History of 2D Animation

2D Animation is the process of making hundreds of drawings and then having them animate by playing them in rapid succession. This is the most common form of animation, and has been used for several decades across several forms of media.

Traditional 2D animation involves making a drawing and then making a second drawing of the same thing, but with a very subtle change (such as a closed mouth to an open mouth or a person taking one footstep). Hundreds, if not thousands, of unique drawings are made that go from the beginning of a scene to the end of a scene. The drawings are then shown in very rapid succession (typically 24 frames, or unique drawings, per second). This gives the illusion that the numerous still images form a complete, fluid animation.

This animation process has been done for over 100 years. Although Walt Disney is often credited with making 2D animation with Mickey Mouse, he was not the first person to create a 2D animation. The first 2D animation ever made was called Fantasmagorie, a short cartoon made by Emile Cohl. Created entirely in black and white, the cartoon begins with Emile drawing a simple stick man in live action. The animation begins when the stick man drops from a bar. The cartoon has several brief scenes in it, including a man stuck in a theater behind a lady with a big hat, and the stick man jumping out of a small box. The cartoon ends with the stick man riding off the screen on a horse. The cartoon is about 75 seconds long and it took about 700 different drawings to create. This historic animation was released in 1908, which predates Steamboat Willie (the first cartoon to feature Mickey Mouse) by about 20 years.

A man on a flower from the Fantasmagorie cartoon.

Several companies back in the 1930s-1970s (usually referred to as the “Golden Age” of animation) were world-renowned for their high-quality, entertaining cartoons, including Disney (creators of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and countless feature-length films), Warner Brothers (makers of Looney Tunes that stared Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig) and Hanna-Barbera (who made some of the television cartoons during the 50s-70s, most notably The Flinstones and Scooby Doo). These companies helped spread and popularize the use of 2D Animation.

In the 1960s, 2D animation strayed away from the theaters and moved onto the TV screen. Several cartoon series were created during this time period, including The Jetsons and The Flinstones, the first successful animated program on primetime TV. Cartoons were also a lot longer, going from 5-10 minutes a cartoon to 20-25 minutes a cartoon. In order to keep costs down, several shortcuts were made. This often involved only moving one part of the screen per frame (usually a talking mouth) and nothing else. Several Hannah-Barbera cartoons were notorious for looping the same background over and over again, usually when characters were walking or driving. Although these animations weren’t as smooth and complex as theatrical animations, they were still good enough to be convincing and entertaining to thousands of people across the world.

A photo of Walt Disney smiling.

In the late 80s and 90s, cartoons started to shift towards an older demographic. The first major example of this was The Simpsons, which debuted in 1989. This cartoon is notable for being one of the first cartoons to deal with very adult situations and real-life conflicts, including alcohol, sex, and violence. Many parents were outraged when the show first aired, worried that children would get bad ideas from seeing this subject matter that “didn’t belong” in an animated cartoon. Despite some concerns, the show became an immediate success. The show received high ratings, made tons of money in merchandise, and proved that cartoons did not always have to be for little kids. This led to the creation of several other animated cartoons intended for teens or adults, including South Park, Futurama, and Family Guy.

From the late 90s to today, 2D animation is still very prominent. Several of today’s cartoons, including Spongebob Squarepants, use computers to help create 2D animations. Today’s animation cels are often photographed and stored digitally, allowing for easy organization and storage of cels. This process can also be used to digitally add color to characters, rather than having to hand-paint each and every frame. Some cartoons also combine the use of 2D and 3D animations, including the more recent episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy.

Animations can also be completely digital. Programs such as Adobe Flash can make entire animations using just a computer. Flash can also make in-between frames automatically, greatly reducing the number of unique drawings that need to be made. One big advantage of using a computer program is that several smaller things, such as color and frame-rate, can be changed in an instant. This gives users entire control of their cartoons. Digital 2D animations are becoming very popular and prominent.

2D animation has come a long way. From Fantasmagorie in 1908 to the countless cartoons and Flash animations of today, 2D animation has brought viewers into fantastic worlds and places only thought possible through imagination. This time-consuming process has been made easier as the years go by. Even though 3D animations are becoming very popular, there will always be a place for 2D animation.

 

For more details on how 2D animations are made, click here to go to the article “2D Animation Process - Step by Step”.

For videos on 2D animation, including the entire Fantasmagorie cartoon, click here.