The History of Animation

Posted by | June 9, 2016 | animation jobs

Animation plays a major role in all of our lives; everywhere from home, work, school… in fact, anywhere where there is a screen (which is most places, nowadays). Although animation is an extremely abundant thing, very few people know about its rich history. To many, it seems like a much more modern concept, when in fact, it is the total opposite.

The earliest traces of animation have been found as far back as the Palaeolithic period (that’s even before the Stone Age!). One early example of humans getting to grips with animation is an ancient pottery bowl discovered in Iran. This 5,000+-year old bowl has five images painted around it that show phases of a goat jumping upwards to eat from a tree. We think animation has got a tad more exciting since then; we’re sure you’ll agree.

Other similarly simple series of images have also been found on Egyptian burial chamber murals (approx. 4000 years old), whilst Ancient Chinese records have mentioned devices that were said to “give an impression of movement”.

World-famous artist Leonardo da Vinci also displayed some animation skills in his work, most notably his anatomical studies.

However, we didn’t make the leap from these simple drawings to Disney Films overnight. Before film, several crafty devices were invented to take displaying animated images one step further. Here are a few of the main culprits;

The magic lantern (1650)
This early form of image projector was developed in the 17th century, and consists of a concave mirror in back of a light source, which then directed the light through a small sheet of glass with a painted image on it – the lantern slide – which would then be projected onto a screen or surface.

More often than not, these ‘magic lanterns’ were used to project scary, demonic images known as ‘phantasmagoria’, that were used to scare people and convinced them that they were witnessing some sort of supernatural being.

Thaumatrope (1824)
Although it may sound like some form of medical device, a thaumatrope is actually a toy that gained popularity in the 19th century.

A disk with a picture on each side is attached to two pieces of string. When the strings are twirled quickly between the fingers the two images appear to blend into one, thanks to a nifty thing called persistence of vision (where multiple images blend into a single image in your brain, which creates the illusion of motion). You’ve most likely seen one before, but just not known the name for it!

Phenakistoscope (1831)
Another device that uses persistence of vision, the phenakistoscope consists of a spinning disk attached vertically to a handle. A series of drawings showing the different phases of the animation are arrayed around the centre of the disc, as are a series of equally spaced radial slits.

Whoever wanted to view the animation would spin the disc, and then look through the moving slits at the discs reflection in a mirror. The result? A rapid succession of images that look like a single moving picture.

The phenakistoscope wasn’t popular for very long, though, thanks to the emergence of another piece of technology…

Zoetrope (1834)
The zoetrope operates on the same principle as the phenakistoscope, but is instead a cylindrical spinning device, where the user would look through vertical slits around the sides of the device to view the moving images.

Unlike the phenakistoscope, the zoetrope did not require the use of a mirror to view the illusion, and could be viewed by several people at once thanks to its cylindrical shape.

Flip book (1868)
You’ve definitely seen or made one of these before. First patented as a ‘kineograph’, a flip book is a small book with each page having one in a series of animation images located near its unbound edge. The user bends all of the pages back, and then lets them spring free one at a time.

Not long after their invention, flip books were being used toys, prizes in cereal boxes, and as promotional tools for products such as cars and cigarettes.

Many early film animators cited flip books as their inspiration, unlike the earlier devices which did not reach as wide an audience.

Praxinoscope (1877)
A variant on the zoetrope, the praxinoscope replaced the narrow viewing slits with an inner circle of mirrors, placed so that the reflections of the pictures appeared stationary in position as the wheel turned. The result was a brighter and less distorted picture than the one that the zoetrope offered.

After these basic devices were invented, animated sequences made on standard picture film soon emerged; the beginnings of the cartoons that we know and love today.

Over the next few decades, animation studios of various sizes were formed, most notably Warner Bros, Hanna-Barbera, and the studio owned by Walt Disney himself. Soon followed Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (the first feature film made using hand-drawn animation), the introduction of colour television, and The Flintstones; the first animated series on prime time television.

Soon – alongside the development of computers themselves – came the development of CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) animation, with the first fully computer-animated feature film being the much-loved Toy Story.

3D, Flash animated, and many more forms of animation have been developed since – too many to list in this article, in fact.

Digifish are an expert animation production agency with offices in York and Manchester.


In certain industries, networking and marketing are just as important as the right skills, and animation is one of those.

Whether you’ve gained the appropriate qualifications as an illustrator, animator or creative director, or you intend to enter the industry without prior training, you will need to work your socks off to make yourself stand out.

Market Yourself Creatively

When applying for a job in the animation sector, try to express your creativity not just in your CV but also in interview. Employers will be keen to see some imagination and ingenuity when it comes to marketing yourself.

Don’t wait for the interviewer to ask a question, but decide what you want him/her to know about you and present this in a captivating way. This will show assurance and personality as well as knowledge of the industry. It’s also a good idea to research the company website prior to interview and repeat the information in interview to show that you did your homework and understand what would be expected of you in the role.

Market Yourself Creatively

A professional and impressive approach is to prepare an original showreel or Powerpoint presentation for your interview which includes some of your most artistic and striking work. Make that employer remember you and want you on his/her team.

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Demonstrate Your Networking Skills

Employers will also be looking for evidence that you can work well in a team, so showing you have strong interpersonal skills is important.

Illustrating your networking skills not only indicates you have good people skills but it can help you to create useful contacts and find jobs that might otherwise go under the radar. Many employers choose to offer vacant jobs to people they have met within the industry who have to good reputation and merit. They may not advertise the job through normal channels at all, but seek out suitable candidates themselves through their social networks or via email.

Demonstrate Your Networking Skills

This is why it’s so valuable to create an intriguing and comprehensive profile and CV for yourself on a variety of job portals and networking sites such as Linkedin and Google Plus.

But this in itself is not enough. To get yourself noticed by employers, networking needs to be proactive. Send out emails speculatively, go and meet your dream employers at events or even at their offices. They will applaud your enthusiasm and tenacity. It may not get you a job right there and then, but you can maintain contact with them and may be considered for a job opening of theirs in the future.

Be Patient

Patience is a virtue you will need to learn in the animation industry.

It can take a few years to build up a good reputation for yourself and finally land your ideal job, so you may need to stick out a few less appealing positions. It will be worth it in the end though.

Get Work Experience

All of us in the arts and writing industries hate the fact that even with top qualifications we’re expected to do unpaid internships before we’re considered for paid positions. Why should we? Teachers, lawyers, accountants and mechanics aren’t expected to work for free, so why should we? It’s unfair, but unfortunately it’s the way the industry is, and it looks unlikely to change anytime soon. So the best you can do is respond to it in the most efficient possible way so that you soon build up a great reputation and employers are falling over their heels offering you appealing paid positions.
If you make a name for yourself and employers are competing to get you on their team, then you can attain great bargaining power and set yourself up for a good salary too.

Find an Apprenticeship

If you don’t have a degree – because in the animation industry many would say it’s not really necessary – then an apprenticeship can be a great foot in the door. You can learn on the job whilst you study at college, and a training allowance will be provided that should cover your living costs. Animator and illustrator apprenticeships can be found in animated film, TV, games and VFX, with placements lasting anywhere between a few weeks to many months.

If you can secure yourself a place in a top animated film production company then you could be set for your entire career. For these schemes, however, some prior work experience is usually necessary.

Exude Confidence and Interest

Finally, belief in your own abilities is always attractive, so long as you don’t come across too egotistic and try to tell your interviewer how to do his job.

Sit up straight, look your potential employer in the eyes, don’t fidget, and express your experience with enthusiasm.

Exude Confidence and Interest

A well rehearsed speech which shows genuine passion and competence for the job is bound to attract interest. Remember that even if you don’t get the job you’re applying for, your interviewer may find another suitable position for you.

Whether you love traditional stop motion or the most modern 3D motion graphics, there will be many companies of all kinds advertising positions and you’ll have a few chances at making applications and even attending interview. Over time you will learn more about what they expect and what a typical interview entails. You will improve and feel more and more confident every time.

A great type of company in which to progress your animation career is through an animated video production company such as Qudos Animations, which make diverse content from explainer videos to music videos.

I hope this advice helps you to tailor your CV and application approach to the animation sector so that you soon get your foot in the door or even land your perfect job.

Stay positive, use your initiative and keep on making those applications.