Whether you’re a diehard Disney, Pixar, or Dreamworks fan, you might have wondered about the history of animation and the impact it had on filmmaking.

Learn about animation and its types to broaden your knowledge!

New to filmmaking? Learn all you need to know about indie film production.

What is animation?

Animation is a way of making moves out of still images. These images are played at fast speeds, giving the illusion of fluid movement.

These successive photos feature drawings, puppets, models, or even people to create this phenomenon.

6 Types of animation

Since its inception in the late 19th century, animation has evolved into several subgenres or types.

The most popular ones to date are:

robot animation

1. Traditional animation

Traditional animation refers to the classic method of drawing each individual frame on paper. This cartoon style dominated cartoons until about 30 years ago.

While time-consuming, it’s still occasionally used today to give animators an understanding of the basic underlying principles.

All other styles developed from traditional animation.

Famous examples include Disney’s The Lion King from 1994 and Beauty & The Beast from 1991.

2. 2D animation

2D animation refers to all cartoons with two-dimensional images. This includes traditionally and computer-animated movies.

Computer animation is cheaper and faster than its traditional counterpart. It works with vectors that mathematically resized images to ensure a smooth motion.

3. 3D animation

3D animation is always done digitally, and it’s been around longer than you might think. The first-ever 3D animation is a short video featuring its creator’s hand, made in 1972.

Today, 3D is used beyond entertainment purposes. It made its way into the medical field, architecture, or engineering.

4. Stop motion

Stop motion animation is the art of manipulating objects to create the illusion of movement.

The “recording” process is lengthy and tenuous. It involves setting up every frame in a physical form.

Afterward, the images are stitched together similarly to a flipbook.

5. Motion capture

Motion capture involves recording an object’s or person’s movement. In filmmaking, it’s often used to capture an actor’s performance and translate it into a computer-generated character on screen.

MoCap also revolutionalized research, engineering, IT, and more.

6. Anime

Anime refers to Japanese animation. Usually featuring a distinctive look, this genre has seen increased overseas revenues since 2013.

With the launch of anime streaming service Crunchyroll, and some of the biggest movies available on Netflix, anime is now more accessible to Western audiences than ever.

animated moovie figure in real life

History rundown of animation

How did today’s animation come to be?

Its history dates back to the late 18th century. Follow the journey of the technique from its inception to contemporary filmmaking.

Before cinematography in the late 18th century

Long before animation as we now know, people in the 18th century enjoyed different sorts of moving figurines that appeared to be moving.

These initial types of animation included puppetry and magic lanterns: An early image projector that cast transparent plates on a surface.

The phénakisticope is the first known device to apply the principle of modern animation. It featured sequential images that, when viewed at a high speed, gave the illusion of movement.

Flipbooks work on the same principle. Even the ones you might have created when you were bored in high school!

The silent era gets a breakthrough in 1895

With the birth of the big screen in 1895, thanks to the Lumiere brothers’ camera and projector, animation gained its second wind.

Pioneers like James Stuart Blackton created animated films like The Enchanted Drawing, 1900. The first fully animated movie, Fantasmagorie, premiered in Paris in 1908 after its creation by Emile Cohl.

These movies breathed new life into animation and revolutionized the industry for most of the 1900s.

Walt Disney is front runner for the American golden age

Walt Disney took inspiration from his peers and created the brand and the now beloved character of Mickey Mouse.

He produced the first animated movie to feature synchronized sound, Steamboat Willie, in 1928.

He achieved commercial success with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.

This was the first animated feature to receive a huge public release and served as the north star for the Disney empire in the upcoming decades.

Animation's outburst in the television era

Animation didn’t stop evolving in the mid 20th century.

The television era presented an opportunity to ambitious filmmakers to radically shake up the industry. The debut of The Simpsons in 1989 highlighted the possibilities animation holds beyond childrens’ entertainment.

In 1997, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park followed in pushing the boundaries of adult caroons. They helped transform the format into one of limitless possibilities and jokes that live-action features couldn’t get away with.

3D animation continues to improve while the Disney machine churns out blockbusters repeatedly.

Anime, Japanese animated movies recently became popular with the mainstream American and European audience with titles like One Piece (1999), Naruto (2007), Pokémon (1997), and My Hero Academia (2016).

animated cartoon sculptures

10 most famous animation films

What are the best-known animated films and franchises today?

Here are the highest-grossing and most famous animations featured:

  1. Frozen (2013)
  2. The Lion King (1994)
  3. Toy Story (1995)
  4. Shrek (2001)
  5. Finding Nemo (2003)
  6. Pokémon (1997)
  7. Cinderella (1950)
  8. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
  9. Spirited Away (2001)
  10. A Bug’s Life (1998)

Explore 3D animation

Will you create the next Frozen craze? Revolutionaries always shaped the history of animation.

Who’s to say that some of them don’t walk among us?

Ready to learn more about the topic? Explore 3D animation or other filmmaking techniques to dive in.

What is animation?

Animation is a technique of using successive images to create a sequence that looks like it’s moving.

Which item serves as the mascot for pixar animation studios?

Luxo, Jr. has been Pixar’s mascot since 1986. He’s a lamp!

What are the 5 types of animation?

The five common types of animation include:

Traditional animation
2D animation
3D animation
Stop Motion
Motion Capture.

What is an example of animation?

One of the most well-known animated features is Disney’s Frozen.