Week 1

What is animation?


Animation is the rapid succession of still sequential images, shown at a steady rate that create the illusion of movement.

This illusion is made possible by a physical phenomenon called “persistence of vision“: If a sequence of still images is displayed fast enough, our brain will stop seeing individual steps and start seeing motion instead. This illusion is referred to as the persistence of vision. The human eye and brain can only process 10-12 separate images per second. If another image replaces it within a fifteenth of a second, it will bridge the two, creating the illusion of continuous motion.


Pre-film era: Before the advent of cinema in the 1890s, inventors were putting still images into motion with optical toys such as the zoetrope. A strip with sequenced imaged was placed on the inner surface of cylinder with slits on the side. As the cylinder spins, the user looks through the slits at the pictures across. The scanning of the slits keeps the pictures from simply blurring together.

Eadweard Muybridge, although not an animator himself, was a key figure in the development of the medium (as well as live-action film). His multi-camera motion studies of animal and humans, created in the 1870s and 80s, advanced the understanding of movement. His books of photographs continue to be used as references by animators to this day. Here’s a link to the horse in motion as a video file on YouTube

Here are a few classic films/animators from the very early days of animation:

The Walt Disney Studio was founded in 1923 and quickly came to dominate the medium. Not only did the studio create memorable characters such as Mickey Mouse, it also invented and perfected development and production tools that are still used today.

In traditional 2D film animation, each frame is created by hand. Animators often use their own expressions as a reference for their characters. 1 second of animation requires 24 frames/drawings.

Up until the mid-1990’s the lead animator would animate the character on sheets of paper. These drawings would then be cleaned up and painted unto sheets of celluloid. Finally, the character cell would be overlaid over a background and shot on film.

The multiplane camera was a large analog piece of equipment developed at the Disney studios in the 1930s to impart live action-like effects (i.e: depth-of-field, parallax and zooming) to 2D animation. The multiplane became obsolete with digital scanning, compositing and editing tools in the early 1990s.

The 12 principles: Two of Disney’s master animators, Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, described the 12 most important principles to create appealing animations in a a book called “The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation” in 1981. While these rules were already present in very early animations, Frank and Ollie formalized them. These principles are essential to any animator’s education and practice. This video offers a great overview of all 12 principles: “Complete 12 Principles of Animation Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston as described by Alan Becker”

This animation is a very quick overview of the 12 principles.

Animation Today

While 2D animation is still popular today, the computer almost always comes into play (i.e: for scanning, compositing, sequencing and/or to color each frame). Often, animators draw the frames directly within the digital environment with a tablet.

Here a few interesting contemporary examples:

Assignment: Flipbook

Your first assignment is to create a flipbook. You should complete it by February 11. We will review in class how to make a video and submit it to OpenLab. Here are all the details.

Checklist for this week: