Animation is one of the most ubiquitous and all-permeating forms of visual communication today, seen everywhere from the multitude of TV channels dedicated solely to cartoons to the title sequences of our favorite movies to the reactive graphic interfaces our smartphones. And while most of us have a vague idea of how, when, and where it all began, we tend to take for granted the incredible visual wizardry possible today. With that in mind, here's a brief history of the beloved medium's beginnings through the seminal work of five early animation pioneers.
1. COHL: FANTASMAGORIE (1908)
French cartoonist and animator Émile Cohl is often referred to as "the father of the animated cartoon." The legend goes that in in 1907, when motion pictures were reaching critical mass, the 50-year-old Cohl was walking down the street and spotted a poster for a movie clearly stolen from one of his comic strips. He confronted the manager of the offending studio, Gaumont, in outrage and was hired on the spot as a scenarist—the person generating one-page story ideas for movies. Between February and May 1908, Cohl created Fantasmagorie, considered the first fully animated film ever made.
To create the animation, Cohl placed each drawing on an illuminated glass plate and traced the next drawing, reflecting the variations necessary to show movement, over it until he had some 700 drawings. Since chalkboard caricaturists were common vaudeville attractions in the era, the characters in the film look as though they've been drawn on a chalkboard, but it's an illusion—Cohl filmed black lines on paper and printed them in negative to make his animations appear to be chalk drawings.