The first definition of animation in the Oxford English Dictionary is an outdated one: “The action of imparting life, vitality, or (as the sign of life) motion; quickening, vitalizing.”1 Here, animation is the specific deed that bestows life, and its partner, movement, to a receiver. Animation gives life, which in turn gives movement.
But animation as a medium is defined as “the production of ‘moving pictures’; the technique by which movement is given, on film, to a series of drawings (especially for an animated cartoon.)”2 Film itself is the production of moving pictures – a film is often called a “motion picture.” Images are projected onto a screen usually at the rate of twenty-four images per second. This gives apparent motion.3 If apparent motion is enough to convey life in the first and obsolete sense of animation, both live-action film and animation could be filed under animation. But the two are separated as media.
Then what makes animation a different medium than live-action film? Animation is generally viewed as a moving image that is created frame-by-frame in which near-total control is given to the creator.4 This most often refers to the process of an animator drawing each and every frame. With the increasing use of the computer as a tool in animation, frames are produced by machinery. Even these computer-generated sequences are created frame-by-frame, manipulating the same elements as a series of drawings: mass, line, perspective, tone, and color.5[image: engel.jpg]
Animation has an emblematic stylization that arose from its work-intensive frame-by-frame nature. Using drawings as diagrams, animation sectionalizes movement.6 Each motion is divided into parts; in each part an element changes position. To facilitate this division of movement, images are simplified through symbols. Rarely does animation refer to life through accurate representation. Elements are exaggerated and reduced to better emphasize the nature of the motion depicted.7 The image transforms through the frames. Heather Crow, describing the animated gesture, writes, “Animated film is characterized by shapeshifting bodies: bodies squashed and stretched, organs that jump out of the skin, human figures that transform into animals or objects.”8 Motion manifests through the frame-by-frame duplication and transformation of an image.9
Animation relates these separate-but-related images: not only is contrast or harmony arranged in each image, contrast and harmony are arranged between successive images.10 Like comics and graphic novels, animation ties images together. Animation is specific in that the images are not arranged on a page, but in time, projected on a screen. Norman McLaren, of the National Film Board of Canada, defined the nature of animation:
“Animation is not the art of drawings that move, but the art of movements that are drawn. What happens between each frame is more important than what exists on each frame. Animation is therefore the art of manipulating the invisible interstices that lie between frames…”11
By controlling each frame individually, the animator can also manipulate what happens between those frames.
Even though the animator can manipulate and sculpt this intermediate space, the viewer is ultimately responsible for the illusion’s production. The animator suggests movement to the viewer; he or she enables the viewer to conceive the representation of life.12 The viewer, by filling in what is in-between, participates in the medium.13 The viewer creates for himself or herself the illusion of a living, moving object. Not only do the countless artists working on sequential drawings animate, the viewer piecing together these rapid-fire images animates by perceiving the illusion of motion, therefore imparting this quality to the images on the screen.
Four prominent kinds of animation exist today. Cel animation, stop-motion, drawing-on-film, and computer-generated animation are all different modes of the medium. The first, cel animation, is what is most often associated with animation in the twentieth century. In cel animation, pencil drawings are transferred on to celluloid sheets called cels by tracing the lines with ink. Each cel is placed in front of a background and recorded.14 The combined effect is a moving picture, created entirely of traced drawings. The flexibility of this technique gives cel animation the connotation of having a rebellious quality; a cartoon animated with cels has the opportunity to graphically free itself from rationality. The moving image, in this case, can either follow logic or be free from it.15
Drawing-on-film is animation without a literal or figurative camera. This freedom from the camera has lent the majority of drawing-on-film animation an experimental quality. Each frame of film is etched on, creating tiny images that are expanded upon projection.16 With the removal of the camera, drawing-on-film is animation in one of its truest senses – it is made of individual drawings with no additional techniques that streamline the process.17
Stop-motion, also called object animation or plastic animation, has its own subset of forms: models and miniatures, cutouts and silhouettes, still-photography, and experimental.18 Model and miniature animation had its beginning in live-action science fiction films. Later, the models and miniatures used in animation became three-dimensional puppet characters that could be manipulated in space.19 In cutout and silhouette animation, an iteration of ancient shadow-puppet theater, two-dimensional puppets are used – in fact, the oldest surviving animated feature film is a 1926 silhouette animation, Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed by Lotte Reiniger. Still photography animation is derived from cutout and silhouette animation, where an animation is created by a sequence of traditional photographs. Experimental stop-motion is not so much a technique as it is a creative branch that is associated with the avant-garde and the development of new ways to animate objects.21
Computer-generated animation is described by the interaction between human and machine: digital animation is painted by hand, through software.22 What controls are operated and how they are operated within the software generate the final animation. The moving image is still created frame-by-frame. The program often streamlines repetitive tasks, allowing the animator more control over complicated movement. Because animation software has an alterable history, the animator can return and doctor earlier actions.23 Now in the early twenty-first century, computer-generated animation are the majority of mainstream animated feature films and television shows released. The digital technique excites and entices audiences, promising to generate the fantastic with new and advancing methods. Current three-dimensional digital animation models cinematic camera movements within a setting of volumetric depth.24 While the most familiar computer-generated animation is in three-dimensions, different programs allow for two-dimensional animation as well. Almost all animation today, no matter what kind, uses the computer as a tool.
Despite changes in animation technique and form over the years, the animated cartoon, zany and comical, stands out as the most conspicuous example of the medium. The OED defines animation in another way: “Liveliness of aspect or manner; vivacity, sprightliness, brightness.”25 This definition can describe the genre of the high-action animated cartoon that exaggerates motion. These cartoons are narrative, bringing forth characters and their stories – such as Felix the Cat, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and countless others.26
Mainstream animated cartoon films and shorts in the United States were created through studios – the most famous of which is Walt Disney’s.27 In most cases, the Disney studio was the first to adapt advances in live-action film technique to animation.28 Over the years, a Disney style has been established, creating a large body of work that visually references itself.29 Yet Disney was certainly not the only studio: throughout the 1930s, all major film companies had an animation division.30 Notable cartoon studios of the twentieth century include the Warner Brothers cartoon unit, the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cartoon unit, and the United Productions of America (UPA) studio, which is notable for its distinct style.31 UPA encouraged individual work and developed a new approach to mainstream cel animation. This approach emphasized simplicity of form and movement.32 The formation of animation studios, and the differing styles that emerged from them, are a result of cartoon production.
It is important to remember that while the animated cartoon may be considered a genre, animation itself is a medium. One of the Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions for medium is “an intervening substance through which a force acts on objects at a distance or through which impressions are conveyed to the senses; any substance considered with regard to its properties as a vehicle of light or sound.”33 Animation is the invisible medium between rapidly screened drawings, through which movement is portrayed.
1 OED “animation” definition 1
2 OED “animation” definition 8
3 Hoffer 3
4 Stephenson 13,15
5 Hoffer 4
6 Halas 10,11
7 Halas 12
8 Crow 51
9 Crow 51
10 Stephenson 17
11 Hoffer 5
12 Weihe 42
13 McLuhan 160
14 Halas 16,17
15 Kearney 2
16 Hoffer 99
17 Hoffer 100
18 Hoffer 95-97
19 Hoffer ,95, Weihe 39
20 Hoffer 97
21 Lamarre 134
22 Hoffer 101,102
23 Lamarre 131
24 OED “animation” definition 5
25 Hoffer 5
26 Hoffer 90
27 Halas 36
28 Halas 39
29 Halas 41
30 Hoffer 93, 94
31 Stephenson 48, 49
32 OED “medium” definition 5a
Crow, Heather. “Gesturing Toward Olympia.” Animated ‘Worlds’. Boston: John Libbey & Company, 2007. 49-62. Print.
Engel, Jules. Animation. Digital image. Michael Sporn Animation – Splog. Michael Sporn, 11 Aug. 2009. Web. 10 Feb. 2010.
Halas, John. Film Animation, A Simplified Approach. Paris: Unesco, 1976. Print.
Hoffer, Thomas W. Animation, A Reference Guide. Westport, Conn: Greenwood, 1981. Print.
Kearney, Rachel. “The Joyous Reception: Animated Worlds and the Romantic Imagination.” Animated ‘Worlds’. Boston: John Libbey & Company, 2007. 1-14. Print.
Lamarre, Thomas. “New Media Worlds.” Animated ‘Worlds’. Boston: John Libbey & Company, 2007. 131-50. Print.
McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media, the Extensions of Man. Corte Madera, CA: Gingko, 2003. Print.
Oxford English Dictionary: The definitive record of the English language. Web. 27 Jan. 2010. <http://oed.com>.
Stephenson, Ralph. Animation in the Cinema. Tantivy, 1967. Print.
Weihe, Richard. “The Strings of the Marionette.” Animated ‘Worlds’. Boston: John Libbey & Company, 2007. 39-48. Print.