Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Animation Timeline

Winsor McCay

Winsor McCay was an American cartoonist and is considered to be the father of 2D animation. Starting out in 1911, McCay created his first animated film Little Nemo, an adaption of his famous newspaper comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland. McCay started the revolution of animation and following on from the success of Little Nemo, he went on to produce more animations including How a Mosquito Operates in 1912 and his most recognised animated film Gertie the Dinosaur in 1914. Jeff Lenburg said:

“McCay finally achieved real success in 1914 with Gertie The Dinosaur (also called Gertie The Trained Dinosaur), generally regarded as the first “cartoon star”.” (Lenburg, 1991:45)

While John Canemaker described it as:

“… a masterpiece of early personality animation.” (Canemaker, 1996:14).

Gertie was considered to be a landmark for 2D animation, not only because of the number of frames McCay had used to create the animation, but because he gave the dinosaur a personality, something that had never been seen before. Gertie is truly a classic animation making an example of brilliant animating style and technique that would later inspire future animators such as Otto Messmer. The animation runs very smoothly and is an all around masterpiece in the infancy of animation.

In the same year Gertie was released, the First World War had started. It was during this time that McCay stopped animating. That is until towards the end of the war however as McCay made another animation the 1918 The Sinking of the Lusitania. This animation was the first of its kind because it was based upon the real sinking of the British Civilian liner Lusitania, by the Germans. This animation of McCay’s was different from his previous due to it being used as propaganda against the Germans. Howard Beckerman says:

“Made as a document of the attack on a defenseless civilian liner by a German U-boat, it is decidedly intended to incite emotions, and use animation as both newsreel and a wartime propaganda statement.” (Beckerman, 2003:19)

The Sinking of the Lusitania is a very moving piece of animation and beautifully put together, depicting the deaths of hundreds of innocent people. It is easy to see how this might have incited emotions against the Germans at this time. The music is complement to the animation that adds to the horrific imagery setting a perfect mood.

Lotte Reiniger

Lotte Reiniger was a German animator and film director who focused on the use of silhouettes as forms of entertainment. From an early age, Reiniger became fascinated with silhouette puppetry, a Chinese art, and from this would go on to love cinema, particularly Geroges Melies’ and Paul Wegener’s films and their use of special effects.

Reiniger’s fascination with silhouette puppetry and performance is easily understandable. Her animations met with great success because the art form was rarely used in the western world.

“Lotte Reiniger utilizes the ideal technique, the silhouette film.” (Arnheim, 1997:141).

Reiniger became one of the first animators to use silhouettes to great effect and as such it became a landmark in the world of animation. Her animations had a certain charm and fairy tale quality to them particularly in her Cinderella animation.

The Cinderella animated short was made in 1922, a decade after Winsor McCay’s first animation. It is an excellent example of Reiniger’s animations. Everything is beautifully crafted making the characters and scenery vey distinguishable. All of the designs even those that look simple are rather complex and Reiniger has accounted for the movement of her characters by creating moveable limbs. The fact that the piece is a silhouette also makes it hard to distinguish certain objects from each other when due to a lack in colour and depth.

The animation is very flat. Although nicely composed and designed the animation itself is a little rough. Some movements are clunky and slow, unlike other 2D animations of the time where they ran smoothly and at a good pace. The animation also conveys the personalities of the character, defining them from their movements and actions, rather than sound and appearance.

What is interesting is that because of the silhouettes, Reiniger opens her animation up to interpretation.

“…in Reiniger’s monochromatic stories, the images allow space for the viewer’s imagination to fill in the gaps.” (North, 2009)

The animations have no colour or depth to them, nor much a sense of time, which allows the mind to play the animations, giving characters and scenery colour and appearance as well as a time that could the piece could be set in.

Norman McLaren
Norman McLaren was a Canadian animator known for his work for the NFB (National film Board of Canada).  McLaren experimented and produced a multitude of animations during his career all of which made him a pioneer of many new ideas in the world of animation. McLaren experimented in an array of media creating something visually stunning and creative.

“His early experiments in animation included actually scratching and painting the film stock itself…”(Konczewski, -)

In his early career McLaren would use arrangements of colours and shapes in his animations, not for providing story, which is what most animation was used for, but rather to show illusions. McLaren would continue to run with this into his later animations. One particular piece of his was Pas De Deux 1968, which took form from McLaren’s influence in dancing.

“Norman McLaren's short film is a cinematic study of the choreography of ballet. A bare, black set with the back-lit figures of dancers Margaret Mercier and Vincent Warren create a dream-like, hypnotic effect.” (NFB, 2009)

This piece is a cinematic masterpiece. Using held and copied frames McLaren creates the effect of emphasizing movement, which created something beautiful to look at. The posses and movements are smooth and fluid to a point where it could seem unnatural, touching upon dream like projection. The use of back lighting creates a defining emphasis on the dancers giving them slim form.

Walt Disney
Considered to master of 2D animation, Walt Disney was one of the most successful animators of his time and made landmarks in the industry. Disney was one of the first animators to bring sound to an animation after the silent era of film was slowly diminishing with the release of the Jazz Singer. His first animated short Steamboat Willie, which surfaced in 1928, was a massive hit and lead on to huge growth in animation.

“…Disney tried an experiment on a group of his colleague’s wives. From outside a window, he projected a cartoon sequence about a mouse on a riverboat. In another room, his colleagues made a valiant attempt to perform synchronized sound effects and music.” (From Pencils to Pixels, 2003)

In the years following Steamboat Willie, Disney began employing other animators and went on to produce some of the first coloured feature films, such as Snow White. This was a major breakthrough in animation that set the bar for rest of the industry. But Disney didn’t stop there. 1940 saw the birth of Fantasia, an animated film composed of various short animations with a symphony orchestra playing along side it.

“As the curtains part, a huge symphony orchestra appears hazily, on the screen. Before it steps a thin, grinning, bald-headed man. He introduces himself as Deems Taylor, welcomes the audience, on behalf of Leopold Stokowski and Walt Disney, to "an entirely new form of entertainment." (Time Magazine, 1940)

Fantasia is probably one of Disney’s most recognised animated films and definitely one of the most beautifully composed. Up until its release nothing so ambitious had been done before, but the results are fantastic. In terms of animation, it is brilliant. The animations are typical of Disney, moving fluidly and without flaw. Each animation has its own musical track and everything in those animations responds to the music in terms of movement, actions and moods.

“A 1940s attempt by Disney to combine the "high art" of classical music to animation…” (Empire Magazine, 2008)

Characters tend to be inanimate objects, all of which are brought to life by Disney, who define their characteristics with movement and actions rather than facial expressions and words.

The Brothers Quay

The Brothers Quay are American stop motion animators born in 1947. Many of their stop motion shorts use puppets that are typically malformed and damaged, and are usually pieced together from children’s dolls. The influences they use for each short vary, but most derive themselves from novels and music.

“Filtering arcane visual, literary, musical, cinematic and philosophical influences through their own utterly distinctive sensibility, each quay film rivets the attention through hypnotic control of decor, music and movement, evoking half-remembered dreams and long-suppressed childhood memories, fascinating and deeply unsettling in turn.” (BFI, -)

The shorts tend to be rather dark in nature, something that has become characteristic of the quay brothers’ work, which becomes something unsettling and creepy. One short film that achieves this very well and perhaps one of their most famous is the 1986 Street of Crocodiles.

This stop motion short is based upon the novel by Bruno Schulz with the same title.

“Rooted in the writings and drawings of Bruno Schulz, 'Street of Crocodiles' is an excursion into the cruel, absurd world of middle European surrealism. It uses a gnomic, fragmentary narrative to explore a mood of terminal frustration and compulsion, with an astonishing display of sensual and visceral textures, suggesting twentieth century terrors lurking at its edges. The film blends disparate materials to create a fantastic world where everyday materials become strange.” (Moving History, -)

Jiri Barta
Jiri Barta is a Czech stop motion film animation director who is well known for his use of characters and sets made from hand-crafted wood. Perhaps one of Barta’s best-known stop motion shorts is the 1985 Krysar (The Pied Piper of Hamelin).

“The strange world Barta manifests to the viewer in Krysar is both dark and astonishing. Other than the rats which invade the town, the film is performed exclusively by puppets moved by means of stop motion animation. While these puppets are sometimes roughly carved, they are all well conceived and remarkably affecting. Many exude a peculiar cruelty, and most are, at least, vaguely sinister. Moreover, the town these beings inhabit is just as bewitching as are its denizens. Composed of various impossible, warped structures, not unlike the nightmarish village of Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, it provides a consistently effective setting for the dire events the director depicts.” (Allen, 2005)

It is easy to see how Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has influenced Barta in Krysar.  Everything in the world of this film is twisted, deformed and abstract from anything that we would consider to be normal. This in turn reflects on the characters within the film. Although the citizens appear to be civilized as expected, their true natures are revealed soon enough. Everything runs on the ideals of greed and gold in the film, from banquets to trade, showing just how twisted the characters become. This in a sense puts Barta’s world in the realm of the dark and sinister, but also reflects on the urges of greed people have in reality. Krysar could be seen as an outlet of greed for Barta. His characters, although rough, are nicely defined and are key to implanting the ideals that Barta is trying to convey through this piece.

Bill Plympton

Bill Plympton is an American animator and former cartoonist director and producer. Plympton, like other animators before him, has made his mark on the world of animation with his fascinating contributions to the industry. Plympton has a very unique and refreshing style of animation and story telling that conveys his weird and wonderful world. Beginning his career in animation as early as 1968, Plympton has created a vast array of fascinating animation shorts and films, his first truly successful short being the 1987 Your Face.

“The story is kind of my story,” Plympton says softly. “ I used to imitate other artists. I never became successful until I began to do my own stuff.” (Goldberg, 1992)

Carrying on from the success of Your Face, Plympton continued his career in the animation industry, and in 1992 created his first featured animated film The Tune.

“Plympton animated The Tune entirely by hand with over 30,000 drawings. The Tune is classic Plympton, with his rough sketch-like drawings and famous metamorphosis segments in which one object transforms magically into another.” (Andresen, 1992)

It took Plympton a total of two years working alone to create his first feature animation but it certainly paid off. The film met with huge success receiving very positive reviews from critics. And it is easy to see why. Plympton’s style of animation is very cute and kiddy using generally light and cheery colours and rounded shapes, but retaining a somewhat mature nature, ideal for all ages. His animations are always on the move (or so it seems) as even when a character or object remains motionless, the sketchy lines from each frame depict otherwise. They do this as well as remaining true to the form of the character or object, animation at its most natural. Metamorphosis plays a large part in Plympton’s animations. Nearly everything can change form, making his worlds weird and wonderful to look at. Plympton uses this as a tool of progression. Rather than change the change a frame entirely, he rearranges what he already has into something he needs for the next scene.

“At first glance, you wouldn't peg lanky, laconic Bill Plympton as the kind of guy who likes to electrocute people. Or squash them, burn them, and blow them up. But don't let that innocent, boy-next-door look fool you. When it comes to cartoon violence, Bill is an innovator on a par with Tex Avery and Bob Clampett. His characters swallow and inhale each other, and like to bite one another's heads off one chomp at a time.” (Segall, 1996)

Raymond Briggs
Raymond Briggs is an English cartoonist and illustrator best known for his animated film and book The Snowman in 1978. Briggs’ work has become popular amongst a wide audience of children and adults alike, for his beautifully created characters and stories. His style of illustration is soft and pastel making it something perfect for children’s books of which he authors, but it is this quality that defines Briggs as an artist and it would be hard not to recognise his work. The Snowman, one of Briggs’s earliest works is perhaps one of his most well known pieces and an animation of early testament to the illustrator’s own artistic style.

From the success of The Snowman came the book As The Wind Blows. Rather than focus of producing a children’s narrative this book based itself upon the threat of nuclear war and has been a topic to stick with Briggs since its creation. In 1982 another animation adaption of Briggs’ work materialized based on As The Wind Blows. The animation explored the event of a nuclear attack in England, focused on an elderly couple attempting to survive the aftermath. The art style again pays homage to the style of Briggs with soft colours.

One of the leading animation companies in the world, Pixar is at the height of the animation world. Since the companies’ creation in 1979, Pixar has created vast numbers of animations that we know and love. Although the company started out small, it grew quite quick with collaborations from Disney and in 1984 the first animated short The Adventures of Andre and Wally B was released. This short was groundbreaking in animation because it was one of the first CG animated films to be produced. Following on from the success of The Adventures of Andre and Wally B, Pixar went on to create more and more CG animations and became one of the most respected companies in the industry for it. In 1995, Pixar produced it first CG feature film Toy Story, which became a huge hit.

“Disney's 1995 animated extravaganza came with a gimmick: this was the first ever full-length computer animated feature. In the wrong hands this could merely have been a novelty stretched to film length. In the more than capable digits of computer wizards Pixar and director John Lasseter, however, the result is triumphant.” (Westbrook, 2005)

To pick one point from many about Pixar’s animating is the way in which they create a character through their actions rather than words. The 2008 release Wall-E is a prime example of this. Although the main character Wall-E, a rusting rubbish robot, never speaks (save for one or two words) his personality is conveyed as a warm hearted and caring individual. In this instance, Pixar has created something from practically nothing. Machines are considered emotionless but that wasn’t good enough. Through Wall-E’s warm heartedness and caring personality Pixar tells his story, which is nothing less than success.

“It works; this is Pixar's most enthralling entertainment since Nemo. A science-fiction epic that starts off as a smart twist on the last-man-on-Earth plot and veers into a fable about humans' overreliance on technology, the movie should connect with audiences of all ages because it stars the most adorable little trash-bot ever.” (Corliss, 2008)

Canemaker, John (1996) Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World’s Most Famous Cat. New York: Da Capo Press

Lenburg, Jeff (1991) The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons. United States of America: Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Company

Beckerman, Howard (2003) Animation: The Whole Story. New York: Allworth Press

Arnheim, Rudolf (1997) Film Essays and Criticism. USA: The University of Wisconsin Press

North, Dan (2009) Lotte Reiniger’s Cinderella (1922) At: http://drnorth.wordpress.com/2009/10/20/lotte-reinigers-cinderella-1922/  (accessed on 23/3/2011)

Konczewski, Mike (-) Biography for Norman McLaren At: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0572235/bio (accessed on 23/3/2011)

NFB (2009) Pas de deux
At: http://www.nfb.ca/film/pas_de_deux_en/ (accessed on 23/3/2011)

From Pencils to Pixels (2003) Directed by: BBC. [DVD] England: BBC

Time Magazine (1940) Music: Disney’s Cinesymphony At: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,777534-1,00.html (accessed on 24/3/2011)

Empire Magazine (2008) Fantasia http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/reviewcomplete.asp?FID=967 (accessed on 24/3/2011)

BFI (-) Quay Brothers - The Short Films 1979-2003 
http://filmstore.bfi.org.uk/acatalog/info_2787.html (accessed on 30/3/2011)

Moving History (-) Street of Crocodiles
(accessed on 30/3/2011)

Allen, Keith (2005) Krysar (1985)
http://www.movierapture.com/krysar.htm (accessed on 30/3/2011)

Goldberg, Harold (1992) Loony Tune. United States of America: New York Magazine
Andresen, Joshua (1992) Animator Bill Plympton creates an enjoyable Tune http://tech.mit.edu/V112/N48/tune.48a.html (accessed on 30/3/2011)
Segall, Mark (1996) Plympton’s Metamorphoses http://www.awn.com/mag/issue1.3/articles/segall1.3.html (accessed on 30/3/2011)
Westbrook, Caroline (2005) Toy Story http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/reviewcomplete.asp?DVDID=116897 (accessed on 2/4/2011)

Corliss, Richard (2008) WALL-E: Pixar’s Biggest Gamble http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1813964,00.html (accessed on 2/4/2011)

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