Introduction to the animation

Animation is the process whereby a series of gradually changing drawings or objects are photographed on to film frame by frame and then projected to create an Illusion of movement. In 1825 John Ayrton Paris, president of the Royal College of Physicians in London, drew a parrot on one half of a disc and a cage on the other half. He attached a string through the centre and when the disc was spun rapidly the parrot appeared to be inside the cage. From this simple invention, named the Thaumatrope, came other illusionary devices which eventually lead to the birth of the motion picture industry.

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Animated beginnings

Two of the most important inventions following on from the Thaumatrope were the Zeotrope (1832) and the Praxinoscope (1878). In the former, slits were made in the upper half of a revolving drum and a strip of drawings was fitted into the lower half. By revolving the drum in front of a mirror and looking through the slits into the mirror the figures appealed to move. The change in position between one figure and the next in sequence is exactly what happens in animated cartoons to this day. The Praxinoscope was a more sophisticated version of the Zeotrope. Invented by the Frenchman Emile Reynaud, the Praxinoscope consisted or a series of painted slides mounted on a perforated leather belt and hung between two large drums.

The belt was wound through the drum and a lamp projected the moving images through a lens on to a screen. Backgrounds could be superimposed during projection. These animated ‘films’ could only be shown as exclusive performances because Reynaud’s invention pre-dated photographic film and each slide had to be made by hand, but within a decade technology had caught up with invention and animated film became a reproducible art form.

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How it works

Animated films work on the same principles as simple ‘flip-through’ books which can be made at home. Draw a figure at the bottom of each page of a notebook, varying the position of the figure slightly in each case. When the leaves of the book are flipped through, the figure appears to move. The slighter the change of position, the smoother the animation. In animated films each drawing is made on a separate piece of paper and photographed frame by frame by a fixed overhead cine-camera.

There are holes in the bottom of each page which slot over pegs to ensure accurate alignment of each frame, and the drawings are done over a lightbox so that blank paper can be put over the previous drawing and traced through to make sure that the drawing is exactly the same apart from the minuscule alterations to be made. If the drawings are done on sheets of acetate they can then be done in conjunction with a background strip which can be moved underneath the figure frame by frame to create the illusion of a figure moving through the background. Of course it is not only drawing that can be animated. Jointed puppets, shadow puppets, plasticine models and inanimate objects can be made to run, jump, dance and talk on film.

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If you are attempting to make your own animated film at home with a cine-camera and a lightbox, then success is usually a case of hard work and trial and error. However, when working with a team, on a large or small-scale budget, there is a set of formalised production procedures to follow. The first step is the script. Unlike a live-action film script, the animation script should be largely without dialogue. It is really a story from which the next step, the storyboard, is produced.

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Today, computer technologies are so sophisticated that everything is possible to do with the animations. There is almost no limits in creativity and animation has become a part of everyday life through the films, commercials, video games…

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