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The History And Techniques Of Animation Film Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 3742 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In this article we discuss the concept of animation, exploring its definition and the history of early animation devices, the techniques developed for animation, including traditional animation, 3D CGI (Three Dimensional Computer Generated Imagery) in particular facial aninmation and mocap (motion capture), and the development of animation in China, including history, the market and industry. Finally, we speculate on the promising future of animation in China.

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Animation is associated to an ability of human vision known as the Phi Phenomenon. If you watch a succession of closely connected pictures in fast sequence, you see them as uninterrupted movement. Each picture is called a frame. Cartoons on television and images generated in video-games are examples of animation. More details on popular techniques to enliven the effect of animation, known as the twelve principles of 2D animation are provided in (El Rhalibi, A. and Shen, Y. (2004)).

This is one of the types of early device which produces the illusion of the motion picture. The prototype of this device was invented in China by inventor Tian Huan on 180 AD. The images were drawn on to transparent paper attached to vanes and the inventor hung the Zoetrope above a burning lamp. The hot air which rose from the candle made the device rotate due to convection and form images which appear to move due to the shadows cast through the rotating slides.

More recently, in 1834, William George Horner ((1786-1837) developed the modern Zoetrope. The device was composed of a cylinder which had slits along its sides set on a spindle stand. A series of images were placed around the internal edge of the cylinder, and when rotating the outer cylinder and looking through the slits the user can see a succession of images inside that give the illusion of motion. This device is still being used in animation classes to make the students understand animation techniques.

3.2 Thaumatrope (1824)

This device was invented during the Victorian era, in 1825 by Dr. William Henry Fitton (1780-1861). The Thaumatrope is a device which has a small circular card. Two different pictures are drawn; one on each side of the card and a string/small pole goes through the centre. When the pole is spun by placing in between the hands the card quickly flips around causing the images to coincide and appear to join as a single image. John Ayrton Paris (1785-1856) used this device, at the Royal College of Physicians in 1824, to demonstrate the phi phenomenon.

3.3 Kineograph (1868)

The kineograph or flick book was invented by John Barnes Linnet in 1868. The kineograph was one of the biggest inventions which took us nearer to the modern animation technique. The kineograph gave the perfect illusion of motion. The sequential images are drawn on each sheet and when the sheets are flicked the images appear to move.

All these inventions, and others such as Electrotachyscope, Mutoscope, Phenakistoscope, Praxinoscope, and Zoopraxiscope, were a major cause for the invention and development of modern animation.

4. Animation Techniques

4.1 Traditional Animation Method

Traditional animation embraces many methods including cel animation, stop-motion animation, claymation (a.k.a clay animation) and further techniques based 3D CGI and motion capture. In the following we discuss about 3D CGI with an example of techniques used for face animation, and motion capture. 2D animation techniques and stop-motion information can be found in (El Rhalibi, A. and Shen, Y. (2004)).

4.2 Animation with 3D CGI

3D Computer-generated imagery (CGI) transformed animation. The first film completed entirely in 3D CGI was Toy Story (1995), produced by Pixar. The process of 3D CGI is very repetitive and similar in that sense to classical 2D animation and follows many of the same principles. 3D CGI use very sophisticated software applications to create and manipulate very complex and realistic 3D objects, characters and environments. The software also provides functionalities for the animation of 3D scene components.

The major difference between 3D CGI animation and traditional animation is in 3D CGI the images are replaced by 3D models which are digitally modelled using 3D modelling and animation tools. The 3D models are animated roughly like stop motion animation but in 3D CGI there is no physical object. The objects in the 3D world are all virtual objects. The CAA (Computer Aided Animation) widely used in 2D animation is a mix of both categories of animation. The traditional animation is done with the aid of computer to speed up the process of keyframe, cel, and interpolation. Some software languages and platforms, such as Flash which is a multimedia platform, provide these functionalities for both 2D and 3D.

3D CGI can be used for many kind of animation, including in combination with standard such as MPEG4. The following section reviews the use of 3D CGI for Facial Modelling and Animation.

4.3 Facial Modelling and Animation

We provide an overview into the current research conducted in regards to both facial modelling and facial animation techniques (N. Ersotelos and F. Dong, 2007).

Modelling a 3D virtual character can be cumbersome and time consuming process. Typically a character is modelled as a polygon mesh; whilst alternative techniques exist such as multi-layer modelling which include underlying structures such as the muscle and skeletal formations, these techniques are still considered too computationally expensive, particularly in the context of real-time applications. There are several approaches to constructing a modelled character: Standard Geometric Face Modelling, an approach typically used in animated feature films and games; Generic Model Individualization (GMI), where a specific model is constructed through the deformation of an existing model, such as those constructed from video streams and 3D face scanners; and Example-based Face Modelling (EFM), where a face is constructed with the desired facial features through the linear combinations of an existing face model collection, an example of this is the morphable facial modelling technique. In relation to facial animation, there are three prominent classifications for the techniques employed: A Simulation-based approach, in which synthetic facial movements are generated through the mimicking of facial muscle contractions, whose application is prominent in the field of medical-based visualization. The Performance-Driven approach, where facial actions are typically applied to a face model, from sources such as video recordings and performance capture. The MPEG-4 standard falls into this classification, but can also be driven through procedural means. The third classification is the Blend Shape-based approach, which typically creates a set of desired animations through the combination of a number of existing face models. There are various levels of granularity for blend shapes, such as interpolation between models, interpolation between images, morphable model approach, and a facial segmentation approach, where the face is divided into small regions, which are manipulated and interpolated between poses. The latter approach has become increasingly prevalent within the games industry. In this case, facial models are rigged with segmentations based on skeletal joints/ bones, blend shape objects, or a hybrid combination of both. The Face rig is then manipulated through the artist’s tools or through automated techniques such as motion and performance capture. Examples of this case can be found through visual outsourcing specialists such as Image Metrics, whose proprietary technique has been integrated with commercial game engine solutions such as Emergent’s Gamebryo engine. In the context of facial animation, common approach is to adopt techniques from the real-time face segmentation blend-shape approach and apply them to MPEG-4 based techniques at the lowest level of integration. Whilst blend shape objects have been used to great effect within the film industry (e.g. the Lord of the Rings films’ Gollum character was comprised of 946 blend shape controls [5]), and have seen recent adoption in the high-performance games market, they are computationally expensive to implement, especially across low-mid range desktop PC’s in real-time. Therefore, a better method is to adopt a skeletal system for the facial segmentation.

Other techniques such as motion capture (mocap) have been developed to produce the data to feed-in animation systems for character animation, or even facial animation.

4.4Animation and Mocap

Mocap (Motion Capture) is the technique of capturing motion and converting that motion onto data to be exploited on an animation system or 3D authoring software. It is applied in the production of animation for entertainment (films and games), medical, sports, and military applications. In film production it involves capturing digital data records of the actions of actors, and applying this data to animate digital 2D and 3D character models in computer animation. This animation information is mapped to a character model so that the model executes the same movements as the actor. Mocap is used routinely to produce films which endeavour to replicate the realism of live-action cinema, with near realistically looking digital characters. Some recent films using motion capture techniques are discussed in the following. The Polar Express (Directed by Robert Zemeckis in 2004) used mocap with actor Tom Hanks executing the performance of many different digital models. In 2007, the adaptation of the famous chronicle Beowulf animated digital characters were also partially based on the actors providing movements, with mocap, and voices. The Walt Disney Pictures Company has also recently started to invest in mocap, releasing Robert Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol (2009) and Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010) which both use this technique extensively. Other applications which routinely apply mocap to animate in-game characters are video games. This has been done since 1995, with the release of the Atari Jaguar game Highlander: The Last of the MacLeods.

Movies also use captured movements for 3D CGI effects, and progressively replacing classical cel animation technique, to animate entirely 3D CGI creatures, like the Na’vi from James Cameron’s Avatar.

Motion capture is commonly used for animation, movies and video games in all the leading countries that produce this media.

In the following we discuss the development of animation in China.

5. Animation Development in PRC

5.1 History of Animation in PRC

Animation did not start in China before the 1910s. In 1918, an animation clip “Out of the Inkwell”, produced in the US, was played in the biggest Chinese cities. This event can be considered as the beginning of modern animation there.

However the animation industry in PRC did not start until the 1920s, with the advent of the Wan brothers who worked on several animation shorts for a decade before they produced the earliest animation with sound known as The Camel’s Dance. It was only four years afterwards in 1939 that Walt Disney Studio’s Snow White was presented to Shanghai audience and represents another important milestone of the history of animation in PRC. And two years after, in 1941 the original full-length Chinese film animation, titled Princess Iron Fan was launched (reference from History of Chinese Animation).

At this time other countries in Asia were making impressive progresses with their animation development. In particular Japan has started to develop the famous anime style and technique. However these progressions did not directly influence China.

During the 1940’s, the Wans created more than twenty animation shorts to educate people with nationalistic themes against opium, imperialism and the Japanese invasion.

However, animations produced in China, and until the Chinese Cultural Revolution, were essentially inspired by Chinese traditions, culture and arts, drawing most topics from old folklores. An instance of a time-honoured Chinese character used in animation is Monkey King, a character that originated from the traditional literature Pilgrim to the West, which was introduced by the Wan brothers in the 1964 full-length animated feature titled Havoc in Heaven.

Unfortunately, while the animation industry in China was at its apex in the 1960s, it was cut short during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), and was left last in the animation development race. The other countries took advantage and by the 1980s Japanese animation production comes out as the market global leader in Asia.

In the 1990’s, when PRC opened again its market to the world, new opportunities for animation occurred. Nowadays, PRC animation industry has significantly recreated itself with influences from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. One of the first innovative changes in 1995 was a manhua animation adaptation titled Cyber Weapon Z. Manhua involves characters who are very similar to any typical anime showing a clear influence from Japan. The advent of the Internet in China, with the first ever connection in 1987, increasing to more than 384 million users by 2009, led to the creation of various form of professional as well as amateurish animations, in the form of webtoons. The webtoon phenomenon has taken China to a new level in animation production.

During the last decade, 3D CGI and special effects production has also increased greatly and many Chinese animation feature and shorts had begun to adopt it by the mid-2000s with for example in 2005 the release of the famous animation DragonBlade: The Legend of Lang.

5.2 Animation Industry and Market in PRC

Nowadays, in 2010, the animation industry is well established in PRC. Many large studios, dominate the market, and there are even more small studios spread across the country. Many of these are agents of broadcast or other media organisation. The animation industry has essentially positioned itself in the region of Shanghai with most animation studios located over a few hundred kilometres from the city. In Suzhou (Jiangsu province) there are 2 of the leading and largest animation studios, Hong Ying and Wang Films, and also a few small office branch studios of other firms. Both companies are from Taiwan and operate a network of branch studios in Shanghai, as well as abroad. Wang Films is perhaps the most highly regarded of all studios in Asia, and have studios also in Indonesia, and Thailand as well as in PRC. Shanghai contains a number of studios including Shanghai Animation and Shanghai Morning Sun. Hong Kong Animation Services is yet another animation firm in the Shanghai region, and employs a network of branch studios operating in the Shanghai region. In the city of Shenzhen, in Guangdong province, the animation industry also has a good presence with two other big animation studios Jade Animation and Colorland Animation. These two organisations are Hong Kong joint ventures and contend with many small studios which are either supported by the state, for example CCTV Oriental Hong Ye, or Japanese ran branch studios, for example Rising Sun Animation, operated solely for parent companies in Japan.

Animation industry in economically booming PRC is performing efficiently. The production charges, including labour and other resources price, are cheaper than in other countries. The number and quality of animators has increased significantly and considering the recent quality of the productions and the increasing number of animation studios, it seems that the skills pool will carry on growing to cater for future expected needs of the animation market.

In year 2000, an animation studio paid $2.8 million producing the animation Lotus Lantern. The animated motion picture made a box-office-revenue of $2.5 million. Some years later, Qin’s Moon the popular Chinese series was released in 2007. It used striking 3D CGI and thrilling stories. Its 3rd season episodes were aired on June 2010.

From a demographics position, in 2009, the consumer market in PRC is divided as follows, 9% of the viewers are below 13 years of age, 60% are between 14 to 17 years of age and 31% over an age of 18, including more than 650 million animation fans.

From the economic viewpoint, Quatech Research, in 2009, surveyed, people aged between fifteen and thirty in the main modern Chinese cities; Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai; and found that over $165 million was disbursed for animation products, however over 85% of profits flowed directly out of China. Additional reviews showed that 62% of the consumers favour animations from Japan, 28% support US animations and just 10 % favour animations made in PRC or Hong Kong.

While the animation industry has progressed technologically well (e.g. using 3D CGI and mocap), and has mostly caught-up with competing countries in 2010, it still has much effort to do to change the people support for Chinese production.

6. Future of Animation in PRC

Since the invention of the Zoetrope, animation has evolved to an amazing quality and complexity. Most animation products are nowadays being developed using the most advanced techniques and 3D CGI based technologies and motion capture.

3D CGI technologies are well established at US and Japanese animation studios, and start to be used for full-length animated film in China as well. In 2010, China’s original 3-D animated science fiction film Animen was created under the direction of Xu Ke, managing director of the company Hippo Animation House, from Chinese mainland. Using state-of-the-art motion capture technology, it is also the first home-grown 3D sci-fi animation film to be made on the Chinese mainland. More than 50,000 production cels were drawn for the film’s numerous drafts. Also, more than 1,200 shots of the 90-minute film were added with 3-D effects. The film was in development for six years and its production budget reached $7.3 million.

Despite a chaotic history, animation in China is catching up swiftly, and is emerging to become a market leader of animation productions, to join the other powerhouses in USA and Japan.

7. Further Reading

Bradford, R.E. (1995) ‘Real-Time Animation Toolkit in C++’ John Wiley & Sons Inc.

China Through a Lens: Li Xiao (2003). “Chinese Animation: Splendid Past, Bitter Present” [Online]. http://www.china.org.cn/english/2003/Aug/72789.htm

China Market Report (2008), ‘2009-2012 China Animation Industry Market Research Report’, Shenzhen Zero Power Intelligence Co., Ltd.

China Market Report (2009), ‘2010-2013 Annual research and consultation report on China animation’, Shenzhen Zero Power Intelligence Co., Ltd.

El Rhalibi, A. and Shen, Y. (2004) ‘Animation: Berkshire Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction. Volume 1. p. 13-17.’ Berkshire Publishing Group.

N. Ersotelos and F. Dong, ‘Building highly realistic facial modelling and animation: a survey,’ The Visual Computer: International Journal of Computer Graphics, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 13-30, Nov. 2007.

Foley et al (1990) ‘Computer Graphics: Principles & Practice’ 2nd Edition Wesley 0201848406

Griffin, H. ‘Animators Guide to 2D Animation’ Focal Press 024051579X, Y

Don Hahn ‘The Alchemy of Animation: Making an Animated Film in the Modern Age’ Disney Editions (7 Oct 2008)

History of Chinese Animation. [Online] (Retrieved on 11st July 2010)


Kit Laybourne (1998), ‘The Animation Book’. Crown Publications; 2nd Revised edition

John A. Lent (2000), ‘Animation in Asia and the Pacific’, John Libbey Publishing

John A. Lent (2009) “Animation in South Asia”, Studies in South Asian Film and Media Volume 1 Number 1 © 2009 Intellect Ltd. [Online]


Peter Lord, and Brian Sibley (2004) ‘Cracking Animation: The Aardman Book of 3-D Animation’; Thames & Hudson; 2 edition (22 Nov 2004)

Magnenat-Thalmann, N., Thalmann, D. (1996) ‘Interactive Computer Animation’ Prentice Hall

Kelly L. Murdock ‘3ds Max 2010 Bible’ John Wiley & Sons; (28 July 2009)

Kerlow, I. V. (2000) ‘The Art of 3-D Computer Animation and Imaging’ Van Nostrand Reinhold 0442018967

List of Chinese animated films. [Online].


Parent, R. (2001) ‘Computer Animation: Algorithms and Techniques’ Morgan-Kaufmann, San Francisco

Chris Patmore (2003), ‘The Complete Animation Course: The Principles, Practice and Techniques of Successful Animation’. Thames & Hudson (4 Aug 2003)

Qin’s Moon Series. (2007-2010), [Online].


Robert Reinhardt and Snow Dowd, ‘Flash CS4 Professional Bible’ John Wiley & Sons; Pap/Cdr edition (6 Feb 2009)

Ronan, Colin A; Joseph Needham (1985). ‘The Shorter Science and Civilisation in China’: Volume 2. Cambridge University Press

Susannah Shaw, ‘Stop Motion: Craft Skills for Model Animation’. Focal Press (Visual Effects and Animation); 2 edition (3 April 2008)

Thomas, F. Johnson, O. (1981) ‘Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life’ Abbeville Press New York 089659498X

Milt Vallas (1998) ‘China-The Awakening Giant: Animation And Broadcasting In The Mainland’, Animation World Magazine – Issue 3.5 – August 1998, [Online]


Watt, A. Watt, M. (1992) ‘Animation and Rendering Techniques Theory and Practice’ Addison -Wesley 0201544121


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