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Animated Film Timeline

A History of Animated Film Evolution

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Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur

Winsor McCay's 'Gertie the Dinosaur'

Though one could be forgiven for assuming that the animation revolution began in 1937 with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the genre has actually been kicking around almost as long as its live-action counterpart. The following timeline charts animation's humble beginnings all the way through to its pervasive use within the realm of special effects:

  • 1906 J. Stuart Blackton's Humorous Phases of Funny Faces is released. It is a three-minute short in which Blackton's hand can be seen animating drawings of faces and people against a plain blackboard.
  • 1908 The first short comprised solely of animated images, Emile Cohl's Fantasmagorie, receives its premiere in Paris.

  • 1908 Humpty Dumpty Circus marks the first use of stop-motion animation on film.

  • 1914 Earl Hurd invents the process of cel animation, which would revolutionize and dominate the industry for much of the 20th century.

  • 1914 Gertie the Dinosaur is widely considered the first animated short to feature a distinguishable character, as animator Winsor McCay brings a walking, dancing dinosaur to life.

  • 1917 The first feature-length animated film, Quirino Cristiani's El apostol, is released. All known copies were destroyed in a fire, however.

  • 1919 Felix the Cat makes his debut and becomes the first famous animated cartoon character.

  • 1920 The first color cartoon, John Randolph Bray's The Debut of Thomas Cat, is released.

  • 1922 Walt Disney animates his first animated short, Little Red Riding Hood.

  • 1928 Mickey Mouse makes his debut in the six-minute short Plane Crazy. (The character would not speak until the following year, in his ninth film.)

  • 1929 Disney's iconic line of animated shorts, Silly Symphonies, kicks off its prolific run with The Skeleton Dance.

  • 1930 Betty Boop debuts as a woman/dog hybrid in the short Dizzy Dishes.

  • 1930 Warner Bros. Looney Tunes makes its debut with Sinkin' in the Bathtub.

  • 1931 Quirino Cristiani's Peludopolis, which tells the story of a military coup against a corrupt president, boasts the first instance of sound within a feature-length animated film. There are no surviving copies of the movie in existence.

  • 1932 The first full-color, three-strip Technicolor animated short, Flowers and Trees, is released. The film wins Disney an Oscar for Best Short Subject.

  • 1933 King Kong, which features several stop-motion animated characters, is released.

  • 1933 Popeye makes his debut alongside Betty Boop in the seven-minute short Popeye the Sailor.

  • 1933 Ub Iwerks invents the multiplane camera, which allows animators to create a three-dimensional effect within two-dimensional cartoons.

  • 1935 The Russian film The New Gulliver becomes the first full-length feature to employ stop-motion animation for the bulk of its running time.

  • 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney's initial foray into the world of full-length animation and the first such production to emerge out of the United States, is released.

  • 1938 Bugs Bunny makes his debut in Porky's Hare Hunt, though the character wasn't named until 1941.

  • 1940 Tom launches his pursuit of Jerry in the Oscar-nominated short Puss Gets the Boot.

  • 1940 Woody Woodpecker arrives on the scene with a small role in the Andy Panda cartoon Knock, Knock.

  • 1941 The first full-length animated musical, Mr. Bug Goes to Town, is released.

  • 1946 Disney's first live-action film, Song of the South, is released and boasts several animated interludes.

  • 1949 Prolific stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen makes his debut with the title character in Mighty Joe Young.

  • 1972 Ralph Bakshi's Fritz the Cat is released as the first X-rated animated feature in cinematic history.

  • 1973 Computer-generated images are used for the very first time in a brief shot within Westworld.

  • 1975 Revolutionary special-effects company Industrial Light & Magic is founded by George Lucas.

  • 1982 Tron marks the first time that computer-generated images are used extensively within film.

  • 1986 Pixar's first short, Luxo Jr., is released. It's the first computer-animated short to receive an Academy Award nomination.

  • 1991 Beauty and the Beast becomes the first fully animated film to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
  • 1993 Jurassic Park becomes the first live-action film to feature photorealistic computer-animated creatures.

  • 1995 The first computer-animated film, Toy Story, is released to theaters.

  • 1999 Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace marks the first film to use computer-generated imagery extensively and pervasively, in terms of its sets, special effects, and supporting characters.

  • 2002 The Oscars create a category entitled "Best Animated Film," with Shrek the first movie to win said award.

  • 2004 The Polar Express becomes the first fully-animated film to use motion capture technology to render all of its characters.

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