Animation History Timeline
As in any field, animation has its own history, and list of firsts in the field. And as in any field, there are those that want to know who did what first: what was the first animated film or the first with sound… or color? What film won the first Academy Award? To help put all these achievements into perspective, we have laid out all these achievements on this animation history timeline, so you can not only see who was first, but how they relate to each other.
Animation History Timeline
Man has been trying to draw himself in motion since the beginning of time. Or at least since the Bronze Age. In the ancient Persian city of Shahr-I Sokhta [The Burnt City], one of the world’s largest cities at the dawn of the urban era, a piece of pottery survives that displays a series of drawings that mimic motion.
When aligned and set in motion, you can see what may be the very first bit of animation to ever be made. And survive.
Draw Like An Egyptian
Fast forward a few thousand years to the Fifth Dynasty of Egyptian pharaohs in 2400 BC. This image shows various stages of a pair of wrestling men in motion. Again, not strictly animation but a direct ancestor, and it does show the motion broken down into its minute component parts.
The First Photograph
The first major step toward projected animation in thousands of years occurred when Joseph Nicéphore Niépce made the first successful photograph in 1816. The image was created on a piece of paper coated with silver chloride. Because the chemical could not be cleaned off, the image was temporary. By the mid-1820s, Niépce began using Bitumen of Judea as his medium, which was able to be removed and create a more permanent image. “View from the Window at Le Gras” is the oldest known photograph that has survived. The photograph was made in 1826, and required an 8-hour exposure.
First gaining popularity in the 1820s, the Thaumatrope was a disk with a picture on each side. Two pieces of string were attached to each side of the disk and then spun with the viewers fingers. Persistence of Vision caused the two pictures to blend into one.
This early animation device was designed by Joseph Plateau in 1839, but was not built until 1841. Though Plateau is credited with inventing the device, many other engineers were working on similar ideas around the same time. All of these expanded on theories originally put forth by Greek mathematician Euclid and, later, Sir Isaac Newton.
The Phenakistoscope was a large disk with a series of drawings radiating from the center in pie-shaped segments. An equal number of slits are made between the drawings, tall and very thin. When the viewer spun the Phenakistoscope in front of a mirror, with the images pointed toward the mirror, they could view the animated sequence through the slits. Obviously, this was a one-at-a-time performance, not at all suited to showing masses of people.
First Motion Picture Camera
The first motion picture camera was developed by the Frenchman Louis Le Prince in Leeds England in 1888. The camera was further refined in 1891 when Thomas Edison employee William Kennedy Laurie Dickson engineered his Kinetographic Camera in 1891. Build utilizing the new sprocketed film, Dickson perfected an escapement disc mechanism to govern the intermittent movement of the film in the camera. By holding the film still in the gate long enough to gain an exposure, then closing the shutter to allow the film to advance, the modern film camera was realized.
A Zoetrope is a slitted drum that, when spun, creates the illusion of motion when the slits show the succession of images placed opposite the slits as one moving image. The zoetrope may have been created as early as 100 BC by the inventor Ding Huan, but that invention is in dispute. The modern zoetrope is credited to British mathematician William George Horner, who modified the existing phenakistoscope, but is more convenient to operate and allows more than one person to view the animation.