Lecture 1

History of Traditional Animation

contains notes and images from:




Information about the Course - Syllabus, presentations, projects etc.

How this class relates to to other similar / related CS courses

CS 422
User Interface Design Focus on developing effective user interfaces
Every spring
CS 426
Video Game Programming Focus on creating complete audio visual interactive (and fun) experiences Every fall
CS 488
Computer Graphics I Focus on the basics of how computers create images on screens, OpenGL Every fall
CS 522
Human Computer Interaction Focus on interaction and evaluation of interactive environments
CS 523
Multi-Media Systems Focus on the creation of Educational Worlds
CS 525
GPU Programming Focus on shaders and parallel processing Spring even years
CS 526
Computer Graphics II Focus on Scientific Visualization
Spring odd years
CS 527
Computer Animation Focus on creating realistic motion Fall even years
CS 528
Virtual Reality Focus on immersion Fall odd years

For the first several weeks I want to give an overview of the area, before we get into presenting papers on current topics. This will start with a brief history of traditional animation and then move onto current topics in computer animation. Note that the beginning of the class is pretty math-free ... but that will begin to change rapidly in a few weeks, so be prepared ...

Computer animation draws from both cell animation and stop-motion animation, and much of what has been learned in those domains is still true in computer animation. But first we have to go a bit further back in time.

A bit of History - focusing on the technological advances in animation

(note, that this is a really, really, really brief history covering only two hours, and that many important people and events are being glossed over, as the history of the technology, or cell animation, or stop-motion animation, or computer-animation could each take up an entire course)

Late 1800s - Persistence of Vision

The human eye retains image for roughly 1/20th or 1/30th of a second - depending on how bright the image is

Why we don't notice in a non-digital movie theatre that there are only 24 frames per second? Half the time we are watching a film we are actually watching a black screen as the next image moves into position. Note that this is not true with digital cinema.

Why we don't see the scan line moving across and down the screen on a classic CRT style television set?

Thaumatrope - 1825

Round board with a cage on one side and a bird on the other. A piece of string is attached to each edge. When the disc is spun the bird appears to be inside the cage

here is a link to a page with some demonstrations showing how it works


Phenakistiscope - 1832

Disc with images drawn in sequential order around its surface. Above each image is a slit. The user holds the disc up to a mirror with the image facing the mirror. The user spins the disc and look through the slit at the image in the mirror. Since slit is narrow each image is only seen in a single position. 'optimal' number of fframes per second found to be 16.

here is a link to a page with some demonstrations showing how it works:


Zeotrope - 1834 (Daedalum - Wheel of the Devil - Wheel of Life)

Band of pictures placed on the inside edge of a rotating cylinder. Above the images there are slits. The viewers look down through the slits at the image on the opposite side while the cylinder is spinning giving the pictures the illusion of motion. Mirror is not needed anymore so it can become a decorative object sitting on a table.

here is a link to a page with some demonstrations showing how it works


Kineograph (flipbook) - 1868

Set of sequential drawings bound together as a book. User looks at the pages while flipping through them.

wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flip-book

Praxinoscope - 1877

Band of pictures is placed inside an outer cylinder. Each picture is reflected by a set of flat mirrors on the inner cylinder. The number of mirrors is equal to the number of pictures. The user looks down into the device at the mirrors. When the cylinder rotates, the reflected pictures gives the illusion of motion. Brighter, clearer image than Zeotrope. If you want to see a simple version of one of these, go to the Life Over Time exhibit at the Field Museum.

here is a link to a page with some demonstrations showing how it works


Zoopraxiscope - 1877

Bet as to whether all 4 legs of a hourse leave the ground while running. Eadward Muybridge's solution: set up 12 cameras connected by wires. As the horse runs by each camera the wire is broken and the camera takes a picture. Can take these images, put them in a projected version of a Phenakistiscope using glass discs with the images around the edge of the discs.

See them: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eadweard_Muybridge

Mutoscope - 1895

Mechanized version of the flipbook
Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutoscope

Starting in the 1880s motion picture film began to dominate as the medium for motion, in efect taking all of the images from a flip book and placing them end to end on a strip of film looped around a reel.

The Movies and Cell Animation

First animated cartoon - 1906 - J. Stuart Blackton

First use of translucent cells (celluloid) - 1910 - John Bray

Out of Bray's studio:

Below is an animation cell that was used in 1984 or 1985 on a Japanese animated TV series called 'Urusei Yatsura'. The character's name is Lan (or Ran, depending how you translate). On the left you see the pencil sketch and on the right you see the actual painted cell. You can see the holes at the top which are used to align the cells to each other and the background.

Note that Lan doesn't have any feet. Only the center of the cell is actually photographed for the final product so the sketch and painted cell only cover the necessary area and then a little more to be safe.

Below you can see the detail of the drawing and the painting. Note that the cells are painted on the backside, so the painting has to be done in reverse with the topmost parts (eg the eyes, as seen from the front) painted first.

I dont have the actual background that was used in this scene, but I added in a sample background below to show how the cell overlays on the background image.

Clearly the composition of this shot doesn't work. Lan is rather annoyed at someone (which is typical for the character, making it difficult to find the correct episode) but we dont see who she is annoyed at or why she is standing off center to the left. Most likely there was another cell showing the character she was annoyed at standing right infront of her, and another cell or set of cells showing some characters on the right. When all the cells are overylayed together on the appropriate background, you get one frame from the final episode.

Rotoscoping - 1915

Walt Disney and associates

Some excellent examples ... at least I think so :)

For more info on Max Fleisher's technical contributions please see:

for a much more complete animation timeline please see:

Personally I've never been a big fan of the 'attitude' (or lack thereof) in Disney productions and am more a fan of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones so I'd also highly recommend checking their work out.

Coming Next Time

Brief Overview of Stop Motion Animation

last revision 1/12/08