Animation in Film

“The Motions of an Artist” (Credits: Messala Chiulla)

Nothing is impossible: this was once a feel good, self-motivational chicken soup for the soul thing but with animation, it is now, literally so.

From the gigantic dragon terrorist Smaug in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014), to the Terminator franchise and the farm-raiding antics of the sly protagonist in the modern Wes Anderson hit, Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), animation has redefined cinema and continues to do so.

Here is a look at the forms of animation available in the film industry and how they have remained an integral part of storytelling. Perhaps at the end of this article, if you are a budding filmmaker, you might consider squeezing some elements of animation to garnish your project!

We begin by taking a stroll down memory lane…


Humble Beginnings

“The Old Days” (Credits: Alexander Andrews on Unsplash)

1906 was the groundbreaking year when American-British director J.Stuart Blackton produced the very first animated feature, a 3-minute long facile piece titled: Humourous Phases of Funny Faces, which was distributed by the Vitagraph Company of America (the successful enterprise was acquired by film giant, Warner Bros. in the 1920s).

The film begins with a hand deftly sketching a picture of a man on a blackboard with the use of a chalk. Subsequently, an image of a woman materialises beside the man and the film progresses with fascinating expressions from the characters, seemingly without human intervention.

This introduces us to the first type of animation in film that remains relevant up till today.


Stop Motion

“Scene before the magic” (Credits: rawpixel on Unsplash)

Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906) was the precursor to cartoons, which are fundamentally films that employ the similar technique of stop motion.

In one scene from the classic, a plump aristocrat tosses his umbrella into the air and catches it elegantly before it slams upon the ground- at least, this is what our eyes perceive.

That is the beauty of animation: to fool the beholder through a series of film techniques to show that anything is possible. With animation, the most far fetched ideas originating from novels, artistic thought and folklore, may be brought to life on screen.

Thus, an animator is like an illusionist who deploys smoke and mirrors to create a jaw-dropping effect for his audience.

So, what really goes on in stop animation?

It is a tedious and mechanical process that requires the manual piecing together of isolated shots in crafting a visual story.

Imagine a flipbook (a type of publication where turning its pages swiftly will create a dynamic visual) cast onscreen ‒ this is the truth behind the display.

Depending on the preferred medium of the filmmaker, which may include mannequins with movable joints, drawings, clay or even human performers, the technique focuses on transitioning through multiple frames of film fast enough to produce the illusion of seamless movement.

Live action films have also benefited from this technology, as exemplified in the 7th voyage of Sinbad (1958), where the courageous hero flees from a one-eyed giant (cyclopes) and sword-fights a reanimated skeleton.

“A Sea Voyage made easy” (Credits: Diego Catto on Unsplash)

The concept of stop-motion originated from an even earlier piece, a short film called The Humpty Dumpty Circus (1898), which exhibited unaided movements of dolls in a circus toy set.

The technique may have been tedious, but it was necessary in paving the way for future animation techniques.

The novel method influenced Walt Disney and served as inspiration for early Mickey Mouse cartoons and other Disney projections, which remain cherished by viewers for many generations.


2D Animation

“Prismatic” (Credits: Sharon Wahrmund on

A noticeable upgrade in animation technology, 2D animation began in 1908 with a French piece named Fantasmogorie (which means a fantasy) by Emile Cohl. The Fantasmogorie could have been a homage paid to the vintage device known as a magic lantern, which was a late nineteenth century prototype of film projectors.

Cohl took on the surreal perspective of unleashing his continuous stream of thought through drawing, demonstrating how each sketched item was capable of morphing into something entirely different, how a bottle of wine could transform into something else based on the distortion of its outline.

The final animation is then projected on film, using a grand collection of about 700 drawings.

In modern times, the concept of 2D typically refers to any shape or design that may be represented on a flat plane ‒ examples include fundamental shapes like triangles, circles, etc.

For the most part, modern artists apply bitmap and vector graphics through computer-generated means to create 2D animations.

Popular examples of 2D-animated films include The Lion King (1994), Aladdin (1992), Peter Pan (1953) and Yellow Submarine (1968).

The concept of 2D animation had also spread to the Land of the Rising Sun, as the Japanese invented their own style of cartoons known as anime. The first of its kind, Katsudo Shashin, was released in 1907.


“Futuristic Nippon” (Credits to Steven Roe on Unsplash)

A distinct trait of Japanese anime is the involvement of a technique known as limited animation, which favours the reuse of certain common elements between animation frames over redrawing each frame entirely.

This may be interpreted as being a time-efficient method or discredited as a lazy alternative compared to traditional styles that require the redrawing of each frame.

The overwhelming success of anime spawned an entire sub-culture of cosplayers and otakus (subject-obsessed nerds) who attend conventions and suit up as their favourite anime characters, while assuming alter egos.

Popular anime titles include: Dragon Ball Z, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Naruto Shippuden.


3D Animation

“A whole other experience” (Credits: Tony Webster on Unsplash)

Boundaries were pushed even further when artists began to seriously consider improving the personalised viewing experience of their audiences.

As a means of drawing the audience closer to content, research and development was applied to improve the quality of animated content and films.

This movement resulted in a wave of 3D films, which sometimes afforded the effect that a character or location onscreen was within reach, adding realism to the onscreen scenery.

It provides the illusion that the characters were moving towards or away from the audience.

The art of 3D rendering has also been applied to gaming, movies and in creating the special effects made famous by Hollywood blockbusters (through car explosions, hanging onto a ledge with one arm from a cliff in Lima, teleportation, duplication, etc.)

It is believed that the earliest documented form of a 3D model came from the movie Futureworld (1976), and was initially an idea of Ed Catmull, the founder of Pixar Studios.

The mapping process involved the casting of a real hand as a model, where polygons were drawn to track and mimic natural hand motions. The marked model was then digitised with data outputs through lines, followed by an updated version without smooth-shading and finally, an end product without smooth-shading.

The team proceeded to experiment with everyday objects and the intricate expressions found on the human face, which was animated through a technique known as cosine interpolation that works by determining the changes in a variable between two possible values over a stipulated span of time.

Progressively, software started to dominate the world of animation.

Toy Story (1995), became the first computer-animated action film, a heartwarming story about toys coming alive during the absence of their owner.


And it keeps getting better…

“21st Century Easel” (Credits: rawpixel on Unsplash)

With the advent of computer design software, artists began to depend on CGI (computer-generated imagery) methods that recreated the realistic features of human bodies and closely emulated nuances such as breathing, moisture on skin, muscle movement and hair detail.

Green screen and blue screens were paired with CGI, practically mimicking any environment from the real world and fantasy, creating breathtaking backdrops that would blow the mind of their audiences. The new technology was achieved through chroma key, whereby specific colours are isolated and superseded with digital alternatives to produce the meshed effect.

Additionally, CGI has been mixed with live-action sequences, creating a dynamic environment where the lines between fact and fiction are distorted beyond recognition.

The sci-fi movie Avatar (2009), one of the highest-grossing films of all time, strategically placed live-action actors inside the breathtakingly-rendered world of Pandora, alongside CGI manifestations, all to build an epic visual.


Is Animation for you?

Everything is achievable with the right amount of animation.

The technology of rendering is being developed further to optimise viewer experience, as proven in the recent improvement of graphics in movies and video games.

The use of 4D techniques, which involve other senses such as scent and touch, have also been experimented in recent years, it seems like there are no limitations for the innovative artists who defy the norm.

If you are a filmmaker, consider adding the impressive twist of animation to your content for a visual treat.

At Premise TV, the online interactive platform, while we welcome submissions of original and edgy film content from dedicated filmmakers, we also value the importance of uniting film professionals through a dynamic community.

If you have been on the search for a videographer skilled in 3D editing, then, look no further. Premise TV is the place where inventive people convene to create the videos that truly matter.

Shape your world with us!


Author: Laurenzo Jude

Premise TV is an interactive online platform that streams edgy films to genre-driven audiences and allows filmmakers to raise funds and builds a fanbase from it.

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