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Animation Gave Life to Drawings

Animated film got its start from drawings nearly a hundred years ago, when James Stuart gave life to them in the film Haunted Hotel, which was shot picture by picture. Ever since animation has brought people both pleasure and profit.

The origin of animated film and its different styles are closely related to those of drama film. Many of the studies and theories on movies also hold good when it comes to animation. One essential factor of animated film is the construction of motion picture by picture. In most cases it comes down to re-creating the world for the eyes of the viewer.

Animation has, at least in Europe and the United States, been strongly divided into two categories: children's and experimental animation. At the end of the 1920s, animation became children's and family entertainment, whereas experimental animation has been a fairly marginal phenomenon throughout its history, mostly appealing to enthusiasts only.

The characters familiar from newspaper strips, one of whom was Pat Sullivan's Felix the Cat, found new adventures in animated silent comedies. The animated TV shows gained by far the greatest success. Animations drawn on paper are two-dimensional in reality, which lays great emphasis on matters such as the use of line.

Absurd worlds were often used as themes in animations. This yielded good comedy, for all things, no matter how insane, were taken as perfectly commonplace. The Disney studio was the first to try using sound in animations, adding significantly to animated film.

As animating techniques developed, plastic sheets started to be used in assembly line working. A so-called slash technique was used, which is based on the division of pictures into smaller units. Whereas the whole picture had previously been drawn again, only the moving parts were re-drawn on plastic sheets. Drawing the backgrounds and characters on separate papers, though, required careful planning.

Wax animation developed from the use of plasticine which was used in schools. The figures were moved and filmed with a stop-motion technique on a picture by picture basis. The illusion of movement was accomplished, for example, by moving puppets.Thus, all techniques of animation may be understood as stop-motion, besides drawn animations, in which the only objects that are moved are two-dimensional plastic sheets and papers.

Instead of moving the figures, parts of them were also started to be changed in wax animation. Hence the ”replacing” technique which enables the shapes, strethching and ballooning typical of drawn animation was created. This technique is abundantly employed in Nick Park's Wallace & Gromit.

The fact that the characters were living in a real world instead of an absurd dream was a step forward for stop-motion. Nostalgia and technophoby have been leading themes in wax animation. Even though it is hand made, requires a huge effort and takes a lot of time, it is rewarding.

Cutout animation evolved from moving and filming the characters on a flat surface. The characters are two-dimensional, as in drawn animations, but in spirit they resemble puppet animation more closely. Cutout animation is an easy technique which produces the animation by moving and changing pieces of cardboard placed on an even surface.

With the introduction of the digital picture, the possibilities for graphics processing, increasing the amount of effects and non-linear editing and combining of the pictures facilitated animating remarkably. With the help of computer technology 3D-animations could be produced, in addition to which computer games supporting animation came available.

The technical contents of animations vary. Most of the commercial animations are thematic full-length movies. They are mainly drawn animations, but there are a few wax and 3D animations. Animations made with all kinds of techniques and directed for both children and grown-ups can be found from the gamut of short films. The production for grown-ups is mostly limited to TV series and short animations. Short films are often left only for enthusiasts to watch, because there is hardly room for them in movie theatres and TV. Television is quite restricted by its nature and it is not convenient to show short films in movie theatres, because they seldom are profitable. That is why different festivals such as the Tampere Film Festival are important for screening animation.

Animaation historia ja tekniikat, Antti Haikala, Tampereen ammattikorkeakoulu, 2000.
Animaation avainsanoja, Heikki Jokinen, Filmihullu 06/01
Animaatioelokuvat, Juho Gratz, Suomen elokuvasäätiö, 1978

TEXT: Ülle Pani
TRANSLATION: Terhi Kinnarinen
PHOTOS: Tampere Film Festival

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