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Animation

Animation is one of the few English words which can be used in many ways. For example, it can either mean a quality in an affable person who is energetic, or the process of creating the illusion of changing shapes and creating motion on screen. It comes from the Latin word “Animo” which translates into ‘creating life’. Many people who specialize in the field of animation rely on the phi phenomenon. The phi phenomenon is an optical illusion discovered by Max Wertheimer, and is an optical illusion in which two separate objects are viewed in quick succession giving the viewer the feeling of movement. This optical illusion is often confused with beta movement. Beta movement is another optical illusion in which pictures are moved across a stationary frame and gives one the feeling of constant motion. In the beta phenomenon the pictures do not actually move but are made to look like they do. In the phi phenomenon, the pictures are actually moved and interchanged with one another creating an optical illusion of smooth transition from one picture to another. Another popular form of animation inspired by these two phenomena, is the concept of flip books. Mostly coming in the form of illustrated children’s books, these can be made for adults as well. Stop motion animation is perceived as a primitive form of animation, in which different objects are shown in succession with one another at different frame speeds. With the advent of technology, animation has become an increasingly popular career path for many individuals. Digital media and animation are common terms used in the modern world of cartoon film making today.

The History of Animation

Long before 3D animation came into the picture, a man called H.W. Goodwin invented a celluloid film made of carbon in 1887. This gave rise to the first ideas of innovation in animation. Emil Reynaud capitalized on the idea of moving images by actually opening a theatre which had revolving mirror to produce the effect. This was popular with the crowds who demanded more, however due to lack of resources he was unable to do so. What he did do is invent the ‘praxinoscope’ which was similar to the moving image concept. Thomas Edison invented the kinetoscope in 1893 and by 1899 sound was introduced to the moving images, which were at that time controlled by a roll of film connected to a disc-like device. In the 1900’s, animation became more sophisticated with the use of various techniques by Blackton. He produced a short film portraying various characters being drawn without showing the artist. This gave the viewer an impression of images simply appearing on screen. By 1903, the first official animated film was released. 1915 was a year in which a man called John Bray developed an organized process for animation but was unsuccessful in his endeavor. 1920 to 1930 was a historic era in animation as it saw the birth of two of the most popular animated characters- Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat. This was also the decade during which Walt Disney started his animation company Laugh O Grams. The Looney Toons inspired by Walt Disney characters, became popular in the 1930’s. 1937 was an iconic year because it was the year in which Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released as the first official Disney animated film. Woody Woodpecker, Mighty Mouse and Tom and Jerry were also popular characters born in the 1940’s shortly after Disney released his movie. In 1993, 3D animation became a global phenomenon with Toy Story and from then on animation has taken on a completely new and improved technological path.

Types of Animation

There are many types of animation which have cropped up through the years. With the advent of technology, animation has become more sophisticated. Two dimensional animations was a popular method for the longest time until three dimensional animation came into the picture. Classic two dimensional animations require the artist to draw a number of images on a screen lasting one second and then edited using a computer. In digital two dimensional animation, the characters are drawn straight onto the computer using a mouse or a keypad. Digital three dimensional animation is one notch above two dimension animation. The character is drawn in three dimensions and then animated. Stop motion is a technique used in which the pictures are drawn on individual frames and the frame is changed at a rapid pace. Clay animation is similar to stop motion animation, the only difference being clay or plaster is used. When props and cut outs are used for animation purposes, it is known as cut out animation. Any object can be animated and it need not necessarily be characters. One can even manipulate oil paintings to animate them. Film animation is also called direct animation with or without camera animation, where the characters are drawn straight on film and photographed frame by frame. Another upcoming genre of animation is known as experimental animation. Here artists rely on skill and instinct to create the character, as well as the motion experience for the viewer. Although animation is classified into these broad types, there is always a chance of mixing and matching techniques and skill to create a completely new aspect to animation. For example, one can mix two dimensional animation with stop motion animation or three dimensional animation with clay animation. In short, animation can amalgamate a number of techniques to reach the desired effect.

Mechanical Animation

When people use machines to display more human-like animated behavior, it is mechanical animation, although it is really more like mechanical engineering. Special effects in movies use the aid of animatronics. Animatronics is the creation of puppets and animals which have a lifelike appearance. This is commonly called an android, and can be controlled physically or mechanically. They are generally seen in theme parks and amusement parks. Chuckimation is a form of mechanical animation in which the characters are literally thrown off screen, after which unseen hands wiggle the characters around using stop motion animation. A similar form of chuckimation is clay animation in which clay figures are made to talk and move but their mouths do not. It is a very basic form of animation. Animatronics means giving life to figures which are animals or plants, and is fantasy based. It requires a large range of skills and talent in order to make it look and sound convincing. Many tools are used in order to make this happen and one such tool is known as a zoetrope. It is a roulette like device, which shows progressive frames at different speeds, giving one the illusion of movement. It is derived from the Greek word “zoe” which means life and “tropos” means turning. The zoetrope is a cylinder which has two sides with a set of pictures. With the constant spinning, it gives one the illusion of a constant picture in one single frame.

Puppetry

One of the most basic forms of animation is puppeteering. It is more of a theatrical performance using figures and props rather than conventional computer based animation. Puppetry is an ancient art dating back to 3000 years ago. Today it is displayed as a form of entertainment in carnivals and even used in rituals. Puppetry was thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt where evidence of wooden figures thought to have been manipulated by people were found in Egyptian tombs. More evidence was found of wires and strings used to move these figures. In Sub- Saharan Africa, figures used in rituals like sacrifices and weddings were found. The Indus Valley civilization was the only place in India where ancient puppetry was discovered. In China, it was shadow puppetry or shadow art that was considered puppetry. There are many types of puppets used in the art of puppetry. The most popular type of puppet is the hand puppet also known as the glove puppet. Generally it has a movable mouth or a movable body in which the fingers serve as the lowermost jaw or the moving body of the puppet. A rod puppet, as the name suggests, is moved by rods and sticks in order to give it life. The rod is attached to the puppet and the manipulator generally does his job from under or above the puppet. A shadow puppet is similar to a rod puppet but differs in the respect of it being flatter. Generally, shadow puppet shows are displayed on a thin canvas where there is a source of light, much like a movie. The hand, rod and hand, and glove puppeteering styles were made popular by The Muppets. In these two styles, two puppeteers are needed, one to manipulate the mouth and another to manipulate the body of the puppet to give it movement. Other types of puppeteering involve ventriquolism, marionettes and stop action puppets.

2D Animation

To understand two dimensional animation, one must know what flipbook animation is. Flipbook animation, is one form in which the characters are physically drawn on a paper as opposed to on a computer screen. With flip book animation there is no boundary to the artist's creativity. He can choose any subject or character and start with his flip book. The material used for a flip book is also readily available in any supermarket. The artist can make use of his drawing skills by simply taking a notepad and start drawing. However there are two major drawbacks with a flip book. Firstly, the process is not only time consuming but also requires a good amount of dexterity on the artist’s part. If one page goes wrong, then it is likely that the subsequent ones will too. Another drawback is that if the artist wishes to shade and color his creation, he needs to do it very carefully as it has to match from page to page. Two dimensional animation is the digital version of flip book animation in which drawing skills are preferred but are not imperative. Since it is computer based, one can easily control the timing and speed of the animation, according to the desired effects. Two dimensional animation is superior to flip book animation because the original work can be saved, and the artist when he makes a mistake, can correct it with ease. On the other hand, it can be a very tedious process and one needs to be computer savvy in order to be able to understand the software. The person may learn faster or slower depending on the software and may need additional assistance or resources in order to help him achieve his goal.

Modern Animation

Stop motion animation is not considered conventional modern animation. However it entails taking figurines or any inanimate object and then photographing them in different frames with the help of a video editing software. What it can be defined as, is the creation of an illusion where the object seems to move continuously, giving one the notion of a single image on screen. The easy part of stop motion animation is the tools required. All you need is a good camera and a good video editing software. If these two tools are in order, then stop motion animation becomes seemingly easy to do. However one must note that it is not as easy as described. One must be careful about the placement of the toys or props in the frame. The subsequent frame may make no sense if placed incorrectly. Similarly, making the prop seem like it’s jumping or running can be extremely tricky and it can take a lot of time and effort to make a stop motion animation picture look convincing to the viewer. Three dimensional animation is used to make characters look more convincing and more lifelike. Given that it is an advanced form of animation, it takes time and effort to give the character life. It takes images and puts them into a lifelike perspective. For three dimensional animation there are a number of tools available to the artist so he can make his figure look real. He can play with the bone and body structure of the figure and make it according to his liking. Many blockbuster movies rely on three dimensional animation. The disadvantage of three dimensional animation is the time taken to learn the skill in a proper manner.

Conclusion

Animation is vast field in which one can play with many tools and also where there are no boundaries to the artist’s creativity. Animation literally means giving life to inanimate objects - be it on screen like two dimensional animation, on paper like flip book animation, or physical animation like puppeteering. Animation has been around for a long time as is popularly used in cartoon movies and theme parks. In many case, robotics are also used in animation along with voice animation. Voice animation is nothing but the manipulation of voices and sounds in order to reach a desired effect. Although each type of animation has its pros and cons, three dimensional animation remains the most popular. It is technically more difficult than two dimensional animation, but it is the most convincing style of animation as the figures are more lifelike. Animation, like the movies, also has its fair share of award functions where people are revered for their skills in the field. The Goya Award, Pacific Screen Award and Annie award are such examples. Animation is not an easy field to get into or pursue as a career since it requires skill, dexterity and artistic inclination. Flip book animation and stop motion animation are two not so popular forms of animation, but are still used if one wants to give the feeling of vintage animation. Many times, mechanics and robotics are used in animation especially in theme parks.

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