A History of Animation styles through the ages

January 20, 2022

With a bowl of popcorn in our hand and diet coke on the other, we lounge on the couch and giggle the silliness of Tom and Jerry. No matter how old you get, animation can always take you back to a world of goofiness. We can all stay young in that fantastical world of animated films. While looking at the vibrant colors and swift motions of animation may seem entertaining and simple to us, there is a depth to animation that viewers don’t understand.

If you are someone who is fascinated with animation or wants to learn animation, then you have come to the right place. Today, we will learn about animation and what makes it so appealing.

What is animation?

If you are here, you probably will want to find out the definition of animation. To define animation in simple words, it means creating the illusion of motion by a series of successive drawings or pictures.

That sentence is just a  textbook definition of the word. Want to know something beyond the traditional definition? Then think about a flipbook.  You must have come across a flipbook; if not, then you can probably watch a clip of flipbook on Youtube. It is a book consisting of a series of images in different positions, so when the thumb is placed, so the pages flip quickly, you can see motion. The set of pictures flipped across a book create the illusion of flowing movement. That is just a raw example of what animation is about.

So, when you type  “define animation,” you will probably get a traditional definition as we first mentioned. But to explain it further, we need to dive into the subject even more. The animation technique is based on fooling the eye. Did you know that our eyes can retain an image for 1/16 of a second? So, when we watch multiple images appear in fast succession, our brain perceives it as a moving picture. That is how animation works. It is a simple but brilliant technique.

History of Animation | Animation History: A Comprehensive Look

Every kind has its history. Humankind has a long history, so does moving pictures. We humans have used many forms of storytelling. Thousands of years ago, we transmitted stories orally. Soon, we developed a written format and transitioned to a written form of storytelling. Then came the dramas and theatre, which are still prevalent. But somewhere in between all that, we got creative. There were shadow puppets and magic lanterns, people enjoyed the visual art of storytelling.

Phénakisticope - 1832
Photo from Wikipedia

Phénakisticope – 1832

While the sequential form of storytelling can be traced back to the cave paintings, the use of optical illusion did not start until the 19th century. It was in 1832 that Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau invented the Phénakisticope. This device used two discs, which were divided into various sections; each section had a picture. When spun, these discs formed an illusion of a spinning man.

Wheel of the devil Zoetrope
Photo by @molandidote on Pinterest

Wheel of the Devil  – 1834

Expanding on his Plateau’s invention, William George Horner created the Wheel of the Devil or the Daedatelum. He used a drum for the wheel of the devil. William put successive pictures inside the drum, that moved in a circular fashion. French Inventor, Pierre Desvignes, renamed Horner’s invention as his own, calling it Zoetrope. It is the Greek word for “things that turn.”

Photo by The Briggs on Pinterest

The enchanted drawing – 1900

These inventions just paved the path for the future. In 1900 James Stuart Blackton, who is called the  Father of American Animation, created the first animation in America and was one of the first to use the stop motion animation technique. His work was called “The enchanted drawing,” he used a series of pictures to create the illusion. Soon, his technique became quite popular, and he released another work of art in 1906 called  Humorous Phases of Funny Faces.  Here he used drawings that are captured using film at 20 frames per second.

Photo by Fantasmagorie (1908) —Émile Cohl

Fantasmagorie – 1908

However, while Blackton came up with the idea and concept, it was Emile Cohl, the French cartoonist who created the first fully animated movie Fantasmagorie in 1908 that premiered in Paris. If you are curious, you can find the video on YouTube.

Photo by Disney on Disney Fandom

Disney – 1928

But the character that became immensely popular was Mickey Mouse, created by Walt Disney in 1928. Steamboat Willie featuring Mickey Mouse was the first cartoon with sound released in 1928.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - 1937
Photo by Britannica on Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – 1937

Now, there was no stopping the geniuses, who went ahead and made animation what it is now. In 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs  was released, which was the first feature entirely hand-drawn. This feature lent Disney its strong foundation in the industry and paved the way for 2D animation.

Stop motion - wallace and gromit
Photo by Britannica on Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

Stop Motion Animation – 1960s

It soon developed to the influential stop motion animation extended skeleton battle scene in Jason and the Argonauts (1963), and the stop motion animation in  Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.  In the 1960s, there was a cultural revolution that demanded that animation be used for adult audiences as well. So, Fritz the Cat (1972), based on the work of legendary comic artist Robert Crumb was released. It became popularly known as the X-rated animation feature.

Toy Story 1995
Photo by IMDB on Walt Disney Pictures

CGI – 1900s

Soon computers became easily available and became a tool for animation. In the 1990s, computer-generated imagery (CGI) started replacing the hand-drawn animation. The first completely-CGI film Toy Story was released in 1995, and the rest is history! We all know about Toy Story.

What are the different types of animation?

The history of animation is short. But you must have had an idea about how it all started and where it is headed. So, according to history, animation has evolved over the years from 2D to 3D. IT has become so that animation is considered synonymous with 3D animation. Let us now get started on the animation styles.

Traditional animation
Photo of Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert Sketch for fans of Disney Sketches

Traditional animation

Traditional animation is an old animation style and is quite possibly the oldest form of animation. It is similar to that of a flipbook but on a grander scale. Remember, we talked about cel animation by Earl Hurd in 1914? That is one of many traditional animation examples. In this case, the set of drawings are drawn on transparent celluloid paper. The animator draws every frame (yes, it is hand-drawn) to make an illusion of moving pictures.  

Another traditional animation example includes movies like Aladdin by Disney. Earlier, the animators used to draw on a table with light inside it, but now the drawing is done on tablets.

Photo on 2D Animation Vector Based from Lesterbanks

2D animation( vector-based)

What is 2D animation?

2D animation is similar to traditional animation. But when the word “vector” comes to the situation, the meaning of 2D animation changes. There is something called vector-based and pixel-based images. The popular formats like JPG, GIF, BMP are pixel images. Pixel images can’t be shrunk or enlarged without affecting their quality or resolution. But vector-based images don’t have to worry about resolution. Vector-based animation uses mathematical values for motion, which makes the sequence smoother.

Is 2D Animation dead?

It may seem like 2D animation is dead because Disney announced it. Disney no longer makes hand-drawn 2D animation pictures. That ship has sailed. But that does not mean that 2D animation is dead. It is very much alive. 3D has taken over 2D; most of the workforce from the 2D industry has shifted to 3D because of larger scope. But the animation techniques of 2D are still alive, and one can monetize it if they have the skill. 2D animation just needs to make a good comeback; it is not dead.

Frozen 3d animation
Photo by CGMeetUp from Pinterest

3D animation

There is a wrong notion that 3D animation makes the process easy. While making animations, a computer may seem easy; a computer is only a tool for the procedure. The animation techniques have just been upgraded. In 3D animation, an animator uses a program to move the character’s body parts around. While in 2D animation the animator needs the animator to draw the side profile, in 3D animation, they have to create the entire profile.

The animators have to set their digital frames in a way that the movement of the character is synchronized. The computer calculates the motion from each frame, and according to that information, the animators adjust and tweak the curvatures and movements of their characters. 3D animation is a long and arduous process. It is also called CGI or computer-generated animation.

Is 3D animation a cartoon?

There is no one way to answer this question. 3D animation is the computerized process of animation, while cartoons may be a simple drawing of a subject drawn exaggeratedly and humorously. Cartoons were generally the still images that were used to create the traditional form of animation. A 3D animation is a form of a cartoon as the word cartoon has evolved. It is fitting to call the cartoon a motion picture using animation techniques.  The answer to this question is subjective. The cartoon may be 3D or 2D, depending on the way it is created. But not all 3D animation can be called cartoons. The confusion arises because cartoons earlier referred to 2D animations like Mickey Mouse and Tom and Jerry.

Adobe Motion Graphics
Photo by Adobe from Adobe After Effects

Motion Graphics

Motion graphics is one of the types of animation. It is mostly used in ads, title sequences in films, or series like that of “Stranger Things.” Motion animation is combined with audio to convey a message to the viewer. In this decade, the motion graphics has been redefining the world of animation- it is going back to retro style, and is using 2D and 3D types of animation simultaneously. As motion graphics is generally used for ads, and short videos for business marketing, the text plays a significant role in this type of animation.

Behind the scenes Stop motion
Photo of Stop Motion Animation from A+C Studios

Stop Motion animation

Stop motion animation is an antique type of animation that has been around for over a hundred years. From the various styles of animation, stop motion stands out and has stayed relevant throughout the years because it is based on the primary principle of animation. In stop motion, an object is moved, then stopped, then captured, the process continues. Then the series of pictures are used to create the illusion of movement. Movies like Paranorman, The Boxtrolls, Shaun, the Sheep used stop motion animation technique.

Mary Poppins live action animation
Photo of Stop Motion Animation from A+C Studios

Live-Action Animation

When we talk about all the types of animation, Live-action makes the most of both worlds. It combines action filmmaking with animation. There have been many movies that used this animation style, like Mary Poppins, James and the giant peach, SpongeBob’s first feature, Enchanted by Disney.  All these movies used live-action animation style.

Why is animation so popular?

The past century started something fantastic; it gave us the taste of a world within our minds. May it be Disney’s classic fairytale movies or the silliness of the minions, people fell in love with different types of animation. The idea that animation styles of movies were meant only for kids was debunked. Now we have movies in a variety of animation styles that are enjoyed by all; there is even the classic cartoon character of Tom and Jerry that is enjoyed by people of all ages.  Even though we have made progress to the animation 3D styles, the 2D styles are still relevant—the cel animation style used hand-produced pictures. Only talented artists could create such beautiful images for animated videos. Now, animated art has a lot of demand in the art market.

How can animation help in business?

The animation isn’t as hard as it used to be, now it has become the favorite technique of businesses in the digital space. It is used to enhance web/app design and digital marketing campaigns. There are both practical and aesthetic benefits of using animated styles.

  1. Enhance the focus on new additions of the website – add slight animation to the new feature to attract the viewer’s attention.
  2. Use motion graphics – in calls-to-action to boost conversions, sign up or register buttons like Tinder’s iconic swiping. Motion graphics can increase the feeling of interactivity.
  3. Create explainer videos for your brand/ service or product. Make sure you use a unique animated style to stand out.
  4. Social media ads/ videos –  Greatly animated ads or instructional videos can even make small brands noticeable. So, design smartly, like create animated ads or lively logo designs that will appeal to the viewers.
  5. Create animated transitions to make your website more engaging.


Not everyone can be a Picasso; not everyone is talented with a pencil. The animation used to need gifted artists who could create lifelike images. However, in this age, digital advancement has made animation easier. There are many tools you can use to create short animated videos. If you want to create exciting new animated videos, your brand, then you can do so with the help of Offeo’s free Animation Maker. This video maker platform lets you create short animated videos even though you are new to animation.

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