Animation: Timeline

Film still for Animation: Timeline

From Trick Effects To CGI

This Animation timeline is the longer version of what features in the magazine.

1832 The Phenakistoscope, an early optical toy invented by Joseph Plateau, lets viewers see moving horses or acrobats.

1892 The 500-frame Pauvre Pierrot is presented by Emile Reynaud in the Musée Grevin, Paris.

1896 French fantasy film-maker Georges Méliès discovers frame-to-frame trick effects, using them in many of his subsequent films.

1899 Britain's Arthur Melbourne uses stop-motion to animate matches for the commercial Matches: An Appeal.

1900 English-born cartoonist James Stuart Blackton uses stop-motion trickery to turn sketches into objects in Enchanted Drawings.

1906 Blackton uses chalk animation in Humorous Phases of Funny Faces, often cited as the world's first cartoon.

1907 Edwin S. Porter uses stop-motion dolls in The Teddy Bears.

1908 Parisian caricaturist Emile Cohl makes Fantasmagorie, featuring a stick figure whose movements are drawn on paper and printed on negative film.

1910 First puppet films by Russian animator Ladislaw Starewicz, using stop-motion insect characters.

1911 Legendary newspaper cartoonist Winsor McCay animates figures from his strip Little Nemo as part of a vaudeville act.

1913 John Randolph Bray, responsible for refining the animation process, makes Colonel Heeza Liar in Africa, featuring the first cartoon series character.

1914 While Winsor McCay creates Gertie the Dinosaur, Willis O'Brien makes a stop-motion short about a caveman and a brontosaurus. Raoul Barré sets up the first commercial cartoon studio in New York's Bronx.

1916 Max Fleischer traces live-action film of his younger brother Dave in a clown suit. The resulting film, Out of the Inkwell, is bought by John Randolph Bray.

1917 Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, often called the father of Indian cinema, makes animated shorts, beginning with Fun With Matchsticks. The world's first animated feature, the 70-minute satire El Apostol is released in Argentina, animated with cardboard cut-outs. The film is now lost.

1918 Winsor McCay makes The Sinking of the Lusitania, a furious condemnation of the tragedy.

1919 Felix the Cat, created by Otto Messmer, is introduced in Feline Follies (under the name 'Master Tom').

1920 First known colour cartoon, The Debut of Thomas Cat, produced by John Randolph Bray and made in the Brewster Colour Process.

1921 Walt Disney makes animation for the Newman theatre chain in Kansas City, starting with a film about road maintenance.

1922 Disney's first entry into fairytales (albeit in heavily changed versions): Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots and others are created by his Laugh-O-Gram company.

1923 Disney puts a real girl in a cartoon world in Alice's Wonderland, a pilot for more than 50 Alice shorts over the next four years. Buster Keaton's The Three Ages begins with a claymation sequence showing Keaton on a dinosaur.

1925 Willis O'Brien's stop-motion dinosaurs star in the feature The Lost World, which climaxes with a brontosaurus rampaging through London.

1926 German animator Lotte Reiniger makes the feature-length The Adventures of Prince Achmed; her characters are black cut-out silhouettes.

1927 Having fled from Russia to France, Ladislaw Starewicz deploys puppet versions of Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin in Love in Black and White. The first British animated feature, The Story of the Flag, uses cut-outs.

1928 Release of Disney's synchronised sound cartoon Steamboat Willie, starring Mickey Mouse. Around the same time, drawn porn hero Eveready Hardon stars in underground sex cartoon Buried Treasure.

1929 First Disney Silly Symphony cartoon, The Skeleton Dance, animated entirely by Disney's partner Ub Iwerks.

1930 Starewicz makes the feature-length puppet animation Reynard the Fox, not released until 1937. Walter Lantz animates a four-minute prologue to the live-action King of Jazz. Debut of Betty Boop (in semi-canine form) in Dizzy Dishes; the character is created by future Disney animator Grim Natwick.

1932 In Hungary, Berthold Bartosch makes the symbolic short L'idée using cut-outs and glass superimpositions. The first three-colour Technicolor cartoon, Flowers and Trees, is released by Disney (though it began production in black and white).

1933 Fay Wray co-stars with Willis O'Brien's stop-motion gorilla in King Kong. Disney's Silly Symphony The Three Little Pigs is a hit. In Paris, Alexandre Alexieff develops the 'pinscreen' technique, where a picture is created by sliding pins through a plate, to create a version of Mussorgsky's 'Night on Bald Mountain'.

1934 First appearance of Donald Duck as a supporting character in Disney's The Wise Little Hen. His first words are, “Who? Me? Oh no, I've got a bellyache.”

1935 The Russian feature The New Gulliver, directed by Aleksander Ptushko, features a live actor and 3,000 animated puppets. German abstract animator Oskar Fischinger makes Composition in Blue, a dance of spheres and other shapes.

1936 Evil versions of Mickey Mouse appear in the Japanese propaganda short Black Cat Banzai.

1937 Disney releases Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. First appearance of Daffy Duck in Porky's Duck Hunt. In Scotland, the pioneer abstract animator Norman McLaren makes Love on the Wing, but the film is banned because of fleeting phallic imagery.

1938 An early version of Bugs Bunny appears in Warner's Porky's Hare Hunt, directed by Ben Hardaway (who later created Woody Woodpecker at Walter Lantz's studio). However, A Wild Hare (1940, directed by Tex Avery with much of the character animation by Robert McKimson) is seen as the character's real debut.

1939 The Fleischer studio makes the drawn Gulliver's Travels, the first cartoon feature to challenge Disney (it fails). At MGM, Hugh Harman makes the antiwar short Peace on Earth, in which cartoon animals remember the extinction of man.

1940 Disney releases Pinocchio and Fantasia; both flop. William Hanna and Joseph Barbera make the first Tom and Jerry cartoon, Puss Gets the Boot (though Tom is called Jasper in the film). Over the next 12 years, seven Tom and Jerry films win Oscars.

1941 Disney is hit by a bitter strike. The Fleischer studio begins an action-packed series of Superman adventures. Release of the first Chinese animated feature, The Princess Iron-Fan, a patriotic version of the Monkey King legend by brothers Wan Laiming and Wan Guchan.

1942 Disney releases Bambi. Chuck Jones makes the stylised short The Dover Boys at Pimento University, limiting the animation frames between the heroes' exaggerated poses. The George Pal film Tulips Shall Grow (a 'Puppetoon' film with a different wooden figure carved for each frame of movement) depicts Holland's invasion by an army of goose-stepping robots.

1943 At MGM, Tex Avery makes the sexy Red Hot Riding Hood. At Warners, Bob Clampett makes the racially provocative Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarves. Disney advocates strategic bombing as a war strategy in the documentary Victory through Air Power, with brief animated sections.

1944 Former Disney artist John Hubley works on the graphically stylised political animation Hell Bent for Election, supporting Roosevelt's re-election. The film leads to the establishment of the UPA studio. Other ex-Disney artists establish Gaumont-British Animation (GBA) in Berkshire, England, which makes a range of cartoons over the following years, including the Animaland series.

1945 Japan's first animated feature, Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors, shows Asia liberated by heroic Japanese animals. It opens weeks before Japan's defeat. Release of Garbancito of La Mancha, the first Spanish cartoon feature.

1946 Song of the South, Disney's version of the Uncle Remus stories, alternates between live action and animated sequences. The studio has never released the film on American video or DVD due to concerns about its portrayal of race relations in the Old South, though a British video edition was released.

1947 Ivan Ivanov-Vano makes the popular Russian children's film Ivan and the Magic Pony, released in America as The Magic Horse. In Belgium, the comic-strip hero Tintin makes his animated debut in a puppet version of The Crab with the Golden Claws.

1948 Czech puppet animator Jirí Trnka makes the feature-length The Emperor's Nightingale. The American dub is narrated by Boris Karloff.

1949 First Italian animated feature, The Rose of Baghdad (later released in America as The Singing Princess, with Julie Andrews voicing the heroine). Chuck Jones creates the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote in Fast and Furry-ous. Debut of Mr Magoo in the UPA cartoon Ragtime Bear.

1950 Disney releases Cinderella, its first major cartoon feature for eight years. At the other end of the production scale, Crusader Rabbit is the first cartoon for US television, though it has extremely limited movement.

1951 UPA's film Gerald McBoing Boing, about a boy who speaks only in sound effects, wins an Oscar. Next year John Hubley and another left-leaning artist are forced to leave the studio after being blacklisted by McCarthyites.

1952 Ray Harryhausen, who worked with George Pal on the Puppetoon films and Willis O'Brien on Mighty Joe Young (1949), starts work on a puppet version of The Story of the Tortoise and the Hare. He abandons it due to commitments on stop-motion monster films such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). The puppet film is completed by two other animators in 2002.

1953 The Shepherdess and the Sweep (also known as The Adventures of Mr Wonderbird), a fairytale fantasy, is released in France but disowned as unfinished by its director Paul Grimault. A revised version is released in 1980 as the acclaimed The King and the Bird. Norman McLaren makes the Oscar-winning Neighbours, in which human actors are animated in a form of stop-motion called pixilation. Chuck Jones makes the self-referential Merrie Melodies classic Duck Amuck.

1954 Made in New York, the American stop-motion puppet version of Hansel and Gretel, based on the opera by Engelbert Humperdinck, is distributed by RKO (then coming to the end of its long partnership with Disney).

1955 John Halas and Joy Batchelor produce the British animated feature Animal Farm. Czech animator JirÍ Trnka makes a feature-length puppet version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. The claymation character Gumby is introduced on US television.

1957 Chuck Jones makes the most celebrated Bugs Bunny cartoon, What's Opera, Doc?, lampooning Wagner's Ring cycle.

1958 First Japanese colour animated feature, The Legend of the White Serpent (released in America as Panda and the White Serpent.) George Pal's Tom Thumb blends live action with puppet animation. Disney's lavish Sleeping Beauty is a commercial failure and will be the studio's last fairytale feature for three decades.

1959 Now at his own studio, John Hubley makes the Oscar-winning Moonbird. Australian-born British animator Bob Godfrey's humorous DIY Cartoon Kit anticipates the style of Monty Python.

1960 Television debut of The Flintstones, created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, and of the Christian stop-motion series Davey and Goliath.

1961 Wan Laiming, one of the founders of Chinese animation, releases the first part of Havoc in Heaven, another version of the Monkey King story. The second part follows in 1964.

1963 Warner Brothers closes its in-house cartoon studio. Debut of the Japanese TV cartoon Mighty Atom; it is a hit both in Japan and America (where it is known as Astro Boy), leading to an explosion in Japanese cartoon product.

1964 Warners releases the live-action/animated comedy The Incredible Mr Limpet, with animation by former Looney Tunes artist Robert McKimson. The DePatie-Freleng studio (co-founded by Looney Tunes director Friz Freleng) animates the title sequence of The Pink Panther.

1965 Jiri Trnka's final Czech puppet film, The Hand, is a protest against totalitarianism. Debut of drawn Czech hero Nudnik, created by the American artist Gene Deitch, formerly of UPA.

1966 Walt Disney dies of lung cancer. Chuck Jones draws the enduring US TV favourite How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

1967 First South Korean animated feature, Hong Gil-Dong, based on a comic-book story by the director's brother. Gene Kelly stars in a live-action/animated version of Jack and the Beanstalk, animated by the Hanna-Barbera studio. In France, Polish-born animator Walerian Borowcyzk makes the darkly surreal feature The Theatre of Mr and Mrs Kabal.

1968 George Dunning directs the Beatles' animated feature Yellow Submarine. In Japan, Isao Takahata directs the feature The Adventure of Hols, Prince of the Sun, known in the west as The Little Norse Prince. Early production on Richard Williams' feature later known as The Thief and the Cobbler, which will be in and out of production for more than 20 years and never finished except in travesties by other hands.

1969 Debut of the Japanese TV cartoon Sazae-San; a low-key comedy about a Japanese housewife and her family, it becomes the world's longest-running TV animation (and is still on air). The source newspaper strip dates back to 1946.

1970 Release of Dougal and the Blue Cat, a French feature version of the popular puppet series The Magic Roundabout.

1971 The US feature Shinbone Alley adapts the adult animal stories of New York journalist Don Marquis. Richard Williams makes an Oscar-winning TV version of A Christmas Carol. The X-rated animation Fritz the Cat is directed by Ralph Bakshi, based on the underground comic by Robert Crumb. (Crumb responds to the film by killing Fritz off.) First Australian cartoon feature, Marco Polo Junior, directed by Eric Porter.

1973 René Laloux makes the French SF animation Fantastic Planet, winning the Grand Prize at Cannes. The Hungarian studio Pannonia produces the children's feature Hugo the Hippo.

1974 In Japan, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki work together on an acclaimed TV serialisation of Heidi, inspiring a stream of children's literary adaptations that will continue until the 1990s. British viewers get Bagpuss, while Bob Godfrey's film Great (an irreverent history of Brunel) wins an Oscar.

1975 Ralph Bakshi causes a furore with his film Coon Skin (also known as Street Fight), which opens with Scatman Crothers singing 'Ah'm a Nigger Man'. Norwegian puppet animator Ivo Caprino makes the popular The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix.

1977 Bruno Bozzetto makes the episodic Italian feature Allegro non Troppo, a sometimes irreverent homage to Disney's Fantasia. Canadian animator Caroline Leaf animates coloured oil on glass to make the short The Street, a child's-eye view of family bereavement. The following year, she animates sand in a version of Kafka's Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa. Disney releases The Rescuers. In Australia, Yoram Gross directs the children's film Dot and the Kangaroo with cartoon characters set against live-action backgrounds.

1978 Two bestselling fantasy novels become animated features: Watership Down (directed by Martin Rosen) and the first half of The Lord of the Rings (directed by Ralph Bakshi). The second half is never made. The fantasy feature Metamorphoses (recut as Winds of Change) is an ill-fated Japan-US co-production.

1979 Russian animator Yuri Norstein makes the intensely evocative cut-out Tale of Tales, sometimes cited as the greatest animation ever. At Disney, a group of animators (including future director Don Bluth) lead a walkout in protest at declining standards. In Japan, the first Gundam giant-robot sci-fi series is screened, spawning a franchise that continues today.

1980 The feature Nezha Conquers the Dragon King is taken as a sign of the revival of Chinese animation, recovering from the Cultural Revolution.

1981 In Canada, German-born animator Frédéric Back makes the much-loved short Crac, about the history of a rocking chair. Hungary's prolific Pannonia studio releases the children's feature Vuk and the Oscar-winning short The Fly. Ralph Bakshi makes the rotoscoped feature American Pop, relating the history of pop music through various characters.

1982 British cartoonist Gerald Scarfe's animation is seen in Alan Parker's feature The Wall. Dianne Jackson animates Raymond Briggs' The Snowman. Czech surrealist animator Jan Svankmajer makes the short Dimensions of Dialogue. At Disney, Tim Burton makes the stop-motion short Vincent, while Disney exile Don Bluth challenges his former employers with the lavish children's feature The Secret of NIMH.

1983 Debut of the drawn Henry's Cat and Cosgrove-Hall's puppet The Wind in the Willows on British television. The Canadian rock-musical feature Rock & Rule tries unsuccessfully to appeal to an older demographic. The comic fantasy Twice Upon a Time, animated in cut-out style, is produced by George Lucas.

1984 Walt Disney's nephew Roy E. Disney sparks a corporate war with his uncle's company, bringing in a new regime led by ex-Paramount men Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Eisner reportedly wants to close the animation department, but Roy E. Disney elects to become its new head.

1985 Claymation animator Will Vinton creates the fantasy feature Mark Twain, about the author's space journey to Halley's Comet. Vinton's studio also contributes stop-motion monsters to Disney's Return to Oz. Juan Padron directs the Cuban comedy feature Vampires in Havana, released in America. Richard Condie directs the comic Canadian short The Big Snit.

1986 Influenced by Jan Svankmajer, the London-based Brothers Quay make the grimy surrealist short Street of Crocodiles. They also contribute (along with Nick Park) to the groundbreaking video for Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer'. John Lasseter directs the seminal CGI short Luxo Jr. and Jimmy Teru Murakami satirises nuclear war in the feature When the Wind Blows.

1987 Frédéric Back makes the Oscar-winning The Man Who Planted Trees. Debut of British animator Joanna Quinn with her graduation film Girls Night Out.

1988 Debut of The Simpsons in short segments on The Tracey Ullman Show. Jan Svankmajer makes a live-action/stop-motion feature version of Alice. Who Framed Roger Rabbit, is a groundbreaking blend of live action and animation, the animation side handled by Richard Williams. In Japan, Katsuhiro Otomo directs Akira, bringing Japanese animation to new international attention. Japan's Studio Ghibli double-bills the bleak Grave of the Fireflies (directed by Isao Takahata) and the joyful My Neighbour Totoro (directed by Hayao Miyazaki).

1989 Wallace and Gromit debut in Nick Park's A Grand Day Out, losing at the Oscars to Park's Creature Comforts. The Little Mermaid signals a revival in Disney animation. The Simpsons gain its own series, starting with a Christmas special.

1990 UNICEF starts developing the 'Meena' project, which will eventually comprise a series of cartoons and supplementary learning materials centred around the character of a little girl. The project is aimed at improving the situation of girls in the South Asian subcontinent.

1991 Disney's Beauty and the Beast becomes the only animation ever nominated for a Best Picture Oscar (losing to The Silence of the Lambs). On TV, The Ren and Stimpy Show is launched by John Kricfalusi, aiming to capture the spirit of anarchic Hollywood cartoons. Kricfalusi is fired from the series a year later.

1992 The TV show Batman – The Animated Series is praised for its stylish take on the superhero genre. In Britain, Shakespeare the Animated Tales (made in a range of animated formats) begins a line of collaborations between Russian animators and the Welsh TV channel S4C..

1993 Tim Burton produces Disney's musical stop-motion feature The Nightmare before Christmas, directed by Henry Selick. Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park revolutionises the effects blockbuster with its computer-generated dinosaurs

1994 Disney's The Lion King becomes the highest-grossing traditionally animated feature, not taking into account inflation. Jeffrey Katzenberg, now closely involved with the studio's animation, quarrels with Michael Eisner and leaves to co-found DreamWorks.

1995 John Lasseter's Toy Story is the world's first feature-length CGI cartoon, heralding the biggest animation revolution since Steamboat Willie. In Japan, Mamoru Oshii's feature Ghost in the Shell and Hideaki Anno's TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion, both SF animations, become international hits. Britain's Dave Borthwick directs the dark, pixilated feature The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb, while Nick Park's The Wrong Trousers wins an Oscar.

1996 The studio Trickcompany produces Werner: Eat My Dust, the second feature film based on a popular German comic-strip. It sells over five million tickets in Germany. A short German model film, Quest, wins an Oscar. Next year sees another Trickcompany film comedy, Little Asshole.

1997 In Japan, Hayao Miyazaki's medieval fantasy Princess Mononoke does record-breaking business. Satoshi Kon's acclaimed Perfect Blue is an animated psycho-thriller.

1998 DreamWorks' CGI Antz is released a few weeks before Pixar's more popular A Bug's Life. DreamWorks also releases the traditionally animated Bible epic Prince of Egypt. At the CGI studio Blue Sky, Chris Wedge directs the Oscar-winning short Bunny. In France, Michel Ocelot directs the African-based feature Kirikou and the Sorceress.

1999 The Matrix and its later sequels blur live action and animation in the presentation of the action (influenced by Japanese animation) and its continual digital manipulation of the image at the level of individual frames. Brad Bird's traditional cartoon feature The Iron Giant is praised but fails at the box office. South Park Bigger Longer and Uncut (spun off from the TV series) is the most profane cartoon ever made. Will Vinton's studio animates Eddie Murphy's stop-motion The PJs, a controversial comedy series about non-white Americans living in a housing project.

2000 Aardman releases its first feature film, Chicken Run, in partnership with DreamWorks. Disney's Dinosaur, an expensive attempt to merge CGI and live action, is a commercial disappointment, while Fox's Titan A.E., a space adventure directed by Don Bluth, flops.

2001 Hayao Miyazaki's Oscar-winning Spirited Away becomes the most successful feature ever (foreign or domestic) at the Japanese box office; outside Japan it is the most successful foreign language film after The Passion of the Christ. Disney is satirised in the DreamWorks CGI hit Shrek. Richard Linklater revives interest in rotoscoping (overdrawn live action) in his plotless meditation Waking Life.

2002 The Two Towers, the second part of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, introduces Gollum, a CGI character whose movements and expressions are based on actor Andy Serkis. The Blue Sky studio becomes a successful CGI player with Ice Age. Disney's semi-traditional animation Treasure Planet flops disastrously.

2003 Pixar's CGI Finding Nemo becomes the highest-grossing animated feature (surpassed in 2004 by Dreamworks' Shrek 2). In France, Sylvain Chomet directs the almost dialogue-free grotesque farce Belleville Rendez-Vous (released as The Triplets of Belleville in America). The Japanese studio Production I.G. contributes a violent flashback segment to Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1.

2004 Chris Landreth's short live-action/CGI documentary Ryan, a portrait of the troubled Canadian animator Ryan Larkin, wins an Oscar. The CGI feature Terkel in Trouble is hailed as Denmark's answer to South Park. Brad Bird makes his CGI debut with Pixar's superhero feature The Incredibles. In Japan, three major features are released: Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy, Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence and Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle.

2005 The return of stop-motion, with Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride and Wallace and Gromit The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, by Nick Park and Steve Box. The latter wins an Oscar. Chicken Little, Disney's first in-house CGI film since Dinosaur, has a lukewarm reception.

2006 Disney buys out Pixar animation. The year sees a glut of feature animation: 14 films are scheduled for American release alone. Released or forthcoming titles include Free Jimmy, an 'adult' Norwegian CGI comedy about an escaped elephant; Azur et Asmar, Michel Ocelot's sumptuous CGI Arabian adventure; and A Scanner Darkly, Richard Linklater's follow-up to Waking Life.

Last Updated: 10 Feb 2012