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A brief (and surprisingly ancient) history of animation

Storytelling is everything. Many generations of people searching for new ways to effectively tell their stories have resulted in animation technology which can knock your socks off. Really, the only limit left to what you can achieve in animated stories is storytelling. Which is probably why Disney is kinda ruling the world right now. How did animation become so important? Why have we invested so much in it? Where did animation start? Well, gather around, children. Let’s go back in time.

Probably the latest instance that absolutely changed animation forever came in 1995, with the release of Toy Story. Some say it looks just as great as it did when it came out. Others think it looks terrible, specially when compared with more recent films (you can see every individual hair in Frozen, for crying out loud). Whatever you think of Toy Story right now, no one can deny that Pixar’s release of the first ever completely CGI feature changed the standard of animation forever.

Let’s go back another couple decades to try and find the very first animated feature. This is kinda complicated. When many people think of the first animated feature, they think of 1937’s Snow White. But trust me: the world didn’t begin with the creation of Disney. Snow White was the first hand-drawn animated movie, sure. But there were a couple features before that, made with different techniques. Including 1917’s El Apostol, which is the actual first animated feature to ever be released. It was also the first animated feature whose only copy burned down in a house fire. So, there, two records. Interestingly, there are rumours that Pinto Colvig (who voiced Goofy and happened to be an animator) made an animated feature a few years before El Apostol. But this has never been confirmed.

Before that, it’s basically impossible to know exactly when and where animation originated. I mean, animation is just the illusion of movement through still images. Which is kind of the same as live action (except I guess that has to be photographs). There’s no doubt, in fact, that animation predates film. Maybe, you could say that our familiarity with animation allowed us to invent films. I mean, you’ve probably seen those victorian toys which you can spin to make a horse look like it’s moving, right?

In fact, you can even go back more, a lot more. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, some ape-like human decided to paint imagery of hunting on the walls of a cave. They used fire to make it seem like these images were moving. These people, in the infancy of their species, wanted to tell a story through moving drawings. Think about that. Animation came long before toilet paper. It came before cities, before writing, maybe even before language. Anytime you see a group of superheroes take down a bad guy, or a skeleton kidnap Santa Claus, or two robots dancing in space, you should know that your ancestors have never been ok with the limits imposed by reality. They have always wanted to make things move. And look how far we’ve come.


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