The History of Animation

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Animation has come a long way since its inception in the 1800’s. It has evolved with technology and is now taken for granted in gaming, television, films, and many other devices. The history of animation is vast and intriguing, and has had its fair share of failures, including a variety of Zoetrope that was marketed as animation, however, in truth had no real animation at all.

The Zoetrope used the same principles as a Phenakistoscope, however, was slightly newer and therefore had slight improvements. These improvements included no requirement for a mirror as well as the option for multiple people to view the illusion at once.

Essentially a Zoetrope is a cylindrical spinning device with several frames of animation printed on a paper strip that is placed in the interior circumference. Each animation is slightly different and as the observer or observers look down the cylinder, the strips rotate so that images appear to be moving. Picture an image of a dancing couple, each animation image is slightly altered so that when viewed one after the other at a speed, it appears as if the couple is actually dancing.

Ancient China created a device with similar features to the Zoetrope of the 1830’s. However, this variety has since been classed as having no real animation qualities and is therefore not true animation at all. This device was essentially a piece of paper with images on it that utilised the same rotating action as a Zoetrope. However, the rotating action was accomplished through heat being emitted below it from a lamp. The rising heated air caused the round paper to spin and thus create the illusion of a moving image. Because there was no shutter, or intermittence between images, rather just a constantly rotating wheel, the effect was simple a series of drifting figures or images, which is why it cannot be classed as animation.

Before animation became what it is today, it was a source of amazement to many people; Zoetropes and similar devices were often used to enthral or frighten people. The Zoetrope is often reconstructed today as an explainer tool for children at school. It is interesting to compare the Zoetrope to today’s animation techniques. Imagine the modern mans response compared to the response hundreds of years ago to such a simple device as the Zoetrope. In just a few hundred years humans technological ability has evolved and increased dramatically.

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