A Brief History Of Animated Cartoons

An animated cartoon is a short, hand-drawn (or created with computers to look similar to something hand-drawn) film for the cinema, tv or computer screen, featuring some sort of story or plot (even if it is a very short one).

Animation itself can be described as the rapid showing of a sequence of images of 2-D or 3-D artwork or model positions in order to create an illusion of movement. The effect is an optical illusion of motion due to the phenomenon of persistence of vision, and can be created and demonstrated in several ways.

It is difficult to believe but the very earliest instances of attempts to capture the impression of motion by drawing can be found in Paleolithic cave paintings. Here animals are shown with multiple legs in superimposed positions, clearly trying to convey the perception of motion.

Further instances can be seen on an earthenware bowl more than 5,000 years old from Persia and an Egyptian mural of wrestlers in action, which is about 4,000 years old.

However these examples cannot really be described as animation as there was no means of making the objects actually move.

The first mechanical devices designed to supply the illusion of movement were invented for children’s amusement or as entertainment at private parties. These included the zoetrope, magic lantern, praxinoscope, thaumatrope, phenakistoscope, and flip book.

Charles-Emile Reynaud created the first animated film in 1892 while he exhibited an animated film consisting of loops of around 500 frames. This film is also outstanding as the first known example of film perforations being used. His films were not recorded, but drawn directly onto the transparent strip.

But the first film which can truly be designated as an animated cartoon was ‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces’ created by J. Stuart Blackton in 1906. It features a cartoonist drawing faces on a chalkboard, and the faces apparently coming to life.

One of the very first successful animated cartoons was “Gertie the Dinosaur” (1914) by Winsor McCay. It is thought of as the first example of real character animation.

All the major movie studios used animated cartoons of 5 to 10 minute lengths as ‘fillers’ before the main movie was shown during the period of the 1930s to the 1960s.Theatrical cartoons were made in huge numbers and MGM, Disney, Paramount and Warner Brothers were the largest studios producing these 5 to 10-minute “shorts”.

However the ever increasing popularity of television and the subsequent waning in cinema going has meant that today most animated cartoons are produced for television.

The most well-known animated cartoon character of all is no doubt Mickey Mouse who was introduced to the world by Walt Disney in May 1928 in Plane Crazy but also starred some six months later in the first animated cartoon with sound – ‘Steamboat Willie’.

By the way, Mickey was originally christened Mortimer Mouse until Walt Disney’s wife persuaded him to make the change.

Mickey Mouse, predated by another cartoon animal called Felix The Cat, made his debut in 1919. However another all time favourite cartoon series Tom and Jerry had to wait until 1931 to put in an appearance.

All these characters and many more have long since made the transition from movies to TV where, no doubt, they will be seen for numerous years to come.

Owen Jones, the author of this article writes on many subjects but is currently involved with Kitty Cannon 3. If you would like to read more, please go over to our web site entitled Kitten Cannon 3.