Education in Animation

For most of us, the first art form to catch our attention is animation.  Kids everywhere love cartoons, especially those in motion.  Lots of big (adult-sized) kids do, too.

Many kids retain their love of cartoons as they grow up and some of them even want to make animation their professions.  The thought of a career in animation, especially animations of a humorous nature, seems to turn work into play and what’s not attractive about that concept?

With the computerized technologies available to the industry today, it’s easy to think an education in animation begins with a computer but a little history of the art may reveal some surprises.

We see the motion depicted in a moving cartoon as a smooth flow of images but it’s really a rapidly presented series of still images.  The physics of the art rely on a phenomenon called persistence of vision, which means that when enough single images depicting only the slightest difference between one and the next are presented in rapid succession, our eyes don’t see the breaks between images.  The eye ‘sees’ continuous motion instead.

This illusion of continuous motion relies on images created on something that can be moved quickly, like the pages of a book that, when flipped through rapidly, convey a moving image of something different on each page.  Motion pictures rely on a quick succession of image frames and computerized video animation is a series of computerized images presented in rapid succession.

Knowing these things about the mechanics of animation seems to limit the history of animation to some pretty recent times but a more thorough education in animation history reveals the art form was practiced even in ancient times.  Cave paintings dating to the Paleolithic period depict animals in motion, made so by superimposing many legs in various positions on an individual animal.  While no actual perception of motion was achieved, the suggestion of motion is undoubtedly there.

Scholars dispute the possible concept of animation on a 5,200-year-old earthenware bowl found in Iran but an understanding of motion is there even if the means to put the images in motion did not exist at the time.  The bowl features five paintings of a goat, each one different enough from the last to suggest the animal is moving.

Jumping ahead to the more modern days of the ancient Egyptians, an education in animation will take you to burial chambers 4,000 years old.  One of them presents a mural of two wrestlers, one depicted as a white figure and the other dark.  Each line of the mural presents the wrestlers in various positions and, as the eye moves from left to right along one line then down to successive lines, the wrestlers do seem to be moving although, like the Iranian earthenware bowl, there is no mechanical means of making the images move.  It’s all up to the eye and the imagination.

And perhaps it’s the imagination behind the cartoons of our childhoods that caught our eye way back when we were children.  Whatever it was that caught our childhood attention, many adults today find that an education in animation can lead to very rewarding, and entertaining, careers.