The process of animation was no where near a stage where a full length film by today’s standards could be achieved. The closest anyone came to this at this point in time was a man named Windsor Macay who created a cartoon named ‘‘Gertie The Dinosaur.’’ This type of character had never been seen by audiences before and the sight of a dinosaur moving and coming to life on a screen was astonishing. Another ‘first’ of it’s time was an animated cartoon ‘‘Felix the cat’’ created by Otto Messmer. The overall feature of this cartoon and many others of this time, were crude and violent tricks to entertain viewers. This is still evident in cartoons today such as Tom and Jerry (1965-present) which is a modern example of a cartoon similar of this time, where characters would beat each other repeatedly using a variety of props, this would barter back and forth between characters and this was the overall plot to animations of this time.
In its earliest forms short animations were aimed at the young and also the older viewers. It was a relatively new concept in the early 1920’s so the vast majority of the world were engrossed in this new idea of animation.
As animation moved on from that of ‘Gertie the Dinosaur’ the advancement of sound and colour continued to amaze audiences throughout the world.
Walt Disney, possibly the most well known of animators, took the animation process to a higher level. He was the first person to add sound to their cartoons with his first one named ‘‘Steamboat Willie’’ (1928)
Walt Disney was also responsible for the first full length animated feature film. He produced the animated film Snow White and the seven dwarfs in 1937, The story of a pretty young girl, with skin as white as snow and lips as red as blood, who first loses her mother when she is born then loses her father after he remarries. Her step-mother becomes jealous of Snow White’s beauty and arranges to have her killed. Snow White’s life is spared and she goes deep into the woods and makes friends with 7 dwarfs. Her step-mother finds out Snow White is still alive so she transforms into an elderly woman and poisons her step-daughter. Snow White is saved by the kiss of a handsome prince and they live happily ever after. A concept used in fairy tales for decades and a concept we are now all familiar with in films and television programmes of this century.
Snow White was the first feature length animation; but also the first animation to include full colour not only that but was the first film to be fully restored by digital technology in 1994. An animation film critic said of Walt’s work, ‘‘One of the keys to Snow White and to all of Walt’s work was his ability to use animation to create convincing, individual personalities’’
The process of animation for Snow White took three years to complete, this shows how long the animation process takes and even now it’s advanced, the process of animation still takes several years.
Creating Snow White would allow Walt to use many animation techniques new to this era. To create the colour for the animation the studio chemists at Disney ground their own pigments from special formulas and they mixed 1,500 colours and shades altogether for use on characters and backgrounds.
Walt Disney knew the desired colour effects he wanted to achieve. He achieved this by painting the backgrounds in each sketch in grey, transparent watercolour paint. During this time Technicolor was a fairly new concept and was only really capable of being able to capture ‘‘mid-range’’ colours. This is where Walt Disney’s idea of colour was best suited. When it came to characters in Snow White, the artists had the added task of having to create the first character in animation history to have realistically human qualities. To achieve this Disney animators used a ‘‘live-action’’ model to help animators capture realistic movements and features of a female character. This technique was also used on other characters in the film, such as Prince Charming. The models movements were traced directly off of the cameras. The traced images were given to animators and used as a rough guide in creating the finished animated characters. This is a far cry from techniques used for animated characters today, in films such as Harry Potter (2001) and The films in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. (2001)
Other early Disney animations which used similar techniques to Snow White include; Bambi (1942), 101 Dalmatians (1961) and ), Fox and the hound (1981)
The simple technology used to create Snow White as far as today’s standards are concerned isn’t as advanced as the animation techniques we are used to in films such as Shrek (Disney, Pixar 2001) and Monsters Inc (2002) in which we as an audience are able to experience things such as textures within the animated characters, such as the immaculate detailing of the fur on the character Sully’s body. However when Snow White was created it was a far cry from the early animations in black and white and without sound.
The story of Snow White follows the basic principles of the Russian structuralist Vladimir Propp. Propp studied fairy tales and he documented that within these stories there where a number of different types of characters that all appeared. Some of these characters Propp identified include; the hero (Prince Charming), The Villain (Wicked Step-mother), The ‘Donor’ who brings a magical property to the story (7 Dwarfs), The Princess (Snow White). Snow White, for its time contains many ideologies that we are still able to associate with today. The image that we are able to associate with of the ‘ideal’ female character that has; flawless skin, tiny build, kind and thoughtful. The ‘ideal’ male character of Prince Charming, strong, caring and a hero. These ideologies are still present in many media texts still and are used so we as an audience are able to recognise these and familiarise with them. These ‘stereotypes’ of male and female characteristics have been present throughout history and in order for an audience to relate to and draw their own experiences from these stereotypes are included in media text such as Snow White to show familiarity to the audience.
With the invention of computers capable of producing forms of animation, the animation genre progressed rapidly. A machine capable of creating, editing and moving images within itself created a whole new method of creating animations. This gave the animation genre a new lease of life. Toy story (1995 Walt Disney Productions and Pixar Animation Studios); became the first full length feature film to be created entirely on computers.
The most recent feature length animation Madagascar (2005) really shows how far animation has progressed since its very earliest forms of animation in the 19th century. Even in a matter of 10 years animations created by use of computer, has pushed aside other types of animation and become one of the most prominent animation style of the 20th and 21st century. Every other animated feature film released is a computer generated animation.
The first animation of this kind was Toy Story (1995 Walt Disney Productions and Pixar Animation Studios). Computer animators have pushed the boundaries as animation goes, by being able to create astonishing facial expressions and physical form that appear as real to humans or animals you could possibly get, by creating true to life backgrounds where things you see seem so real that they couldn’t possibly have been created on a machine. The huge gap between these technological advances in animation since the very first animation processes of the past such as ‘‘Felix the cat,’’ seems to be widening with the release of each animated film we see.
Madagascar (2005) the story of a group of zoo animals who become stranded back in their ‘natural’ habitat of Madagascar. Being animals who are dependant on zoo life, they find having to survive out in the real world not what they are used to. Being the most recent in a ever growing line of animated films is one which uses the kinds of computer techniques that have been used since Toy Story (1995) However, even though Madagascar is far more advanced from Snow White the directors of the film wanted to incorporate the ‘‘old-fashioned’’ kinds of animation and pay homage to these older style animations. Director Eric Darnell, said of Madagascar; ‘’our characters are very stylized and not based on reality, so we could have a lot of fun with how they looked and how they moved. They are very 2D inspired but created in the 3D world of the computer….’’ This is evident to the audience within the film as you view the characters in 3D form but the actions of the characters are very humorous in such a way they remind you of earlier animated characters used in the past comprising of a ‘’slapstick’’ kind of humour, evident in many cartoons of the past 60 decades.
When animators, directors and producers had decided on the ‘’cartoony’’ style they wanted to achieve they looked for techniques which would best suit this. The techniques animators used in ‘’Madagascar’’ was called the ‘’Squash and Stretch’’ the ‘’squash and stretch’’ is a process by which animators deform and object and then snap it back into place in order to suggest motion. The ‘’squash and stretch’’ is a procedure suited to pencil sketches and animators for ‘’Madagascar’’ found it more difficult to recreate this on a computer. This proved difficult when creating characters and so animators had to create a system where they were able to ‘’push and pull and stretch the objects without breaking them’’ said Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation. ‘’Squash and stretch’’ was used predominantly throughout the film. This helped the animators achieve the comic exaggerated effect they were after. And looking at the finished film you are able to see this detail in the way characters move and show emotion. The expressions on characters in this film are extraordinary, they appear very realistic. This was achieved by animators actually building up facial muscles on the computer system to create a full reconstruction of an animated skeleton used to recreate expressions that would appear almost identical to those of a human being. Teresa Cheng, DreamWorks said ‘’when we started working on ‘Madagascar’ we decided to take a different path based on the classic cartoon style, with extreme poses and exaggerated proportions that even when the character is standing still, look comical.’’ In the finished film we are able to see, that the animators on ‘’Madagascar’’ have achieved this.
Each character in the film appears to have a unique feature of their species which has most detailing involved in it. For example, Alex the lion’s mane which consists of thousands of hairs which look so lifelike in the way they move when Alex is moving or when brushed against another object.
The narrative of Madagascar follows the basic principles of the Bulgarian theorist Tzvetan Todorov. Todorov’s concept of narrative consists of a simple formula; this formula begins with the ‘state of equilibrium’ this is the harmonious state usually at the beginning of a story. In the case of Madagascar the animals are in their home the zoo where they are happy. After the state of equilibrium the force of disequilibrium, this is a state of disruption to the first state of harmony, in reference to Madagascar the disequilibrium or the disruption is when the animals’ crates are washed away at sea onto the island of Madagascar miles away from their home of Central Park Zoo. In order to regain the new equilibrium the disruption must be restored.
As we can see from techniques used in ‘’Madagascar’’ animation has come a long way since the days of tracing off a camera to create lifelike characters. This role of the classic animator who would draw a large number of sketches by hand to create a simple movement has been replaced by computers which are not only able to create a simple movement but create actual layers of the human form from skeleton to skin, in order to create an immaculate perception of the human or animal form. Has animation improved? Or has it just transformed into a higher standard? Animated films of this century are extremely popular as were animated films of the past. This shows that it’s not so much the actual improvement of animation techniques, but more so the need to keep up with current times and expectations of society today. In our modern society, audiences want more than what has been on offer in the past. Audiences want more action, more humour and more realism in what they are viewing. People’s expectations in relation to the animation genre have grown. With new advances in technology, audiences want to be able to relate to animated characters on screen as if they were real. This is becoming more of a reality with films such as Shrek, where the character Princess Fiona is so human like its almost impossible to recognise that she is in fact an animation; a vision of an animation artist come to life. People still view all the older animated films, which show they haven’t lost their appeal even though they may not be as advanced and sophisticated as the animated films we see today. Animation as we know it today began with a visionary named Walt Disney, but will it ever end? Only time will tell if animation’s popularity will grow or diminish.
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Martin Goodman, ‘Viva La Revolucion’, 2003