The History of Cartoon Cel Animation

Written by mark kayo
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The History of Cartoon Cel Animation
(drawing image by Jan Will from Fotolia.com)

Many players in the history of cartoon animation have brought this medium to its current status in modern entertainment. Although Walt Disney is probably considered a pioneer in the field of cartoons and animation, there were others who created various methods by which characters or objects could be brought to life through animation.

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Early Animation Techniques

Even though animation was conceived as early as 1824 by Peter Roget, the very first actual methods of animation were made possible by a device called a zoetrope. The zoetrope was a spinning cylinder with open slits that would allow viewing of certain still images in a certain sequence. Someone viewing a zoetrope at a particular angle could see images that appeared to be moving.

After Edison and the invention of motion pictures in 1889, film director Emile Cohl combined more than 700 still drawings, which were then each meticulously photographed individually. When Cohl combined all of the shots together, the drawings appeared to be moving on the film, "Fantasmagorie," which was released in 1908. Other animated films soon followed like "Gertie the Dinosaur" and "Felix the Cat," both released around 1920.

The Process of Cel Animation

First, a storyboard is created showing a quick sketch of the general idea and direction of the cartoon or animated feature. Next, the dialogue is recorded before the actual animators create the final inked cartoons on pieces of clear celluloid acetate, or cels. After inking, animators paint in the colour on the opposite side of the cel and finally combine all the cels to be photographed, using a special film motion picture camera.

Cel animation allows animators to repeat certain frames, eliminating the need to draw each individual frame over and over in a sequence of animation. Backgrounds and fixed objects may be included in every background cel while other cels are removed and replaced over and over to simulate movement by animated characters.

For example, if there are two characters in a scene and only one character is moving in this scene, an animator would draw character A on a clear piece of film called a cel. Then, using another second cel, the animator will draw character B. As character A is jumping up and down in a sequence of moves, a new cel is created for each movement. These cels are then combined and shot on a special film camera in a logical sequence that makes character A look like he's jumping up and down, while character B remains unmoving.

The animator can just leave the first cel attached to the base plate which contains the unmoving character B while placing and removing the cel containing character A's movement sequence. When each subsequent cel containing character A's movements is placed on the plate, a special camera takes a quick shot of both characters that appear together. These quick shots are combined later to simulate movement, or animation.

Walt Disney Changes Animation with Mickey Mouse

Max Fleischer had next invented a device known as the rotoscope, which allowed animators to trace over live action film frame by frame onto an animation cel. Max and Dave Fleischer created the first sound cartoon, "Song Car Tunes" in 1924, three years before the first talking motion picture. Walt and Roy Disney perfected the rotoscope technique and opened their Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in 1923. They created the first cartoon with a synchronised soundtrack titled "Steam Boat Willy," which also introduced Mickey Mouse to the world in 1928.

The Disney studio also created the first colour full-colour animated cartoon titled, "Flowers and Trees" in 1932. However, it would be the Disney studio's first full-length animated feature movie that would be remembered by most people as the most recognised cartoon in animation history: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves." The animated cartoon movie earned £5 million for Disney and was the beginning of the Disney empire.

Warner Brothers Cartoons Introduces Bugs Bunny

By 1940, Warner Brothers Studios had put its own stake into the animation and cartoon business with the release of "A Wild Hare," which starred the wisecracking rabbit, Bugs Bunny. Bugs Bunny was created by Chuck Jones along with Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner.

The Looney Tunes franchise became an almost instant hit and still remains a favourite of most cartoon--loving aficionados to this day. Jones is acknowledged as the inspiration for a number of modern animated cartoons. Other than Walt Disney, no other single person had a greater influence on modern animators, animated features and cartoons.

Cartoon Cel Animation Today

From the popular animated television cartoon series to full-length animated motion pictures, the concepts of cel animation are still used along with some very sophisticated computer technology. Cartoon and animated movies are still drawn by hand, but on a digital tablet instead of a traditional animation cel. The last cartoon to utilise hand-drawn animation cels was "Ed, Edd, n Eddy" for the Cartoon Network.

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