with each other were really captivating and dynamic. I also liked the skeleton dance animation. I thought the direct interaction between the characters and the music was really energetic.

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