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Film and Media Studies

Film and Media

2-D animation

Mickey Mouse (1928)


Disney's Steamboat Willie is a landmark in the history of animation. It was the first Mickey Mouse film released as well as the first cartoon with synchronized sound. It threw silent animation into obsolescence, and launched an empire of a brand new age. The movie opened on November 18, 1928 at the Colony Theater in New York, a date that would become known as Mickey Mouse's birthday.

Golden Age 1930's-1970's

Several companies back in the 1930s-1970s (usually referred to as the "Golden Age" of animation) were world-renowned for their high-quality, entertaining cartoons, including Walt Disney (creators of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and countless other feature-length films), Warner Brothers (makers of The Looney Tunes that starred Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Tom and Jerry, Addams Family, All Dogs Go to Heaven), Fleischer (Betty Boop, Popeye), and Hanna-Barbera (who made some of the television cartoons during the 50s-70s, most notably The Flintstones and Scooby Doo). These companies helped spread and popularize the use of 2D Animation.



The Flintstones


Scooby Doo


In the 1960's, 2D animation strayed away from the theaters and moved onto the TV screen. Several cartoon series were created during this time period, including The Jetsons and The Flintstones, the first successful animated program on primetime TV. Cartoons were also a lot longer, going from 5-10 minutes a cartoon to 20-25 minutes a cartoon. In order to keep costs down, several shortcuts were made. This often involved only moving one part of the screen per frame (usually a talking mouth) and nothing else. Several Hannah-Barbera cartoons were notorious for looping the same background over and over again, usually when characters were walking or driving. Although these animations weren’t as smooth and complex as theatrical animations, they were still good enough to be convincing and entertaining to thousands of people across the world.


In the late 80's and 90's, cartoons started to shift towards an older demographic. The first major example of this was The Simpsons, which debuted in 1989. This cartoon is notable for being one of the first cartoons to deal with very adult situations and real-life conflicts, including alcohol, sex, and violence. Many parents were outraged when the show first aired, worried that children would get bad ideas from seeing this subject matter that "didn't belong" in an animated cartoon. Despite some concerns, the show became an immediate success. The show received high ratings, made tons of money in merchandise, and proved that cartoons did not always have to be for little kids. This led to the creation of several other animated cartoons intended for teens or adults, including South Park, Futurama, and Family Guy.




From the late 90's to today, 2D animation is still very prominent. Several of today's cartoons, including Spongebob Squarepants, use computers to help create 2D animations. Today's animation cels are often photographed and stored digitally, allowing for easy organization and storage of cels. This process can also be used to digitally add color to characters, rather than having to hand-paint each and every frame. Some cartoons also combine the use of 2D and 3D animations, including the more recent episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy.

Animations can also be completely digital. Programs such as Adobe Flash can make entire animations using just a computer. Flash can also make in-between frames automatically, greatly reducing the number of unique drawings that need to be made. One big advantage of using a computer program is that several smaller things, such as color and frame-rate, can be changed in an instant. This gives users entire control of their cartoons. Digital 2D animations, despite being older technology, are becoming very popular and prominent.

The Fleischer Brothers

Max and Dave Fleischer had become successful New York animators while Disney was still living in Kansas City, Missouri. The Fleischers invented the rotoscoping process, in which a strip of live-action footage can be traced and redrawn as a cartoon. This process was such an inventive process that it is still used today. The Fleischers exploited this technique in their pioneering series Out of the Inkwell (1919-29). It was this series, with its lively interaction between human and drawn figures, that Disney struggled to imitate with his early Alice cartoons.

The studio's mainstay remained the relatively impersonal Popeye series, based on the comic strip created by Elzie Segar. The spinach-loving sailor was introduced as a supporting player in the Betty Boop cartoon, then later got his own show called Popeye the Sailor (1933), and from there the character quickly ascended to stardom, surviving through 105 episodes until the 1942 short Baby Wants a Bottleship, when the Fleischer studio collapsed and rights to the character passed to Famous Studios.



Warner Bros.

Less edgy than the Fleischers but every bit as anarchic were the animations produced by the Warner Bros. cartoon studio, known to its residents as "Termite Terrace". The studio was founded by three Disney veterans, Rudolph Ising, Hugh Harmon, and Friz Freleng, but it didn't discover its identity until Tex Avery joined the team as director. Avery was young and irreverent, and he quickly recognized the talent of staff artists such as Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Bob Cannon. Together they brought a new kind of speed and snappiness to the Warners Bros. product, beginning with Gold Diggers of '49 (1936). With the addition of director Frank Tashlin, musical director Carl W. Stalling, and voice interpreter Mel Blanc, the team was in place to create a new kind of cartoon character: cynical, wisecracking, and often violent, who, refined through a series of cartoons, finally emerged as Bugs Bunny in Tex Avery's A Wild Hare(1940). Other characters, some invented and some reinterpreted, arrived, including Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety and Sylvester, Pepe LePew, Foghorn Leghorn, Road Runner, and Wile E. Coyote. Avery left Warner Brothers and in 1942 joined Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's moribund animation unit.


Looney Toons


Meanwhile in Europe, animation had taken a strikingly different direction. Eschewing animated line drawings, filmmakers experimented with widely different techniques: in Russia (and later in France) Wladyslaw Starewicz (also billed as Ladislas Starevitch), a Polish art student and amateur entomologist, created stop-motion animation with bugs and dolls; among his most celebrated films are The Cameraman's Revenge (1912), in which a camera-wielding grasshopper uses the tools of his trade to humiliate his unfaithful wife, and his feature-length film, The Tale of the Fox (1930), based on German folktales as retold by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In France, a Russian man by the name of Alexandre Alexeïeff developed the pinscreen, a board perforated by some 500,000 pins that could be raised or lowered, which created patterns of light and shadow that gave the effect of an animated steel engraving. Using this technique, it took Alexeïeff two years to create A Night on Bald Mountain (1933), as well as in his 1963 film (from a dark fable written by Nikolai Gogol) The Nose.

Inspired by the shadow puppet theatre of Thailand, Germany's Lotte Reiniger employed animated silhouettes to create elaborately detailed scenes derived from folktales and children's books. Her film The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) may have been the first animated feature; it required more than two years of patient work and earned Reiniger the nickname "The Mistress of Shadows". Her other works includeDr. Dolittle and His Animals (1928) and shorts based on musical themes by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Papageno, 1935; adapted from "The Magic Flute"), Gaetano Donizetti (L'elisir d'amore, 1939; "The Elixir of Love"), and Igor Stravinsky ("Dream Circus", 1939; adapted from Pulcinella). In the 1950s Reiniger moved to England, where she continued to produce films until her retirement in the 1970's.

Another German-born animator, Oskar Fischinger, took his work in a radically different direction. Abandoning the fairy tales and comic strips that had inspired most of his predecessors, Fischinger took his inspiration from the abstract art that dominated the 1920's. At first he worked with wax figures animated by stop motion, but his most significant films are the symphonies of shapes and sounds he called "coloured rhythms", created from shifting colour fields and patterns matched to music by classical composers. He became fascinated by colour photography and collaborated on a process called gasparcolor, which, as utilized in his 1935 film Composition in Blue, won a prize at that year's Venice Film Festival. The following year, he emigrated to Hollywood, where he worked on special effects for a number of films and was the initial designer of the Toccata and Fugue sequence in Walt Disney's Fantasia (1940). The Disney artists modified his designs, however, and he asked that his name be removed from the finished film. Through the 1940s and '50s he balanced his work between experimental films (such as Motion Painting No. 1) and commercials, and later on he retired from animation in 1961.

Fischinger's films made a deep impression on the Scottish design student Norman McLaren, who began experimenting with cameraless films—with designs drawn directly on celluloid—as early as 1933 (Seven Till Five). A restless and brilliant researcher, he went to work for John Grierson at the celebrated General Post Office (GPO) Film Unit in London and followed Grierson to Canada in 1941, shortly after the founding of the National Film Board. Supported by government grants, he was able to play out his most radical creative impulses, using watercolours, crayons, and paper cutouts to bring abstract designs to flowing life. Attracted by the possibilities of stop-motion animation, he was able to turn inanimate objects into actors (as seen in A Chairy Tale, 1957) and actors into inanimate objects (seen in Neighbours, 1952), a technique he called "pixellation".

The international success of McLaren's work (he won an Oscar for Neighbours) opened the possibilities for more personal forms of animation in America. John Hubley, an animator who worked for Disney studios on Snow White, Pinocchio, and Fantasia, left the Disney organization in 1941 and joined the independent animation company United Productions of America in 1945. Working in a radically simplified style, without the depth effects and shading of the Disney cartoons, Hubley created the nearsighted character Mister Magoo for the 1949 short Ragtime Bear. He and his wife formed their own studio, Storyboard Productions, in 1955, and they collaborated on a series of increasingly poetic narrative films. They won Oscars for Moonbird (1959) and The Hole (1962). The Hubleys also created a much-admired series of short films based on the jazz improvisations of Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, and Benny Carter.

The evolution of animation in Eastern Europe was impeded by World War II, but several countries—in particular Poland, Hungary, and Romania—became world leaders in the field by the 1960s. Włodzimierz Haupe and Halina Bielinska were among the first important Polish animators; their Janosik (1954) was Poland's first animated film, and their Changing of the Guard (1956) employed the stop-action gimmick of animated matchboxes. The collaborative efforts of Jan Lenica and Walerian Borowczyk foresaw the bleak themes and absurdist trends of the Polish school of the 1960's; such films as Był sobie raz… (1957; Once Upon a Time…), Nagrodzone uczucie (1957; Love Rewarded), and Dom (1958; The House) are surreal, pessimistic, plot-less, and characterized by a barrage of disturbing images. Borowczyk and Lenica, each of whom went on to a successful solo career, helped launch an industry that produced as many as 120 animated films per year by the early 1960's. Animators such as Miroslaw Kijowicz, Daniel Szczechura, and Stefan Schabenbeck were among the leaders in Polish animation during the second half of the 20th century.