Cinema and Media Studies Animation and the Animated Film
by
Paul Wells
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 March 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0076

Introduction

For many years, animation received minimal recognition as a significant form of cinematic and artistic expression. A seemingly irrevocable process of marginalization and dismissal has been arrested, however, by the enduring presence of animation festivals worldwide, the rise of animation studies in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the exponential rise in animation production in all sectors of media, culture, and the arts. Animation is now at the heart of cinema, from the traditional neoclassicism of Pixar Animation to high-end effects movies such as Avatar (2009); indeed, some argue that all cinema is a form of animation. Animation has been most associated, of course, with the American animated cartoon. Following the pioneering work of J. Stuart Blackton and Winsor McCay, Walt Disney developed the form through his “Silly Symphonies,” and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), the first full-length, Technicolor, sound-synchronized, marquee-headlining, animated feature. Narrative, esthetic, and cultural challenges to Disney’s emergent classical style followed in cartoons by the Fleischer, Warner Brothers, MGM, and UPA studios, soon inventive models of comic mayhem and social satire. A different kind of experimental tradition emerged in Europe through auteurs such as Émile Cohl, Lotte Reiniger, Oskar Fischinger, Ladislaw Starewich, and Norman McLaren, employing different techniques and materials, but it also informed the productions of studios such as those in Zagreb and Prague, or Halas and Batchelor and W. E. Larkins in the United Kingdom. Animation afforded practitioners the opportunity to develop distinctive approaches, exploring color, shape, form, and motion for its own sake, or advancing fresh approaches to narrative and sociocultural representation. Strong indigenous traditions of animation were present, too, in Japan, Russia, and China, and almost uniformly across eastern and western Europe. Pixar Animation and Dreamworks have moved animation into the forefront of mainstream feature film entertainment, with high-quality franchises such as Toy Story (1995–2010) and Shrek (2001–2010), but independent works such as Persepolis (2007) and Waltz with Bashir (2008) have also achieved breakthrough crossover success. Animé—especially the films of Hayao Miyazaki—enjoys international appeal. Most major blockbuster movies employ spectacular animated visual effects, and The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy remain important staples of the TV schedules. The whole history of global animation practice is coming under fresh scrutiny. This developing literature properly reflects the different strands of activity and thinking about animation as a process, an art, a craft, a representational idiom, and a site addressing ideas and issues, most specifically memory and emotion.

General Overviews

The following texts offer broad overviews of animation in a variety of ways, partly operating as quasi-histories, partly as introductory, informative, and often richly illustrated works, and partly as commentaries on production that suggest other kinds of more developed reading and investigation. McCall 1998 is a useful catalogue; Beck 1994 collects the fifty greatest cartoons; Beckerman 2003 offers a view of animation as a craft, fully extended in Furniss 2008; Faber and Walters 2003 provides an update of the experimental tradition championed in Russett and Starr 1988; Kanfer 1997 looks at animation through the filter of business and industry; and Wiedemann 2004 collates the imagery of global animation as art.

  • Beck, Jerry. The 50 Greatest Cartoons: As Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals. Atlanta: Turner, 1994.

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    Beck, one of the most knowledgeable figures about American animated cartoons, and convener of the “Cartoon Brew” website, ballots animation-invested experts and practitioners to name the fifty greatest cartoons. The criteria by which cartoons are evaluated are “originality,” “artistry,” “animation,” “music,” “humor,” “personality,” and “concept.” Number one is Chuck Jones’s What’s Opera, Doc? (1957).

  • Beckerman, Howard. Animation: The Whole Story. Rev. ed. New York: Allworth, 2003.

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    A practitioner perspective on the development of the form, offering a view of the history of animation in relation to its technical and craft orientation before offering insights on drawing, creating characters, visual storytelling, direction, and traditional approaches to 2D animation.

  • Faber, Liz, and Helen Walters. Animation Unlimited: Innovative Short Films since 1940. London: Laurence King, 2003.

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    An invaluable compendium of innovative independent animated shorts made since 1940, with short introductory pieces and high-quality illustrative images. The book includes a DVD of examples based on the thematic categories of form, sound, words, and character, and embraces the anticipated canon of experimental filmmakers, and less celebrated figures including John Stehura, Jules Engel, Karl Sims, and Stan Vanderbeek.

  • Furniss, Maureen. The Animation Bible. New York: Abrams, 2008.

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    Maureen Furniss, a leading figure in animation studies, has produced some key texts in the research, scholarship, and pedagogy of animation. The Animation Bible constitutes a summation of her expertise and outlook, drawing together contemporary production examples not only to exemplify different models of practice but also to offer a theoretical and critical commentary on style, technique, and creative methodologies.

  • Kanfer, Stefan. Serious Business: The Art and Commerce of Animation in America from Betty Boop to Toy Story. New York: Scribner, 1997.

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    An engaging overview of the history of the American animated cartoon, set within an industry and business context, often described by veteran animators themselves. Though journalistic in tone, the book is often insightful about the relationship between the commercial infrastructure and the eventual production outcomes of competing studios.

  • McCall, Douglas L. Film Cartoons: A Guide to 20th Century American Animated Features and Shorts. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1998.

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    Divided into three sections, the book provides data on 180 feature animations, films that include animated credits and interludes, and information on more than 1,500 shorts. It also has material on key animation studios. A range of these kinds of texts are found in the bibliography, and they tend to be more authoritative than information of this sort on the Internet.

  • Russett, Robert, and Cecile Starr, eds. Experimental Animation: Origins of a New Art. New York: Da Capo, 1988.

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    One of the most significant yet neglected books in animation studies, offering an account of experimental animation as the “origin of a new art,” taking up the work of abstract filmmakers, and focusing on nonobjective, nonlinear shorts. The book includes analyses of work both in the European and in the American experimental tradition, constantly drawing attention to the deployment of new technologies.

  • Wiedemann, Julius, ed. Animation NOW! London: Taschen, 2004.

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    A comprehensive pictorial overview of animation practices worldwide, with an accompanying DVD, with short introductions about featured filmmakers, studios, universities, and colleges. The book adds credibility to the status and quality of the visual imagery drawn from animated films, by aligning it with Taschen’s overall strategy in producing publications dedicated to the primacy of the image in its own right.

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