A Walk Through the History of Animation

Something those of you who don’t know me in real life may or may not know is that I am a big fan of animation. The art form definitely gets a thumbs up from me. So here is a short history of animation and the moments where it took big steps forward and breakthroughs were made.

People have been interested in movement in art for as long as we’ve been drawing. Cave drawings show animals in different stages of running, presumably indicating the movement of one animal. If they would be played in a sequence, it might look like the animal is running on screen.

Early Attempts at Animation


But with new inventions during the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, those ideas could start to come to life. The earliest invention to do this was called the magic lantern, which projected pictures on glass. Some of these sheets of glass had moving parts to them. The phenakitoscope and later praxinoscope, which I’m willing to bet everyone has heard of and maybe even used but do not know it, is the next big breakthrough step in animation. A viewer looks into a mirror at a spinning wheel, and on the wheel are images at different stages of their movement. This makes it look like one complete and continuous action when the wheel is spun, and is the first really recognizable piece of animation.

The flip book was invented in the mid-1800’s and is essentially the same technique traditional animators use today, with drawing the images in sequence, one on top of the other, and when the pages of the book are flipped through quickly, the pictures appear to move. These flip books were a big inspiration to early animators.


In the earliest years of the 1900s, silent cartoons were starting to be produced. Bray Studios in New York was the most successful. Animators who worked for them would later create memorable and lasting characters like Betty Boop and Woody Woodpecker. French studios also did very well. Emile Cohl created the first cartoon in Fantasmagorie in 1908. The short piece can be found on YouTube here.

Steamboat WillieCartoons moved out of the silent era in 1928 with the work of a studio (and a character) very, very near and dear to me: Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie. This was the first cartoon to have the audio attached to the film itself. Something you may not know is that Walt himself was the original voice of Mickey.

After this came what many call the “Golden Age” of cartoons, with Disney, Warner Brothers, and others producing animated shorts which became common and widely enjoyed in popular culture. Warner Brothers created Merrie Melodies in 1930, which would soon become Loony Tunes.


1937 was an important year for animation and for Disney. It was the year that Snow White was released, the first animated feature-length film.

Flintstones AnimationInto the 50s and 60s, cartoons became even more integral to people everywhere, as more and more families bought televisions. Shows such as The Flintstones and Yogi Bear (from Hanna-Barbera) debuted in this time, as well as the Pink Panther series and others. In the 80s, television channels like the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon were created.

Computer animation was pioneered by Pixar in the 80s and 90s. Their 1984 film “The Adventures of Andre and Wally B” was the first short movie to be made using CGI. And in 1995, Toy Story was the first feature length CGI movie, created by Pixar. Pixar is always inventing new technologies to animate every movie they create, such as more realistic water effects and animating hair in difficult and detailed ways.



Do you like animation? If you do, what is your favorite short or movie? Or your favorite animated show? Or, if you don’t live in America, is there anything important that happened in your country that I didn’t touch on? Please leave answers to any or all of these in a comment down below. Thank you for reading and, until next time, goodbye!

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